|Abkhazia has been fooled by Russia|
|May 03, 2010|
The Abkhaz now have a choice: be an outpost of the Russian empire or work together with a European Georgia
By Giorgi Badridze
Anna Matveeva is right to remind us that Abkhazia was once the favoured holiday destination of the Soviet elite. But she omits to mention it is also the homeland of thousands of ethnic Georgians who were expelled from their properties in a brutal ethnic cleansing exercise implemented by the Russian-supported separatists. Their homes now lie in ruins, as they live in temporary housing in Georgia dreaming of the day they will return.
The sad truth, as Matveeva hinted at in her article, is that the Abkhaz people were fooled by Russia. The Kremlin stirred up paranoia over Georgian intentions, armed separatist fighters and deployed troops before the invasion of 2008 under the guise of security. But the Russian objective was not to help the Abkhaz gain independence or to hand them the lands of ethnic Georgians, it was to subsume the territory into the greater Russia and to destabilise the government of Georgia, so that Georgian ambitions to join the Euroatlantic community were snuffed out.
The reality is now dawning on the Abkhaz: instead of independence they have got Russian annexation. Thousands of Russian soldiers and workers have moved in, and they are not likely to be heading back anytime soon, if ever.
The rivers and coastlines of Abkhazia are being pillaged to provide construction materials for the Sochi Olympics, threatening environmental disaster in the years to come. Russian companies, such as Rosneft, are scouring the land searching for assets to exploit. The Abkhaz have become puppets, and we all know who is pulling the strings.
I am the first to admit that Georgia has not got everything right in relations with our Abkhaz compatriots. We should have been more understanding of their concerns, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But the sincere wish of the Georgian government was, and is, for Abkhazia to flourish with full autonomy.
My government has been putting forward proposals for greater integration between Georgia and Abkhazia. We have developed a plan – engagement through co-operation – which is based on President Mikheil Saakashvili's vision to win over hearts and minds.
The cornerstone of the plan is to remove divisions and facilitate co-operation between the Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. We want to see greater economic co-operation, so that living standards can improve for all. Areas close to the dividing line have suffered too long from insecurity and require special assistance.
The plan includes proposals for special economic zones, which would straddle the dividing line, and bring in new investment and jobs. The primary focus will be the agricultural sector. We want to see legal hurdles cleared to allow the sale of products from Abkhazia to international markets. Better infrastructure, especially transport links, are key. The plan includes provisions to rehabilitate roads between both communities and the rest of Georgia and allow the reestablishment of bus connections.
Investment should be provided for new schools, hospitals and sporting facilities. Any solution must see improved access to healthcare, in particular new medical programmes for the peoples of Abkhazia to improve vaccination, maternity and childcare services, and prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, HIV, hepatitis and drug abuse.
In education, the Georgian government proposes a focus on new textbooks in the Abkhazian language. Greater protection for the cultural heritage and identity of both peoples is vital. As is stronger protection for the environment so that future generations can enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes in the region.
The Abkhaz community have to consider their own destiny. The chaos of the north Caucasus must add to their sense of foreboding about their current plight.
One path is becoming increasingly clear. To be an outpost of the Russian empire. Unrecognised by the rest of the world. Demography forever changed by an influx of immigrants and troops from the greater Russia. An environment pillaged, ruined for generations to come. Or there is a future with European Georgia. Prosperity with full autonomy.
As Matveeva acknowledges, both Abkhaz and Georgians have much in common. I know that we can all live together like our ancestors did for centuries. Compromises will have to be made by both sides, but no one should be in any doubt that Georgia is making every attempt to find a solution.
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