Independence in South Ossetia or World War III?

Considering the grave implications of the battle that has broken out over South Ossetia, it was puzzling to see the sparse coverage on Friday’s cable news and financial networks. On the other hand, maybe this is good news. The imperial position has not been prepped. Before waiting on next week’s lineup of Pentagon consultants dragged back from vacation, we the people have maybe 24 hours to make up our own minds.

My contribution toward a people-centered solution: concede independence to the breakaway republic of Tskhinval. Here’s why.

According to background materials available on the internet, some of which have already been broadcast as news, it appears that South Ossetia has long enjoyed a relatively autonomous position, even under Soviet rule. North Ossetia is part of the Russian Federation, so South Ossetians are kin to Russians. Reports claim that most South Ossetians hold citizenship in the Russian Federation, and that 99 percent of South Ossetians favored independence from Georgia in a 2006 referendum.

On Nov. 12, 2006, South Ossetians aligned with the breakaway republic of Tskhinval, re-elected their independent president, Eduard Kokoity. But this is only half the story.

As Irina Kelekhsayeva reports for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), on the same day that Kokoity was re-elected in Tskhinval, there was a parallel election among a cluster of ethnic Georgian villages in the region, resulting in the confirmation of Dmitry Sanakoyev as the “alternative president” of an “alternative administrative unit” created by Georgia’s central government. South Ossetia has two Presidents, but Kokoity usually gets called the “de facto” one (CRS No. 392 17-May-07).

Although Russia had agreed to withdraw its military bases from Georgia, reports continued to hint that weapons from Russia were continuing to flow into Tskhinval. Meanwhile, from the other side, Georgia got lots of help from the USA and achieved the highest growth rate of military spending in the world. Says the 2008 yearbook from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI): “Georgia in particular had a very high level of military spending in comparison to the size of its economy.”

On both sides, the arms built up and up. On the ground, people of the region did their best to live under the tensions of dual Russian-Georgian peacekeeping forces, who periodically blocked and unblocked travel along key roads. Last week, in an effort to unfreeze the frozen conflict, the Georgian Army rolled into the region from the South. The Russian Federation countered with a swift and surprising attack from the North.

Already, voices in the USA, echoing the policy posted at the State Department web site, talk about a need to maintain the “integrity” of the border that keeps South Ossetia clearly within the domain of Georgia. This is the position to rethink.

Most ominous for peace lovers is the presence of the Caspian pipeline that runs near the Georgia capital of Tbilisi, just south of South Ossetia. This is the same pipeline that is now in flames in Turkey from a reported attack by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), another “separatist” group that analysts will no doubt consider when evaluating any concession to the South Ossetia “separatists.”

On the Russian side, there are similar considerations of geopolitical posturing. Some analysts say an objective of the Russian incursion this week will be to strengthen the Russian influence over terms of conflict resolution. The Russian gambit may also work to keep Georgia out of NATO forever.

Which brings me to the tentative, people-centered solution: In consideration of the longstanding “de facto” independence of Tskhinval, the boundary of Georgia’s “integrity” should be rethought to exclude that portion of South Ossetia known as the breakaway republic. The “Georgian villages”, on the other hand, should be allowed to reunite.

No doubt, a certain kind of geopolitical logic will not shirk the prospect of drawing Russia into a protracted war with Georgia. As the Georgian arms buildup comes from USA aid and manufacturers, geopolitical ambitions will still be whetted by profit. But if we think about geopolitical peace that respects traditions of autonomy and self-definition, then the people of South Ossetia deserve a defensive retreat of the Georgian Army to concede the independence of the breakaway republic of Tskhinvali.

Peace for South Ossetia means relinquishing hardline claims that it falls within the “sovereign” borders of Georgia. If Georgia concedes quickly, then world opinion can next focus on the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops, whose stated purpose for invading Tskhinval will have vanished.

In the above, tentative suggestion, I have tried to apply a people-centered, rather than a bloc- or state-centered strategy of peace. This is a deliberate attempt to think outside of the Cold War box. In the event that people of the world are prepared to think and act with independence, we may find something in our future besides World War III.

Further Reading:

• An Associated Press report attributes US interests in Georgia to the Caspian pipeline. However a quick check of a map seems to indicate that the pipeline runs well south of South Ossetia, a fact strangely missing from the AP report. “Georgia as a whole means quite a lot,” says a strategist to the AP. No doubt. But if the pipeline is going to draw our thoughts to the region, then what would be the point of prolonging the conflict over a small northern province of Georgia, when US oil interests lie further south?

• Michel Chossudovsky explored the impact of the Caspian pipeline during the bombing of Lebanon in 2006:

The Ceyhan-Tblisi-Baku (BTC) pipeline totally bypasses the territory of the Russian Federation. It transits through the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia, both of which have become US “protectorates”, firmly integrated into a military alliance with the US and NATO. Moreover, both Azerbaijan and Georgia have longstanding military cooperation agreements with Israel.

• The US State Department position: The United States supports the territorial integrity of Georgia and a peaceful resolution of the separatist conflict in South Ossetia. Note how the State Department’s own account of the conflict points to provocations against the Ossetians by the Georgia authorities:

The cessation of hostilities brought on by the Sochi Agreement held fast into 2004. At that point, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had been replaced by Mikheil Saakashvili, who expressed a renewed interest in reintegrating Georgia’s separatist regions. In keeping with this policy, the Georgian Government placed a special emphasis on the regulation and monitoring of trade within and through South Ossetia, closing down a particularly large South Ossetian market which had been used for unregulated trade. South Ossetian forces retaliated by closing highways and detaining Georgian troops within South Ossetian borders. Tensions between the sides escalated, and exchanges of mortar fire in late July and August 2004 killed dozens.

• Recent trends in military expenditure (SIPRI): Military spending is rising rapidly in the South Caucasus — Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia — largely due to the region’s three ‘frozen’ conflicts and the involvement of external actors. The rises have been made possible by economic upswings largely based on oil and gas revenues.

Ossetians.Com: In this labor of love by an Ossetian expatriate living in Canada, we can see how the local experience of Ossetians appears to be more aggravated by Georgian than Russian dominion.

• In any event, there is always a question of minority populations, whose rights should be respected. Here is a 2005 report:

Residents of villages in the Didi and Patara Liakhvi districts, point to continuing instances of suspected kidnapping and torture of Georgians, as well as an increasing number of complaints about discrimination, as indicators of what life under an autonomous South Ossetia would be like.

• Notable Ossetians: Akhmet Tsalikov (Tsalykkaty) (1882-1928) Founder of the theory of Islamic socialism. A book by Tsalikov, published in Prague in 1926, appears to be available in Serbian: Brat na brata : roman iz revoliutsionnoi’ zhizni Kavkaza

Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net. Read other articles by Greg, or visit Greg's website.

21 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. John said on August 9th, 2008 at 6:50am #

    Hi Greg,

    This all sounds like a speech of a well trained strategist who most likely fails to respond to the reality when faces the facts. The opinions seem quite biased. The factors of Ossetians and Abkhazs are artificially developed by Russians and it is pity that this kind of dilettante experts and victims of Russian propaganda still treat their opinions worth of publishing and poisoning the readers’ minds.

    You must learn the history of the Caucasus and remember 1921, the year when Bolshevik Russia annexed Georgia, under the peace operation for the protection of Azerbaijan population living on the territory of Georgia. That campaign ended up with 70 years of Soviet rule in Georgia.

    Whish you to be here in Gori and see how Russians drop the bombs in residential areas. This is ethnic cleansing and Russian war criminals including Putin and Medvedev should be brought to war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Watch the video at bbc.com

    Cheers

    John Kafka, Gori

  2. David said on August 9th, 2008 at 6:59am #

    You are absolutely wrong with regards to independence of Ossetia. Autonomous status is by far different from independence. Please broaden your knowledge before taking your stance on such a sensitive subject. The so called South Ossetia has been part of Georgian territory from the times of Christ. The Alans (Ossetians) have settled there during 18th century, pushed from their original home somewhere in Russia. Being hospitable doesn’t mean giving away the territories which were part of the country for millennia.

  3. John Greenwood said on August 9th, 2008 at 7:12am #

    Ha, Ha, do you think the Soviets, excuse me, the Russians will stop with their antics at South Ossetia. Did the Nazis stop at Czechoslovakia.

  4. heike said on August 9th, 2008 at 7:42am #

    How strange: the Russians seek to move heaven and earth to stop Kosovo from becoming independent. Maintain the territorial integrity of Serbia. Then they send occupation troops into Trans Dniestr and South Ossetia to insure that Moldova and Georgia can’t function as normal countries and will be beholden to the Russians no matter what. What happened to the concept of territorial integrity? Of course, the Ossetians want to be united with their brethren in Russia although for tactical reasons the Russians won’t try de jure to change the borders. Ossetia will be “independent” just as northern Cyprus is. The issue is geopolitical and is part of Russian muscle-flexing to send a message to all states in the “near abroad” that they consider to be in their sphere of influence. Especially chilling is Medvedev’s assertion of a Russian right to intervene to “protect the lives” of Russian citizens wherever they may be. Last year’s imbroglio with Estonia was just a curtain-raiser on this policy. The real and just solution for South Ossetia as well as Abkhazia is autonomy while maintaining Georgia’s territorial integrity, but that doesn’t suit Russian purposes.

    Here is an interesting analysis. Note that while Hitler claimed that after the Sudetenland, he had no further territorial claims in Europe, that’s not the way the Russians are playing it:

    http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/intelligence_guidance_conflict_south_ossetia

    Let’s remember Churchill’s admonition: “each one feeds the crocodile and hopes the crocodile will eat him last. Each one hopes that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured.”

  5. Michael Kenny said on August 9th, 2008 at 8:12am #

    The fundamental weakness in Mr Moses’ argument is that, in spite of his claims, he is not thinking outside the Cold War box, but within it. The idea that this situation is the business of the US or any individual American is the classic Cold War delusion and it is not for Mr Moses or any other American to propose a solution, whether “people-centred” or otherwise. For the moment at least, even George Bush has limited himself to the usual diplomatic platitudes about restoring peace. If he maintains that position, it will be a big step in the right direction!

    The Ossetians are a small people who live astride the Caucasus Mountains. They are Orthodox Christians and ethnically related to the Iranians. Thus the idea that they are somehow “kin” to the Slavic Russians is absurd. As far as can be seen, what they have in common with both Russians and Georgians, though, is that they all regard themselves as Europeans. Under the Soviet dictatorship the “autonomous “ republics of North Ossetia (Russia) and South Ossetia (Georgia) were set up, although nothing is in fact autonomous under a dictatorship. The collapse of the Soviet Union has left the Ossetians with an international frontier running through the middle of their homeland and it is to that that they object. Like the peoples of ex-Yugoslavia, therefore, all sides here are victims of communist fascism.

    What the Ossetians want is to come together. Thus, South Ossetia does not want the independence which Mr Moses would force upon them! It wants to be joined to North Ossetia. The Ossetians would probably like that unified country to become independent, but getting independence from Russia would be a tall order at the moment, so, logically, they go for the easier target: Georgia. Indeed, I doubt if Russia would tolerate South Ossetian independence, since the North Ossetians would then inevitably want to join the new state. So what the South Ossetians are willing to settle for is to be joined to North Ossetia within the Russian Federation and Russia has conferred Russian citizenship on the South Ossetians with that in mind.

    That any of this might lead to “World War III” is an idea that can exist only in the fairytale world of Americans! Nobody, but nobody is going to go to war for South Ossetia! Least of all the Russians! I would guess that the Russian aim is to disrupt NATO. Ex-Yugoslavia and Afghanistan has discredited NATO in Europe and, moreover, nobody in Europe, including Russia, likes the new cold war that US neocons are trying to manufacture. Russia is thus addressing itself to Europe and pointing out the dangers of NATO expansion and anti-Russian belligerence. Europeans will get the message loud and clear! Basically, it’s heads, Russia wins, tails, the US loses! That may well explain US reluctance to get involved.

    I would once again make the point that Americans should cease to meddle in other countries’ affairs. The “people-centred” solution, Mr Moses, is thus to mind your own business!

  6. will said on August 9th, 2008 at 8:50am #

    When I saw that story, it crossed my mind that we might have World War 3 on our hands.

  7. Danny Ray said on August 9th, 2008 at 11:35am #

    Lets see now in 1914 they said that nobody would go to war over some stinking serb killing some Austrian noble.

    In 1939 they said that no one will go to war over Poland.

    Never Never try to guess what people will or will not go to war over.

  8. Alex said on August 9th, 2008 at 12:02pm #

    “99 percent of South Ossetians favored independence from Georgia in a 2006 referendum.” Also 99% voted for Putin in Chechnya. Ha-ha! Russians like using 99% when they are lying.

  9. Greg Moses said on August 9th, 2008 at 1:12pm #

    Hi Folks, I wanted to kick start a progressive dialogue, and what you have to say is helpful to think about.

    Supposing that minding one’s business is closely related to having opinions about what one’s elected powers are doing with one’s military tax dollars, I have to reject the argument that any attempt to think clearly about South Ossetia is by definition Cold War thinking. According to what I read, the Georgian Army is American trained and equipped to such a degree that the battle in South Ossetia is already a kind of American war by proxy. If I have any opinions about this use of my tax dollars, it may be delusional to think that they will count for anything in Congress, but I do not think it is irresponsible to think out loud and seek dialogue.

    I especially want to thank heike and Michael for responding to the focus on what would be preferable and just from the point of view of the people of South Ossetia. This is what I would like to keep foremost in mind.

    Heike says: “The real and just solution for South Ossetia as well as Abkhazia is autonomy while maintaining Georgia’s territorial integrity, but that doesn’t suit Russian purposes.”

    Michael says: “what the South Ossetians are willing to settle for is to be joined to North Ossetia within the Russian Federation and Russia has conferred Russian citizenship on the South Ossetians with that in mind.”

    At first glance the positions would appear to diverge from each other, heike preferring the status quo; Michael moving more in the direction of the position that I have explored above. Yet, on further consideration, they may converge upon a practical conclusion, that the status quo is going to continue to produce conflict, and that South Ossetians would be willing to settle for life under the Russian Federation since it would mean closer contact with their North Ossetian kin.

    As I read the practical convergence, I think it is quite like the option that I have explored above, namely, not to favor prolonging the conflict on the basis of some commitment to the “integrity” of Georgia’s border.

    This also sounds like what Mark Almond argues at CounterPunch, that “If westerners readily conceded non-Russian republics’ right to secede from the USSR in 1991, what is the logic of insisting that non-Georgians must remain inside a microempire which happens to be pro-western?”

    I think this is a worthwhile start for progressive thinking about this conflict, since it contradicts the kind of “domino” thinking that is very likely to surface in American public opinion.

    thanks again,
    Greg

  10. Robert Cogan said on August 9th, 2008 at 4:00pm #

    I like the partition idea as a way to hopefully chill this conflict out. Before the U.S. thinks of stimulating Georgia to fight, say, an asymmetrical war against the Russians, it better remember that the Russians can do to the U.S. in Afghanistan exactly what the U.S. did funding and arming the Mujaheddin that kicked their Soviet butt out after a long bloody war there.

  11. heike said on August 9th, 2008 at 6:01pm #

    Greg: the status quo isn’t autonomy within Georgia’s internationally recognized borders, since the other side has rejected any legal connection with Georgia. The status quo up until last week was de facto incorporation into Russia without spelling it out directly. One problem is that there is a great deal of Cold Wat thinking, but it’s on the Russian side. Putin the ex-Chekist, looks at things very much from a zero-sum game perspective, and many Russians do so as well. If you follow the fora on http://www.ossetia.ru, you will find a great deal of chauvinistic thinking. The NY Times, in today’s reporting, shows clearly that there is a great deal of hand-wringing in the West, since the Russians are willing to use force while we are not. Russian control over oil supplies also will dampen any Western fervor for the Georgian cause. If the Russians were sticking to principles, such as inviolability of borders, they would not pursue the tactics they are pursuing in Georgia or in Moldova. Some are even questioning the right of Ukraine to maintain Russian-speaking areas. The other analogy is Republic Srpska in Bosnia, which is basically self-governing within a larger realm and has close ties with its Serb brothers, although some Serb nationalists are waiting for their moment to secede and join Serbia. In the end, I don’t think the Russians will go so far as to annex south Ossetia because it would alarm many people about their intentions — it would be the first open aggrandizement of territory by force since 1945. Nor would they go for an “independent” Ossetia because to their way of thinking, it could open up a Pandora’s Box right next door in Chechnya. They have expended a great deal of blood and treasure keeping Chechnya in the realm, and allowing any region in Russia to declare independence could start unraveling the whole empire. The Russian ethnic community in the near abroad constitutes a potential Fifth Column that can be and has been used effectively to keep the former republics in line. Ominously, the Russians have even suggested that their colony in Finland gain recognized minority status, which could open the door to all kinds of mischief.

    Also, please note that Brat na brata is in Russian, not Serbian.

  12. Greg Moses said on August 9th, 2008 at 7:35pm #

    heike: thanks for the link to the osstia.ru web site and fora. If I understand what I read there, the South Osstian voices at the fora are ready for Russia to take it all. What you call chauvenism we might call supremacism down here in Texas. Absolutely no love for the ethnic other. Well, this makes for a very grim battleground if you’re trying to push Georgians up that mountain. In this case, we can be pretty sure the Osstians are not lying about their desire to be independent of Georgia.

    If the New York Times is wringing hands about “US” not bold enough to use force, well, we’ve seen that before as a prelude to absolute recklessness. The most encouraging thing you point out is that oil politics will be more of a detriment than enticement to geopolitical enthusiasts looking to earn a move in the history books.

    Now I’m thinking this is an olympic theater of death which the Russians have already won. And, again, if I read the news correctly, it appears that the Georgian Army is digging in close to the ethnic Georgian villages. So the partition idea that Robert likes is nearly accomplished?

    Would it be too much to ask for, if peace voices insisted on an immediate cease fire, followed by resumption of freedom of travel for all South Osstians as soon as the shooting stops. I know it’s too much to ask for at the border of Texas, but peace hopes should persist, nevertheless. Local peoples still need each other in practical ways that tend to refute their professed chauvenisms.

    And thanks for the translation correction. I’m very curious to know more about Tsalykkaty.

  13. heike said on August 9th, 2008 at 7:55pm #

    If you look closely at the Ossetia website, you will find that the overwhelming majority of people participating are from Russia proper. A lot of “Siberia is with you” or other cities in Russia. A lot of “after all we did for them this is the thanks we get” kind of comment. Also the “we can level the ground in Georgia any time we want to.” Saakashvili’s name gets put into all kinds of vulgar contortions, including Saashitvili and things like that. The U.S. isn’t left out; we are the enemy behind the scenes. One Ukrainian who dared to argue with them got shot down very angrily (“we were brothers for centuries, how could you become a hireling of Bushlandia?”)

    The Times isn’t wringing its hands at all, but pointing out the realities that constrain us. I thought it was a realistic appraisal.

    If Saakashvili thought he could take back Ossetia without a Russian reaction, he’s more naive than I thought. What’s really troubling is that this brings out the worst instincts in people.

  14. John said on August 10th, 2008 at 4:42am #

    Putin and Medvev have to be brought to war crimes tribunal in The Hague for ethnic cleansing and massive murders.

    We have been witnessing tremendous historical fact. Wednesday 7th of August 2008 is the day of the beginning of Russian-Georgian war. The propagandistic machine of Russia, which produced two conflicts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are about to collapse. We have to bring it down finally through our intellectual efforts by overweighing the lies and targeted disinformation which is produced by the Russian media.

    We have to admit the fact that Georgia missed the opportunity to tell the world its part of the truth in the beginning of 90s. We neither had the media infrastructure nor proper understanding of the chaos that Russian secret services made with the hands of ethnic Georgians, Abkhazs and Ossetians from the end of 80s, when Georgia begun its active liberation movement and following the independence in 1991. Russia was always distancing itself hiding behind the false treaties and memorandums imposed through chantage, ultimatums and using over-powerful and unfair leverages to force Georgia to concede.

    In fact Georgia has been in a silent war with Russia since the early 90s. It has made its experiments on building another, updated, brand new iron curtain successful, which was mainly based on censored media controlled by the Russian authorities. It now attempts to begin a massive expansion of this iron curtain and present its atrocities against the nations that strive for freedom from Russia through professionally wrapped media streaming according to which everything that Russia does is right and legitimate.
    While writing this letter the towns and villages are under heavy bombardment by Russian planes. Russian fleet rearranges and concentrates to prepare to attack Georgia from the Black Sea. Russian regular army in the amount 10 000 soldiers and 300 heavily armored tanks have entered through Roki tunnel. Same scenario is applied that Bolshevik Russia did in 1921 when independent Georgia was annexed.

    I am very much hopeful that the world will wake up and stop Russia killing peaceful civilians. Putin and Medvev have to be brought to war crimes tribunal in The Hague for ethnic cleansing and massive murders.

    We all stand united.

  15. john andrews said on August 10th, 2008 at 4:45am #

    Did anyone notice that the Russian resolution at the UN last Thursday calling for an immediate end to the bloodshed in Ossetia was vetoed by… the US and UK?

  16. Greg Moses said on August 10th, 2008 at 1:42pm #

    AP reports Russians bombing Georgia capital. If true, everything changes. Time for the UN Security Council to call a cease fire. Time to condemn any Russian actions beyond defense of the South Ossetians who were attacked by Georgian military. This is not to forget to condemn the Georgian action as a reckless provocation, too. Voices of peace, if you’re out there, now is the time to shout!

  17. cg said on August 10th, 2008 at 6:09pm #

    John Andrews, perfect point which most here will ignore, say well that was then or some other reflex tripe as they continue on with their platitudes.
    Greg, the time to shout was last Thursday. I can’t hear you!
    Now the Russians have American mercenary ‘advisers’ as prisoner.
    What happens if one or two of the U.S. planes transporting the Georgian soldiers in Iraq back home to Georgia get shot down by the “Russians”? (wink wink)

  18. cg said on August 10th, 2008 at 6:23pm #

    US planes to ferry Georgia troops from Iraq to fight Russians.
    By: Webmaster Tags:

    * RUSSIA

    LINK::
    GO TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE

    “First of all we need to remove 1,000 guys from here within 96 hours, after that the rest of the guys,” Colonel Bondo Maisuradze told The Times this morning.

    “The US will provide us with the transportation,” he added.
    Webmaster’s Commentary:

    Which means the United State is now openly engaged in military operations against Russia, making those transport planes legitimate targets of war.

    All anyone who wants to really turn this into a Russo-American war needs to do is shoot one of those down.

  19. Angel Alonso said on August 10th, 2008 at 8:21pm #

    I find it a little bit hypocritical for the United States to be arguing that Russia is using disproportionate force when they themselves have used it in Iraq and Afghanistan and in virtually every conflict since Korea. America went to war against Iraq over an allegation that it had weapons of mass destruction, unfortunately this was not a verifiable fact. Russia on the other hand went to war based on the military offensive of the Georgian government against South Ossetia, a certain fact. Russia has more of a basis for attacking Georgia than the United States did in attacking Iraq. Before we start talking about military action against Russia, which will inevitably lead to global nuclear annihilation, we ought judge ourselves by the same standard to which we judge others! Besides, is it really worth losing 6 billion people for a few Georgians?

  20. bozhidar balkas said on August 11th, 2008 at 6:18am #

    heike,
    brat na brata may be in russian? it means brother against brother and it is in serb and croatian.
    republika srpska had been obtained via war and much expulsion.
    nor was this new obtained territory ever just serb and with every village/town/grazeland in touch with every other town/city/grassland.
    serbs have changed this fact into something much different.
    so,the question arises should we reward barbaric behavior of the zionists, serbs, russians, amers, brits, indians, chinese?
    i say no. no, not ever!!
    kosovo, tibet, palestine must be free and must belong solely to their respective voelken. thank u

  21. heike said on August 11th, 2008 at 3:38pm #

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/11/AR2008081101372.html?hpid=topnews

    Govorit Mikhael Sergeyevich; maybe a good candidate for mediator?

    Roman iz revoliutsionnoi’ zhizni Kavkaza
    Doesn’t sound like Serbo-Croatian to me!
    Hvala lijepo!