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Soviet Nationality Policy: Impact on Ethnic Conflict in Abkhazia and South Ossetia
This study aims to answer two interlinked questions with respect to ethnic conflict in Georgia: Why and how two ethnic groups (Abkhazians and Ossetians) in Georgia sought secession in the 1990s rather than accepting unity under a common Georgian roof, and what explains the occurrence of ethnic conflicts between the Abkhazians and Georgians and between the South Ossetians and Georgians? The central argument of this paper is that Soviet nationality policy was a foremost driving force in shaping consciousness of being ethnic groups in Georgia and set the stage for the inter-ethnic conflicts of the post-Soviet era. A number of factors explain the particular inter-ethnic conflicts in Georgia among ethnic groups, including a long historical relationship between the Georgian people and the Abkhaz and Ossetian minorities, but I argue that the foremost factor was the role of Soviet nationality policy that evolved from Lenin to Gorbachev, a policy that granted ethnic groups some level of privileges and fostered a wave of national self-assertion, Soviet nationality policy and the Soviet federal structure created numerous ethnic- and territorial-based autonomous units during the Soviet era; these units shaped their own political institutions, national intelligentsias, and bureaucratic elites, forming the basis for later nationalistic movements and developing a wish for self-determination and full independence. These institutions and beliefs made ethnic conflict in post-Soviet Georgia inevitable.

Inter-Ethnic Conflict, Soviet Nationality Policy, Self Determination, Abkhazia, South Ossetia

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