Sunday 22 October 2006

the alphabet of nations

Is there a finer sight in all the world than this season's apple harvest sat in numbered bins outside the cider mill? The smell alone was divine. We're not talking about any old cider either: yesterday we popped down to Herefordshire and paid a visit to Dunkertons, makers of some of the finest organic cider money can buy. Magners it ain't (how have Magners managed to make it a selling point that their cider is made from a "unique" blend of 17 varieties of apple? Doesn't that just make it sound like they've taken any old crap and chucked it in?). I think Dunkerton's "Black Fox" may just be the best cider in the world.

My thanks are due to the Eye in the Sky and his wife for another great day out in a lovely part of the world.

Ah, Abkhazia.

Land of beauty and contrasting landscapes, from coastal forests and citrus plantations all the way through to snowcapped mountains. Home to some of the tallest trees in Europe and the world, with some Nordmann Firs reaching as high as 70m / 230ft. It is also home to one of the most bitterly fought (and yet strangely unreported) struggles for independence in Europe. Abkhazia has a history dating back to the ancient kingdom of Colchis, the legendary home of the Golden Fleece and the destination of the Argonauts. More recently, Abkhazia was an autonomous republic within the Soviet Union. Georgia declared independence from the USSR on 9th April 1991, and the following year the ruling military council announced that it was abolishing the Soviet Constitution. The Abkhaz government saw this as an attempt to abolish their autonomous status and on 23rd July 1992 they declared secession from Georgia. Troops were despatched and a bloody struggle began with gross human rights violations being reported on both sides. A ceasefire was agreed and independence was declared in 1994, but this has not been officially recognised by a single country (although, oddly, Abkhazia is apparently internationally recognised as a de jure autonomous republic, and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what the distinction is. Afghanistan and Iraq are presumably both therefore de jure puppet states of the USA)

Tensions between Abkhazia and Georgia remain high. The fragile peace is maintained by UN military observers and by Russian peacekeepers. The UN patrols the buffer zone which keeps the Abkhaz and Georgian sides apart. There are sporadic shootings and kidnappings with the potential for violent explosion never far beneath the surface. Abkhazia, turning increasingly towards Moscow, insists there can be no settlement until Georgia recognises its independence, something which Tbilisi has sworn it will never do. There is no sign that a way out of this volatile impasse will soon be found.

What is it that makes a nation independent? Abkhazia clearly has a sense of its own identity. Are they any less of a nation because the UN says they aren't? Did countries like the Ukraine or Belarus lose a sense of their own nationhood just because they were subsumed in the USSR? Did France during the Second World War?

It's amazing what you can learn as a result of an argument in the pub, isn't it? ("Which country comes first in an alphabetical list?")

I'm not sure many Abkhazians would care where they came in that list, as long as they featured in it somewhere.

Heart beats for Abkhazia.

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