There are at least two positive aspects about the idea of Mamuka Areshidze to begin negotiations on the recognition of Abkhazia's independence in return for certain dividends for Georgia. The first is that being widely publicized in the media this topic caused a resonance and a debate that quickly came to nought. Tough it is hard to call them discussions - a wave of condemnation quickly marginalized the expert on the Caucasus, leaving him alone with his idea. That once again convinced us that such ideas in any form are unacceptable to our society. And secondly, as the author has not been repressed, but was given a platform in the media instead, we can say that Georgia is a country with an open society in which pluralism and freedom of speech is allowed - even on the most painful and fundamental issues.
Now, as some time has passed, we can sum up and summarize reasons why the idea of Mr. Areshidze is unacceptable and doomed to be marginalized. This will not harm us and it will be useful for outside public to better understand the issue. Since we often observe how people - even well-wishers – who are not that familiar with Abkhazian issues, are genuinely puzzled: why is that Georgia does not take advantage of, as seems to be an easy opportunity, to get rid of such a "headache"? Information background, which Russia began to build up regarding Abkhazia as early as during the Soviet period contributed to this view.
Let's go from general to specific and recount causes starting from mental character to dry pragmatism.
A fundamental factor is a place of Abkhazia in mass consciousness of the Georgian people. Almost all Georgians perceive it as an organic part of the state of Georgia. This perception was laid in historical memory of the nation by hundreds of generations of our ancestors. And that is why tons of pseudo-scientific literature in which Russia set such theses as: "Abkhazia - is not Georgia", "Georgians in Abkhazia were settled by Stalin and Beria" (but then who had settled ancestors of Lawrence Pavlovich Beria - a native of Abkhazia there?!), etc has no effect on Georgians. Constant propaganda may manipulate with opinions of others, but it won't work with us as it contradicts the Georgian identity. It can be said without exaggeration that break in such self-perception that will inevitably happen in case of recognition of Abkhazia, will cause fundamental mental changes, the end result of which would be deprivation of the Georgian people of state-forming qualities.
For such attitude to Abkhazia an ordinary Georgian does not need to be a great historian or philosopher. The collective unconscious remembers: Abkhazia is our land where from ancient times our churches have stood and our saints have been buried. This land is part of the total Georgian political and cultural space, part of the concept of "Homeland" - not only for a native of Abkhazia, but also to an inhabitant of Kakheti that is on the other end of the country. And one does not give up a homeland. Therefore, one cannot give up Abkhazia - our mentality will not accept any "reasonable excuse" or bonuses in order to justify such a step. Abkhazia can only be taken away. But no matter how much time passes, it will be returned - as it happened more than once with different parts of Georgia in different historical times. And this is yet another part of the historical memory that helps people to wait and look into the future with optimism.
The very possibility of such formulation of the problem in Georgia is offensive. And its serious discussion would mean that nothing is sacred for the Georgian society, that it has no moral values. Throughout history our ancestors have died in endless wars for the homeland, shedding blood on every piece of land. Our entire culture, literature, identity is based on examples of defending and preservation of Georgia. And suddenly someone is trying to make giving up of the motherland a legitimate topic of public debate. What's next? And how far can cynical attitude to values go?
It would not be too much to say that non-recognition of Abkhazia is Georgia's duty before the civilized world. As by recognizing independence of Abkhazia, we would legalize the ethnic cleansing and the fascist entity. This will set a dangerous precedent of a victory of radical ideology. A precedent of a final and irrevocable victory of separatism with ethnic cleansings for which no one would ever be called to accounts. A victory of ideology according to which an aggressive minority can kill or expel disliked majority in order to realize its ambitions, and afterwards, declaring only themselves as "nation" to hold referendums on independence and, under cover of a powerful external support, completely ignore the majority of the population.
Is there any need to explain what kind of geopolitical problems will be caused in our region and throughout the world by acceptance of such methods to redraw the boundaries and exercise influence on neighbours? Instigation of and manipulation with ethno-territorial conflicts would be a legitimate method of international politics - if we legalize practically fascist regime formed on the Abkhazian soil. How otherwise can one call an entity where the "constitution" openly sets obligatory ethnic belonging of a "president", while socio-political structure is an obvious form of ethnocracy? And then there are no guarantees that this method will not be used again against us at a right time and in one of the other border regions now.
And this method will be definitely used and it will be us it will be used against in the first place. As we will be a nation that voluntarily accepted huge national humiliation – humiliation that all citizens of Georgia who still retain their dignity will be subject to feel in case of recognition of Abkhazia. After all, it turns out that we can be killed, expelled from our homes, declared second-class citizens, humiliated in every conceivable way - and then we will sign up underneath it all. And will become a nation, morally broken and meekly accepting such violence against them.
At that it must be remembered that all our neighbours have some kind of territorial claims against Georgia. It seems as though Georgia owes to everyone, and nobody owes to Georgia. More, if you add up all claims that were voiced it will be just Tbilisi that will remain of Georgia. And even this is in question. The recognition of Abkhazia will in fact provide a recipe and algorithm for actions for hunters on "self-determination", but in reality for territorial gains at our expense. And it will never end - or rather, it will end with Georgia.
This aspect eliminates references of Areshidze to the refugee issue. He says that their return to their homes can be made a condition for recognition of Abkhazia. But how many refugees are willing to return to Abkhazia independence of which had been declared against their will? Most definitely a very small part. We even know the number. A recent research that was done by the organization «Conciliation Resources» showed that only 17% of IDPs are willing to return to Abkhazia recognized by Georgia and even that if under international guarantees to protect their rights and with donor support of the international community - that is, under the most favourable conditions in such scenario.
How many of them would agree to return to Abkhazia in the position of second-class citizens and guests in their own homes - that is, in Abkhazia full of Russian troops which means no reliable guarantees of security and protection of human rights? Maybe someone will agree to this - but they will be just a very small amount. There is a good example before their eyes of the Gali district and more than unattractive position of local Georgians who are deprived of civil rights in "independent Abkhazia", suffering permanent extortion and violence, risking to be killed by Abkhazian militants or Russian soldiers at any time without a hope that criminals will be punished.
And here we are talking about the most trouble-free area where there is almost no Abkhazian population and where 98% of pre-war inhabitants were ethnic Georgians. A district where there was no confrontation or blood between neighbours; a district, population of which in mass demonstratively were not involved in the war of 1992-1993 but were still subjected to ethnic cleansing; a district where in the post-war years, when Russian "blue helmets" were deployed there under the aegis of the UN about two thousand people were killed who were unlucky to be born Georgians; a district, where for 18 years less than half the population braved return. At that, most of these people are not there on a permanent basis. They are forced to take risks and move seasonally across the river Enguri to cultivate their land and have minimum means for subsistence.
It would be interesting to know whether Mr. Areshidze would live in such powerless position.
We should also question readiness of Abkhazians themselves to buy the recognition at the price of return of all refugees. This is a very controversial issue, the final answer to which only Abkhazians can give. We can speculate, but based on past experience and knowledge of the subject suggests that this response is likely to be negative. This have already confirmed by comments made by the Abkhazian side. "Areshidze's initiative is good only for one reason that it would allow Georgia to politically de-facto register the situation", - renowned fighter of the Abkhazian political propaganda Nadezhda Venediktova speaks from the pages of the Ekho Abbkhazzii newspaper. We draw attention to the words, "to de facto register situation." That is, recognize us, but not expect anything in return from us. But then, perhaps purely for form's sake, Sukhumi will condescend to some insignificant gesture ...
"Let them recognize, and then we talk" – ironically comments member of the Abkhazian "parliament" Batal Kobakhia. "But are we ready to discuss "the price of recognition" i.e. those concessions that we can make in exchange for recognition? - asks Sukhumian political analyst Irakli Khintba. – will we agree to return refugees in exchange for recognition of Georgia? Hardly. Will we agree on some territorial concessions? Doubly unlikely. After all, this question can be formulated differently. Do we need the recognition of Georgia after all? Another "thinker" Vitaly Sharia notes: "Ask any Abkhazian villager today what he would prefer: recognition of Georgia or a return to the demographic situation of two decades ago and all those endless disputes "who's the boss here". The answer, I think, is obvious: "the hell with their recognition ..." - he will say".
Probably it's not hard to imagine in what terms and with what kind of tone were comments on the proposal of Areshidze issued by other representatives of the Abkhazian society not burdened by considerations of censorship. Having read all that was written these days in forums and social networks, I got an impression as though that it is solely Georgians that need the recognition of Abkhazia, but not Abkhazians. We must recognize them, and afterwards even thank them for this opportunity. What refugees? Forget it. But then, this cynicism is justified to some extent. Society with strong principles cannot respect devoid of all principles, nihilistic mass. This is indeed how Georgians are seen by Abkhazians while there still are individuals in Georgia who allow themselves to speculate with such issues. And this at the time when in Abkhazia not one person dared to respond constructively to the idea of Mamuka Areshidze, not to mention the fact that no one even allowed possibility of their return into Georgia.
A reaction of the Abkhazian side is quite typical and there is nothing new to it. Fundamental, driving force of the Abkhazian ethnic nationalism has always been and still remains a desire to dominate in Abkhazia. It is an irrational urge to be "masters" and keep the rest in subordinate, "guest" status. We will not now comment on where this mental peculiarity comes from. It will suffice to say that Abkhazians were not content to occupy the privileged position of the "titular" ethnic group. And rather than to give birth to more children and gradually improve their demographic situation, they chose a shortcut prompted by Russia. They just got rid of the majority of the half-million population - Georgians and other residents of Abkhazia that were in solidarity with the latters. This allowed Abkhazians who had constituted 17% of the population to become majority for a short time. But now they barely maintain numerical parity with other ethnic groups and maintain their dominant status only because of monopolizing of all key positions and suppression of "competitors".
Therefore return of refugees to Abkhazia is the most fundamentally unacceptable question. Here their "complex of seventeen percent" is immediately turned on and nightmares begin to haunt them: Georgia recognizes and suddenly Georgians again becoming the majority hold a referendum and then what? Kiss "independent Abkhazia" goodbye?
In addition to this it should be noted that the current Abkhazian society is extremely anti-Georgian in other sense as well. In order to maintain the "correct" public mood, the society is continuously fed propaganda of the lowest class. All the time there are stories about brute-Georgians and intolerable burdens of life under the Georgian yoke (let's leave aside justice of these opinions; propaganda exists to instil ideas in minds of people). There are classes in primary schools of Abkhazia where they are told about inhuman nature of the Georgians. Today's young people of Abkhazia from infancy have been raised with hatred for Georgia. Should we expect that those who have been brainwashing Abkhazians in this way tomorrow will tell people: sorry, it was not like this and it is possible to live with Georgians... elementary sense of self-preservation will prevent them from doing this.
But, as we have noted, only a small number of IDPs are ready to return to independent Abkhazia even under the most favourable conditions. This means that the Abkhazian position is not the key, and in any case we will not solve the problem of displaced population. We cannot forcibly deport refugees back over the other side of the river Enguri, can we?! But let's assume that due to some reason there is a sharp change of mood, and they all decide to return. Abkhazians also agree to this having received guarantees of preservation of their status of "masters" (although such an approach is already fascism and apartheid). The question of security assurances for those returnees that were mentioned by Mr. Areshidze arises. Vast experience of many years that was acquired at a very high price dictates that guarantees have to be very reliable and should not depend solely on just one side.
Let's not forget that we signed a peace agreement, which was violated by Abkhazians who carried out a massacre in Gagra. We signed another peace agreement and it ended with the attack on Sukhumi. We again signed a peace agreement and in compliance with it we withdrew troops, artillery and heavy equipment from Sukhumi. The result was that Sukhumi was captured and carnage spread throughout Abkhazia. After that once again we showed compliance and have moved away from the tunnel in the Kodori Gorge. A week later Abkhazian troops crossed it and carried out a massacre in the village of Lata and tried to capture the entire Kodori Gorge. One can say a lot more about treaties and arrangements with Abkhazians - they all were concluded under guarantees of the Russian side, and they were violated with participation of Russia.
Thus, only international guarantees implementation of which will be monitored on the place by international forces – peacekeepers, international police – no matter what name is given to it, will suit. Promises that are fixed only with signatures and stamps on paper are worth no more than this very paper as only consistently frustrated peace agreement, but also numerous, though completely ignored at the time resolutions of the CIS, OSCE and UN confirmed it to us. Not to mention the Russian aggression in August 2008. It is, alas, not the power of law but the law of force that dominates in the world. So presence of international forces and withdrawal of Russian troops is a prerequisite. And here we are again confronted with the suggestion of Areshidze to make withdrawal of the Russian military forces from Abkhazia a condition of recognition. But is this scenario realistic?
Most likely, Abkhazians would have gladly agreed to it - they are not pleased with the dominance of the Russian military. But they tolerate it because so far Russia secures dominant position of the Abkhazian population, although it has already begun to run disadvantageous for them demographic processes, as well as to hint not too shyly who is the boss there. Abkhazian ethnocracy does not have strong, long-term guarantees from Russia to retain their status and it feels how vulnerable it is. Therefore, Abkhazians would gladly accept such guarantees from the other party and wave goodbye to too greedy, too close and too strong Russia. But will they be able to do this? And should we expect that if Abkhazians themselves demand withdrawal of Russian forces the latters responding to a polite request of Sukhumi will load themselves up in trains and cross the river Psou under the sounds of farewell music?
Only people who believe that Russia has supported and nurtured the Abkhazian separatism solely out of altruism, because of only its selfless love for Abkhazians can suggest such a scenario. But if we assume that Moscow has made Georgia its enemy and paid serious political price for the sake of realizing their aspirations that automatically leads to the conclusion that the presence of Russian troops in Abkhazia should be necessary, primarily, for Russia. In real politik Abkhazian position has exactly the value equal to how strong they are and to what degree they are able to influence plans of the Kremlin. Can anybody imagine Abkhazian militants expelling a large army group of Russia stationed there from independent Apsny? Or their surrounding the Gudauta base with all its weaponry? And Moscow has already started talking with Sukhumi about increasing the contingent. And this happens when there are already more than enough forces available in the area if need be to "clean up" the entire region and completely eliminate all supporters of the withdrawal of Russian troops, if they decide to resort to actions.
But even this scenario belongs to the realms of fantasy as it will not come to this. The entire Abkhazian elite is linked with Russia, while Russian security services control social and political processes in the occupied region. When discussing Abkhazia, one should always remember and come from one circumstance - it is completely under military and political control of the Russian Federation. And this means that as long as this situation persists, no reliance should be placed upon independence of Abkhazians. Any sufficiently serious initiative that goes against interests of the Russian Federation will be stopped at its root. And in case of hypothetical negotiations with puppets rather than with puppeteers Moscow through Sukhumi will bring plenty of reasons why they cannot agree to withdrawal of Russian troops. One does not need to invent anything - just repeat the mantra that Abkhazians do not trust anyone anymore and do not agree to presence of others except for Russians.
Mamuka Areshidze says that Abkhazians need to be saved from assimilation. And this must be surely done through the recognition, and surely before 2014, before the Sochi Olympics. Like, assimilation of Abkhazians will be brought to the end swiftly after the Olympic Games. The logic of this reasoning is not entirely clear. Although it is not difficult to predict that after the Olympics the Russian Federation will have its hands completely free and get to the task of mastering of Abkhazia more unceremoniously than before. But at the same time there is a striking coincidence between the call of Mamuka Areshidze and ardent desire of enterprising, well-lobbied in Russia business people to solve the problem of international legitimization of "independent Abkhazia" before the Sochi Olympics. In order to use the Abkhazian territory for infrastructural support of Olympic events and earn some money on foreign tourists in the nature reserves of Abkhazia.
But if we put it aside, the idea is interesting in itself - how the recognition of Abkhazia will prevent assimilation? After all, objective and subjective factors that cause assimilation will not disappear in case of Abkhazia gaining formal status of a recognized independent republic. And most importantly - what is the opinion of the candidates for salvation? As far as we know, Abkhazians are not asking anyone to save them, especially not Georgia. They do not understand, do not accept such aspirations, and one should not expect gratitude from them. Abkhazian society does not remember even recent, by historical standards, efforts of the Georgian public to prevent their complete mukhadjirstvo in the XIX century. The name of bishop Kikodze, who saved the remaining Abkhazians from eviction to Turkey, does not say anything to the most of Abkhazians except for a few today. Others prefer to recall the more recent history with satisfaction, when they with the help of the same Russia themselves arranged mukhadjirstvo to Georgians.
Therefore it would be foolish to act like Don Quixote. After all, Abkhazians are not children. Like all of us, they choose their own destiny. Assimilation does not bother them enough to ask for help, especially us. Should be impose? One-sided steps in this direction look, at least, funny. Even the most exacting moralist will be content by the fact that we preserve Abkhazian culture and Abkhazian language in unoccupied parts of Georgia. Abkhazians can take advantage of this, if they wish, when the situation changes. So far, they have been saying that "it is better to dissolve in the ocean than in a pool." Perhaps in the future they will understand that a pool is still less than an ocean. But they will be lucky if they understand it not too late. In any case, it their concern first of all.
Areshidze says that by offering to recognize Abkhazia's independence, we'll get right to sit down with Abkhazians at the table of negotiations and engage in a direct dialogue with them "with participation of the international community and without participation of Russia." But do we not have such right now or has not had before? We have problems with realization of this right, and Georgia has nothing to do with it. This is not Georgian politicians that are afraid of any independent contact with Abkhazian representatives. This is not Georgians that are controlled so that they can only occasionally and secretly talk with opponents without "intermediaries." How will the recognition of Abkhazia on our part rid Abkhazians of Russia's control and allow them to keep independent, uncoordinated with Moscow negotiations with us? Such mechanisms in the existing political and military scenario are not visible.
There are no reasoned, comprehensive answers to questions that were raised in this article. Therefore, we must assume that the recognition of Abkhazia will not Georgia any practical benefits. So, based on dry pragmatism it is not needed. There's more. In practice it will bring substantial harm to Georgia at least from a tactical point of view. Take, for example, the following argument: today we have a very strong enemy in Russia, interests of which in Georgia are not limited to just seizure of territories. Moscow seeks to control Georgia, and bring it back it into its orbit. Now it spends some political capital and resources to legitimize the occupation and is constantly forced to justify itself before the international community and is under pressure. And by recognizing Abkhazia, we relieve the aggressor of the burden and give it more opportunities to move to the next stage of weakening and disintegration of Georgia.
The issue of the status of Abkhazia will not be solved in the near future. The situation is frozen for a long time to come - as long as Russia maintains its position in the Caucasus. Therefore, we should focus on those issues that can be solved right now. We need to build a successful, strong, developed and democratic state on the unoccupied territory. While in the context of Abkhazia we need to promote real people's diplomacy, free movement of people across the line of occupation, trade, etc. In contacts with Abkhazians we have to show them a normal, attractive and free world as an alternative to the usual Russian gloom. Help them return to their roots and grow out of ethnic psychology, based on an archaic mentality and xenophobic, fascist concepts that was implanted in them in the Soviet era. If it succeeds at least to some extent it will seriously facilitate reintegration of the country in the future. In the meantime, we have to wait, develop and consolidate. Wait for the time when the situation changes and "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" - but this time of the XXI century - will again open "window of opportunity." The same that allowed us to escape from the Soviet Union. Time works for Georgia.