8.24.2008

Russia, Georgia and Medea - O - Mai!

Images_2 It’s certainly hard to condone the continuing Russian stance and refusal to remove it's troops from Georgia. But I cant understand how quickly pundits have forgotten that it was Mr Saakashvili who struck the first formal blow. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he is solely culpable (there's such a thing as provocation), but the instant ‘whiting out’ of the Georgian first strike doesn't seem much different from the old ‘Turkish invasion of Cyprus’ story. OK, again the rights and wrongs are tricky, but it’s perverse to forget that the prompt to that invasion was a Greek-backed attempted coup.

In Georgia’s case a lot more gets swept under the carpet. For a start, it is a pretty disappointing beacon of democracy for the West to support: no independent judiciary, some recent strategic closing of non-government media, and – so far as I can tell – a good number of opposition leaders in prison.

And there is a good deal of saber rattling from the Right. Not just Cheney. McCain’s foreign policy adviser was until recently a paid lobbyist for Georgia. US officials of all levels urged Saakashvili not to respond to what he (and they) saw as clear Russian efforts to provoke him. But the officials (and their intel analysts) simply didn't comprehend how Saakashvili viewed the choices he faced. Which were: act now or face the irrevocable loss of those two Georgian provinces. OK, worth a gamble. I also think he underestimated Russia's reaction (even though they clearly were baiting him) and severally over-estimated the support that would come from the West and NATO.

The vast majority of us are ignorant about the Caucasus. I don’t know any Russian beyond the alphabet and I know no Georgian whatsoever, never mind Ossetian. For the most part, like almost all of us, I'm dependent on very filtered news.

In any case Georgia signals one thing above all.

That is the famous Golden Fleece and the dysfunctional family of the ruling house of Colchis, a city-state situated somewhere in what is now western Georgia. Colchis was also the land where the mythological Prometheus was punished by being chained to a mountain while an eagle ate at his liver for revealing to humanity the secret of fire. Amazons also were said to be of Scythian origin from Colchis.

This is the complicated story of the mythical Greek hero Jason, who was sent by one of those malevolent relatives, so common in Greek myth, to bring back the fleece of the golden ram – the marvelous animal which had carried the boy Phrixus away from his wicked step-mother to safety in Colchis.

There is no happy ending. For Jason, with his crew of Argonauts, managed to capture the prize, and closely guarded, fleece – but only with the help of the king’s daughter – Medea, the witch of Colchis, who had fallen in love with him (she's pictured at the top). She notoriously slowed up her father who came in pursuit, as she and Jason escaped with the fleece, by killing her own brother and scattering his limbs in the sea – for her father to pick up.

The sequel is no less horrid. Medea had children by Jason, but when he was threatening to leave her for another woman , she sent a poisoned dress to the new bride and so killed her -- and, just to complete the punishment of her faithless lover, she killed the children too.

The distant mythological past of Georgia casts a nasty shadow over its later history.

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