Douglas Muir, at the wonderful A Fistful of Euros, offers a capsule description of the first president of independent Georgia:
Gamsakhurdia deserves a post of his own, but the key point is, he was (1) a foaming-at-the-mouth Georgian nationalist; (2) arrogant, utterly self-centered, and constitutionally incapable of compromise; and, (3) a complete, toe-sucking incompetent who destroyed pretty much everything he touched. Other actors share the blame, but Gamsakhurdia bears first responsibility for turning a difficult but manageable ethnic problem into a bloody little civil war.
In my years as editor of World Link we often talked about writing profiles of the many world leaders we encountered like that, but decorum, and our careful parent, the World Economic Forum, kept us on the bland side. It’s a pity.
Muir’s post, by the way, is an installment in his occasional guide to “frozen conflicts”. The current episode tells you more about South Ossetia than you ever thought possible. Muir’s brief explanation:
Okay, so much for the basics. Now an obvious question: why should you, dear reader, care about South Ossetia?
You probably shouldn’t.
Unlike the other frozen conflicts, there’s not a lot at stake in South Ossetia. It’s small, it’s remote, it has no resources and zero strategic value. It’s very unlikely to lead to a larger conflict. So unless you’re Georgian or Ossetian, there’s no reason it should keep you awake at night. (And even if you’re Georgian, you probably spend a lot more time thinking about Abkhazia — Georgia’s other frozen conflict — than about South Ossetia.) South Ossetia is just not that important to the rest of the world.
That said, South Ossetia is interesting in itself. Tolstoy is supposed to have said every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Well, ethnonationalist conflicts are sort of like that: every one has has its own particular and fascinating awfulness.