TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgians on the streets of Tbilisi reacted defiantly but without surprise on Tuesday to Russia’s recognition of two rebel provinces, some refusing to accept they may have lost Abkhazia and South Ossetia for good.
“I give you a 100 percent guarantee we will return,” vowed Yermile Kheladze, a Georgian from the Black Sea region of Abkhazia.
But like others questioned in street interviews in the capital, he was at a loss to say how Georgia would win back territories that have cemented their secession and emerged as Russian protectorates from this month’s short war between the two countries.
“The United Nations, NATO, America need to discuss this. There’s no need for war,” said the 53-year-old schoolteacher, who fled Abkhazia for Tbilisi during separatist fighting 16 years ago when his house was looted and burned down.
He was among more than 200 people who demonstrated peacefully on Tuesday outside the Russian embassy in Tbilisi after Moscow drew international condemnation by granting diplomatic recognition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“Today it’s us, who will be next?” said Nika Akubardia, 21.
“People in Europe need to know this threatens not only Georgian democracy. This is a threat to the whole world,” said Gocha Ochigava, aged 28 and also originally from Abkhazia.
“We are for peace and justice, but for the sake of peace we are ready to do absolutely everything.”
Inside the four-storey embassy, set back behind high iron railings, lights could be seen in only a couple of rooms.
Singing, chanting protesters brandished placards reading “Russia stop”, “No to Russian fascism” and “Russian occupiers out of Georgia”.
On the pavement nearby, they had dumped all kinds of rubbish and junk — old tires, a broken chair, a cooker, a fridge and even two cracked porcelain toilet bowls — in an ironic response to alleged Russian looting of Georgian army bases.
On a white fence across the road, the word ‘antichrist’ and various obscenities in English and Russian had been scrawled beside portraits of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Elsewhere in the Georgian capital, the streets were quiet and many people appeared to lack the appetite for politics.
“This subject absolutely doesn’t interest me,” said a young dark-haired woman sitting on a bench beside the main avenue, Rustaveli Prospect.
It was the loss of Abkhazia — fondly remembered by many as an idyllic holiday destination by the sea in Soviet times — that appeared to rankle most.
“It was our pearl, and the Russians took it from us by force,” said a retired economist who declined to give his name.
Tako Svanidze, 19, a dancer at the capital’s famous Nabadi folk theatre, was pessimistic about the direction of the crisis, which she said had drastically affected her and her job.
“We don’t know what to do. We’re already having problems at work. When this war started, people stopped coming (to the theatre),” she said. “No one has time for singing and dancing. We have no audience … people aren’t in the mood.”