Abkhazia’s inactivity amid the convergence of positions between Georgia and Russia | Video

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Focus: Abkhazia’s inertia

The authorities in Georgia, against the backdrop of their shift from the West towards Russia, are actively exploiting the “Abkhazian” issue, hinting that all their actions are part of a plan to restore “territorial integrity.” At least, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze has promised that, by 2030, Georgia will join the European Union “with their Abkhazian and South Ossetian brothers and sisters.”

Simultaneously, certain Russian media outlets are actively encouraging Tbilisi by promoting the Abkhazia topic in a way that interests Georgians. The authorities of Abkhazia pretend that nothing significant is happening, but an iron fence has been erected around the government complex.

Inal Hashig discussed the inert behavior of the official Abkhaz authorities with former People’s Assembly deputy, now expert at the Aamta foundation, Ilya Gunia.

Text of the interview:

Inal Khashig: Hello, this is “Chegemskaya Pravda.” An iron fence is being constructed around the government complex. Society is outraged. Meanwhile, Georgia has enacted a foreign agents law, and just recently Prime Minister Kobakhidze stated that by 2030, Georgia will join the EU together with its “brother” Abkhaz and South Ossetian peoples.

Today we have Ilya Gunia with us. Good morning, let’s discuss the current situation. The presidential election is just under nine months away. Currently, they’ve erected a tall fence around the presidential palace; they’re still constructing it, not yet finished. Some say this might be related to the upcoming presidential election.

But fundamentally, why is it for the election if the Central Election Commission makes decisions on one hand, and on the other, most believe the fence is erected for a specific purpose. In other words, some unpopular laws will be passed. And of course, conspiracy theories come to mind.

Certainly, parallels arise for me regarding what’s happening in Georgia, right? I would still like you to start, and then we’ll probably reflect on what’s happening now.

“The fence appeared primarily out of fear of the authorities”

Ilya Gunia: Good evening, Inal. Well, I wouldn’t say that building a fence around government buildings is somehow related to events in Georgia. I don’t think it’s connected in any way. Georgia has no relation to our fence. And moreover, as the president’s representative said in parliament, this fence also has nothing to do with security or national security. The fence is a symbol.

We understand perfectly well why and where the fence came from. The fence appeared primarily out of fear of the authorities. Absolutely. Why? Because the authorities understand perfectly well that during this period, practically nothing substantial, nothing popular has been done to move the people of Abkhazia and the state itself along some promised path.

The authorities understand that no promises have been fulfilled so far. Pitsunda, apartments, the foreign agents law, and much more have been unpopular and have not contributed to state-building or improving people’s lives. So, realizing the negative sentiment, they fenced themselves off.

“We used to be proud that Abkhazian authorities were within arm’s reach of their citizens. Today, problems arise behind this fence.”

Inal Khashig: Negativity from the past, I don’t think this fencing is related to the past.

Ilya Gunia: The issues I’m talking about are not resolved. Other unpopular decisions will also be considered. So it’s likely the authorities are seeking protection.

Inal Khashig: Nevertheless, the fence is there. Symbolically, for me, it represents something. We used to be proud that despite the disorder in the state, we always had people’s rule. Abkhazian authorities were within arm’s reach for their citizens. Any citizen could address the president or minister. Today, problems arise behind this fence. The horizontal link between the authorities and citizens is broken.

Now, to reach the authorities, one must have substantial reason. It’s worrisome that they’re building fences. Instead of explaining their positions, the authorities are erecting fences. I’ve observed events in Georgia. There’s a lot of commentary there related to Abkhazia. Sergei Shamba, head of the Security Council, commented a couple of times. But there have been no further actions.

Recently Kobakhidze, the Prime Minister of Georgia, stated that by 2030, Georgia will join the European Union along with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But he just said it; Georgian politicians often say pleasing things to their citizens on such days, sometimes completely unachievable.

Ilya Gunia: In the context of rumors and expert assessments linking the adoption of the foreign agents law with convergence between Tbilisi and Moscow, and the inclusion of Abkhazia and Ossetia into Georgia — this is unsettling. However, there’s no reaction from Abkhazia. There are many comments on this in Russian media. Why is our government silent?

“We used to be a party to negotiations in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, but now we’re not even participants.”

The authorities aren’t silent; they’ve simply chosen a different path, not negotiations or discussing foreign policy. Recently we’ve been occupied only with buying and selling, searching for lands, holiday homes, and building apartments. This has nothing to do with foreign policy. So topics like Abkhazia-Georgia relations, negotiation processes, these topics aren’t raised.”

We used to be a party to negotiations in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, but now we’re not even participants. The Foreign Ministry should handle this, but unfortunately, it’s practically absent. I don’t see the Foreign Ministry in the form it should exist. The president shapes foreign policy, but it’s implemented by the Foreign Ministry. And that’s completely missing.

We relied on our strategic partner, Russia, to handle foreign policy, but we’re not interested in that. Lately, there’s talk that improving relations between Russia and Georgia negatively affects us. Suddenly, they might reach an agreement. Perhaps that will happen. Russia and Georgia will build their relations. It’s a natural process.

The problem is, we’re not building any relationships or raising any issues. Even if relations between Russia and Georgia improve, we could raise the issue of revising the law on occupied territories. But we’re not voicing our interests, and no one hears them. When have you seen politicians discuss such things? Or economic relations?

“Society has gotten used to considering negotiations with Georgians as bad over 15-16 years. Although we used to talk.”

We missed the opportunity to discuss transit. We have no transit, economic ties, or political dialogue. Our task is recognition of Abkhazia and settling relations between Abkhazia and Georgia. But this won’t happen on its own. We need to work on this daily. We’re stuck making money and selling state assets. We must sell off our main assets, give them away, and bring oligarchy here. But who will we be in this world? Who thinks about that?

Inal Khashig: In our passivity, we’re to blame ourselves. I remember our resident expert Astamur Tania always participated in Georgian-Abkhaz negotiations even under Vladislav Ardzinba, when our foreign policy was active in this direction. Society wasn’t afraid that Abkhaz negotiators would give in; such strong positions were held.

But after 2008, when recognition occurred and the UN mission left, the process changed, and the Geneva platform was created, where we’re represented not as a side. There’s been a trend of negative perception of any direct negotiations between Georgia and Abkhazia over 15-16 years. Although we used to talk.

We have started delegating our foreign policy to Moscow because we are allies, and now that Tbilisi is getting closer to Russia, we are out of the loop. Or maybe we are aware, but the authorities are afraid to talk about it. We find ourselves in a strange situation where active foreign policy is needed, but we are held back. There are pros and cons in any position.

The main thing is to use the good opportunities. We are inert and do nothing. There are benefits to the rapprochement between Russia and Georgia. We could change the situation, for example, by revising the law on occupied territories. But on the other hand, relations between Moscow and Brussels, Washington are deteriorating. The EU recognizes the law on occupied territories and imposes sanctions on us. We could engage in active negotiations with eurocrats to ease sanctions. But our authorities are inert and afraid of change.

“We have erected a fence in our foreign policy and do not want to remove it.”

Ilya Gunia: We have problems, and the fence we talked about is very symbolic. We see it, and many people don’t like it. But the same fence stands in our foreign policy. We set it up ourselves, thinking we are safe behind it. But just as a fence in real life can become a siege, this symbolic fence can become a barrier. Someday we will have to step out from behind the fence, maybe hastily, maybe not, but this fence will be the same obstacle for those who are behind it.

We have erected a fence in our foreign policy and do not want to remove it, thinking it protects us. But it’s an illusion of security. Instead of actively engaging in foreign policy, we are fixated on internal problems and have delegated some of our authority to our strategic partner, hoping for their protection and security, behaving inertly. Twenty years ago, when Abkhazia was not recognized by the Russian Federation, we behaved more openly, actively, and wisely, trying to defend our interests and values.

But as soon as the illusion of security appeared, we lost that desire. The world is changing rapidly, and Abkhazia must be prepared for these changes. We must rely on our own strengths, be prepared for security challenges, foreign and domestic policy, economics. If we are not prepared, we will become an appendage of another state, which is unacceptable. And we will be swallowed up, it doesn’t matter by whom.

“Abkhazia does not develop its vision if it does not concern business.”

As a state, we are ready to live in peace with everyone, if anyone approaches us with war, we have a certain reaction, and if anyone approaches us with peace, then the world should be equal, equivalent, and we will respond in exactly the same way to all these things. It’s unclear what we want at all. To be fed, watered, paid wages, not asked for anything, corruption thriving, we can steal as much as we want. Is this what we want?

Or should we strive to build a state where people live freely, have the right to work, and a decent life? Today, it is very easy to buy little Abkhazia in parts. Today we are in a state of uncertainty. We must choose: either we want to be a state with rights and freedoms, or we will remain in a state of dependence, where corruption and irresponsibility thrive.

If we choose the first, then we must actively defend our interests so that we are not swallowed up. We catch spies who are paid for buying real estate. We are not following this. These spies, caught and shown on television, turn out to be citizens of Abkhazia who worked for the Georgian SGB in 1994 and 1996. Georgia consistently seeks to regain this territory, and this will be heard, especially in the upcoming election. Georgian rhetoric has remained unchanged for many years.

Inal Khashig: Unfortunately, Abkhazia does not develop its vision if it does not concern business. There is no roadmap or desire to create it on key issues that concern Abkhazian society.

Ilya Gunia: There is a road map, it was developed in the post-war period; we followed it, but got lost and deviated from this path. It exists, but we ignore it.

This fence for me is a symbol of an attempt to isolate oneself from one’s own society.

Inal Khashig: It is clear that it exists. We have a Constitution where everything is written down, what we are building and where we are going. But we violate it.

Ilya Gunia: Often the guarantor of the Constitution violates it himself, and there is no resistance to this.

Inal Khashig: This is already a tradition. At such moments of geopolitical change, it is necessary to hold working meetings, brainstorms to respond to what is happening.

Ilya Gunia: The leaders of the country must take responsibility before the country and the people, but today there is no such responsibility. We do not behave like a country. We solve the main problems not because of the lack of decisions, but because of unwillingness. We choose the path of least resistance.

There must be responsible people in power who will work for the independence and security of the country. Our strategic partner, the Russian Federation, can help us move to another level. We must use this help rather than parasitize on it. It seems to us that it will always be like this, as it is now, but it will not.

Inal Khashig: I hope, nevertheless, that it will be different, for the better. I think we will wrap up. I hope that this fence around the presidential administration will not become a symbol of changes in relations between Abkhazian society and the authorities. Right now, this fence symbolizes a gap, when society is noisy about serious problems, and the authorities sometimes react aggressively, and sometimes do not react at all. This fence for me is a symbol of an attempt to isolate oneself from one’s own society, not to hear it. If the authorities change, I would like the new leaders not to cling to this fence and first of all demolish it.

Ilya Gunia: When I learned about the fence, the first thing that came to mind was who came up with it? In what Abkhazian mind, with its traditional concepts like “anamys, apatu, apsuara” (honor, conscience, people), with connections to the people, could this fence be conceived? The fence separates state structures from the people, and from no one else. We have no external enemies in the center of Abkhazia. This contradicts our national traditions. If the authorities fear openness, fear talking openly about many things and coming into the public eye, it means they are doing something wrong and understand this. That’s why they feel the need to isolate themselves.

Inal Khashig: In any case, there comes a moment when something needs to change. In a rapidly changing world, being inert and not reacting to what is happening is an unacceptable luxury. I I hope that the fence will not become a barrier in our minds. Today we had Ilya Gunia as our guest. We talked about Abkhazia and Georgia, about negotiations, about the fence, about our foreign policy.

Watch us on the “Chegemskaya Pravda” channel. Subscribe to it, follow “Chegemskaya Pravda” on Facebook, watch us on the website chegem.su. Inal Hashig, “Chegemskaya Pravda”. Goodbye. Until we meet again.

Ilya Gunia: Goodbye.

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