‘Black Hole’ in South Ossetia?

After the war with Georgia last year, Russia recognised the tiny, impoverished rural region of South Ossetia as an independent state. Moscow has now deployed border guards to police the frontlines and is in the process of establishing military bases there to defend against what it describes as potential Georgian "aggression" in the future. Russia also promised large amounts of aid to help rebuild and revitalise the area.

But according to the Associated Press, some former South Ossetian officials are deeply unhappy about the post-war situation, alleging that "tyranny and official corruption" have flourished. "What has happened practically a year after the war? Nothing. Not one apartment has been rebuilt, not one business has recuperated," claimed a former security council chief who is now in opposition. Citing the same former-officials-turned-dissidents, analyst Paul Goble also suggested in a recent column that South Ossetia is now a kind of ‘black hole’; an area "free from law".

The allegation of widespread institutional corruption has been strongly rejected by the South Ossetian authorities, who insist that only around a fifth of Russia’s promised reconstruction aid has actually arrived and therefore, in the words of the information minister, "there is literally nothing to steal". Either version of the ‘truth’, however, appears to represent bad news for people living in the conflict zone as they try to recover from the wartime devastation – not to mention the many thousands of people who were driven out of South Ossetia by the fighting and have little prospect of ever going home.

(The photograph which accompanies this entry shows the sign for Stalin Street in the centre of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. I took the photo in 2006, and the Georgian version of the street name is clearly visible between the Ossetian and Russian-language versions – although that, of course, may now have changed.)