Georgia, Bulgaria and the Second Balkan War

So, the Second Balkan War.

Unless you’re a history buff, or Bulgarian, you probably don’t know about this. And that’s fine. Unless you’re a history buff, or Bulgarian, there’s no reason to. Still, I think it might have some relevance to recent events.

Short version: back in 1912, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece teamed up to attack Turkey. They won. In fact, they won big, grabbing huge slabs of territory from the hapless Ottomans… but they couldn’t agree on how to divide their spoils. The disagreement got so sharp that just a few months later, the Bulgarians tried to resolve it with a surprise attack on the Serbs and the Greeks.

That didn’t work out so well. Bulgaria’s northern neighbor Romania jumped on Bulgaria’s back taking the opportunity to grab a couple of border provinces. In the south, the Turks counterattacked to recover some of their losses. Meanwhile the Greeks and Serbs rolled the Bulgarians back.

When the dust had settled, Bulgaria had lost some thousands of soldiers and almost all the territory that had been gained in the earlier war. They lost half of Thrace, southern Dobrudja, and almost all of Macedonia. If Balkan geography isn’t your strong point, let’s put it this way: they lost almost everything they had fought for, including stuff that really should have been theirs.

And they never got it back. Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in the First World War, hoping to make good the losses of the Second Balkan War; they were able to grab Macedonia and Dobrudja, but once the war ended they lost all that territory and more. Then in 1940 they joined the Germans again, and once more they got back Macedonia… only to lose it a third time, this time for good, in 1944. They did eventually get back a bit of Dobrudja, but the rest of the lost lands were gone for good.

Bulgaria today is about two thirds the size it would have been if they hadn’t tried that surprise attack in June 1913. Skopje and Adrianople would be Bulgarian, and Lake Ohrid, and much of the northern coastline of the Aegean. If you’re Bulgarian, you’ve probably spent some time in mournful reflection on this.

Of course, lots of countries have lost territory in wars. Germany, Hungary, Turkey and Russia all came out of the First World War a lot smaller than they had been. Then Germany lost more territory in the Second World War, as did Italy and Poland and Romania. In the 1990s, the Russians saw much of historical Russia carved off into Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States. Just a few months ago, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. But most of these were the result of long, protracted, conflicts — World Wars, the Cold War — or of large, long-scale demographic and social trends, like differential birthrates or economic decline. What makes the First Balkan War unusual is that it was the result of a single bad decision… a single stupid, unnecessary bad decision that ended up doing permanent harm to the nation.

So, here’s my take: Georgia has just had a Second Balkan War. They tried a surprise attack to resolve a dispute over land that should “rightfully” be theirs… and they lost. The Bulgarians were shocked when the Romanians betrayed them and the defeated Ottomans turned around and bit back; in retrospect, these things seem obvious, and historians have spent most of a century arguing over how the Bulgarian leadership could have been so goddamn stupid. The Georgians were shocked… oh, you get the idea.

Anyway, here’s the thing: the Second Balkan War poisoned Bulgaria’s history for two generations. It sucked them into two World Wars, caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, destabilized the country and stunted its development. Interwar Bulgaria developed a remarkably evil terrorist organization devoted to regaining the lost territory — and, of course, killing anyone who wasn’t sufficiently dedicated to that cause.

I’m inclined to doubt that Georgia will go the same way; most obviously, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be another World War any time soon. But losses of national territory are hard for any nation to accept. Almost a decade after the 1999 war, Serbia’s politics are still being distorted by the tidal pull of Kosovo — and Serbia has the European Union on its border, pulling it hard in a different direction. Georgia has nothing to keep it from indulging in a protracted spasm of victimized nationalism. We can certainly hope they won’t go that route, but I’m not sure why they wouldn’t.

More informed opinions are, as always, welcome.

This entry was posted in History and tagged , by Douglas Muir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

66 thoughts on “Georgia, Bulgaria and the Second Balkan War

  1. This was, by far, the absolutely best thing in my RSS reader today – informative, about the right length for a history article without being too over the top, and with a very thought provoking point reflecting on modern events – great work here Mr Muir!

  2. A very good post.
    In 1913 Romania intervened in Bulgaria because it feared Bulgaria was becoming too powerful and grabbed southern Dobrudja as a ‘reward’ for maintaining the balance of power in the region. Taking that territory was not a ‘moral’ or smart thing to do; the Romanians probably came to regret it 3 years later when Bulgaria allied with Germany invaded Romania.
    However it is still easier for me to understand Bulgaria’s decision at that time as compared to Georgia’s decision to start the war. Was it a stupid attempt to conquer the region in the hope that the Russians will not intervene (even though it was clear that they will) or an attempt to internationalize the conflict gone bad? Or maybe it was less of a calculated move and more of a series of incidents that escalated rapidly.

  3. “Paul Says:
    [….]
    However it is still easier for me to understand Bulgaria’s decision at that time as compared to Georgia’s decision to start the war. Was it a stupid attempt to conquer the region in the hope that the Russians will not intervene (even though it was clear that they will) or an attempt to internationalize the conflict gone bad? Or maybe it was less of a calculated move and more of a series of incidents that escalated rapidly.”

    It was neither. Russia pretended to hold peace negotiations with the Georgian diplomats in Tschkinvali, but the Russian diplomats failed to arrive at the meeting. Instead, a Russian general met the Georgian diplomats. The Russian made a cell phone call to the Russian diplomats and handed the cell phone to the Georgian diplomats. The Russian diplomats gave an obviously phony excuse that they could not attend the meeting because they could not find a car, truck, or army vehicle that didn’t have a flat tire. The Georgin diplomats became alarmed that the Russians were using the meeting as a ruse and a trap.

    The Russian general then demanded that the Georgians had to declare a unilateral ceasfire and withdraw their forces from the border with South Ossetia, or Russia would not intercede as peacekeepers to stop the South Ossetian bombardments of the Georgian civilians.

    Despite having grave misgivings about the intentions of the Russians and their South Ossetian proxies, the Georgian governement was preparing to implement the unilateral ceasefire demanded by the Russian general. They were stopped, however, when they discovered from satellite photographs that the Russian 58th Army had already begun the invasion of Georgia with a large force of armored vehicles crossing the border of Georgia at the Roki Tunnel enroute to Tschkinvali and Gori.

    In a defensive response to the Russian invasion of Georgia through the Roki Tunnel, Georgia counterattacked the invading Russian force at a strategic bridge south of the exit from the Roki Tunnel, a hundred kilometers behind enemy lines. The Georgian counterattack was only a partial success, destroying a number of the Russian armored vehicles while damaging the bridge. They failed to fully destroy the bridge, and the Russian forces resumed the road march to Tschikinvali and Gori, while claiming the Georgian attack against the Russian invason force was somehow supposed to be an attck upon Russian peacekeepers.

    Once the attempt to stop the invading Russian armored force by destroying the bridge had failed, the Georgians then ordered its army to advance into South Ossetia for the purpose of blocking the exits from the mountains where the road branches out and into the plains at the road junctions in and around Tschkinvali.

    The Georgian offensive was not an attempt to reconquer South Ossetia by force, which Georgia’s leaders knew full well could not be held for long in the face of the Russian invasion with the 58th Army. The purpose of the Georgian advance to Tschkinvali was to delay the Russian armored column to Tschkinvali and Gori as long as possible, trading battlespace for the time needed to return Georgian troops from Iraq and appeal for help from the international community. Another purpose was to give some of the ethnic Georgians an opportunity to escape from South Ossetia as refugees before the South Ossetian militias murdered them upon the arrival of the Russian 58th Army.

    The Russians used some of the same techniques of deception while pretending to hold diplomatic negotiations as were used by the Soviet regime before its brutal invasions of Poland, the Baltic states, Finland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, and Moldava. Given the past experience with the Soviets-Russians, it is no wonder the Georgian diplomats meeting with the Russian general in Tschkinvali and the Georgian governement had ample reason to fear Russian treachery and an invading Russian 58th Army.

    Now we have a bellicose regime in Russia who have made the Russian Duma an impotent organization under the dictatorial control of the former head of the KGB, Vladimir Putin. Harking back to the Soviet days of the cult of personality, Putin’s likeness can be seen on banners in Tschkinvali, revealing who is currently the real master of the Russian armed forces, the Duma, the Russian news media, and Russia itself. Not content to rule Russia, Putin and his puppets now threaten to further attacks: Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the United States, and anyone else in NATO or a former Soviet Republic who defies the demands of Putin and Putin’s Russian regime.

    Today, five Russian prisoners of war were exchnaged for some Georgian prisoners of war. Among the five Russian POWs were two Russian military pilots who had been shot down while attacking targets in Georgia. What is interesting is the fact they were shot down while attacking Georgia two weeks or more ago. In other words, they were shot down while invading and attacking Georgia at least 3 OR MORE DAYS BEFORE THE GEORGIAN ADVANCE ON TSCHIKINVALI!

    Russia started this military campaign and war by attacking and invading Georgia with the 58th Army. The Georgians did nothing more than counterattack the invading forces.

    Russia is now belligerantly threatening to attack NATO with NUCLEAR WEAPONS! If Russia thinks it can succeed at destroying Georgia, whiile also bullying and intimidating the Ukraine, the Baltic States, Poland, the United States, and the rest of NATO and the European Union; it is only a matter of time before the current regime in Russia may find it useful to threaten, intimidate, or attack, destroy, and loot your nation for trophies too.

  4. “Not content to rule Russia, Putin and his puppets now threaten to further attacks: Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the United States, and anyone else in NATO or a former Soviet Republic who defies the demands of Putin and Putin’s Russian regime.”

    Oh dear God. Can the nationalist crazies please stop making sweeping claims about Russian power? Russia fought a war with Georgia because the whole state of Georgia–its frontiers, its institutions–is in a state of flux that happens to owe a lot to Russia. That doesn’t exist in Ukraine really, that doesn’t exist in Estonia, that doesn’t exist in Poland, and that certainly does not exist in the United States.

    More to the point, the war wasw stupid. Launching a preemptive attack on Russian forces and the South Ossetian government goes beyond foolishness. Also, what’s up with the bombardment of Tshkinvali? Generally speaking, wrecking the capital city of the people you consider to be part of your nation is a bad idea if you want them to acquiesce.

  5. DWP,

    Second here on sources.

    Also, what’s your point? The US has shown that international laws and treaties aren’t worth the paper they are written on. National sovereignty no longer matters where a more powerful state’s national security (or perception of national security, or hell, simply wild hair-up-the-ass desires) come into play. Of course, that’s been the US course in the Western Hemisphere since the Monroe Doctrine; ask anyone from any Central or South American country about their state’s sovereignty in the face of US demands.

    And face reality. Georgians haven’t been sovereign in any meaningful fashion since their lands were conquered by the Russians back at the beginning of the 19th century; heck, the region had been nothing more than client states or piss-poor petty dictatorships for centuries before that. Weeping over the sovereignty of Georgia is like gnashing your teeth at the loss of Lakota or Apache sovereignty.

    And until the US gets out of the dozens of states it currently dominates it has no right to speak of any concerns for Georgian sovereignty…

  6. “If you’re Bulgarian, you’ve probably spent some time in mournful reflection on this.”

    This made me smile. Sometimes it’s needed for an outsider (perhaps you’re not one, though) to discuss our/my history to make me realize that others understand, and perhaps even sympathize. And of course, Balkan politics is so melodramatic that looked at from outside point of view its quite comic.

    I realize that the ultimately this post is about Georgia, but I’d like to say a few words about Bulgaria first. Bulgarians have definitely put territorial ambitions aside, but have not forgotten about them. Macedonians are still our “blood brothers” (as compared to Serbians who are distant cousins) and we are still claiming restitution from the Turks for destroyed Bulgarian property and taken lands in what is now the European part of Turkey.

    Taking the Bulgarian case as an example, perhaps we’re better off looking at Russia and comparing it to Bulgaria. Having just lost the Cold War and seen its control over the former Soviet Union crumble, the Kremlin will do anything, even wage war to retake that land. Bulgaria joined Germany in WWII (though not willingly, German armies threatened to obliterate our small country) to recover Macedonia some 27 years after it had lost the Second Balkan War. The Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991: that’s 17 years ago.

    The Russian hunger for reclaiming its lost territory is still fresh; and unlike Bulgaria, they don’t seem to have too many deterrents to keep them from doing it.

  7. Pingback: By The Fault » Blog Archive » Linking Up with the World

  8. Good article. What defines Georgia but ethnicity? Russia, on the other hand, says anyone with a passport is a Russian. So, ethnic tribalism versus multicultural nationalism. Think about it for a minute: who do you really want to win?
    And, DeltaWhiskeyPapa, that was silly. The Georgian invasion (and the Russian response) had to have been in place for weeks, if not months.

  9. A very good post.

    I second Christian on the impression that Russia, too, is after lost provinces. Note that 27 years is not a very long time to hold that kind of grudge. France had pretty much the same feeling about Alsace-Lorraine between 1871 and 1914. And there are many other historical examples.

  10. @ Delta Whiskey Papa
    Now that is an interesting story but why haven’t the Georgians presented it from day 1? and Why did they bomb a city full with civilians with Grad rockets (known for their lack of precision) if all they wanted to do was to stop the advancing Russians ?
    @CCBC
    That is dishonest comparison. Georgian citizenship is not defined by Georgian ethnicity. Russia, still having the mentality of an empire gladly offers citizenship to anyone it can latter control. What would happen if every country would start offering citizenship to minorities from neighboring countries and then would intervene in those countries in order to protect its new citizens?

  11. “But losses of national territory are hard for any nation to accept.”

    Was this territory ever truly Georgian? Everything I’ve read says not.
    At present the whole atmosphere about this is that South Ossetia & Abkhazia are now “not-Georgia”. That’s not the same as being Russian puppets. If Georgia were to accept their independence quickly, and guarantee their borders while everything’s still in play they can at least avoid a continuing situation where Russia is seen as the guarantor of their newly won freedom. It’s not ideal for Georgia but it allows the breakaways to be “not-Russia”.
    In the long term who do they want on their borders, two small countries who have no ongoing enmity, or two Russian outposts sitting on Georgia’s side of the mountains?

  12. Baz, a large minority of Georgians lived in South Ossetia. Some stayed even after 1991; the last few of them are being ethnically cleansed right now.

    Georgians were a majority in Abkhazia for about a generation or so before 1990. Before that, they were a large minority; it was majority Abkhaz, but Georgians have been living there since forever.

    Doug M.

  13. Being a Bulgarian, for me it was interesting to see such a comparison. But I think it’s not entirely correct to compare the two events, neither in the genesis, nor in the outcome.

    The Second Balkan War started because of Bulgarian claims on the division of the conquered territories. We wanted them to take into account the ethnic groups of the territories and the contribution of each of the members to the war. Bulgaria provided the largest number of troops, fought the biggest battles and suffered the highest number of casualties. The main difference with Georgia today is, that Bulgarians couldn’t expect foreign help at that time and knew pretty well that they were going to fight alone (maybe we didn’t expect Romania to join the war however, and I think this was decisive). Saakashvili either expected that the Russians wouldn’t intervene, or that in the case of intervention the West would take a strong stance against Russia.

    As for the consequences, the war was a disaster for Bulgaria – 60 000 killed, 100 000 injured, 250 000 refugees. Georgia might lose some small territories both in size and population, but in the long term it might benefit, because what will be left of Georgia will be much less dependent on Russia. Each country should be free to choose its own way (although I don’t like Saakasvhili – he’s one of those post-socialist ‘democrats’ who think that just because the are pro-west, they can get away with anything).

  14. There is a lot of scope for Bulgarian analogies. The 1876 uprising may be the template for international demands in every crisis to “do something”.

  15. I think this a very good round-up for Balkans history, congratulations! You need a perspective, distance in time and geography to write it up so simply. I am not so sure whether this analogy with Georgia is very good, but I guess only time will tell.

    I think small nations can never reach all their national goals. I am a Hungarian. Hungary regained independence after 500 years at the dissolution of the Habsburg Empire and payed a terrible price: lost the majority of its historical territory and about a third or more ethnic Hungarian citizens.

    This made Hungary a puppet of the Third Reich, and led to generations of bitterness. Now Hungary is independent, richer then ever, democratic, it has chosen its allies by huge popular support in the West, and as the neighbors have joined EU, ethnic Hungarians can freely buy property in their ancestors lands, go to school and work in whichever successor country freely.

    Actually, the biggest national festivity in Hungary is held in the territory of Romania every year.

    I believe that if Georgians can exchange loss of territory for good alliances and a peaceful relationship with all their neighbors, including Russia, it pays of eventually. Ever since the declaration of independence South Ossetia and Abkhazia were not really under the sovereignty of Georgia, and it took a lot of unfruitful effort from a fragile new state to bring them back.

    It should be more important for Georgians all over the world to have a viable, independent and well-established country than to fulfill all territorial ambitions.

  16. Douglas:

    “Baz, a large minority of Georgians lived in South Ossetia. Some stayed even after 1991; the last few of them are being ethnically cleansed right now.

    Georgians were a majority in Abkhazia for about a generation or so before 1990. Before that, they were a large minority; it was majority Abkhaz, but Georgians have been living there since forever.”

    They’ll never go back home, will they? If the survivors of Srebrenica have never been able to go back home and their natal city is attached to the Republika Srpska despite an all-but-televised genocide, the Georgians of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are screwed.

  17. “Georgians haven’t been sovereign in any meaningful fashion since their lands were conquered by the Russians back at the beginning of the 19th century.”

    “Weeping over the sovereignty of Georgia is like gnashing your teeth at the loss of Lakota or Apache sovereignty.”

    Actually, no. For starters, while there is no Lakota or Apache state, there is a Georgian state.

    “And until the US gets out of the dozens of states it currently dominates it has no right to speak of any concerns for Georgian sovereignty…”

    The US government, anyone in the US … ? I’m confused.

    I tend to get worried by this argument since proponents often use it to condemn their enemy’s misdeeds but selectively misinterpret it for their friends.

  18. Randy,

    Look at the historical context. In the late 19th century the growing American and Russian empires absorbed petty realms along their borders. In North America, is was those of the Native Nations; Lakota, Apache, Comanche, etc. Sure, they were not as advanced technologically as, say, the various Georgian successor states of the time, but did that mean that they had any less right to self determination? No. And yet absorbed they were. In the Russian case, the Georgian states were kept post-annexation in a manner not unlike that of the status-quo-ante; heck, even the nobles were allowed their rights, the serfs were freed (for whatever that was worth), and the people were allowed their culture and language (though there were times when they had to fight to keep those). Not so for the Native Nations; here in the States (I am an American, yes), we crushed them; if they fought back too much, we extirpated them.

    Frankly, the Georgians and other peoples should thank the Russians for being as kind as they were. Had they been conquered by America back in the 18th/19th century, they’d be stuck on some god-forsaken strip of desert and the only way they’d know their own folk ways and language would be through archaeology.

    As for the comparison of what the US is doing and what Russia is doing, all are misdeeds, but for the US to make any claims about the evils of Russian occupation of Georgia is hypocrasy of highest order. Save for perhaps Britain, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union, the US is the biggest holder of the “Medal Awarded for Invading Sovereign Nations Under Questionable Circumstances.” Discounting the Native Nations (as everyone does), this trend goes all the way back to the War of 1812, when we tried to snatch Canada from Britain. Mexico, Spain, nearly every petty Central American state… virtually every state in the Western Hemisphere has been invaded directly or indirectly by US-backed forces in order to enforce the will of the American elite (usually to secure resources and goods at slave-labor costs; free trade at the end of agun, so to speak). And of course the US inherited most of the remnants of Britain’s empire when it collapsed post-WWII, especially in the Middle East, where our colonialist tendencies are strongest. Iran, Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the petty Arab states of the Gulf, Lebanon… all have felt the direct or indirect working end of the boot of the American military. And of course we occupy various portions of European states, decades after the end of WWII and nearly two decades after the end of the Cold War. All for Force Projection, so we can make sure that these other countries do what we damn well tell them, like in Serbia.

    I am an American, and I condemn all those actions, no less than I condemn the Russian invasion of Georgia or the Georgian invasions of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Adjaria. All are guilty, and in the end, all shall be punished.

  19. Vincent King
    I have never seen a more self-critical American; self-blame gone to the extreme. Whatever the Americans did to their Native populations (and they did some very nasty things) that does in no way excuse the behavior of the Russians toward all the populations they conquered. You seem to have a very idyllic view of the Russian treatment of their minorities. Well there was nothing idyllic about it. On this other side of the Atlantic the views are different and people don’t feel that they were occupied by the Americans (well, maybe the Germans do, but they were still happy with it). There is no equivalence between the behavior of the US and that o Russia in the XXth century.

  20. @Daniel, that’s a very healthy attitude. If more people saw things that way, the world would be a better place.

    @Randy: no, they’ll never go back home. It was very very unlikely before, and it’s pretty much impossible now.

    One thing that hasn’t been discussed much: the war of Abkhaz secession was pretty brutal, and a lot of civilians got killed. There were a couple of hundred thousand Georgians in Abkhazia; they’re all in Georgia now, or dead. Their former properties are, of course, now owned and occupied by Abkhazians or Russians. Which was always going to complicated a possible peace agreement.

    Doug M.

  21. Quick question – were the areas that bulgaria went to war for in 1913 recognized by neutral 3rd parties as parts of Bulgaria?

  22. Paul,

    As for being self-critical, I find that most Americans are not critical whatsoever of their own actions, let alone those of their government in their name (yesterday, today, and in the future). So calling me a self-critical American is like calling me a black swan; something rarely seen and often thought mythical. Personally, I hold some small blame. I live on land that was stolen from the natives; I love to eat bananas that were grown in our Banana Republics; I benefit from the cheap natural resources we possess thanks to our overwhelming force used to reduce other countries to colony status. Would there were some other way to live, I would; unfortunately, unlike my ancestors, who fled just before the wave of conquest, I have nowhere else to go. So I make due and, in what little ways I can, try to make up for my sins.

    I do not feel that anything this country did excuses anything the Russians did; I’m simply saying that what the Russians did back in the day was being done by all the great powers, including the vaunted U.S. of A., where freedom and democracy applied only if you were white, male, and rich. And of course there was nothing idyllic about the Russian occupation of nearby nations and states; there never is.

    As to equivalences between the US and USSR during the 20th century, of course there were great differences. The USSR tended to rule with the stick (a big, nasty, heavy, nail-ridden stick) rather than the carrot, while the US ruled with the carrot and only applied the stick when necessary. But as Churchill said of democracy, so too can be said of the US; it’s the worst country ever, save for every other country that has ever been. But that does not entitle it to a free ride; especially when you consider how the US is worst of all when compared to the ideals it espouses. This is so because the US represents the greatest ideals and, historically, falls so very far from those, both at home and especially abroad.

    But that’s neither here nor there. As to Georgia and Russia… get use to it. As this was once the way of the world before the Cold War and the UN, so it will again be the way of the future. The threat of global thermonuclear war kept everything more or less frozen for decades, save for the little proxy wars and the wars in places nobody else cared about. No longer. The US has shown that it is more than happy to invade anyone it pleases, any time, for any reason or none, with or without the approval of the world at large, adn against all international laws and treaties. Did everyone really think that the Russians would just sit back and let the Americans be the only ones to do so?

    Unilateralism is the modern atomic genie, and it is out of the bottle, and it isn’t going back any time soon. The US showed that yes, issues that cannot be solved by diplomacy can be well-solved by judicious application of overwhelming force (though remember, Russia has kicked Georgia’s behind with the equivalent of the National Guard, while it took the entire built-up high-tech US arsenal a matter of two weeks to reduce Iraq to the stone age, an arsenal we only replenished in the last six months, five years later).

    The Great Game is on again (or rather, I should say, is hot again). There will be casualties on all sides, more on the sides of the little guys who get in the away.

  23. “Sure, they were not as advanced technologically as, say, the various Georgian successor states of the time, but did that mean that they had any less right to self determination?”

    That wasn’t what we were talking about. I was responding to the part of your post where you said that

    “Georgians haven’t been sovereign in any meaningful fashion since their lands were conquered by the Russians back at the beginning of the 19th century.”

    I corrected you by pointing out that, in fact, the Georgians do differ quite significantly from even the Navajo in having an internationally recognized state, one recognized by even the Russians. More to the point, despite a dire demographic situation they awe still plenty of Georgians living in territories where they form very large majority populations. The Navajo are unique in non-Arctic North America in being able to claim the same, and even their culture is starting to erode.

    “Frankly, the Georgians and other peoples should thank the Russians for being as kind as they were. Had they been conquered by America back in the 18th/19th century, they’d be stuck on some god-forsaken strip of desert and the only way they’d know their own folk ways and language would be through archaeology.”

    No no no no no.

    The Russian conquests in the Caucasus and Central Asia took place in regions ocntrolled by reasonably recognizing polities populated by people who–most critically for your comparison–didn’t have anything to fear from the Eurasian disease pool.

    What would the United States have done if there was a non-Anglophone Christian polity on its western path (say) on the middle Mississippi or dense and not-going-to-move native populations in the southwest? We’ve some idea from what happened to Louisiana: Integration and assimilation.

    (You know that Russian racists call all non-Slavs from the Caucasus and Central Asia blackasses, right?)

    “As for the comparison of what the US is doing and what Russia is doing, all are misdeeds, but for the US to make any claims about the evils of Russian occupation of Georgia”

    Can any Americans do that?

    “All are guilty, and in the end, all shall be punished.”

    By which you mean that no one will be punished. (It’s kind of like multiplying -1 by -1, this rationale.)

  24. Doug:

    “One thing that hasn’t been discussed much: the war of Abkhaz secession was pretty brutal, and a lot of civilians got killed. There were a couple of hundred thousand Georgians in Abkhazia; they’re all in Georgia now, or dead. Their former properties are, of course, now owned and occupied by Abkhazians or Russians. Which was always going to complicated a possible peace agreement.”

    It’s doing the same in Cyprus. Another parallel?

  25. You are right “Georgia has nothing to keep it from indulging in a protracted spasm of victimized nationalism.”

    1) Georgian president is an ultra-nationalist. He dreams of a “Greater Georgia.” Now that dream became a nightmare for his people.
    2) Mr. Saahakashivili is not a democrat committed to liberty, freedom and democracy. He is “better” than the prior regimes, but that’s about it. He and his regime are not “as corrupt” as the prior regime. But they are corrupt.
    3) Mr. Saahakashivili and his corrupt and oppressive regime discriminate against Armenian and Azeri minorities. The Jews practically left Georgia.
    4) Similarly, Ossetians and Abhkaz didn’t want to live in “Greater Georgia.” Why would they? After tie chewing, reckless, big-mouth, arrogant adventurer orders “Grad” missiles launched at night at a sleeping town of Tshinvalli? Especially, 2 hours after he was on TV talking about “brotherhood, unity, freedom” and all that crap with Ossetian “brothers and sisters.” Hehe… Hypocrite is the word that comes to mind.
    5) It will take two generations for Georgians to give up their ultra-nationalist, oppressive attitudes. Meanwhile, Russia will manipulate those tendencies to divide-and-control and regain its sphere of influence in Caucases.

    Thanks, Michkeil. Good job. Give him the Nobel Peace Prize. And a new tie!

  26. Christian, good comment, except that I disagree with you (and Gwynfrid) on the following:

    “Having just lost the Cold War and seen its control over the former Soviet Union crumble, the Kremlin will do anything, even wage war to retake that land.”

    That’s simply incorrect. Yes, like all nations, Russia would like to extend its influence. This does not mean, however, that Russia wants those territories to be part of Russia. When Russia strongly responded to Saakashvili’s idiotically reckless action they made it clear that they are not interested in conquering Georgia.

    Why would they want to? Putin and Medvedev maybe ruthless (well, I don’t know if Medvedev is), but they are definitely neither crazy nor stupid. They know that the demographic situation of Russia is not conducive to territorarial expansion; they know that although they easily dealt with Georgia’s army, as occupiers they will end up being hounded by a patriotic Georgian insurgency. Fighting such a insurgency, besides mounting casualties and military expenses, will soon enough be unpopular at home. And lastly, although Russia is not too concerned by what the international community is saying about Russia’s control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, they know that it would have been a totally different ball game if they had all of Georgia. The international costs and consequences for such a thing are simply not worth it.

  27. Pingback: Russia: History and humiliation | Nosemonkey’s EUtopia

  28. Delta Whiskey Papa,
    I’m sure I’m just being dense, but how can satellite photographs reveal movements through a tunnel?

  29. “Malcs Says:
    August 22nd, 2008 at 1:00 pm Delta Whiskey Papa,
    I’m sure I’m just being dense, but how can satellite photographs reveal movements through a tunnel?”

    Let’s see…a long column of about 150 armoured vehicles and trucks are moving down the narrow mountain road and into the northern end of the tunnel from North Ossetia, Russia and emerge from the south end of the tunnel in South Ossetia, Georgia, where they are observed and attacked by Georgian forces at the Kurta bridge.

    Kind of obvious, isn’t it?

  30. “Doug Merrill Says:
    August 21st, 2008 at 6:29 am DWP, can you give sources for that account?”

    The first attempt to post a response disappeared, so I’ll try again.

    Most of the non-Georgian sources are not something you want to compromise with disclosure and/or are not available to the public unless you know how to access them on your own. We don’t want the Russians to be eliminating such sources of information, so some individual initiative will be necessary. That said, there are many Georgian sources and a few non-Georgian sources available throguh the Internet. Search for the terms “Kurta bridge” and “Roki Tunnel” for many such examples. Also see in particular:

    OSSETIAN SEPARATISTS ARE PROVOKING A MAJOR RUSSIAN INTERVENTION
    By Pavel Felgenhauer
    Thursday, August 7, 2008
    Volume 5, Number 151
    “Kokoity and other Ossetian officials seem to be bent on provoking a major Russian intervention, but apparently not everyone in Moscow is ready to plunge headlong into war.”
    http://www.jamestown.org/edm/article.php?article_id=2373294

    Transcript of Teleconference Briefing by Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze
    August 15, 2008
    Transcript of Teleconference Briefing by Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze (Minister Temur Yakobashvili also taking part)
    Held at 20:30 CET, Thursday, August 14, 2008
    http://georgiandaily.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5953&Itemid=65

    Georgia
    euronews speaks to Georgian Foreign Minister
    20/08 21:17 CET
    euronews: You’re saying that Russian forces entered Georgian territory before Tskhinvali was attacked by Georgian forces – is that right?

    Eka Tkeshelashvili: Yes, it was from the Roki tunnel[….]

    Georgia conflict: How a flat tyre took the Caucasus to war
    August 16, 2008
    SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
    August 17, 2008
    But Gen Kulakhmetov was not finished. “He had a message for me,” said Mr Yakobashvili. “He said he could not control the South Ossetians while there was Georgian military on the boundary. He said we must declare a unilateral ceasefire before the Russians could push them back.”
    http://georgiandaily.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6052&Itemid=65

    You have to ask yourself just how long Georgia was supposed to permit the so-called Russian citizens and “volunteers” from Russia to use illegally possessed 122mm tube heavy artillery and prodigious supplies of such ammunition from the positions of the so-called Russian peacekeepers to thoroughly demolish and depopulate Georgian villages and kill Georgian civilians with artillery barrages without counterattacking in self-defense?

  31. “CCBC Says:
    August 21st, 2008 at 9:04 am Good article. What defines Georgia but ethnicity? Russia, on the other hand, says anyone with a passport is a Russian. So, ethnic tribalism versus multicultural nationalism. Think about it for a minute: who do you really want to win?
    And, DeltaWhiskeyPapa, that was silly. The Georgian invasion (and the Russian response) had to have been in place for weeks, if not months.”

    You ask, “What defines Georgia but ethnicity?” What defines Georgia are the international boundaries established for the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia long ago during the era of the Soviet Union. These international boundaries were subsequently reconfirmed and agreed to by Russian Federation, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and the United Nations through formal treaties, international agreements, and United Nations resolutions having the full weight and authority of binding international law. This is also why Russia’s use of Kosovo as an excuse is an invalid comparison and a non-starter for justifications. Furthermore, Georgia is multi-ethnic with Georgian majorities, until ethnic cleansing and genocide by the so-called Russian citizens drastically altered the demographics by de-populating the Georgian communities under their control.

    Given the legal reality of Georgia’s international borders, you can hardly describe Georgia’s counterattack against the South Ossetian rebels in a civil war as an invason of another nation. On the contrary, Georgia has a legal obligation to defend its villages and towns with their civilian populations from being demolished and de-popoulated by 122mm heavy artillery bombardments. South Ossetia does not under any theory of law have the right to import 122mm artillery guns and ammunition in violation of the UN resolutions, much less use those illegal weapons to de-populate Georgian civilian communities in preparation for resettlement by the rebellious “Russian citizens” of South Ossetia.

    Furthermore, Russia invaded Georgia’s territory in South Ossetia in blatant violation of the UN Security Council resolutions and in blatant violation of the UN Charter. Georgia has an absolute right to self defense against the North Ossetians and Russians attacking and invading Georgia prior to the August 8th Georgian counterattack. The only means Georgia had to effectively stop the 122mm artillery bombardments which were destroying their communities was to conduct a ground attack that would eliminate the artillery or push it out of range from the Georgian communities. The only means Georgia had to defend against the column of armoured vehicles invading through the Roki Tunnel was to destroy the bridge in the mountains and deploy anti-tank forces where the road from the mountains enters Tschkinvali. The only way Georgia could rescue some of its Georgian citizens trapped in South Ossetia from being murdered by the South Ossetian rebel militias was to advance into South Ossetia and evacuate those civilians. Russia was not responding to a Georgian invasion of Russia. Russia was invading and Georgia was counterattacking the Russian invaders when Georgia entered Tschkinvali.

    No, the Georgian counterattack was not planned months in advance. The Georgians counterattacked with only a small part of its army which were already defending against the recently increased attacks by the South Ossetian rebels and their “thousands of volunteers” arrived from Russia through the Roki Tunnel in recent weeks. Georgia’s already small force was greatly reduced by the 2,000 soldiers serving in Iraq. Most of the remaining Georgian army personnel were standing down elsewhere in Georgia after the recent joint international military training exercises. Georgia was not even remotely in any kind of posture for a sustained military offensive. Georgia counterattacked only with the local forces against artillery positions located no more than a few kilomters to tens of kilometers from their departure positions.

    By contrast, the Russians had conducted military exercises throughout the month of July on the Georgia’s northern border of South Ossetia just as it has done so in February 2006 and earlier, with one special exception. In the past, the Russian 58th Army mortuary unit has not moved to the planned pre-invasion assembly areas along the Georgian border. This time, however, the mortuary unit was fully activated and moved into position on the border weeks in advance of the Russian invasion, as if casualties were anticipated in coming combat operations by the Russian 58th Army. Ammunition supply points were uncharacteristically moved into pre-invasion positions long before August 7th. Non-Georgian children and many other non-combatant civilians were evacuated from Tschkinvali to North Ossetia, Russia on and before August 4th, leaving Georgian residents of Tschkinvali feeling very apprehensive and fearful of the intentions of the South Ossetian rebel militias. There were also many other telltale indications the 58th Army was preparing for actual combat instead of being limited only to a military training exercise.

  32. Interestingly enough, in Russia itself military experts are criticizing the Russian armed forces for, among other things, not being prepared and for being taken by surprise.

    “Senior Russian official are adding to the chorus about its military’s early failures in Georgia which include air defense suppression, intelligence analysis and warnings, air attack planning and speed of response.”

    […]

    “Former Russian Defense Minister Gen. Paul Grachev cast blame on all the Russian intelligence services for lack of warning and commanders of the North Caucasus Military District for not having a detailed contingency plan in case of an attack by Georgia.
    Gen. Mahmut Gareyev, president of the Academy of Military Sciences, also blamed military intelligence for the classic failure of miscalculating Georgia’s intentions.”

    http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/blogs/defense/

    (Piece by Fulghum)

  33. “Kolya Says:
    August 22nd, 2008 at 5:25 pm Interestingly enough, in Russia itself military experts are criticizing the Russian armed forces for, among other things, not being prepared and for being taken by surprise.”

    They also said they would honor the ceasefire agreement by withdrawing their forces by when? The Kremlin also told the Soviet troops that they were helping save the people of Czechoslovakia with an invasion in 1968. Interesting how you are willing to give so much credibility to a Russia so lacking in credibility from past experience.

  34. Delta Whiskey Papa, your reply to my comment is a non sequitur.

    In any event, as Reagan said, “doverai no proverai” (trust but verify). It would certainly be silly to take anything Putin & Medvedev say at face value. The same applies, though, to Saakashvili, Bush, and most other world leaders.

  35. Just a couple of gentle reminders:

    1) Too many URLs will cause your comment to be trapped in our spam filter until someone checks it. This can be anywhere between six hours and six weeks.

    2) Insulting, offensive or grossly irrelevant comments will be deleted. We like a lively discussion, but this is a moderated forum.

    3) If you find yourself repeatedly posting comments of 100 lines or more, consider getting your own blog.

    HTH,

    Doug M.

  36. “Most of the non-Georgian sources are not something you want to compromise with disclosure and/or are not available to the public unless you know how to access them on your own. We don’t want the Russians to be eliminating such sources of information, so some individual initiative will be necessary.”

    In other words, you’re not going to bother to tell us? Fine; I, for one, won’t bother to consider your arguments.

  37. Yep it does seem that Georgia’s military as well as President Saakashvili (the famous tie eating leader well known for his inspiring “run, duck and cover” routine in Gori) forgot to read their Sun Tzu for Dummies.

    This is from the Financial Times:

    “Georgia did not believe Russia would respond to its offensive in South Ossetia and was completely unprepared for the counter-attack, the deputy defence minister has admitted.
    Batu Kutelia told the Financial Times that Georgia had made the decision to seize the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali despite the fact that its forces did not have enough anti-tank and air defences to protect themselves against the possibility of serious resistance.
    “Unfortunately, we attached a low priority to this,” he said, sitting at a desk with the flags of Georgia and Nato (to which Georgia does not belong) crossed behind him. “We did not prepare for this kind of eventuality.”
    The Georgian military felt there was only a low probability of a massive Russian counter-attack, despite the bloody way in which Russia destroyed Chechnya, on the other side of the Caucasus mountains, in two wars during the 1990s and the fact that separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia had Russian backing.”

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0d8beefe-6fad-11dd-986f-0000779fd18c.html

  38. Yo, Randy:

    Just to extend your point about the U.S. of A.:

    New Mexico, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico are even better cases of your point than Louisiana.

    And there are two cases where the U.S. did in fact find “non-Anglophone Christian polity on its path” and /decided not to expand into them/: Central Mexico and the Dominican Republic. In both cases, American politicians deliberately forewent territorial gains (in the latter case, ones that the government involved quite desperately wanted) because of fears that the populations involved would be unassimiliable.

    And then there’s the Philippines, where the administration had to go out of its way to insure that the territory would not be integrated into the U.S., even if it came under U.S. sovereignty. Separate citizenship, prohibitions on /American/ private investment, separate currency and banking system, even trade barriers until 1913.

    I’m not saying anything bad about the Russian Empire. (Glass houses and all that.) I’m just reinforcing Randy’s point that it really doesn’t make much sense to compare the course of Russian Empire and United States expansion in the 19th century.

  39. Maybe this is not needed, but just in case I want to remind folks that Russia never “conquered” Georgia. In the late 18th century (an age when empires and conquests of weaker nations was common) Georgia sought the protection of Russia. I’m sure it was a very unhappy choice, but it seems that Georgia saw it as a choice of either being under the Muslim Turks or under the Christian Russians with whom they usually had good relations. Russia, as it was typical for all empires, exploited the situation and in not too long Georgia instead of being a protectorate, was incorporated into Russia itself. The main thing, though, is that there was no war of conquest. Most promiment Georgian families remained promiment and in some cases even became promiment at the Russian court itself.

    I think it’s inaccurate and anachronistic to view the Bolshevik conquest of Georgia as Russia’s conquest. The Bolsheviks took over Georgia not to bring back to the Russian fold, but to expand the Soviet Union. Nobody can claim that Lenin was a Russophile. He was an internationalist Marxist. Yes, as the years went by, the Soviet Union became more obviously Russian, but in those early days of the Soviet Union manifestations of Russian nationalism was frowned upon. Even in the last few years of the Soviet Union, Soviet leaders genuinely believed that their state was a Soviet state, not a Russian state.

  40. I find the analogy rather irrelevant.
    First, because the lands lost by Bulgaria were never bulgarian to begin with. It did not even have a majority bulgarian population.
    Second, Helsinki 1974 stated that borders, even idiotic borders drawn by Tito inside Yugoslavia were inviolable. Georgia alligns itself with those who broke this agreement(after promising the Serbs that this would not happen-that was part of the original Ahtisari plan to end the bombing). The russians immediately point out the similarity with Abhazia and S.Ossetia, implying that “if Kossovo becomes independent, we reserve the right to do the same with Abhazia and S.Ossetia”. As if this warning was not enough, Georgia attacks S.Ossetia and behaves in ways that would make Slobo look like a saint.
    Now what do you expect? Any decent person will
    say that all human beings are equal and Albanians in Kossovo have no more rights than S.Ossetians or Abhazians. So, thumbs up to Sakasvilli and the countries that rushed to recognize Kossovo and open Pandora’s box.

  41. The lands lost by Bulgaria didn’t have a majority /anything/ population, Tom. That was the problem.

    Kolya, yes, agreed on both points.

    Doug M.

  42. Thanks Doug for clearing this up, although this is debatable. At any rate since you agree these lands did not have a bulgarian majority population, I guess the phrase “including stuff that REALLY SHOULD have been theirs” refers to some sort of preference for Bulgaria then.

  43. Tom:

    “As if this warning was not enough, Georgia attacks S.Ossetia and behaves in ways that would make Slobo look like a saint.”

    Hardly. Georgia explicitly said that it wanted to incorporate South Ossetia and Abkhazia on terms that would incl;ude their populations as full citizens. Serbia, well, reasd Douglas Muir’s post on this blog entitled “Our negroes, our enemies.”

  44. Great piece, Mr. Muir – a pleasure to read.

    Liberalhawk and Tom,
    If you look at old maps (atlases) published by various Western countries back in the day, you can see the geographic territories of Bulgaria during different time periods (different kingdoms, under different empires – although still under the name Bulgaria). I hope this satisfies your search for 3rd party/neutral perspectives – just look for Western historians who support the territorial outline over time.
    It terms of the population living in these areas (the ones Tom argues were not Bulgarian) – the population that remained within those territories have always spoken Bulgarian language (and often still do) (often mixed with words from the local languages – Turkish, Greek, Romanian, etc.)

  45. Maya
    you seem to have it all wrong. Before the Balkan wars, didn’t the Bulgarians(VMRO/IMRO) try to either assimilate or cleanse the other(greek and serb) populations while still under ottoman rule?
    And didn’t they LOSE this fight to the supposedly non existing non-bulgarian populations?
    You can find all this in perfectly western sources, like Wikipedia.
    As to whether that population still speaks bulgarian today, I have no idea what you are referring to. Nor can I imagine what you mean
    “during different time periods”. At the time in question and for many centuries before these territories were occupied by the ottomans. Before they were mostly part of the byzantine empire. Before that, part of the roman empire and even earlier, mostly greek.

    and Randy:”Georgia explicitly SAID that it wanted to incorporate South Ossetia and Abkhazia on terms that would incl;ude their populations as full citizens.”
    Great. So bombing their cities, throwing grenades at the elderly, women and children and wiping some 2000 people out is a sure way to full citizenship. And if you were to ask Slobo and co they would also categorically deny any animosity vs Albanians. They would also say “it is only criminal elements we are going after” and at the time western countries considered the KLA a terrorist organization. Certainely it was no less than the PKK for example.

  46. “So bombing their cities, throwing grenades at the elderly, women and children and wiping some 2000 people out is a sure way to full citizenship.”

    There was a badly conducted war, yes, but nothing akin to the hate campaign directed against ethnic Albanians by the Serbian establishment in the quarter-century before 1999.

    Unless I’m mistaken, the Georgian state isn’t teaching Georgian children that South Ossetians and Abkhazians are ill-natured immigrants who have stolen Georgian land because they can’t manage their own homelands, right? That sort of thing tells in the kinds of atrocities and, truth be told, with “only” a few dozen dead that falls pretty short of genocide on the scale of Kosovo. If anything, as good a case can be made that after Georgia’s defeat South Ossetia has gone on to ethnically cleanse its wider territory.

  47. “Badly conducted” is a nice word for those of us not directly involved. When blood is involved victims understandably have harsher words. And I have no doubts South Ossetians are no angels either. But neither were Kossovo Albanians. Milosevic didn’t just wake up one day and say “let’s kill Albanians”. He took away Kossovo’s independence only after local Serbs there complained about being routinely harassed and beaten by the Albanians with the local government doing nothing to prevent this or actually encouraging it. After that there were KLA attacks on police stations, but also serb civilians(also Albanian civilians).
    While there were undoubtedly attrocities by
    the Serbs(but not just them) during the wars there which lasted by the way much longer , claims of genocide turned out to be grossly exagerated. (equally underrated are claims of a few dozen dead in S.Ossetia). In fact had Milosevic wanted a genocide, he could have carried this out easily
    after Rambouillet and then he probably would not lose Kossovo(if no women and children had been left). The school teachings you mention did obviously not exist in Yugoslavia and I would be interested to know whether they are indeed true and when exactly they were instituted.

    The points I’m trying to make is that
    1) principles must be applied uniformly;
    when you have a population that does not want to be a part of the country it is in, you cannot say “Albanians in Kossovo can have their own state, but Ossetians, Kurds, Bosnian Serbs and so on cannot because the borders are inviolable”
    2) If we want to keep such populations in the
    country they are based on the existing and recognized borders, one needs to try very hard
    to talk and refrain at all costs from military
    adventures that create more blood and rifts that will not heal for many generations to come.

    3) Divide and conquer is a wise strategy. It is downright insane at a time when the West has
    serious issues with Afghanistan, Iraq , Iran and the islamofascists to open up new fronts
    by recognizing Kossovo and Sakasvilli trying to recapture Ossetia.

  48. “Milosevic didn’t just wake up one day and say “let’s kill Albanians”. He took away Kossovo’s independence only after local Serbs there complained about being routinely harassed and beaten by the Albanians with the local government doing nothing to prevent this or actually encouraging it.”

    Lwaving that debatable point aside–the tensions and violence weren’t only one way, and some of the complaints as recorded by the Serbian academy’s survey covered everything from “the Albanians are beating us” (bad) to “we have to speak Albanian to be employed in the provincial government” (why are you surprised?)–how is it proportional to place Kosovo under martial law, institute an ethnically discriminatory rergime, and the in 1999 drive half of the Albanian population of Kosovo from their (frequently destroyed) homes? Again,. I ask you to recognize the racist identifications of Albanians by Serbs, particularly in regards to their comparatively higher rate of natural increase. Go to Douglas Muir’s essay on this site, “Our negroes, our enemies,” supplement to Vladimir Arsenejevic’s essay of the same name, for information on the perception of Albanians–it wasn’t taught in schools, at least not until the 1990s, but it existed easily on the popular level.

    If you want more citiations I can provide them tomorrow.

    ““Albanians in Kossovo can have their own state, but Ossetians, Kurds, Bosnian Serbs and so on cannot because the borders are inviolable””

    1. I’ve not said anything of the kind. If the Ossetians want to be reunified within Russia and Abkhazia independence, who am I to complain? It’s worth noting that a nation doesn’t have a right to a city just because it bombed it.

    2. It’s funny, but many of the people in Serbia who want the Bosnian Serbs independent don’t want the same for Kosovo. Interesting hypocrisy, that?

    3. “[T]he West has
    serious issues with Afghanistan, Iraq , Iran and the islamofascists to open up new fronts
    by recognizing Kossovo and Sakasvilli trying to recapture Ossetia.” Oh lord. Are we getting into ill-thought sloppy clash of civilizations theory here?

Comments are closed.