Whether the ice melted in the hearts of Russians and of what the Kremlin failed to take note
09/09/2010 12:42
Natia Verdzeuli
The Kartuli Sitkva

If the so-called South Ossetia silently obeys orders from Russia, people in Abkhazia have long understood that their independence is ephemeral and nothing good is expected in the future. As president of the Club of Experts and former minister of security of Abkhazia, General Major Levan Kiknadze said in conversation with a correspondent of the Kartuli Sitkva newspaper, the number of articles expressing protest has increased in newspapers published in Abkhazia. Their journalists are openly talking about it. And intelligentsia that are in the shadows is silent and this, apparently, is their way to express protest.

The Kartuli Sitkva newspaper spoke with Levan Kiknadze:

- Recently, the Russian-Abkhazian relations became tense, I am talking about well-known statements of Shamba. What, in your opinion, is the situation in the occupied Abkhazia and how strong is that part of Abkhazians that is trying to escape from Russia?

- Tension in the Russian-Abkhazian relations and its projected growth become apparent even when the separatist regime Bagapsh agreed to sign such shackling agreement full implementation of which will be the end of the so-called independence of Abkhazia.

And let's not deceive ourselves and think that any statement of any official of the Bagapsh government, even the well-known statement by Sergei Shamba, has anything to do with these tensions. Shamba is an experienced politician, and quite astute at that, and he knows what to say in order not to offend Moscow while he may be thinking quite the opposite. As for the main opposition of the puppet regime General of the FSB and Putin's favourite Raul Khajimba, his activities and statements that allegedly the ruling regime contributes to the creation of tension in Russian-Abkhazians relations, is motivated only by his desire to adopt the image of implacable opposition member. But he knows that his activities in the opposition are strictly limited and the Kremlin will not allow him to take liberty.

After euphoria of "independence" has faded and Abkhazia presidential elections have ended, Russia began its occupation of Abkhazia on all fronts and its imperial ambitions have begun to appear more distinct. Part of pragmatically minded Abkhazian intellectuals found themselves at a crossroads not knowing where to go. The number of articles in which the protest has increased in Abkhazian based newspapers. Their authors are openly talking about the illusory, ephemeral independence. If journalists, although timidly and fearfully, still somehow speak of unenviable future of Abkhazian people, terrified intellectuals that are hiding in the shadows, are silent but their silent protest is obvious, and there are tendencies of strengthening of this protest in different layers of society from time to time.

- Information was issued that Russia intends to resettle in Abkhazia those affected during fires in Russia. Is it possible in a situation when ethnic Russians in Abkhazia are denied legitimization of apartments owned by them before the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict? What danger threatens Abkhazia, if it still happens?

- Information about relocation of those affected during the fire into Abkhazia was probably due to the fact that children from affected families were brought to Abkhazia on holiday. Nothing is known about this so far. As for danger there is already more than enough of this. Today it is no secret that the best resort places in Abkhazia are being taken into possession by Russians. However, the current Abkhazian law prohibits the sale of real property to citizens of another country, but Bagapsh has promised to resolve this issue and make the appropriate changes in the law. Therefore, reregistering properties for Russian citizens is only a matter of time. Still it will be interesting to see what kind of changes Abkhazian separatists are going to make into the law to prevent a term "citizen of Russia" from including ethnic Georgians as well ...

As you know, the phrase "restitution of property rights of Russian citizens" written in the concept developed by the joint Russian-Abkhazian commission, has caused great commotion and fear of a possible return of Georgian refugees, as in this case the citizens of Russia, of course, also include Georgian refugees who adopted Russian citizenship. This further convinced us that the image of Georgian as an enemy still has a great impact on the population of Abkhazia.

- Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nesterenko said that the Georgian leadership purposefully discriminates against those people who have recently taken a trip to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What, in your view, is the purpose of these statements from Russia?

- Mister Nesterenko should not forget that there are the occupying regimes in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region that actively intervene in the management and control over the occupied territories. Occupation (in Latin meaning capture) - means temporary occupation of the territory of a country by armed forces of foreign country. Therefore, it would be better for this gentleman to remember many crimes committed by the Kremlin against Georgia. Recent history, the history of the last 20 years demonstrates this. Therefore, this absurd statement by Nesterenko is not even worth commenting. Does anyone have the right to enter the territory, which is an integral part of Georgia without the permission of Georgian authorities? It will be illegal crossing of the Georgian border under any circumstances, and under current law this is a punishable act. And such statements from Russia serve the only purpose - to mislead the international community, to show how bad we, Georgians, are and how we violate human rights.

- A survey conducted in Russia showed that the number of supporters of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has decreased. What was the reason, and what the Kremlin failed to take note of?

-In my opinion, reduction of the number of supporters of Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence says more about the fall of popularity of the Medvedev-Putin tandem rather than that the ice has melted in the hearts of Russians, and they turned towards us. The fall in popularity in itself means that distrust and, of course, first of all, distrust of their policies is growing. It should be noted that we are not doing bad in the information war, and all of this together, and most importantly, the fact that our truth was delivered to although very small part of the Russian population, has caused a reduction in the number of supporters of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

- What are your predictions in the light of all this? What will happen in Abkhazia? Will part of ethnic Abkhazians openly express their protest?

- I am sure that this illusory calm in Abkhazia will not last. Our hope is based even on protest rallies of pragmatically-minded Abkhazian intellectuals that took place in Abkhazia in 1999. In 1999-2000 the first to publicly spoke about results of politics of Ardzinba for Abkhazians was well- known Abkhazian politician, former vice-chairman of the separatist organization "Aydgylara" Zurab Achba. He openly criticized Ardzinba and policies of the Russian leadership, but at the same time, he did not hesitate to criticize the Georgian leadership as well. In his speeches Achba said that Russia has contributed to personal confrontation of Ardzinba with Tbilisi. Achba was confident and said publicly that the Abkhazian people would have no future if they did not find common language with the Georgian side. He also allowed the return of all refugees in the whole of Abkhazia on certain conditions, against what other separatist leaders were and still are based on invented reasons.

This courage was not forgiven to Zurab Achba and in 2000 he was killed in Sukhumi. But his followers, who believe that it was possible to avoid bloodshed and find common language with Tbilisi, are still there.
I'm sure the time will come, and Abkhazian people will assess not only the disastrous effects of the policy of Ardzinba, but also those who in one form or another continue his policy.

- Recently, a big fuss was raised in connection with the refugees. The authorities claim that the issue of refugees from Abkhazia have been already settled, and the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and refugees of Georgia only works on improvement of their living conditions. Is it justifiable to evict refugees from the capital?

- The question of refugees is very painful. And anyone who comes into contact with them is obliged to respect dignity and honour of those who have been hurt, offended along this long, never-ending journey. First of all, let no one forget that they were forced to leave their land, wounds of most of them from the loss of sons, husbands, parents or close relatives have not healed - and will never heal. Many of them hope to return to Abkhazia and this hope helps them to adjust to intolerable conditions of life. A normal human heart will break at the sight of the living conditions of refugees in some areas of compact settlement. Whatever the government does for them they should not expect words of gratitude and praise from them. These people to this day have a hope that they would return to their life, return to their homes, neighbours, and friends, the graves of relatives, the sea, and God forbid from losing this hope.

Now, about the issue of refugee resettlement in various areas of Georgia.
Today, it is clear what mistakes were made by the authorities from the beginning, when the process of chaotic settlement of refugees was taking place. Of course, it is difficult to talk about any systematic resettlement of refugees at the time, when they were coming out of Abkhazia in multiple streams. In the beginning, after the fall of Gagra there was a problem of resettlement of tens of thousands of refugees. And the fall of Sukhumi had increased this number to three hundred thousand. We should not forget the Gali events of 1998 either, as a result of which of another thirty thousand refugees had to be resettled and most of whom were accommodated in Tbilisi.

The authorities could have decided even later to carry out a census of internally displaced persons and to redistribute refugees who lived in villages in Abkhazia to various rural areas of Georgia, while they could resettle refugees from urban areas of Abkhazia to different cities of Georgia. I understand that there were many difficulties connected to such events but it is clear that today we would not have had such difficult situation. As a result, today we have a large number of refugees who have adapted to urban conditions and as a result of immense labour and suffering have built their lives to some extent and got accustomed to local conditions. Let's not forget that 17 years have passed, a new generation emerged many of whom are studying at universities and working in different places. And they are forced to live in the countryside that for them is tantamount to becoming a refuge for the second time.

I understand that among the above-mentioned categories of refugees, there are those who previously received monetary compensation and illegally occupied other dwellings. Unfortunately, there were such facts when certain categories of refugees misappropriated public space and then resold it and they became very "skilled" in this. What can you do, among decent refugees from Abkhazia there were dishonourable ones as well.
Given that, individual approach is needed to each refugee, and this should be done by those structures that are designed for this - Ministry of Refugees and the legitimate government of Abkhazia. I am sure that if they had examined this matter efficiently and drawn appropriate conclusions, it would not have resulted in such noise and commotion.

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