Encountering a Georgian Baptist archbishop

posted by Kaihsu Tai on October 8th, 2008

Recently the Archbishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, Malkhaz Songulashvili, came to Oxford for a study-leave. By Georgia, I mean the one with Saakashvili and Stalin (alas), rather than the one with Jimmy Carter and CNN. That might answer your obvious question…. Further, as to why there is an Archbishop in a Baptist church, please read the church’s website. As to how to address a Baptist Archbishop in the correct style: pass. In any case: sadly, it was during his visit that the Russia–Georgia conflict broke out.

I happened to be in Finland when the formerly-frozen conflict became hot again. It was interesting to see the newish Foreign Minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb, being thrusted into the limelight, trying to calm things down. Stubb used to be a Member of the European Parliament, and I have been tracking his career for some time. Though I do not agree with him on everything, I acknowledge that he was probably the most funny man in the house, to good political effect. He mediated in this conflict in his capacity as the President-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), an institution I raved about earlier in these pages. Suitably, Helsinki, Finland’s capital, is the birthplace of the OSCE.

Archbishop Songulashvili gave a talk in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, to explain the background and his views on the present conflict, and about Georgia in general – it is not a country about which most English people know a lot. Now I give my own view, in light of the Archbishop’s explanation. It appears that the whole thing was brought to a head as Georgia is attracted to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). Some Germans (and other Europeans) are trying to explain to the Russians that Nato is no longer a confrontational organization, but is now, after the Cold War, a gentler security pact. I don’t think this cuts it: Nato is too tangled already for this kind of rhetoric to work (recall Afghanistan and ex-Yugoslavia). OSCE is a better way forward.

Gentle readers can read a transcript of a recent United Nations Security Council meeting from a cool website called UN Democracy (available also on the sidebar here), where Alex Stubb gave a briefing (Security Council meeting 5982). Notice that things might start moving again in the next few days: “Sarkozy II plan, with an aim of having the troops withdrawn by 10 October”; “What I have proposed is the formation of an international platform made up of three key organizations — the United Nations, the EU and the OSCE — as well as the stakeholders in the conflict. That platform should be convened as soon as possible. I believe a good starting point is 15 October, when an international conference is scheduled to be held in Geneva.” I hope they move in a good direction.

Notice also that Nato was never mentioned, though both Kosovo and Afghanistan were. I am not steeped in the issues enough to know whether this is a good thing or bad. Representing the United States of America, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Rosemary DiCarlo mentioned another interesting fact though: “The OSCE will observe presidential elections in the United States in November, and we welcome that effort. An autonomous elections watchdog can contribute overall to strengthening democratic institutions in countries in transition and in established democracies.”

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  1. On October 16, 2008 at 15:03 Tracy said:

    OSCE would of course not involve the US. I assume that would be, thus, less objectionable to the Russians. I wonder if it would have as much of an affect on events, however?
    Thank you for sharing this!

  2. On October 17, 2008 at 05:31 Kaihsu Tai said:

    To oversimplify the matter: The USA is a participating State of the OSCE (therefore the observers for USA elections next month), and so are Georgia and Russia. The OSCE cliché is ‘Vancouver to Vladivostok’. So the OSCE route would mean the USA, Russia, Georgia, and other participating states sit down to talk to sort this out. In contrast, Georgia joining the Nato would have meant USA and other Nato members immediately getting another war on their hands, and one against Russia for that matter. This is perhaps strangely attractive to a certain Governor who can see Russia from her window, but not the rest of us.

  3. On October 17, 2008 at 11:02 Tracy said:

    (how ridiculous of me not to know that the US is a member of the OSCE)

    It would be nice to have an administration that does a bit more talking…

  4. On October 22, 2008 at 12:05 Kaihsu Tai said:

    See my earlier post http://www.pieandcoffee.org/2006/07/24/euro-atlantic/ and the OSCE website http://www.osce.org/ for more information about that organization. This issue (number 3) of OSCE Magazine had a very informative retrospective timeline of the Georgia–Russia conflict, as seen from the OSCE perspective: it started in early 2008, rather than starting from August when it entered the mainstream news media’s consciousness. You can get a free-of-charge subscription to the OSCE Magazine by emailing them at subscriptions@osce.org which I suggest all gentle readers of Pie and Coffee to do now at this moment!