Cosponsored by the School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech
At a 26 April 2010 Kennan Institute talk, John O’Loughlin, Vladimir Kolossov, and Gerard Toal presented data from a public opinion survey conducted by the Levada Center under their direction in Abkhazia in March and April of 2010. The survey is the first part of a broader social science project encompassing South Ossetia, Moldova, Transdniestria, Abkhazia, Kosovo, and Georgia that aimes to measure the attitudes of inhabitants of these areas on a range of social, political, and economic issues. The project ‘The Dynamics of Secessionist Regions: Eurasian Unrecognized Quasi-States after Kosovo's Independence’ is funded by the US National Science Foundation from 2008 to 2011.
The speakers described Transdniestria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia as de facto states, which they defined as "secessionist regions that have established internal territorial sovereignty but lack widespread recognition and legitimacy as states in the international system." These states all arose after the breakup of the Soviet Union and share similar state-building aspirations. However, they differ in their histories of wartime violence, the relationship between titular groups and other populations, and the nature of their client-patron relationships with the Russian Federation. [See PDF for more information.]
The speakers focused on the results of the public opinion surveys in Abkhazia. The single most significant predictor of attitudes, according to O’Loughlin, was declared nationality. Across a range of issues, the attitudes amongst Abkhaz, Russians, and Armenians nationalities tended to cluster, with most Abkhazian Georgians (those who declared themselves Georgians, Mingrelians, and Georgian-Mingrelians and live almost exclusively in the Gal(i) District of Abkhazia) often expressing contrasting views. Abkhaz and Armenians felt better off than others. A majority of Abkhaz felt their state had a better economic situation than Georgia, although most have not travelled to ‘Georgia proper’ in recent years.
Among Abkhazia’s four major nationalities, Abkhaz were most proud of belonging to their ethnic group (though others expressed extremely high rates of pride also). Over 70 percent of Abkhaz indicated they also had a Russian passport, with levels even greater among Armenians and Russians. Approximately half of Georgian respondents indicated they had an Abkhazian passport. High numbers of all nationalities indicated they had never felt discriminated against where they currently live but amongst Georgians there was a distinct minority who did not feel the same.
Most Abkhazian residents felt that the problem of a renewed war with Georgia was no longer a major worry. Toal explained that after August 2008, which saw the introduction of large numbers of Russian troops along the Inguri river separating Abkhazia and Georgian proper and the recognition of Abkhazia as an independent state by the Russian Federation, the non-Georgian majority within Abkhazia have "crossed [a] mental threshold and feel ‘done with Georgia.’" The legacy of the 1992-93 war remains, however.
The largest divide in the whole survey between nationalities was in response to the question: "Would you be willing to accept the full return of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia in return for Abkhazia’s recognition as a state by the West and the rest of the international community?" Over 80 percent of Abkhaz and Armenians said no and only a few indicated yes whereas 34 percent of Georgians answered affirmatively (almost as many Georgians chose ‘hard to say’).
The speakers stated that "the single most significant predictor of survey attitudes in Abkhazia is a person’s declared nationality." Ultimately, the survey found that Abkhazia is a divided society, with the non-Georgian nationalities unwilling to consider themselves a part of Georgia or to countenance the return of those displaced by war from the region.
Please see PDF below for more comprehensive survey results.
By Larissa Eltsefon
Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute
Contemporary Attitudes and Beliefs in Transdnestria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia
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