Ketevan Murusidze 
Peace Researcher and Practitioner. Georgia.

“Isolation and fear paralyze the capacity to imagine the web of interdependent relationships.
— John Paul Lederach, The Moral Imagination

Adjusting to the protracted conflict context has been a struggle for both Georgian and Abkhazian societies since the ‘90s. The complexity of the conflict(s), where Georgian-Abkhazian, Georgian-Russian and geopolitical dimensions are intertwined, reinforces its protracted nature. While simplifying this complex setting to a single dimension (only a Georgian-Russian or Georgian-Abkhazian dimension) requires significant diplomatic resources from conflicting actors, persisting issues related to basic human needs, security and identity on both sides of the conflict-divide remain unaddressed and sometimes neglected in political discussions.

Although signs of Protracted Conflict Syndrome, as OSCE named “the collective acceptance of the intractableness of the conflict”, are sorely familiar to the people living on different sides of the Engur/i river, it cannot alleviate the implications of the unresolved conflict on the everyday peace of conflict-torn societies. In fact, the intractable conflict(s) penetrate every aspect of life. However, in the context of incompatible aspirations for a political settlement of the conflict, radicalised narratives shape an exclusive perception of how the unresolved conflict affects the Georgian and Abkhazian societies with a vivid tendency to monopolise an image of the victim. It further creates solid societal support for political decision-makers to address the issues concerning only in-group interests (either Georgian or Abkhazian), disregarding the perspectives of the outer-group (the “other side”). In addition, Protracted Conflict Syndrome creates a ground for declaring a moratorium on any issue primarily concerning even in-group society, if it requires engagement with the “other side”. This can be considered one of the main obstacles hindering the conflict transformation process that has the potential for reducing human suffering caused by the conflict in the absence of a comprehensive conflict resolution.

While there is a range of areas where the conflict imposes distinct restrictions on the Georgian and Abkhazian societies, there are less discussed but striking similarities in how conflict-divided societies experience the implications of the protracted conflict. For example, Everyday Peace Indicators (EPIs) elicited from the local communities during June-December 2021 demonstrate a similar linkage between perceptions of a safe home and the peace-and-security nexus in conflict-torn societies:

Peace is, when…

  • there are no bullet marks on houses; houses are not destroyed and burnt [Sukhum/i]
  • houses are not struck by bullets [Gori]
  • when your house survives the war undamaged [Akhalgori]
  • for IDPs, peace is being safe at home [Tbilisi]
  • having your own roof (house) [IDPs, Zugdidi]

Preserving local voices and how people framed these everyday peace indicators further illustrates stubborn similarities in the way local communities speak about insecurity, instability and fear of war:

Peace is, when…

  • you are not afraid that at some point somebody decides that this is the best moment for a war [Sukhum/i]
  • you do not hold back building a house due to fear of the breaking out of a war [Gori]
  • there is no fear that tomorrow the occupier will come, kick you out from your house and take away everything you worked for [Zugdidi]
  • you can plan for the future assured that a war will not change your plans. [Akhalgori]

The common struggle deriving from the intractable conflict and heavy cost that both Georgian and Abkhazian societies consciously or unconsciously pay on a daily basis are often left unrecognised or swept under the status-related disputes. In this context, the Protracted Conflict Syndrome provides a sort of comfort zone, relieving the pressure and responsibility on duty-bearers to address pressing issues related to access to healthcare and quality-education, freedom of movement, essential security and stability – a range of areas affected by the protracted and unpredictable conflict setting. Importantly, a justification for inaction provided by the protractedness of the conflict is not only exploited by ruling parties/figures but neither opposition nor civil society actors and society at large question this practice, on either side of the Engur/i river.

The time-tested method of disregarding one’s own duty while placing full responsibility on “the other side” is still effective. However, tragic incidents, such as the drowning of a family in the Engur/i river, lives lost due to delayed medical assistance, and detentions at the Administrative Boundary Lines, to name a few, are sporadic but a continuous reminder of the human suffering caused by the protracted and untransformed conflict.

For many years, the established practice of overlooking the consequences of the protracted conflict has relied on the patience of so-called ordinary people who have been given no other choice but continuously to compromise in every aspect of their life. Therefore, in a truly complicated context, where Moscow has effective control over the local dynamics with overt annexation tendencies, the drastic geopolitical changes caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and, at the same time, Georgian and Abkhazian diverging positions on the issue of status, it is still important to ask – what else can be done to find common ground between the Georgian and Abkhazian societies to improve living conditions of people living on different sides of the dividing line?