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суббота, 28 июня 2014 г.
What Happens When an Unrecognized Country Experiences a Revolution?
The recent overthrow of President Alexander Ankvab in
Abkhazia has further tarnished the credibility of this unrecognized state.
Worse still, warns Donnacha Ó Beacháin, local political elites now risk adding
a lack of domestic legitimacy to their international pariah status.
By Donnacha Ó Beacháin for Global Observatory of the IPI
This article was originally published by the IPI Global
Observatory on 13 June 2014.
Earlier this month, the president of Abkhazia was forced to
flee the capital after thousands of angry protesters seized the presidential
administration headquarters and national TV station.
President Alexander Ankvab took refuge in a Russian military
base—not the first time an Abkhaz leader has has sought safety in the arms of
Russia. The latter is a supportive neighbor that recognizes Abkhazia, a
disputed territory in the post-Soviet sphere, as a sovereign state. What is new
is that Ankvab needed protection not from traditional Georgian enemies—Georgia
still considers Abkhazia as a breakaway region within Georgian borders—but from
his fellow Abkhaz citizens.
The events of the last two weeks have dealt multiple blows
to Abkhazia’s credibility and governability. Despite its lack of international
recognition, successive Abkhazian administrations have in the past managed to
oversee competitive elections with peaceful transfers of power.
The coup leaders will, of course, see themselves as
redeemers who have saved Abkhazia from the policies of its ousted president.
They even got a parliamentary endorsement for the unconstitutional ouster. But
they have set a very dangerous precedent. The new elite risk adding a lack of
domestic legitimacy to their international pariah status.
Ankvab, for all his faults, was constitutionally elected,
and the leaders of this putsch, for all their charms, were decisively beaten in
the 2011 electoral contest. Ultimately, three-time presidential candidate Raul
Khadjimba and his supporters proved unable to wait just two years, until the
next election was due, to test their popularity. It was this same kind of
impatience that led to Victor Yanukovych’s ouster in Ukraine, with disastrous
consequences. The Abkhaz are perhaps fortunate that the Kremlin has no interest
in protecting the ousted president to undermine whatever new regime emerges, as
they did in Ukraine.
Alexander Ankvab had long been a divisive figure. He has
been the target of no less than six assassination attempts, the last of which
left two of his bodyguards dead. Respected rather than loved, he would
ultimately be judged for his concrete achievements and did not enjoy a
reservoir of popular affection from which he could draw when the going got
During the 2011 presidential election, I interviewed all
three candidates and followed them as they stomped from village to village on
the campaign trail. Whereas the veteran foreign minister Sergey Shamba and, to
a lesser extent, Raul Khadjimba emphasized the virtues of their team, Ankvab
projected himself as very much a one-man show. He eschewed rosy projections or
extravagant promises and obviously took pride in his simple and
straight-talking style. His meetings, during which he reeled off an impressive
array of statistics and spoke without interruption for up to two hours, focused
on the need for order and the strengthening of state institutions.
Yet Ankvab failed to sufficiently establish a credible mission
that might serve as a brand for his presidency, unlike his predecessors.
Abkhazia’s first president, Vladislav Ardzinba, was regarded as the founding
father of modern Abkhazian statehood. Sergey Bagapsh, perhaps fortuitously,
achieved long-sought-after recognition for his state from the Russian
Federation, which enabled him to cruise to a comprehensive second-term victory.
Ankvab’s achievements were less clear. In general terms, the
demonstrators who seized public buildings were protesting against corruption,
incompetence, and the government’s failure to listen to its critics. Two major
concrete grievances were articulated. The first accused the government of
wasting and/or embezzling Russian aid, while the second admonished Ankvab for
permitting the widespread distribution of passports to Georgians in the Gali
district. This act, the opposition claimed, undermined Abkhazian statehood and
was designed to extend the voter base of the incumbent regime.
The default position of the Georgian government and its
Western allies is that very little happens in Abkhazia that does not follow a
script devised within the Kremlin walls. Accordingly, there has been a tendency
to interpret recent events as those inspired by the needs of its larger
neighbor. There have even been suggestions that what we have seen is some kind
of Crimean scenario, a prelude to Russia’s annexation of Abkhazia. However, the
dynamics for the recent upheaval have been unmistakably local. And whoever
emerges as the new president following the early election scheduled for the
August 24 will have to face some old challenges.
The first of these is the country’s relations with Russia.
While the Kremlin is Abkhazia’s most influential supporter and sponsor, the
challenge is to ensure that the Russian embrace does not become suffocating.
Many thought that Russian recognition would enhance independence, but for some,
reliance on Moscow has served to undermine Abkhazian self-rule. Dealings with
Georgia constitute a second persistent issue, but this has very much diminished
since the 2008 war. So long as Russia supports the Abkhaz, they have little
reason to entertain overtures from Tbilisi. Like a cranky old couple for whom
whatever affection existed has long since dissipated, the Georgians and Abkhaz
meet under supervision in Geneva to discuss the details of their separation.
A third challenge is establishing Abkhazia’s place in the
world. As it stands, the country loiters in legal limbo on the periphery of the
international society of states. A new government will most likely continue the
daunting task of extending and diversifying its international contacts. In this
respect, the tide has been turning against the Abkhaz. When Ankvab came to
power, Abkhazia was recognised by six UN member states; the figure now stands
Fourth, there is the situation in the Gali region of
southern Abkhazia where ethnic Georgians constitute the overwhelming majority
of the population. The (largely Mingrelian) Georgians of Gali are officially
tolerated as a necessary blight, but are governed in a semi-colonial fashion.
Their predicament looks less secure now. We will learn a lot about the
intentions of the new government by how it approaches the people of Gali. The
Abkhaz political elite have yet to decide conclusively whether they seek a
multi-ethnic democracy or an ethnocracy designed to defend their vulnerable
The fifth and most important challenge relates to
statebuilding. During the last quarter-century, the Abkhaz have had to deal
with the collapse of their economic system, which accompanied the demise of the
Soviet Union, and an all-out war with Georgia, which further devastated
Abkhazia, followed by a debilitating international embargo. How ironic it would
be, then, if, having weathered these destructive storms, it was to be
undermined now from within.
For many years, Abkhazia has been denied legitimacy by the
international community. The task now for the victorious opposition is to
re-establish internal legitimacy for the Abkhaz political system. This will
require more than a change of governors, but also in styles of governance.