Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Of which I know little

Obviously, the most important things about the fighting in South Ossetia are that people there are being killed and that the political future of tens of thousands is at stake.

But there are other victims, too. Victims closer to home. Cosseted victims, whose suffering – while undetectable using conventional means – is no less real for being contemptibly small.

Commentators. Pundits. Newspaper columnists and bloggers. Many of these people have turned on their TVs in the last few days and thought “Huh? Who? Where?” As the international community has called for restraint, so the opinionators have called for an atlas. Well, for Wikipedia, to be honest (South Ossetia is just under a fifth the size of Wales, you know).

These people depend for their very existence on being able to produce a regular flow of commentary on the great matters of the day. Take T, for instance.

T is a small-fry blogger who like to think of himself as reasonably well-informed. A week ago, he knew that South Ossetia: (a) is in Georgia; (b) unless North Ossetia is the one that’s in Georgia; (c) has a separatist movement, I mean, they all do round there, don’t they; and (d) I’ve been to Hungary a couple of times – that was in the Soviet bloc too, so it’s probably nearish.

But now, T is struggling to fit the recent violence into an overarching geopolitical narrative for the benefit of his six regular readers. Please give generously, etc. etc…

Liam says that, in a way, “it’s good to see a news story that most bloggers have to engage with without preconception or prejudice - something most of us bring to most stories as a matter of course”. True. Although you can bet that a fair few will engage with it based on ‘Russia bad’ or ‘West bad, Russia anti-West, therefore Russia good’ mindsets.

I’m going for a third option: there’s just no way I’m going to get myself in a position to say anything substantive or insightful about this in a hurry, so unless it drags on, and I dearly hope it doesn’t, then I’m going to sit it out. Hopefully a Tory frontbencher or an archbishop or somebody will say something preposterous very soon and provide subject matter more up my street.

In the meantime, these pieces by Thomas de Waal on the conflict and by Anatol Lieven on the background (hat tip) seem pretty good. But then, I wouldn’t really know.

Oh, OK, two tiny attempts at having thoughts of my own: first, if Russia, in championing the separatists, is accepting the principle that post-Soviet national borders are malleable, then how’s that going to play vis-à-vis Chechnya? And second, giving out Russian citizenship to a load of South Ossetians is a really crafty way to allow yourself to say that the situation there affects your own nationals.

1 comment:

Matt M said...

A Fistful of Euros (found via Paulie) has been the most informative for me. Although I've no way of judging how accurate it is.