SUKHUM / AQW'A — In a fervent press conference on January 31st, Leuan Mikaa, accompanied by his associates, vocally criticised President Aslan Bzhania for employing repressive tactics reminiscent of the NKVD's historical oppression against political adversaries. Mikaa drew historical parallels, citing the case of Nestor Lakoba, who was labeled an agent, assassinated, followed by a significant resettlement. He suggested that President Bzhania is repeating these patterns using similar methods.
Highlighting a disturbing trend of arbitrary detentions at the Psou checkpoint, Leuan Mikaa's narrative painted a grim picture of the current political climate in Abkhazia.
Mikaa, a celebrated Hero of Abkhazia, recounted his personal ordeal of being detained twice by Russian border guards without clear justification, incidents he firmly believes were politically motivated. These detentions, he argued, were orchestrated at the behest of the Abkhazian leadership as a means to stifle opposition voices. He noted that the extended three-hour conversation did not bring him "discomfort."
"I seized the opportunity to share my perspective, clarifying for the Russians our opposition to the 'apartment law.' I delved into the history of the “Abkhazpereselenstroi” (“Abkhazia Resettlement Construction” - A special organisation set up in 1937 to build housing for new Georgian settlers. —Ed.), detailing how the Abkhaz population was intentionally reduced from 80% to 17%, and discussed the objectives of the national liberation movement. I emphasised that it is the inherent right of any nation to allow its citizens to develop their economy, culture, language, and traditions," Mikaa further explained.
Leuan Mikaa revealed that the Russians openly acknowledged the detentions were conducted at the behest of the president and other Abkhazian authorities.
"It's evident that our national leadership portrays our activities as anti-Russian. Such positioning by our president and his advisors, who choose to compile lists of individuals to be targeted rather than championing Abkhazia's interests, is unmistakably anti-Abkhazian and anti-state in nature. This represents a subversive action by our authorities," Leuan Mikaa asserted.
Mikaa described the president's conduct as "an attack on sovereignty," stating, "Aslan Bzhania, in catering to the interests of oligarchs and international businesses, primarily serves his self-interest. Such policies by the president are leading to Abkhazia's international isolation, causing immense harm to our statehood." He called for unity among all societal and political groups, condemning the government's trajectory towards diminishing Abkhazia's independence and initiating "a widespread campaign against civil society." Mikaa firmly declared, "This anti-Abkhaz action by the authorities must be halted."
Further aggravating the political landscape, Mikaa shed light on the systemic abuse of power by the state apparatus, which he claims is skewed to serve the interests of a select few, commodifying national assets at the expense of the public good.
Mikaa's narrative was not solely one of condemnation but also offered a reflective insight into the broader implications of such governance on Abkhazia's sovereignty and its international standing. He criticised the government's efforts to portray the opposition's activities as anti-Russian, a move he believes undermines Abkhazia's independence and its foundational struggle for self-determination. Mikaa called for a unified stance against what he perceives as a campaign aimed at isolating Abkhazia from the international community and eroding its democratic foundations.
Adding to the chorus of criticism, Tengiz Dzhopua, at the same press conference, attributed the rise in anti-Russian sentiments as a direct result of President Bzhania’s actions. Dzhopua alleged that Bzhania is waging his battles against adversaries through the Russian FSB, implying a manipulative use of external forces.
"The State Security agencies, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the entire security sector of Abkhazia have become tools of political struggle. They should be above politics, adhering to constitutional and legal norms without meddling in political conflicts. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Until Aslan Bzhania's tenure, anti-Russian sentiments in Abkhazia were unheard of. His key achievement has been to highlight these sentiments. There's an unwritten rule in State Security: to harm someone, use others' hands. This is precisely Bzhania's tactic, using Russia to address his political challenges. When dealing with a resolute, uncompromising opposition, the simplest solution is to eliminate it through the Russian security services," Tengiz Dzhopua asserted.
Left to right: Leuan Lagulaa, Leuan Mikaa, Akhra Bzhania, and Tengiz Dzhopua.
In stark opposition, Akhra Bzhania's plea for the protection of citizen rights emerged as a crucial counterpoint to the dominant theme of governmental overreach and political persecution. He strongly opposed the continuous violation of citizen rights, accusing the government of sabotaging both the nation and its people through its covert operations. Expanding on this, Bzhania stated, "When authorities allow baseless accusations against our citizens, failing to protect them and respond to rights violations, it implies their complicity. Many in Abkhazia, including activists and ordinary citizens, resist the government's anti-state and anti-people policies. However, the government, lacking the authority to confront this resistance, resorts to misinforming friendly state services, portraying dissenters as anti-Russian, and intermittently detaining them at the border as a form of intimidation and control."
In line with Akhra Bzhania's accusations of the government's misuse of power and manipulation, journalist Eleonora Giloyan further underscores the extent of these alleged practices.
Giloyan reported that during her detention at the border, Russian border guards directly told her that they had no issues with her and advised her to seek clarification from the Abkhazian leadership, implying that a list of persons unfavourable to the authorities had originated from there. At the Abkhazian State Security Service (SGB), officials claimed they were hearing about such a list for the first time and denied any involvement.
The conference resonated with a call to preserve Abkhazia's sovereignty against what Mikaa termed as an "assault" by President Bzhania, who he accused of prioritising personal and foreign business interests over national welfare. This, Leuan Mikaa argued, has led to the international isolation of Abkhazia and inflicted significant damage to its statehood.
In recent times, there has been a concerning trend at the Psou checkpoint where Russian border guards are detaining prominent opposition figures from Abkhazia. Individuals are held for several hours without any clear justification, sparking significant unrest and criticism.
In response to these events, a statement has been issued by various influential figures, including veterans, politicians, and public personalities from Abkhazia, expressing their deep concerns over this pattern of detentions.