About Nikolaj Nielsen
Nikolaj Nielsen is an independent journalist and editor based in Brussels.
Articles by Nikolaj Nielsen
By 2050, a global system that guarantees the equitable distribution of resources - of water, of land, of energy, and of food. But first, all risk-aversion schemes that underpin our fears and spin off so many absurdities have been binned. No more military, no more securities markets, or insurance plans meant to keep us safe and in constant fear. With the removal of corporate and state centric interests – genuine democracy could finally have the space to prevail.
The Svetliachok cafe has seen better times.
The blue-and-red canvas cover has been torn from its awning, scattering in its
wake sweet-wrappers and napkins. They lie in puddles around the cafe entrance
amid the continuing drizzle. It is a miserable scene. But people in the town of
Gali, near the Georgian border in eastern Abkhazia, have more than rain and
repair to worry about. For the debris represents the work not of the weather
but of a bomb.
Nikolaj Nielsen has just completed a masters
degree in journalism and media. He is a former editorial intern at terrorism.
openDemocracy. His work has been published in New Internationalist and Pambazuka News.
The journey south here from Abkhazia's capital Sukhum (Sukhumi), an hour by pot-holed road, is a minor lesson in the intractability of the conflict that has kept Abkhazia in limbo since the small Black Sea region wrested itself from Georgia's control in the war of 1992-93. The traffic we passed en route to the Georgian border was sparse: the occasional United Nations vehicle, a dilapidated red bus, three Russian MC trucks, and several dozen cows - all heading the other way towards. Everywhere, shelled-out homes from the war were a constant reminder that - the faded evidence of Sukhum's former resort status (and even a few Russian tourists) notwithstanding - Abkhazia is a conflict-zone.
For the fifteen years since they established a fragile autonomy after decades as part of Georgia and the Soviet Union, the Abkhazians have been struggling for recognition as an independent state. "It's about our identity, security, dignity, healing wounds, and being able to interact on a equal basis", says Liana Kvarchelia, deputy director for the Centre for Humanitarian Programmes in Sukhum says. Abkhazians' deep desire to be seen as a distinct people with the right to determine their own future is, however, viewed with outright opposition by Georgia, suspicion by the international community, and scepticism even by Abkhazia's main protector and ally, Russia. Also on openDemocracy:
Andrew Mueller, "Abkhazian futures" (23 August 2005),
Thomas de Waal, "Abkhazia's dream of freedom" (10 May 2006),
George Hewitt, "Abkhazia: land in limbo" (10 October 2006),
Donald Rayfield, "Russia and Georgia: a war of perceptions" (24 August 2007),
Alexander Rondeli, "Georgia: politics after revolution" (14 November 2007),
Robert Parsons, "Mikheil Saakashvili's bitter victory" (11 January 2008),
Robert Parsons, "Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia: the war option" (13 May 2008),
Thomas de Waal, "The Russia-Georgia tinderbox" (16 May 2008).
Amid political isolation and constant insecurity, the Abkhazians have managed to establish an elected government and a nascent civil society. But they have been forced increasingly to rely on Russia, in a relationship they concede is often ambivalent. Their primary concern, as long as a return to war with Georgia remains the main threat, is security. When that is guaranteed, the rest will follow, or so they hope.
Before leaving Sukhum, I call Abkhazia's deputy foreign minister to get an assessment of the situation in Gali to find that the area has been declared an emergency-zone after the bomb explosion late on the previous evening killed four people and injured six. Natella Akaba, chair of the Association of Women of Abkhazia, advises me not to travel. But no one it seems has told the guards at a succession of Russian military checkpoints, and we arrive in the centre of Gali where - against the background of a Soviet-era mural depicting white doves and a cosmonaut - two investigators are picking through debris in the blast-site.
A single checkered white-and-red ribbon, tied to the pine trees that surround the tiny Svetliachok cafe, cordons off the area where on 6 July 2008 four people died: Jansukh Muratia, the acting head of Abkhaz security in the Gali district; Sukhran Gumba, an Abkhaz border officer; Anzor Lagvilala, a United Nations translator; and Iveta Toria, a local resident. It was another episode in a deteriorating situation that had already seen four bombs explode in Gagra and Sukhum on 29-30 June, injuring twelve people. For the Abkhazians, the situation is clear. "This is a specific action made by Georgian special agents. Their goal is to show that Abkhazian and Russian peacekeepers cannot control the situation", said Rusland Kishmaria, special representative of the Abkhaz president in Gali region.
Most local residents refuse to talk to a curious stranger. But further away from the scene, one - a Georgian who fled Gali in the war, only to return in 1997 - tells me: "You can see what life is like here. So long as the Russians are here, our lives will not change. The Russians are satisfied with an unstable situation. There is a lot of tension. If something happens we can't rely on either the Russians or the Abkhazians. We can only rely on ourselves."
A few hours later, back in Sukhum, Abkhazia's defence minister Mirab Kishmaira looks nervous as he refuses point-blank to comment on the bombings. The words are defiant: "We are prepared to face the Georgian soldiers anywhere, anytime. As soon as we get the word, we'll start military operations." Kishmaira has seen war in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as his own country, and has no desire to see blood. But when asked if military operations could ever resolve the current conflict, he says: "I wish that Abkhazia will be recognised in a beautiful way and that we can become a model for other countries."
For the Abkhazians, it was and remains a zero-sum conflict: independence or nothing. Whoever planted the bombs in Gali is accentuating the choice.
"The Sunni-Shiite conflict is in the open now. It's been triggered and operationalized," said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
Since Hizbollah withdrew from West Beirut after the Shia militant group took over much of the capital, Sunni-Shia tensions have reached fever pitch. There are fears that the animosities that divide the two will escalate into new fighting. Obaid, a Sunni Muslim who was held captive by Hizbollah during the siege and later released, said, "We cannot go back to how we lived with them before. The blood is boiling here. They push, they push, they push." Some of the extremist elements within the Sunni community are calling for a jihad to avenge the deaths of Lebanese Sunnis.
Clashes raged in Lebanon over the weekend, with Hizbollah forces briefly taking over West Beirut. Five days of fighting have killed forty-four people. The street battles between Sunnis and Shia spread to the mountains overlooking the besieged city, followed by more clashes in Tripoli. The road to Rafik Hariri international airport remains under Hizbollah control. Druze leader Walid Jamblatt, allied to the pro-American government, televised a short speech calling on peace and coexistence. However, shortly after midnight this morning, intense gun fire exchange was heard in the Hamra commercial area of Beirut.
The toD verdict: Since November, the country has been without a president as a 17-month stalemate between Hizbollah and the Lebanese government failed to reach agreements through dialogue. When the Lebanese government decided to cut out Hizbollah's private telecommunications network, the Shia group took the battle to the streets. Lebanese officials are now accusing Hizbollah of rescinding its promise to only use weapons against Israel.
According to middle east correspondent Robert Fisk Lebanon is not on the path to another civil warn or a coup d'etat. In his view, the clash between the Sunnis and Shia is about the "political legitimacy of the Lebanese government and its pro-American support." He likens the current situation to that of Hamas. Elected to govern, Hamas was rejected by the US and then took over the Gaza Strip by force. Also rejected by the US, Hizbollah still became a minority part of the Lebanese government but eventually withdrew its Shia ministers in protest of the American-backed policies of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The fighting, he argues, is part of a larger struggle directed against the US.
Violence spreads with disease in BurmaKeep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle.
Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here
The numbers are staggering. From several hundred to now over 200,000 missing, the tragedy of Cyclone Nargis is accentuated by the intransigence of the Burmese military junta, a lack of infrastructure, and time. "Given the gravity of the situation including the lack of food and water, some partners have reported fears for security, and violent behaviour in the most afflicted areas," said the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. To make matters worse, the very first boat shipping relief supplies to a delta town where 80% of the homes were destroyed sunk. In the meantime, the military junta busied itself with a weekend referendum to roadmap democracy in the upcoming 2010 "elections".
Darfur takes battle to Khartoum
The Darfur rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim said today he will continue to launch attacks against Sudan's capital until its government collapses. The statement follows a series of attacks on Khartoum over the weekend by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the first of its kind in decades. The rebels blitzed across 600 km of desert to reach the capital. Sudanese security forces have cordoned off areas within the city and is said to have chased a group of rebels into a building. According to the United Nations, over 200,000 people have been killed since 2003. Khartoum says 9,000 have died. Sudan is accusing Chad of supporting the rebels and has cut diplomatic ties. Chad denies the charge.
Energy - New Pentagon Conflict Strategy
Senior US officials and strategists are honing in on the potential looming energy crisis and competition over raw materials. The U.S., like China, depends on imports of oil and fossil fuels. Several indicators point to this new strategy. According to Michael T. Klare of the Nation, the Pentagon is requesting funds to launch Africa Command (Africom) in a bid to protect oil interests and prevent China's expanding African influence. In Eurasia, Washington is unsettled at the prospect of Russia's dominating hold over oil and natural gas. Klare writes that similar US policy initiatives and interest represent a major shift from conventional conflict stratagems to one over the control and distribution of the world's dwindling resources.
Mogadishu under fire