'The people need an enemy' – who's fighting NGOs in Abkhazia and why
Local opponents of NGOs in Abkhazia say the organizations ‘destroy the hostile image of Georgia in the eyes of the Abkhaz and promote dialogue with the Georgian side, and this is unacceptable.’
The same voices demand the activities of NGOs be limited in every possible way.
However, there are also voices in Abkhazia both in support of NGOs and for dialogue with the Georgian side.
Chronicle of scandals
Despite almost thirty years that have passed since the end of the Georgian-Abkhaz war, any contacts with Georgia are still received with suspicion and hostility. People try not to advertise such contacts, since any wide publicity will necessarily result in a scandal with subsequent accusations of a betrayal of national interests.
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In recent months, due to a similar situation, two assistants to the President of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania have lost their posts at once. Lasha Sakania facilitated the secret visit of two Georgian politicians to Abkhazia, who brought an icon to the Ilori temple. Another former aide to the President, Benur Kviraia, traveled to Tbilisi for talks so that the Georgian authorities would not interfere with the opening of a free economic zone in the Gulripsh region of Abkhazia.
These two events caused a lot of noise in the Abkhaz political environment. It even went as far as rallies and parliamentary hearings with the president’s invitation.
However, not only politicians end up getting thrashed by public opinion because of Georgia.
Teenager Alena Tania posted a video on her TikTok in which she says that “Abkhazia is Georgia”.
The video was widely distributed over the network in a few hours. Many commentators suggested depriving the girl of her citizenship and even deporting her from Abkhazia. The next day, the author the video with her parents was summoned to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and a story about this was shown on the news of state television.
NGOs as enemies
Another episode, also connected with Georgia, identified a ‘culprit’ in the ‘loosening of the established foundations.’ And this is an NGO.
University teacher and civic activist Ruslana Gergedava said in a lengthy interview on Georgian-Abkhaz relations that she did not see the Georgian people as an enemy.
The video itself was made as part of the Reverse project funded by the German Berghof Foundation. And, of course, social media immediately responded with a common message: our youth are misled by NGOs and made loyal to Georgia.
In general, almost all discussions on Facebook in one way or another boil down to the fact that the activities of NGOs undermine the sovereignty of Abkhazia.
Under each post on this topic, 500-1000 angry comments are typed. For example, the following phrases are used: ‘pro-Georgian sixes of the State Department’ or ‘corrupt servants of Soros’ – and they collect hundreds of likes.
In Abkhazia, no more than twenty non-governmental organizations are actively working on grants from various international humanitarian structures. Mainly, social projects are funded – from support to small farmers and entrepreneurs to educational programs. But there are also some projects related to the settlement of the consequences of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.
It is precisely because of the latter aspect that periodically in social networks there is a requirement to introduce the Law “On Foreign Agents” according to the Russian analogue. Despite the fact that in Moscow they insistently recommend that the official Sukhum adopt such a law, the Abkhaz authorities were very cool about this idea and are still treating this idea.
‘Western soft power’
Former head of the Gal district [where mostly ethnic Georgians live], and now one of the leaders of the public organization of veterans of the Georgian-Abkhaz war “Aruaa” Temur Nadaraya is one of the most active critics of NGOs. According to him, all joint projects organized by international organizations are an attempt to “reprogram the Abkhaz youth” and return Abkhazia to Georgia using the so-called “soft power”.
“Donors of all these projects are various organizations from Western countries, the so-called“ friends of Georgia ”. The subjects of information processing and brainstorming are young people and people who are poorly versed in politics. Talking about human rights, assuring young people that they can solve what is beyond the power of politicians, raising their dignity, they, like spiders, lure many naive people into their nets, ”Temur Nadaraya is sure.
At the same time, he is not against the work of the same international organizations, if they implement projects exclusively on the territory of Abkhazia and do not provide for the participation of the Georgian side in them. “There are no complaints about the International Red Cross and Crescent. As well as to those NGOs that, without politics, but only deal with humanitarian problems, ”says Nadaraya.
At the same time, he calls for radical action against NGOs dealing with political issues.
“Those NGOs that receive funding from countries that do not recognize the independence of Abkhazia and are involved in politics in Abkhazia should, like in Russia and the United States, have the status of“ foreign agents ”. And given that we are not members of the UN and have no legal obligations, the activities of such NGOs should be limited or even prohibited, ”Nadaraya said.
“Struggle against democracy”
Attacks on NGOs have been occurring from time to time for a long time, says Said Gezerdava, a lawyer at the Center for Humanitarian Programs, a non-governmental organization. But this began to happen most actively since 2015.
“According to our observations, the same people appear on different social networks and under different anonymous nicknames who are constantly looking for an excuse to discredit the activities of the nongovernmental sector,” says Said Gezerdava. “There was a time when they calmed down, but the Reverse project breathed new life “.
According to him, everything that is now happening around NGOs is an attempt to form public opinion for the adoption of a law on foreign agents. However, Gezerdava believes that today “there is no such agenda” inside Abkhazia.
According to him, discrediting the non-governmental sector is a fight against democracy.
“NGOs do not work as they want, we constantly report on our work, and if our work were unsatisfactory, the first who would criticize us would be the authorities. But the situation is absurd, the state is happy with everything, the criticism comes from anonymous, ”says Said Gezerdava.
According to an NGO representative, several individuals have been identified who are actively “throwing mud at civil society.” Among them were people with a criminal past and those who have nothing to do with Abkhazia.
“Everything that is happening now around NGOs is an attempt to destroy civil society in Abkhazia,” says Said Gezerdava.
The public support for the activities of non-governmental organizations is mainly those who work with them and know firsthand what their activities are.
Ombudsman of Abkhazia Asida Shakryl believes that opponents of NGOs are most often those who have a personal conflict with representatives of non-governmental organizations.
Others, she said, participate in discussions and take the side of opponents of NGOs out of ignorance.
“People need an enemy, someone launched the topic of NGOs and there was a discussion. Everyone wants to show themselves as a patriot. And this is the easiest way, ”says the Ombudsman.
Opinions on the dialogue with Georgia
“In our conditions, only the state should have a monopoly on any negotiations with the Georgian side. Any multilevel negotiations with Georgia can take place only after the recognition of our independence, ”says Temur Nadaraya.
According to Nadaray, the policy of isolating Abkhazia, which Georgia is pursuing today, does not in any way contribute to a multi-level dialogue.
“The right of citizens of Abkhazia to move freely with our passports is blocked by the Georgian side. What, someone needs to be convinced that this right is an absolute natural right for any person? So such topics of reconciliation with the Georgian side in the current political realities and joint projects between NGOs with Georgia disorient our youth and cause irreparable damage to the cause for which a thousand lives of our brothers were given, ”the politician says.
However, this opinion is clearly not shared by the authorities. One of the most influential politicians in Abkhazia, secretary of the Security Council, former prime minister and chairman of the United Abkhazia party, Sergei Shamba, believes that it is necessary to use any platform in order to exhaust the conflict and move on to constructive relations.
“Georgia will always be next to us, you cannot move it, it is our neighbor, we are part of the same geopolitical space. We have common interests and, based on them, we need to build relationships. The Karabakh war has shown that a constant state of conflict cannot lead to anything good, ”says Sergei Shamba.
He recalls how negotiations were conducted with Georgia in the most difficult times, when even the first President Vladislav Ardzinba, who led Abkhazia during the war with Georgia, traveled to Tbilisi for negotiations.
Sergei Shamba believes that the issue of dialogue with Georgia is being politicized in order to gain points in the opposition’s struggle with the authorities, since it affects the feelings of the people. But sometimes you should not follow the lead of feelings, but you should think with your head.
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