Op-ed: Abkhazia does not want to be turned into a copy of another country
Non-Governmental organizations in Abkhazia
Increased pressure on non-governmental organizations in Abkhazia led to a split in society and sparked protests. There are two main reasons for this:
- The demand of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to international organizations to stop projects on establishing contacts between Abkhazians and Georgians
- Preparation of a draft law on foreign agents (similar to the Russian one). More than 350 people have already signed an appeal to the government protesting against the adoption of such a law.
“Informal Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue is an unacceptable project”
It all started with harsh statements of Foreign Minister Inal Ardzinba during his meeting on January 19 with representatives of international non-governmental organizations working in Abkhazia – World Vision, the Danish Refugee Council and the UN Development Program
Representatives of the first two organizations are residents of Abkhazia, ethnic Abkhazians. UNDP is represented by Rafis Abazov who is in Abkhazia on a mission.
- “We forbid you to do this” – Abkhazia bans informal Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue
- Op-ed: how can Georgian-Abkhaz conflict be settled in the realities of today’s world?
- ‘The people need an enemy’ – who’s fighting NGOs in Abkhazia and why
It was in a conversation with Abazov that the sharp words of the minister about the COBERM (Confidence Building Early Response Mechanism) project were heard and were later distributed in the media and social media.
It is described on the COBERM website as “An apolitical, impartial and flexible program to support confidence-building initiatives within and between communities divided by conflict”.
The minister’s assessment, however, was very much different:
“This is an unacceptable project aimed at misleading the citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia, establishing a direct dialogue between Abkhazians and Georgians at the level of experts and youth. The implementation of this project is unacceptable on the territory of Abkhazia. Write it down and don’t do projects like this again. We forbid you to do this”, the head of the Foreign Ministry said.
Arguments in social media discussions
The minister’s statements caused a stormy scandal in society and a split in opinion.
Criticism of the Foreign Minister:
“To the Minister of Foreign Affairs – being quite new to this post, he also spent all the past years away from his homeland. Perhaps for this reason, a boorish tone dominates in his rhetoric? Perhaps the minister is an artistic person […] and maybe he should try himself as a theater actor? … I have been watching the political life of Abkhazia for more than twenty years, and I have never heard such a tone in the style of street fights from any of the officials”, writer Elya Dzhikirba wrote on her page.
“Name at least one country where NGOs so revered by you did a good deed and did not participate in the coup? Leave our government alone… They know that they won’t achieve anything by war, so they refocused on the younger generation. Therefore, surveys are conducted specifically among young people”, writes Facebook user Lyutik Lataria.
The anger of the Minister of Foreign Affairs was caused, first of all, by a sociological study conducted by the “Center for Strategic Studies”, headed by Professor Oleg Damenia, with the funding of the COBERM program.
The questions that were asked to the respondents did not please not only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also many members of the civil society in Abkhazia, and it was the wording related to the “Georgian” topic that caused a scandal.
Many considered the following question the most offensive and unacceptable: “Would you agree to have Abkhazia become a formal part of Georgia, but with a higher degree of autonomy?”
Many in society also did not like the fact that Georgia was named as one of the options for answering questions about whether respondents would like their children to go to study or work in another country.
“There is a clear attempt on the part of NGOs to create their agent network among young people, to establish contacts between Abkhaz and Georgian youth, especially through the social media platforms – TikTok and Telegram. It is very dangerous! Today there are already some young people who say – “Our elders fought, and we – the youth, must communicate and reconcile”. But I strongly disagree with this! Georgians don’t need us, they need our land. They need Abkhazia without Abkhazians”, Sandro Delba writes on social media.
He said that he and his fellow students were repeatedly approached by representatives of NGOs, without specifying which one, with a proposal to join their work. They were also offered to participate in the conduct of the controversial polls.
“This survey was conducted in the summer of 2021 in various regions of Abkhazia. Young activists were invited to walk around with these questionnaires and interview our compatriots. This opinion polls were conducted by the Georgian government through the international organization – UNDP. I am posting this questionnaire, since I have kept it from those times”, writes Delba.
He did not, however, answer why he did not share this questionnaire, as soon as it fell into his hands.
Preparation of the law on foreign agents
Another reason for fierce discussions in Abkhazia is the process of preparing a law on foreign agents, similar to the Russian one, which is clearly connected with the statements of the head of the Foreign Ministry.
In Russia, under this law, dozens of media and non-governmental organizations are either closed or are required to report their agent status in any publication, including on social media.
The civil society categorically opposed this initiative. More than 350 people have already signed the Appeal of the Citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia.
“The introduction of restrictions on the activities of NGOs … will inevitably lead to negative consequences for the international image of Abkhazia. Such a measure will contribute to a greater assertion at the international level of the false Georgian thesis about “occupation”, which representatives of NGOs in Abkhazia are consistently and not without success fighting against, using influential international platforms.
Currently, NGOs are one of the few channels of communication with the international community that cannot be blocked, given that Abkhazia is striving to expand international recognition”, the appeal says.
Eleonora Giloyan, journalist
Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not a State Security Service
It seems to me that the results speak best of all about the activity of any governmental structure.
If we are talking about the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then it will be the number and quality of countries that have recognized the independence of Abkhazia, as well as the number of international contacts, negotiations.
If we are talking about the state security service, then the result will be work to preserve everything that is important for the state: borders, sovereignty.
And departments must work together. Together, but not replacing each other.
I believe that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has slightly gone beyond the scope of his competences and also slightly crossed the threshold of the activities of the state security service.
I am not saying that the state is not entitled to a certain tone, prohibition or format. I’m just saying that the same phrase spoken by a security official from the State Security Service and a diplomat from the Foreign Ministry are two different phrases.
And in the first case, even with undisguised interest, as a citizen, I want to figure out what exactly it is about. What does the service I respect know, and most importantly, what does it plan to do with it.
But when a diplomat behaves like this, I want to turn off this video and forget it, as if this never happened to me.
What should a diplomat do in a situation where he suspected his colleagues – representatives of international organizations of something that should be banned? Report this to the competent authorities and let them conduct an inspection and report whether there are objective reasons for concern.
First, before speaking confidently about something, our compatriots should figure out what NGOs are and be surprised at how long the list is.
Second, stop treating young people as idiots. If it seems to people that they have raised children to whom they can sell love for the enemy for money, then it seems that the problem is in people.
Thirdly, sick children, hungry families, people with disabilities, women and children after / during the period of violence are of little use to anyone, except for a whole list of non-governmental organizations.
Fourthly, I do not know anything about cases initiated by the State Security Service over decades against any of the non-governmental organizations.
Fifth, to gather young people and tell them that NGOs are enemies is a moral crime. A similar action would be to declare that Ingur are friends [meaning the Georgian government and society – JAMnews].
Today, in general, my peers are becoming a massive power. But we, all the rest who live in Abkhazia, due to various circumstances, vaguely understand what our future will be like. But we know exactly what it should not be like.
We just want everyone to do their own job and not to turn us into a copy of another country – any other country.