On the meanings of “war”


Wars are defining moments in the life of states and nations. Throughout history wars often gave birth to nations, or caused the disappearance of states. Most nations had fought many wars, but almost every nation has one war to which they refer to as “the war”. For a German, Greek or Serb the term “before the war” means entirely different things and different periods.

I just spent a few days in Abkhazia and Tbilisi. I will write more about the trip in the following days. But it was interesting to see that the word “war” refers to different historical events. For the Georgians the phrase “after the war” means “after the August 2008 war”. For the Abkhaz (and I guess the 240.000 Georgian refugees from Abkhazia) the term “war” refers to a the war in 1992-93. For the Abkhaz “after the war” means  “after the 1992-1993 war”, while the August 2008 war is referred to as “the August events”. For Georgians the 1992-1993 war in Abkhazia is “the conflict in Abkhazia”. And for the Russians “the war” refers to the great patriotic war of 1941-1945 (which is symbolically different from the Second World War, as some Russian like to stress). So here it comes three nations that fought wars against each-other in the recent past – have entirely different meanings of the word “war”.

The pattern is not so different in the case of Moldova and Transnistria. For Transnistria “the war” is the 1992 armed conflict with Moldova. For Moldova, the 1992 clashes are just the “Transnistria conflict”.

“The war” is the event that shakes the core foundations of a state or nation, and the rest are just conflicts. “The war” is the one war that affects most of the population directly (that is why the 1992-93 is “the war” for the Abkhaz, but not for the most Georgians). So if one wants to understand which of the wars had the most decisive impact on the psyche of a nation, one has to look into what this nations calls “the war”.

The fact that the term “war” refers to recent events, also shows the degree to which “war” is a defining moment for contemporary politics in the South Caucasus, as opposed to most of Europe where “war” refers to historical events.

PS: I also wonder what is the by default meaning of the term “war” for Serbia?