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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Touting Independence with Tractors and Heels

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The rumors that Georgian protesters would stage a daring peace march through the South Ossetian conflict zone as the breakaway region celebrated its independence day last week proved to be untrue. But that didn't stop the separatist authorities from restricting access to their capital, Tskhinvali, in the run-up to their annual showpiece event, citing fears of sabotage, terrorist attacks, and -- to use the catch-all word for dastardly deeds in this region -- provocations.

But provocations proved to be irrepressible, as they often do in the Caucasus. Georgian government-backed activists who have started a movement aimed at ousting the separatist president, Eduard Kokoity, managed to strew propaganda leaflets around the streets of Tskhinvali featuring their slogan, "Kokoity, Farewell!" The activists claim that they managed to sneak into the separatist stronghold and distribute the leaflets themselves, although the breakaway authorities insist that they were dropped from a light aircraft.

The independence day celebrations went ahead anyway, and proved, as usual, to be somewhat peculiar. Last year, the separatists staged a mock trial of Georgia, convicting the country (in its absence) of genocide against Ossetians. This year, warriors on horseback led a military parade, which was followed by a group of nurses tottering along on high heels, farmers on tractors and bakers parading loaves of bread.

The separatists want to link with North Ossetia to become part of Russia. Although Moscow pays most of the bills in South Ossetia, it has shown little indication that it will fulfill their ultimate desires. Nevertheless, that doesn't seem to have dampened their enthusiasm. "Indestructible Unity With Russia!" was the slogan of the day, and even little children were enthusiastically waving the Russian flag.

Unsurprisingly, as this was an official event, there was also a lot of anti-Georgian rhetoric, most of it echoing the official separatist line. "Do you know what Georgia did to us?" demanded one middle-aged woman. "They committed genocide against our people!" A man standing nearby simply observed: "We are Russians. Georgia is our enemy."

Any mention of the "traitor" Dmitry Sanakoyev inspired a torrent of vitriol. Sanakoyev is an Ossetian who fought in the war against Georgia, then served as a separatist minister. But he later switched sides and now heads the rival, pro-Georgian South Ossetian authority. "Sanakoyev will not live for long," advised an elderly man.

The war in South Ossetia may have ended almost 15 years ago, but some people aren't yet ready to give up the fight.

Matthew Collin is a journalist in Tbilisi.