Enterprising young people in South Ossetia have lots of ideas for improving their homeland but the challenges are many. Few opportunities to develop a career at home, even fewer opportunities to travel abroad, a lack of cultural and recreational facilities, and a dearth of funding for youth initiatives mean the obstacles can seem insurmountable. Nevertheless, many are willing to try.
An often heard complaint among students in South Ossetia is that there’s nowhere for young people to go out and have fun.
‘For example, I want to go to the cinema. It may be trite, but we don’t have this opportunity. Our picture-house is used for other purposes — concerts are often held there. It’s supposed to be a cinema and concert hall; why does it fulfil only one part of its function?’, asks 19-year-old Malvina Dzhussoyeva.
Another complaint is that there are not enough cafés catering to young people. There are several restaurants, but they are frequented by the general public, and are not specifically places for youth. ‘Our cafés are just for dining. This is of course a good thing, but it would be nice to have places like, in Moscow, for example, or in other Russian cities, where you can listen to music, read books, play bowling, and so on’, says Alan Gassiyev.
Young people in South Ossetia often cite Russian cities as an example. This is understandable as Russia is the one country accessible to people from South Ossetia and one of the handful of countries which recognises its independence. Many South Ossetians hold Russian passports and the majority of South Ossetia’s budget is financed by Russia. ‘It is the only place where we can go. There are many opportunities in Russia, including a lot of work possibilities. But it’s hard to live there. If you don’t find a good job, then there’s no point living there’, explains Alan.
The younger generation in South Ossetia still does not see a common future with their other neighbour, Georgia. Although many South Ossetians have family connections with Georgia, relations between the two entities have been fraught since South Ossetia broke from Georgia in the 1991–1992 conflict which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and, more recently since the five-day war in 2008 during which Georgia sought to bring South Ossetia under its control, leading to direct confrontation with Russia, who guarantees South Ossetia’s security. Since 2008 there has been a virtually closed border between the two entities meaning that young people from either side rarely have a chance to meet.
‘We have no idea how life is for young people there [in Georgia]. Of course it would be interesting to know how they live. We heard that Russian is not spoken in Georgia and that the Georgian youth are oriented towards the West, towards Europe. Apart from their own language, they only speak English. I don’t think we would find a common language with them. But it would be interesting to see how they live’, says Milana Kharebova.
Milana is also interested to see how young people live in Europe. ‘I would like to go there; not as a tourist, but as a student. Though this is just a dream. However, there is a “But”. Yes, Europe is an ideal place in terms of things like social security or education. But the only thing we would not like to see in the Caucasus is the element of excessive “democracy”. Same-sex marriages would be unacceptable for our society’, she says.
Sergey Zasseyev, who chairs the government’s Committee on Youth Policy, Sport, and Tourism, would like to organise recreational summer camps for young people, but says there are no funds available. ‘There are many picturesque places in South Ossetia where you can set up tents.’
‘If you want to draw, come and draw’
South Ossetian Kosta Dzhioty is a graduate of the Samara State Academy of Culture and Art in Russia. After graduating, he returned to his homeland, where he immediately immersed himself in the daily life of the capital, Tskhinval. Kosta dances in the Simd state dance ensemble and for several years has led the ensemble’s children’s section. He hopes to launch an art space with his friends.
According to them, it will be a new platform for modern Ossetian culture. ‘This will be an alternative platform. We will be able to gather here, discuss ideas, organise events, exhibitions, master classes. If you have a desire to draw, come and draw. If you want to come with a bundle of wood [and do woodwork], you are welcome’, said Kosta.
Kosta and his friends hope the new art space will be a haven for anyone who appreciates art and wants to share in it. ‘There is a similar art space in North Ossetia; that’s where the young creatives gather and spend time. I think our youth will be interested in coming to such a place. We anticipate that teenagers also will join us’, Kosta added.
Excited by the idea, the group of young people have already embarked on setting it up. ‘We needed to find a space which people would want to use for creative purposes. We explored different places’, says Kosta. In the end they managed to find a suitable building — a dilapidated three-storey house, one of the most picturesque buildings in the old town. The group received permission from the president to convert the building into a centre of culture and art.
The building is in a pitiful state and the young people have taken it upon themselves to renovate and equip it. ‘Now we are collecting money. It’s nice that so many people were not indifferent and helped us. We have already collected so much money! First of all, we need install a roof and windows. Then we will think about what to do next’, says Kosta.
He says that South Ossetia’s recognition internationally, among other things, depends on the artistic community. ‘Creative people make the lion’s share of the policies in many countries. Our foreign policy should focus on ensuring that our creative groups go abroad and inform others about the country. It’s important — and it’s not that complicated. We need to establish dialogue with everyone’, he says.
‘We do not want to be used by any political forces’
South Ossetia’s youth are rarely involved in public life, therefore activism is limited to a small pool of young people: teenagers, students, or recent graduates. Twenty-four-year-old Marwan Ald-Beysi moved to Tskhinval from Kharkiv, Ukraine four years ago. His father is an Arab and his mother an Ossetian. They met at Kharkiv University, where they both studied. Today, Marwan studies at the Tibilov South Ossetian State University, while also working. In addition, he now heads up Æmarkhayd (Interaction), a national youth organisation born out of a previous youth platform known as Nog Fæltær (New Generation).
Marwan says he never wants to stay on the sidelines and always wants to be on the same wavelength as his peers. ‘We want our organisation to truly be an independent element of society. We do not want to be used by any political forces. Politicians remember youth organisations only during elections’, he says.
The organisation cannot yet be considered large or self-sufficient; it has up to 50 members, mostly female. When we ask Marwan why there are more young women than men in the group, he replies with smile: ‘the younger guys are a bit shier about participating, while the older ones are looking for a job.’
The core of the organisation consists of participants who took part in the ‘New Generation’ educational youth forum in 2016. The forum was financed by the government of North Ossetia–Alania (a federal subject of the Russian Federation) who also organised the event itself. The event was attended by young Ossetians from both North and South Ossetia as well as youth organisations representing the Ossetian diaspora from Moscow, St Petersburg, Samara, Simferopol, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Istanbul.
‘They taught us how to write projects, and how to promote and pitch them. Unfortunately, to this day we have not been able to launch even a single project in our country due to a lack of funding. Participants from North Ossetia had such an opportunity’, says Marwan.
All the projects that the group wanted to implement were practical, but so far not a single one of them has come to fruition. ‘We planned to make our capital greener, and to clean up the springs and the leisure sites. We especially wanted to organise quests and collective games. But all the projects are still frozen — there isn’t money for them’, explains Marwan.
One of the ways to get money for a project is to apply to the government. There are two other options: support from sponsors or a political party. The group is categorically against the latter option. ‘We had experience with them in 2017. We organised a winter ice rink in the centre of the city park for children and young people. But all this was done through the support of the then president of South Ossetia, Leonid Tibilov, as part of his pre-election campaign’, says Marwan.
Despite the financial constraints, the organisation tries to do useful things such as clearing rubbish from the streets and providing assistance to a nursing home. All the work is done on a voluntary basis. Recently, the South Ossetian Committee for Youth Affairs gave the group a small room in their own building. In return, the members of the organisation participate as volunteers in events organised by the committee. ‘We are grateful to them. We need a small place where we can meet, but we can’t pay rent — we have no budget for it. Once a month we collect money — ₽100 ($2) per person. This is enough for organisational stuff’, says Marwan.
Besides Æmarkhayd, there is another youth organisation in South Ossetia — United Alania. As the youth wing of the ruling party, United Ossetia, it gets support from the government.
This article was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Regional Office in the South Caucasus. For ease of reading, OC Media chooses not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status. All opinions expressed, and terminology used are the words of the author alone, and may not necessarily reflect the views of FES or the OC Media editorial board.