Alexander KRYLOV

Alexander Krilov, D.Sc. (Hist.), chief researcher, Near Abroad Problems Department, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (Moscow, Russian Federation)

On the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union (at the beginning of the 1990s), public life in Abkhazia underwent a sudden upswing, which resulted in the appearance of a large number of parties and political movements. But at that time, a multiparty system in this autonomous republic failed to take off. Ultraradical nationalism ran rampant in Georgia, and the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict which flared up polarized society according to ethnic rather than political characteristics. It split into “Georgian” and “Abkhazian” “parties,” whereby after tempestuous demonstrations and outbursts by Georgian radicals under the main slogan “Georgia for the Georgians,” most of the non-Georgian population found themselves in the Abkhazian party (along with the Abkhazians).

During the conflict and its aftermath, the authority of Abkhazian leader V. Ardzinba, as head of the nation and initiator of the victory in the brutal Georgian-Abkhazian war of 1992-1993, was irreproachable. In the Abkhazian villages (and in the cities), the attitude toward the first state president frequently went as far as idolization. At the beginning of the field studies conducted in Abkhazia,1 the ubiquitous festive speeches and toasts in honor of V. Ardzinba (“our Great man,” and so on) often caused the author of this article to worry that another personality cult could form here, or that a North Korean, Turkmenian, or similar social model might prevail. But the multiparty system, legal opposition, and free press in present-day Abkhazia have thankfully assuaged these fears.

From Moderate Criticism—to a Struggle for Power

After the war, the various parties, public movements, and organizations which arose during the last years of the Soviet Union’s existence and after its collapse continued to exist in Abkhazia. They all supported the authorities, were more akin to “interest clubs” than political organizations, and did not have any perceptible impact on sociopolitical life. In reality, the formation of a multiparty system with the organized opposition inherent of it did not begin until recently.

As frequently happens, the most irreconcilable political opponents of the current president were his former advisors and former deputies of the republic’s Supreme Soviet (1991-1996), such as N. Akaba, G. Alamia, O. Damenia, L. Lakerbaia, S. Lakoba, D. Pilia, and others. Now it can be stated that demarcation of the Abkhazian political elite began on 26 November, 1994. On this day, the Supreme Soviet adopted the new Abkhazian Constitution, and V. Ardzinba was elected the country’s first president.

Abkhazia became a presidential republic with a National Assembly (parliament), which had far fewer powers than the former Supreme Soviet. Although the deputies themselves voted for a presidential form of rule, many of them found their new rights, which had been severely pared by the new constitution, to be unacceptable, and they were loath to accede to their new position (after all, just yesterday V. Ardzinba was merely the first among equals).

Only a few of the deputies found a place for themselves in the legislative and executive structures (S. Jinjolia, S. Bagapsh, V. Zantaria, K. Ozgan, S. Shamba, and others). The others reckoned that “the authorities would become increasingly supercilious toward the people, and any criticism of it would be taken as undermining the foundations of the state,”2 and that “pointless disputes with a president who openly ignores our opinion and discredits us cannot be of any benefit to our society.”3 Thus, a great many deputies found themselves in the opposing camp (at first unofficially) and at the next elections (1996) refused to ballot for parliament (incidentally, two of its previous deputies who nominated themselves lost to their rivals).

Articles criticizing the authorities appeared in the Abkhazian press approximately five years after the end of the Georgian-Abkhazian war. By this time, the mass euphoria over the victory had abated, and society began to realize that the end of the war and destruction of the Georgian army in no way meant (as very many thought) the resolution of all problems and the fulfillment of the hope for a “bright future” for all, whereby at breakneck speed.

At first, the criticism was not aimed personally at the president, rather at “certain shortcomings.” For example, in 1997, the NPA—Narodnaia partia Abkhazii (the newspaper of the party of the same name [NPA is the Russian abbreviation of the People’s Party of Abkhazia (PPA)]) which comes out in Sukhumi, emphasized that without mass shareholding, privatization would be unfair and could lead to undesirable social tension, and that monopolization of economic life, and abuse and tyranny by “certain officials of the state apparatus and leaders of state companies” is continuing in the country.4

Letters from readers published in the newspaper were even more critical: “clans in fact exist and are posing a threat to our security and the interests of the entire country. The blatant inequality in property and other relations could escalate into a confrontation within the country with unpredictable consequences.”5

The first direct universal presidential elections (1999) gave V. Ardzinba’s opponents the opportunity to remove him from power by constitutional means for the first time. Some well-known opposition figures intended to nominate themselves for the presidential post. The most likely candidate was A. Ankvab (former Abkhazian interior minister6) living in Moscow, who was in fact the leader of the Abkhazian opposition and, moreover, had the means to pay for running in the election.

The opposition’s hopes to nominate A. Ankvab, or another representative of the “Moscow Abkhazians,” were dashed after parliament adopted a special law on elections. Despite tough resistance from several opposition deputies, in March 1999, the parliament adopted the law, pursuant to which a candidate for president could only be a citizen of Abkhazian nationality who had free command of the Abkhazian language and had lived in the country for no less than the past five years.

Then the opposition tried to nominate L. Lakerbaia (former prime minister and foreign minister) as candidate for president, who had close ties with the “Moscow” opposition members. It was at this point (with less than two months to go until the elections) that the opposition members, finding themselves backed up against the wall, began their propaganda attack on the leadership, and on the president personally, of unrecognized Abkhazia.

Forty-seven days before the presidential elections, Sukhumi’s Nuzhnaia gazeta (No. 44, 16 September, 1999) published an interview with L. Lakerbaia, which set forth the opposition’s main claims against the authorities. The first casts aspersions on the state mechanism that had developed: “Everything is tied to one person in our country. The Constitution we have adopted has concentrated too much power in one pair of hands. This power, no matter what its nature and no matter how competent the person, is incapable of doing all the work.” The second concerns poverty: “A state cannot be rich if it has impoverished citizens. People must simply be given the opportunity to earn money.” The third is discrimination of the diaspora: “The main thing is not to divide the Abkhazians into local, Moscow, Turkish, and so on. We should not be dividing, but uniting and consolidating Abkhazian society. In this lies our strength.” The fourth applies to crime: “We are living in a society which condemns crime, but only while it does not affect us personally. I know someone who said that we need to fight crime, but when his nephew was arrested he said: ‘What!? Are you going to begin establishing order with my nephew?’ This also makes the criminal feel much better.”7 The fifth entails the problem of the non-Abkhazian population: “The nationalistic idea has outlived itself. We must take into account the interests of all the citizens of multinational Abkhazia.” The sixth implicates the law on elections: “The law did not present the idea of elections in the best light. Those people who drew up this law were undoubtedly thinking about themselves and their survival, but they presented our society in an unfavorable way.”

Realizing that the opposition did not enjoy enough popularity in Abkhazian society to gather the thousands of voters’ signatures necessary for promoting L. Lakerbaia as candidate for president, the People’s Party of Abkhazia, of which he was never a member, tried to made him their contender for this post. But it was unable to conduct the nomination procedure in keeping with the law on elections, and its candidate was not registered. Moreover, it turned out that the party itself had not passed through the official registration procedure and was essentially acting illegally.

In October 1999, the first universal presidential elections and referendum on independence were held at the same time. Their results proved truly triumphant for the authorities: 97.7% of the electorate voted for V. Ardzinba and the state independence of Abkhazia.8 But the no-choice elections (combined with society’s clear fatigue from dealing with daily problems) aroused disillusionment in some of the intelligentsia. Dissatisfied with the rapid social stratification of society and its grave material state, this part of society, which was most critical of the authorities, became the social bastion of the opposition parties.

In February 2000, organized registration of the opposition began. An initiative group was created consisting of political and public figures who were well known in the republic: N. Akaba, G. Alamia, Ts. Gumba, O. Damenia, T. Ketsba, L. Lakerbaia, and V. Smyr. Their statements said: “During the past years, many problems have remained unresolved. Moreover, society is becoming weary, the people are becoming more alienated from the authorities, and the prospects for our development are taking no clearer shape.”9 In this situation, the group announced the creation of the sociopolitical movement Aitaira, which was called upon to express the views and interests of the opposition-oriented members of society.

Along with consolidation of the opposition forces, the formation of a new pro-government organization began—the Republican Party Apsny (RPA). The previously existing parties (PPA and CPRA—Communist Party of the Republic of Abkhazia), as well as entirely new parties and movements participated in building the multiparty political system in Abkhazia. As a result, the five main political organizations of present-day Abkhazia were formed: three parties (the CPRA, PPA, and RPA) and two sociopolitical movements, Aitaira (Revival) and Amtsakhara (Eternal Flame).

The People’s Party of Abkhazia

In the platform it created in 1991, the PPA (chairman Ia. Lakoba) set forth its main goals. Among them were building a democratic society based on the harmony of human relations, civilian peace and consent, uniting the peoples around the idea of raising Abkhazia’s statehood to a higher level with the help of the constitution, achieving the republic’s political independence, building a legal state by gradually resolving the economic and social problems, developing foreign ties and achieving the republic’s membership in the U.N. and other international organizations, improving the demographic situation, and returning the descendents of the muhajirs to their historical homeland. In addition, the platform set forth several other important aspects of party activity. These included forming a market economy and transferring to a mixed economy based on diversity and equality among different forms of ownership, social protection of the population, the development of culture, science, and education, the normalization of ethnic relations by all the nationalities residing in Abkhazia recognizing the right of the Abkhazian people to restore the repressed state and its rights, and with simultaneous recognition and protection of the rights and freedoms of each representative of other nationalities residing in the republic, and fighting the mafia, corruption, organized crime, anarchy, and legal nihilism.10

The party leaders believe that Abkhazia can achieve legal recognition of its independence in a short time: “It will not be long before the world community recognizes us and the Republic of Abkhazia becomes a full-fledged member of the U.N. and other international organizations.”11

At the second PPA congress, it was stressed that the party was acting only according to political methods and saw “its main goal to be helping the republic’s leadership build a legal and democratic state.”12 But after the change in leadership at the end of the 1990s and the election of Ia. Lakoba as party leader, it refused to support the authorities and began to severely criticize the existing order, claiming that there “is no market based on free competition in the country and monopolies run the show due to the greed of the ruling bigwigs.”13

The leaders constantly stress their party’s mass nature and maintain that during the first months after its creation, it constituted more than three thousand members.14 In actual fact, the PPA did not have more than several hundred members. Its electorate consisted of city-dwellers and its influence was negligible in rural areas.

At present, the party is in favor of forming an alliance with the Abkhazian opposition organizations, as well as striving to develop foreign ties (it has made contact with the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia and with several Turkish parties).

The Communist Party

The Communist Party of the Republic of Abkhazia (CPRA) (first secretary of the Central Committee, E. Kapba) was created in 1994 at its founding congress. The congress also adopted the party’s platform, which noted that after sustaining victory in the Georgian-Abkhazian war, Abkhazia became an independent, self-governing state which had gone through the complicated and arduous process of forming its statehood.

According to the CPRA, “democratic socialism” most fully meets the interests of society and corresponds to the republic’s cultural and historical traditions. The party sees its main goal as building the sovereign democratic state of Abkhazia on the basis of a “mixed economy,” in which “diverse forms of ownership providing economic and social gain” will be used. By continuing to uphold the idea of socialism, the CPRA “severely criticizes those deformations, distortions, and even crimes which took place in the C.P.S.U.” In foreign policy, the party’s goal is “to achieve Abkhazia’s recognition as an entity of international law as quickly as possible, and develop cooperation and partnership with Russia, as well as with all other countries.”15

At present, the CPRA is the largest party with 8,000 members,16 and its ranks mainly encompass people of the older and middle-aged generations who live both in rural areas and in the cities. In contrast to the opposition parties and movements, the CPRA leaders are not inclined to dramatize the situation: “Our republic is not standing on the spot. We are making a certain amount of progress, both in the economy and in diplomacy, as well as in strengthening our defensibility. About half of our budget has to be spent on defense, and it is not easy for such a small republic to pull such a weight.”17

After the formation of a legal opposition, when severe criticism of the current leadership began to fill many newspapers in Abkhazia, the CPRA retained a clearly loyal attitude toward the authorities. This is primarily dictated by the complicated foreign political situation of an unrecognized state, and by the fact that (as the party leaders believe) Abkhazia is essentially still in a state of war and so the activity of political organizations should be aimed predominantly toward consolidating society and strengthening the republic’s defensibility.18

Even under conditions when the communists, like the opposition, “do not like much of what the authorities are doing,” they believe that at present it is not worth “rocking the boat” and “persecuting the authorities,” but that it is necessary to “support our president.”19 Although the CPRA does not exclude the possibility of criticizing the authorities “on specific issues,” it constantly stresses that in this respect a sense of moderation must be observed and that the “CPRA’s credo is not to rush things.”20

Due to the support of the elderly and middle-aged population, the party has a significant electorate. During the elections at the beginning of 2001, the communists nominated their candidates to all the local self-government structures (which they previously did not do) and in many regions achieved impressive results (57% of the seats in the Assembly of the Ochamchira Region, 43% in the Gudauta Region, 33% in the Gulripsh Region, 30% in the Tkvarcheli Region, and 28% in the Gagra Region). Nevertheless, the elections showed that the CPRA is not popular among the urban population. For example, not one of its candidates gained a seat in the Sukhumi city assembly.21

The CPRA has close ties with the communist parties of Russia (in particular with its structures in the North Caucasian republics and other regions of the country’s south), Belarus, and Ukraine. Contacts with the CPRF faction in the State Duma are helping the Abkhazian communists to have a certain influence on the stance of Russian legislators, supporting their pro-Abkhazian sentiments, and assisting the Duma’s adoption of resolutions and documents advantageous to Abkhazia. It also has its representatives in the Union of Communist Parties (UCP-CPSU), which unites the communist parties in the post-Soviet space.

After the end of the Georgian-Abkhazian war, the CPRA established contacts with the Georgian communists (at CPRF congresses, and so on), but even their common Marxist-Leninist ideology has not brought them any closer. The Abkhazian communists continue to insist on Abkhazia’s independence, and the Georgian on restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity. In this way, for both of these communist parties, national affiliation remains the central issue in the conflict, rather than socialism or “class solidarity of the workers.”

Republic Party Apsny

The party (co-chairmen R. Jopua and M. Agrba, and executive secretary, N. Agrba) was founded in February 2001 on the basis of the national-patriotic movement Apsny22 (which has existed since December 1998). The main goals of its platform are to strengthen and form an independent Abkhazian state; reinforce and develop democratic institutions and civilized relations in public life; protect the country’s state and defense security; raise the economy and prosperity of the people; form a state ideology aimed at implementing the RPA’s program orientation toward protecting national independence and the country’s sovereignty; building a democratic society; creating an efficient economic system that meets the interests of broad strata of the population; conducting active propaganda of its goals and an open and competitive struggle to win the electorate’s votes during election campaigns; introducing party members into the power structures to implement the tasks it has set in foreign policy and the republic’s domestic life; assisting the state power institutions in order to ensure their efficiency in uniting the population’s efforts to build the state and achieve the republic’s economic and social revival; guaranteeing the political and economic freedom of each member of society, including the right to labor, its worthy remuneration, protection of health, mothers and children, a favorable environment, and access to education and culture; strengthening democratic institutions; developing pluralism in society; and supporting normal relations with other political parties and movements which support independence and state sovereignty as the only guarantee of the free and equal development of the Abkhazian people and all the nationalities residing in the Republic of Abkhazia.23

In the economic and social sphere, the party is in favor of creating a socially oriented mixed economy and retaining the regulating functions of the state in its leading spheres, ensuring the right to private property, and conducting stage-wise privatization which meets the interests of most of the republic’s population.

Since the time it was created, the party has established close ties with the republic’s communists, who, however, believe that the RPA’s charter and platform “do not have any great ideological differences and contradictions with the CPRA’s charter and platform.”24 The Abkhazian communists actively participated in forming this party. Several RPA members, including its co-chairman M. Agrba, are still members of the CPRA. Such simultaneous membership in two political structures (which is also characteristic of the opposition) does not contradict the RPA’s charter, but is a violation of the CPRA’s charter. In order to resolve this awkward situation and not exclude activists of the new party from its ranks, in March 2001, the CPRA bureau adopted a special resolution On the Urgent Dispatch of 12 Members of the CPRA to the New RPA to Assist It in Consolidating Abkhazian Society.25

At times, the RPA leaders criticize the existing order, but they always stress their loyalty to the authorities. Like the communists, the RPA leaders do not believe it necessary to dramatize the situation: “During the past few years, the Abkhazian people have sustained victory in the unequal war imposed on them, survived under conditions of an economic blockade, gradually organized the economy, and developed all the democratic institutions necessary for a civilized state.”26 The party’s main political adversary is doubtlessly the Abkhazian opposition, which the leaders and activists of the RPA accuse of “dissension and being almost a ‘fifth column’ of the outer foe.”27

Representatives of the administration, parliament deputies, and directors (something akin to the “party and economic activists” of Soviet times) predominate in the party leadership and, in contrast to the opposition, there are also many non-Abkhazians. For example, its political council includes vice-speaker of the Abkhazian parliament O. Petrov, deputies A. Kapikian, G. Nikitchenko, N. Patulidi, chairman of the Armenian society Krunk A. Topolian, and others. The ranks of the RPA are rapidly swelling, at the beginning of 2002, its members constituted around 3,800 members.28

The party is supported by the current Abkhazian leadership, which sees it as a means for fighting the opposition. It must be noted that this support is of a moral, rather than financial nature. Therefore, in contrast to the opposition, which virtually owns several printed publications with a total circulation of several thousand copies, the RPA experiences constant financial difficulties. Its modest (500 copies) printed matter—the newspaper Azhalar rybzhy (Voice of the People)—comes out rarely and irregularly.

Sociopolitical Movement Aitaira (SPM Revival)

The first founding congress of this movement (co-chairmen L. Lakerbaia, O. Damenia, and T. Ketsba) was held in July 2000, but the republic’s Ministry of Justice did not register it, indicating that it violated the law on registration of sociopolitical movements and parties.

After taking scrupulous account of the Ministry of Justice’s complaints (founding conferences were held, branches of the movement were created in most of the republic’s regions, and so on), in November 2001, a new founding congress was held. It essentially duplicated the decisions of the first: the charter was approved again, publications were founded, the membership of the political council leading the movement was expanded somewhat (to 32 people), and the same co-chairmen were elected. Soon after this, Aitaira was registered by the Ministry of Justice.

A Revival group was formed in the republic’s parliament (seven deputies, that is 20% of their total number), which included, in addition to vice-speaker of the National Assembly R. Kharabua, L. Lakerbaia, T. Ketsba, V. Ketsba, Ts. Gumba, V. Smyr, and E. Chakmach-Ogly.

The organization’s charter set forth the following goals of the movement: revival of Apsny and of the traditional values of our people; creation of a civilian society in Abkhazia based on the principles of absolute priority of personal rights and freedoms, social justice and protection of people, their equality and fraternity, solidarity in the face of common problems, and participation in the building of an independent, democratic, and legal state based on an efficient, socially oriented regulated market economy and capable of ensuring the dignified material and spiritual life of each citizen of the Republic of Abkhazia.29

The platform draft (there are plans to adopt it in the near future) states that SPM Aitaira sees the republic as an independent contemporary democratic state which retains the succession, best traditions, and historical and cultural achievements of the Abkhazian people. According to the draft, the movement views Abkhazia as an entity of international law, the foreign policy of which should be aimed at establishing goodwill and mutually advantageous relations with Russia and other CIS countries, as well as at gaining access to European and world integration processes. The movement is in favor of good-neighborly relations and accelerating negotiations with Georgia. However, it insists that the question of compensation payments by Georgia for the damage inflicted on Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war be retained on the agenda.30

As its leaders state, the movement’s priority goal is to “win the parliamentary elections and change the power system in Abkhazia. If we want our country to develop normally, we must redistribute power in such a way as to strengthen its legislative and judicial branches and create an efficient system of checks and balances”31 (i.e. restriction of presidential power).

According to its social composition, Aitaira’s members are mainly city-dwellers, that part of the intelligentsia which is most critical of the current authorities. The most common complaints about them are repeated on numerous occasions in the opposition press, according to which the republic’s current leadership is utterly incompetent, and the situation in Abkhazia is catastrophic, or very close to it. Here are a few evaluations characteristic of the opposition press.

Ekho Abkhazii: “The president is not establishing order or putting a stop to criminal debauchery, he does not tolerate any opinion which differs from his own, he does not want people around him who think independently or are capable of contradicting him, and he creates special economic privileges for a narrow circle of people.”32 “Rights, the law, and the Constitution have become the state’s formal attributes. They do not protect the people of Abkhazia. People have been forced to return to medieval forms of self-defense, resorting to family and kinship relations.”33

Aitaira: “The departure of a large number of Abkhazian nationals beyond the country (approximately 15-20,000 people) has led to an abrupt decrease in the Abkhazian population during the past 8-10 years. If this trend continues, our people will be on the brink of extinction.”34 All the same, even in opposition publications, more well-balanced evaluations of the situation are encountered (although they can literally be counted on one hand). For example, the newspaper Aitaira noted (No. 8, May 2001) that compared with other countries, the situation in Abkhazia is not that bad: “Positive changes are obvious. Construction is going on, tourists are visiting our country, life is not standing still. Its standard and quality are gradually rising… with respect to economic development, Abkhazia is not at the bottom of the list.”

The opposition constantly reproaches the republic’s leadership of being unable to improve the situation, propose new ideas, of “lack of experience and the inability to precisely set priorities when formulating its viewpoint,”35 and so on. But the measures proposed by the opposition press to improve the situation frequently suffer from wishful thinking and extreme exoticism. For example, one of the severest critics of the press proposes: “By uniting and standing tall under the banner of freedom raised high by current leader of mankind, Kofi Annan, the people of Abkhazia will be able to protect their rights... The nation must be consolidated ... on the basis of public organizations and by creating ‘an alliance of nongovernmental organizations’... The first thing this alliance should do is make a public appeal to the U.N. central structures and committees, as well as to all the people of the Earth who profess the idea of freedom and democracy to restore the violated rights of the Abkhazian people...”36

In contrast to the Sukhumi authorities and pro-government parties, which uphold a clear pro-Russian stance, the Aitaira (the movement’s newspaper) and other opposition publications frequently publish anti-Russian articles. The Chechen problem, which is a particular sore spot for Russia, was characterized as “another national-liberation war of the Chechen people;” and the Abkhazians are accused of cowardliness and debility, since they “did not come to the Chechens’ aid” and did not fight against the Russian army in Chechnia.37 Several publications extolled the “flexible mind and human qualities” of Shamil Basaev, expressed bitterness and regret about the death of some Chechen fighter the author knew “in Budennovsk”38 (where, as it is known, Chechen terrorists headed by Shamil Basaev seized a maternity hospital and killed many civilians).

The movement’s leaders put a certain amount of blame on Russia for the impasse in negotiations with Georgia, saying that if it had not interfered the conflict could have been resolved by creating a federation. “At one time, a Russian official said that even if you come to terms with the Georgians on a union state, we, Russia, will not allow you to create one. This phrase must be taken into account today. Any state formation will be projected onto our neighbors. The only thing is that if I know that I, a citizen of Abkhazia, am a full-fledged landlord of this territory, even the word federation will suit me. For we can call ourselves a confederation, even though it will be fictitious. It is not a matter of formulation. The main thing is that the citizens of Abkhazia should be genuine landlords of their country, regardless of national affiliation...”39

Severe criticism of the current Abkhazian authorities has promoted an increase in the popularity of SPM Aitaira primarily among the opposition urban intelligentsia and youth. Striving to create a mass political movement as quickly as possible, its leaders have no strict procedure for accepting members into their organization and welcome representatives from other political and social structures. In so doing, many activists and members of SPM Aitaira continue to be members of the PPA, CPRA, and SPM Amtsakhara, and the size of the movement has burgeoned within a year from several members of the initiative group to approximately one thousand people.40

The leadership’s collegial principle and the presence of three co-chairmen have not saved the movement from accusations of authoritarianism on the part of those leaders declared within Aitaira even before its official registration. In August 2000, Ts. Gumba (parliamentary deputy and one of the movement’s initiators) announced her withdrawal from the leadership of the SPM due to “lack of consent with the work style, form, and methods of the movement’s co-chairmen, which, in my deep conviction, do not differ from the way the current authorities are acting.”41

Aitaira is retaining close ties with the Abkhazian “Moscow opposition,” which is counting on its help to create conditions for its return to Abkhazia and is rendering it significant financial aid. Incidentally, the conviction reigns in the Sukhumi corridors of power that Georgian and western special services, which are financing the local opposition and A. Ankvab personally, are in fact operating through the “Moscow opposition.”

Several authors are already convinced that the united local and “Moscow” opposition have real prospects of gaining the majority at the next presidential elections. According to their calculations, the republic’s current leadership will be forced to place the opposition in power itself, since “due to the government’s growing unpopularity among the people, the voting at the presidential election will be against it. In this situation, it will have to find a successor for the current president among the presumed opposition whether it likes it or not, since a candidate from among those currently close to the authorities will simply not be accepted by the people.”42

The Sociopolitical Movement Amtsakhara

It was created in April 2001 (chairman S. Dbar) on the basis of the public-patriotic movement of the same name (which was “born” in the spring of 1999). At a special Amtsakhara congress (April 2001), its delegates came forward with perhaps the severest criticism of the current authorities.

In his speech, S. Dbar unexpectedly harshly evaluated the regulations in the army (its high combat readiness is well known and was proven again by the destruction of the united Chechen-Georgian contingent that invaded the Kodor Gorge in Abkhazia in the fall of 2001, headed by R. Gelaev). According to S. Dbar (lieutenant general of the Abkhazian army), it is “rife with desertion, embezzlement of arms, beating, and extremely low military discipline... There are no children of high-ranking officials in our army, only the children of peasants serve in it, and only then if they cannot find anyone to put in a word for them.”43

The republic’s military prosecutor, Major General of Justice V. Nachal-Ogly, made a no less severe statement: “We are not living as a single nation, like during the war, but like tribes who have descended to the level of cavemen.”44 Some members of the movement have expressed particular displeasure with the fact that such well-known politicians in Abkhazia as A. Ankvab and others are “not in demand with the authorities”45 (such concern for the fate of the “Moscow oppositionists” suggests that there are relations between them and Amtsakhara).

The appeal adopted at the congress to the people of Abkhazia, the president, government, and parliament stated: “The administration we have created has proven incompetent in post-war times. It has led to mass unemployment, a collapse in the economy, a growth in crime and drug addiction among young people, and the exodus of the population beyond the republic.

“The weakness and incompetence of the law enforcement system is depriving us and our children of confidence in tomorrow, is sowing panic and fear, and is undermining the state’s authority. Rampant crime during the post-war period has affected all strata of the population. In this undeclared war, hundreds of our fellow-countrymen have perished, from ordinary citizens to political figures.

The power structures are not ensuring the republic’s state security, which makes profound reform of all the power departments an absolute necessity, including the armed forces. The structure of the army today is unwieldy and is not ensuring efficient management.

“Bad management, wastefulness, and lack of proper control in the economy have led to enormous losses, the stratification of society, and impoverishment of most of the population.

“The lack of demand for intellectual and professional potential has led to the departure of a significant portion of the population beyond the republic. The placement of personnel is occurring not according to professional capability, and moral and business qualities, but according to family and clan relations, or by fawning and personal devotion.

“The authorities’ passivity and the nation’s wait-and-see stance are posing a threat to the situation in the republic, and the hate and mistrust aroused by the war have contaminated people’s public conscience.”46

After making extremely severe attacks on the current authorities, Amtsakhara has not proposed a platform of its own to improve the situation. But the movement has called on all the political parties and movements to “sit down at the negotiation table to search for and draw up radical ways to resolve the current impasse,” and create “a power system which could guarantee our freedom and rights, and take advantage of the historical chance provided by victory in the Georgian-Abkhazian war to build an independent state.”47

Amtsakhara is claiming the role of a political party, but the movement has still not been legally registered, and has no charter or platform. Uniting the participants in the Georgian-Abkhazian war of 1992-1993, it has not created an ideological platform. Stratification into “well-fed” and “hungry” fighters and commanders is observed within the sociopolitical movement, which has given rise to constant plunging from side to side, from cooperation with the authorities to extreme forms of opposition. Such internal friability is highly conducive to an increase in contradictions and an internal split. What is more, the radicalism and clear inclination of the movement’s members toward resolving the problems by forceful means is fraught with the most unpleasant surprises and harbors the danger of a buildup in the inner-Abkhazian internecine war.


A multiparty system became a reality of Abkhazia’s political life relatively quickly. Its special feature is the proximity or complete coincidence of the tasks declared by the pro-government and opposition parties alike. All the movements and parties (like the current authorities) are in favor of political independence and reject the possibility of Abkhazia’s return to Georgia. There are some differences in the approach to the resolution of economic problems, but they are very insignificant. The pro-government parties are in favor of a mixed, socially oriented economy regulated by the state, whereas the opposition prefers a market social economy.

Without a doubt, the political polarization in Abkhazian society does not have any underlying ideological motive. It is based primarily on a different attitude toward the authorities and toward the first president of the unrecognized state. As V. Sharia justifiably noted (Ekho Abkhazii, 5 November, 2000), society is divided into those who “adore the president, believing that Abkhazia has had unprecedented luck with its leader, those who actively do not accept his policy and personal qualities, and those who sympathize with him and say that he is the hostage of his clan.”

There has essentially been no ideological demarcation of political forces in Abkhazia, which is characteristic of all democratic societies, but division according to the principle: “We love the president,” or “We do not love the president.” Therefore, the debate between the authorities and the pro-government parties, on the one hand, and the opposition, on the other, is not ideological, rather it boils down to inundating society with compromises and attacks against certain personalities and extreme forms of dislike for each other.

The hyperbolic nature of the personal factor in political life is preventing the establishment of constructive relations between the authorities and the opposition. The opposition leaders and publications are competing to see who can criticize the authorities and pro-government parties the most. In response, the latter are essentially accusing the opposition of national treason and alliance with those people in Georgia who are striving to use the standoff and internal struggle within Abkhazia to return the lost territory by force.48

Of course, in a very short time, the Abkhazian opposition has managed to achieve great success and turned into an impressive component of the country’s political life. But its real influence will not become clear until after the parliamentary elections scheduled for the spring of 2002.

1 For their results, see: A.B. Krylov, Postsovetskaia Abkhazia, Moscow, 1999; idem, Religia i traditsii abkhazov (po materialam polevykh issledovanii 1994-2000 gg.), Moscow, 2001.

2 N. Akaba, “Tak kakaia zhe demokratia im po vkusu?” Nuzhnaia gazeta, 13 August, 2000.

3 O. Damenia, “Prezidenty imeiut takie prava i polnomochia, o kotorykh inye koroli mogli lish mechtat,” Nuzhnaia gazeta, 6 September, 1999.

4 Ia. Lakoba, “Okh uzh eti ‘monopolisty,’ monopolii i monopolizm!” NPA—Narodnaia partia Abkhazii, 7 December, No. 13, 1997.

5 NPA—Narodnaia partia Abkhazii, No. 13, 7 December, 1997.

6 A. Ankvab was removed from his post after a group of representatives of the Georgian administration headed by Zh. Shartava were arrested in Sukhumi and shot on 27 September, 1993. The minister was accused of not executing the order on urgent transfer of the prisoners to Gudauta and not providing them with the appropriate security. In Abkhazia, the opinion spread that it was only due to the intervention of numerous relatives that he was “exiled” to Moscow and avoided a more serious punishment.

7 In so doing, responsibility for the problem of crime lies precisely on the president, for without giving names, everyone knew who was being referred to in this incidence.

8 See: A. Krylov, “The Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict,” in: The Security of the Caspian Sea Region, ed. by G. Chufrin, SIPRI, Oxford University Press, New York, 2001, p. 287.

9 Nuzhnaia gazeta, No. 8, 28 February, 2000.

10 See: “Programma Narodnoi partii Abkhazii,” NPA—Narodnaia partia Abkhazii, No. 7, September 1996.

11 A. Lazba, “Za svetloe budushchee respubliki,” NPA—Narodnaia partia Abkhazii, No. 9, November 1996.

12 A. Lazba, “Istinno narodnaia,” NPA—Narodnaia partia Abkhazii, No. 6, August 1996.

13 “Politicheskiy kvartet: stroinoe mnogogolosie ili?...,” Ekho Abkhazii, 25 April, 2001.

14 See: A. Lazba, “Istinno narodnaia.”

15 Programma Kommunisticheskoi partii Respubliki Abkhazia (KPRA), Sukhumi, 1994.

16 See: Ekho Abkhazii, 11 April, 2001.

17 Ekho Abkhazii, 25 April, 2001.

18 For more detail, see: Ekho Abkhazii, 18-25 April, 2001.

19 Ibidem.

20 Ibidem.

21 See: Ekho Abkhazii, 21 April, 2001.

22 “Apsny” is the name for Abkhazia in the Abkhazian language and translates as “Land of the Spirit.”

23 See: “Programma Respublikanskoi partii “Apsny” (RPA),” Golos naroda, No. 1, April 2001.

24 Aitaira, No. 7, May 2001.

25 Ibidem.

26 N. Agrba, “Kto vy, doktor Zorge? K nekotorym argumentam predstavitelei abkhazskoi Frondy,” Ekho Abkhazii, 4 April, 2001.

27 Ekho Abkhazii, 28 February, 2001.

28 Data of the Moscow press center of the Republic of Abkhazia.

29 See: “Ustav OPD “Vozrozhdenie,” Glas naroda, special issue, 2000, p. 5.

30 See: “Abkhazia v novom mire.” Programma obshchestvenno-politicheskogo dvizhenia “Vozrozhdenie” (draft), Sukhumi, 2001.

31 See: OPD “Aitaira”—krupneishaia oppozitsionnaia sila v Abkhazii. Interview with co-chairman of the sociopolitical movement L. Lakerbaia, Ekho Abkhazii, 20 March, 2001.

32 A. Gunba, “Naivnaia vera ‘v dobrogo tsaria,’” Ekho Abkhazii, 20 November, 2000.

33 D. Pilia, “Abkhazia nakanune bol’shikh peremen,” Ekho Abkhazii, 12 September, 2001.

34 E. Avidzba, “RPA na starte,” Aitaira, No. 2, February 2001.

35 A. Otyrba, “Kak nam preodolet’ mezhdunarodnuiu izoliatsiiu,” Ekho Abkhazii, 16 May, 2001.

36 Ibidem.

37 I. Kuakuaskir, “Voina, cherez kotoruiu nam nelegko perestupit’,” Aitaira, No. 2, February 2001.

38 See: I. Agrba, “Na fone neprekhodiashchego proshlogo,” Aitaira, No. 2, February 2001; I. Kuakuaskir, op. cit.

39 L. Lakerbaia, “I delo ne v segodniashnem zatmenii,” Nuzhnaia gazeta, 16 September, 1999.

40 See: Ekho Abkhazii, 25 April, 2001.

41 Ts. Gumba, “Zaiavlenie,” Aitaira, No. 14, August 2001.

42 A. Otyrba, “O tak nazyvaemoi ‘moskovskoi oppozitsii,’” Ekho Abkhazii, 13 November, 2000.

43 Ekho Abkhazii, 3 May, 2001.

44 Ibidem.

45 Ibidem.

46 Ibidem.

47 Ibidem.

48 See press conference of A.M. Jergenia, in: Respublika Abkhazia, No. 66, 12-13 June, 2001.

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