The Abkhazian paradox and the Montenegrin model
The Republic of Abkhazia, self-proclaimed and de facto independent from Georgia since 1992, lies in a very but not yet tragic paradoxical political situation. Recognized only by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and a couple of non-significant countries (at least for the Eurasian region), Abkhazia, so far, owes everything to its great northern neighbour, regarding its security, its economic development and its access to the outside world. In the same time however Sukhum is binding to Moscow, seeing consequently many European doors closed. In other words, without Russia, Abkhazia is lost; with Russia, linked in too deep a strategic partnership, Abkhazia would never have the same chances as Kosovo.
In Geneva, for one year and half until Abkhazia’s threat to withdraw from negotiations, Abkhaz representatives have been steadily trying to prove, more or less efficiently, their sincere commitment to independence. It seemed that it has not been enough. From a European and even a Turkish point of view, the following approach is promoted. An independent Abkhazia is bound to remain a Russian satellite, governed by corrupted elites organizing only an illusion of democratic progress, non-speaking about press and individual freedoms. Willing or not willing, consciously or not consciously, European officials and state member officials are comparing the South Caucasian secessionist states to Kosovo. Of course then, in their eyes a strong difference immediately appears. In one case, international organizations influence the political development of the new country. In the second, they are excluded, which made them think that the course of this candidate to a wider recognition will be a non-liberal and even an anti-western one. That’s why the only solution possible is to work towards an Abkhaz re-integration into Georgia. Turkey is also supporting that policy.
Beyond the paradox, there are some substantial misunderstandings. To overcome them, efforts have to come from both sides.
Abkhazia has already made many efforts regarding liberalization and democratization. Abkhaz press is quite free and the opposition is not pressurized. The last presidential election, in December 2009, has not shown any particular abuses or threats from any camps. The Russians remained on the fringe, mainly because all the candidates fit with their expectations. Abkhazian have now only to confirm those choices to allow political alternatives to build and to express themselves in the public debate. There is therefore the remaining issue of an international presence, wider than only Russian. This is an essential condition for Europeans to consider a possible policy change towards Abkhazia. Probably, it could be useful for the Abkhaz government to hire a strong public relations company, based in Europe, which would firstly promote the undeniable Abkhaz efforts to a democratic and balanced state-building, while informing them on the way to manage the heavy European administration and jungle of principles.
On the other side, Europeans should be ready to listen. They have to understand that Abkhazia will never re-integrate into Georgia. Spending only 5 minutes there and speaking with the first taxi-driver standing at the border, will make anyone get that point. Abkhazia is building its independence, seeking any support from wherever it comes, Latin America, Iran, Turkey hopefully, Russia of course, but also from Europe. A European connection is one of the main political purposes of Abkhazian political elites. Seen from Europe, obviously, the interest cannot be economic. Abkhazia however offers the EU this opportunity to achieve with Russia a real political success in the South Caucasus, i.e managing peacefully the independent state-building of a secessionist state. European approaches to Abkhazia should add to the Kosovo juridical precedent, the Montenegrin political model.
By Laurent Vinatier, Senior Research Associate, Thomas More Institute.
Photo: Abkhaz President Serguï Bagapch (right) in a face-to-face meeting with EU special representative for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby (left).