South Ossetia: A Photojournalist's Musings On the War

See Global Voices special coverage page on the South Ossetia crisis.

Firsthand reports from the conflict zone in the Caucasus continue to appear here and there in the Russophone blogosphere. On Sept. 8, one month since the beginning of the war in South Ossetia and Georgia, Russian photojournalist Oleg Klimov posted his musings (RUS) on what the war looks like and what it smells like, on the media and propaganda, and on what seems like a universal nature of wartime looting.

[Oleg Klimov's photo of peacekeepers “between Tskhinvali and Gori”]

[Oleg Klimov's photo of a post-funereal “wake amidst the ruins in Tskhinvali”]

[Oleg Klimov's photo of “a village between Tskhinvali and Gori”]

Worst of all I dislike the smell of war. Its stench. A combination of burned damp wood, plastic and the smell of dead bodies. “A parfume.” A sense of war smell is one of the five important senses, an ability to perceive and recognize the smell of the events of the past. I've always regretted that photos, like money, do not smell… If they smelled, we'd definitely be all sick now. At the beginning, at least, more than from the graphic pictures of dismembered bodies and other horrors…

Tonight, I watched a “documentary” from Vesti-24 [on a Russian state-owned channel]. Turns out Georgians have been “genociding” Ossetians and the Abkhaz throughout centuries. I really don't understand where the law on “inciting ethnic hatreds” is. This hatred is being imposed not just on the level of “politicians and journalists,” but on the level of peoples. And the peoples hate each other. And “the smartest politicians” say that on a human level, it is possible to understand the people… Expect that it is exactly on a human level that it's impossible to understand this.

Georgian houses are being burned and looted. The same is happening to the Ossetian houses. And they'll continue to burn and loot them. Perhaps, this is human nature. It always happens this way during “ethnic wars.” It was there in Bosnia and Kosovo. In Pala (close to Sarajevo), in the [neutral zone], detachments of “Russian Cossacks” and [mercenaries] were among those who did the looting. There was a whole “system” to it: risking their lives, they were delivering carpets, TV sets, etc., to the Serbian zone and selling them wholesale to the middlemen, who, in their turn, were selling the “trophy goods” at civilian markets. I witnessed this in person and heard attempts at justification: “freelance mercenaries” have nothing left to do because no one is paying them for “heroism at someone else's war.”

Outside Tskhinval (and inside the city, too) any car near a deserted house means one thing: looters. If you ask them, “What are you doing?”, they'll respond: “Oh, nothing, our relatives used to live here…” There've been instances of murder, however, as well. Of women, too, not just men. And there is blackmail. For example, at one village the local police rounded up the residents and issued an ultimatum to them: “If you don't pay $10,000, we'll burn the whole village!” (This is almost official info from the Dutch embassy.)



  • Russia is sick with xenophobia and bigotry and that’s why Russian politics is based on extreme forms of chauvinism and aggression. The Russians started attacking Georgian civilian villages in the beginning of August together with South Ossetian terrorists. President Mikheil Saakashvili did what any other good leader would have done: protect his people and territorial integrity of his country. As always the Russian aggression backfired at Russians and so far, Russia politically is losing this war.

    Recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Give me a break. The Russians kicked out more than 300,000 Georgian residents over past 18 years, burnt their homes and now they want to declare these Georgian provinces as independent? Let the Georgian population return and conduct a referendum, I am sure the vast majority of residents will have different priorities.

    The Russians have only shown Georgia aggression, wars, ethnic cleansing for more than 200 years. This is the reason we are trying and we will obviously join NATO. Russia never wanted peace with Georgia, the Russians always wanted piece of Georgia. But, we will not surrender. We have been fighting wars since the existence of our nation, against Mongols, Persians, Arabs, Turk-Seljuks and Russians won’t enslave us.

    We will not give up our freedom, liberties or land. So I would suggest Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev that you respect our freedom and if you are truly concerned with small ethnic minorities’ self-determination, then recognize the freedom of all ethnicities that you are controlling with fear and terror, recognize the freedom and independence of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Daghestan, Tatarstand and all the other autonomous republics within the Russian Federation, where local residents do not even speak Russian and despise the Russian government.

    Then lets talk about status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia…

  • Owen

    Thanks for that translation and for the link to Klimov’s pictures.

  • Nemesis

    David, follow the example of you crazy Michiko, chew your tie. This helps ;)

  • Mark Epstein

    Isn’t Georgeia the country that gave the world Stalin? and Berisha? They ethnically cleansed against everyone but Georgians and in the millions.

  • Troy

    So if Hitler was Austrian, does it mean that Austria is the architect of WW2?

    And what you know about Stalin and Beria and what they did?! Georgian people were the same victims of them as other nationalities (also it is not Berisha, but it is Beria, Lavrenti).

    Mishiko’s tie? How many times Mr. Boris Yeltsin was presented out of conscious because of alcohol? I would suggest you, Mr Nemesis, to follow your past leader’s habit and chill.

    Please, if it sis discussion, let us bring some valuable arguments, not issues like “Stallin was Georgian”. Half of Mr. Obama is from Kenya. So, whatever US will do, let us blame Kenya.

    Let us be more serious in discussion.


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