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South Ossetia: A Photojournalist's Musings On the War

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Eastern & Central Europe, Bosnia Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Russia, Serbia, Ethnicity & Race, Freedom of Speech, History, Human Rights, Humanitarian Response, International Relations, Media & Journalism, Photography, Politics, War & Conflict

See Global Voices special coverage page [1] 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 [2] (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.)