But it seems almost impossible for us to confront social pressure and think critically about a range of conflict-related issues. In my experience, even when Georgians and Abkhazians meet face-to-face, they don’t tend to talk about sensitive issues.
One of the reasons is internal social pressure. You are afraid that you may accidentally declare the “independence of Abkhazia.” You frequently say "here" and "there", or “this side” and “the other side” of the Enguri River. Abkhazians are also afraid of being perceived to question the "independence of Abkhazia."
But despite the fears around discussing sensitive, conflict-related issues, it seems like some youth on both sides want to have pragmatic conversations.
Ruska, whose family was forced to leave the Abkhaz capital during the war, was expected to think of Abkhazians as “bad” people. Despite her family’s tragedy, however, she still uses every single opportunity to get to know and understand her Abkhazian peers.
One Abkhaz friend often asked me about a typical Georgian. She wondered if there were any typical behaviors, opinions or attitudes towards specific topics. Quite often, my answers were personal, and I spoke more about good traits than the bad ones.
Milana’s response to my question “what would you tell your Georgian counterpart about your life” underscored the quandary people find themselves in. “I often wanted to talk about certain stories from my life, what I felt when I was deprived of the possibility of achieving my goals because of Abkhazia’s isolation.”
While there has not been much opportunity to know each other, our generation has “learned” about each other. Hence, it is much easier for us to have stereotypical opinions, create simplified images of “good“ and “bad“ Abkhaz or Georgian and believe that there is no space for critical thinking and analysis.
“If I take a look at my friends, other than those interested in conflict issues, there is no place in their lives for Abkhazians and issues related to them,” Elene, a 25 year-old student from Ilia State University, said.
In Abkhazia, a similar opinion exists, notes Marieta. “I think the reality of Abkhazians has been cut off from Georgians’ daily life.”
With so many unanswered questions, patriotic emotions and, at times unfounded, opinions about each other’s goals and aspirations grow, and are frequently defined by internal, harsh narratives.
It is important to be interested in each other's daily lives, challenges and opportunities. It is also important to break down the stereotypes we have. But often we are simply not interested in each other because we do not see the space and opportunity to receive and share information about each other.
We often forget that education, job, personal and professional development are issues that are nearly universally important for young people.
When we do not see each other's everyday struggles and challenges, we cannot understand each other’s attitudes and perceptions.