Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Post-War Georgia

I was in Georgia last week, some four weeks after what the Georgians are calling the Russian War. I traveled to Gori -- the hardest hit of Georgian cities and found little evidence that the Russians had been there. The Georgians have moved quickly to repair the damage -- particularly to the old Soviet apartment buildings that were hit by Russian artillery. I did see a store front window with a large bullet hole in it, but otherwise, few obvious physical signs that the Russians had been there.

The locals told me that the Russians looted the computers in the banks and that the contents of Stalin Museum, located in Gori along with his home, had been carted off to Tbilisi for safe-keeping. Everything was back in place at the museum by the time I arrived -- including Stalin's eery death mask -- which had to be viewed by candlelight since the electricity was off. (Not related to the war.)

In the countryside, there was more physical evidence of the Russian presence. Oddly, the Russians had burned whole mountainsides of forests. Local people told me that helicopters hovered over the mountains and dropped firebombs onto mountainsides. They said some 3000 acres of forests had been burned. The mountainsides were charred black. It seems illogical to burn the mountains, but several locals told me the Russians did it because they could -- and wanted to show their power and superiority. One local trail guide in Borjomi National Park said simply -- "the Russians are cruel."

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili continues to have the support of his people, but there are those who are beginning to question whether his moves against the Russians were a wise move. As one person told me, South Ossetians had begun to talk about rejoining Georgia before the war, but she says she now doubts that will happen any time soon.

There have been no protests agains Saakashvili since the war. Those I spoke with felt that would simply play into the hands of the Russian Government -- which has called the Georgian leader a "corpse."