Giorgi Bokuchava – Georgia
Dedication to a reintegrated and peaceful Georgia
If a young man has little interest in sports, hobbies, or the pursuit of accolades, it may be because of dedication to a vital cause. Giorgi Bokuchava is a young person focused with single-minded clarity on discovering the most effective way to restore his family’s birthright and heritage. Before he was born, his parents enjoyed living in a disputed part of Georgia called Abkhazia, once predominantly peopled by denizens of the Ottoman Empire. When the czarist Russian Empire gained control of the area, many Abkhazians migrated to Ottoman-controlled regions. Georgians moved into the strip of vacated land the size of the island of Cyprus, and under the USSR, dominated the Abkhazian region. The area became a favorite holiday destination of Russian tourists who enjoyed the beaches and coastal towns on the Black Sea. Subtropical lowlands cultivated citrus groves, watered by the many rivers flowing from the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains along its northeastern border with Russia. It is a highly desirable region.
“Igniting ethnic conflicts was part of the Soviet policy of deterring pro-independence movements among the ‘restive peoples’ like Georgians, Lithuanians, and others.” Giorgi says. “When the USSR collapsed, Russia continued to use [ethnic] conflicts as leverage for preventing ex-Soviet nations from ‘escaping’ from its orbit.”
In a democratic referendum, Georgians, including Abkhazians, chose independence. Giorgi says at that time the Abkhazians constituted only 17% of the population of that semi-autonomous region, but ethnic animosity broke into a “devastating armed conflict deliberately triggered and fueled by Russia between Russian armed forces, Russian-backed Abkhazian separatists, Chechen mercenaries, and Georgian government forces in 1992-1993.” Countless homes, schools, churches, hospitals, and buildings were destroyed. Human Rights Watch reported gross violations on either side, but ethnic cleansing left as many as ten thousand Georgians dead or missing. Giorgi’s parents were forced to flee their beloved homeland along with some 250,000 other Georgians.
A few months later, Giorgi was born, and the family eventually made its way to Ukraine, which he calls his “second homeland.” An enduring heartache became his legacy from those events—which “have not only substantially affected my consciousness, shaped my personal identity and value system, but have also explicitly defined international relations and related disciplines as the matters of vital interest and utmost importance to me,” he says, driving his education and career choices at every turn.
While earning his degree in international relations, Giorgi was inspired by Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, realizing Ukraine was the frontline of the same battle he was preparing to fight for the restoration of his homeland in Abkhazia. He initiated and organized successful fundraising through social media and among the students and staff at his university to aid both “armed forces and voluntary battalions of Ukraine, defending the freedom and independence of Eastern Ukraine.”
Giorgi served as a summer intern for Transparency International Ukraine and, immediately following, attended an educational program in Estonia, “Prospects for Democracy, Stability, and Europeanization in Ukraine.”
Next, he won a competition to serve an eight-month internship with the Head Department for Introduction of Reforms at the Presidential Administration of Ukraine. In that capacity, he helped develop proposals regarding tax reform, anticorruption measures, deregulation, and liberalization of the economy using Georgia’s model of successful economic reforms. Giorgi also compared EU legislation with Ukraine’s and proposed implementation of relevant EU directives. After organizing his research, he presented it at the Head Department’s seminars and further contributed in drafting bills for submission to the President of Ukraine for his signature, and earning a certificate of appreciation.
After graduation, he has continued his studies at Estonian School of Diplomacy and is serving an internship at the International Centre for Defense and Security and a traineeship at the Embassy of Georgia to Estonia.
Giorgi’s personal goals are nothing less than shaping the future of Abkhazia as part of an independent Georgia. The Russian Federation now has airbases, naval bases, mobile missile stations, and thirty military bases in Abkhazia. Its president is a former KGB officer, as is Vladimir Putin. Russia is an occupying power, Giorgi acknowledges, so he admits most security issues must be negotiated with Moscow. Yet, he has a plan for achieving his vision of a reconciliation policy, which would also include South Ossetia.
All strategies include constant “status-neutral” communication and deliberation, beginning with fostering trade links, education, and people-to-people ties. Shared benefits of mutual integration into the European family of nations must be ensured. A de-facto government might facilitate this process since both breakaway regions are not currently set up for decision-making.
Giorgi believes personal connections and concrete initiatives can build trust and demonstrate the potential for peaceful coexistence with mutual economic and security benefits. Exchange activities, cultural and educational ties, tourism opportunities, and access to recreational facilities could help pave the way for trade and movement across the administrative boundary line. Cooperation with the international community could help deliver tangible results as well, such as vital human rights protection in the occupied regions and the critical protection of the rights of refugees to return in dignity and security, with property rights ensured.
Perhaps Giorgi’s most interesting concept is that “the Georgian government has to deprive the conflict of relevance in the minds of people in a way that enmity between people and the wounds caused by the devastating wars can be cured, and the new page in history of interrelations may be turned.”
His ultimate goal is “the resistance to Russia’s imperialist policies, Georgia’s definitive and irreversible breaking free of Russian influence, the complete deliverance from the post-Soviet legacy, and the integration of Georgia into Euro-Atlantic institutions.”