Abkhazia's "Foreign Agents" Bill Stirs Memories of Historical Repressions

Asida Shakryl, former Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Abkhazia.

Asida Shakryl, former Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Abkhazia.

SUKHUM / AQW’A — Abkhazia's political landscape, marked by its complex history and ongoing tensions, faces a new challenge with the introduction of the "On Non-Commercial Organisations and Individuals Acting as Foreign Agents" draft bill. This legislation, currently under parliamentary scrutiny, has reignited fears of a return to the oppressive tactics reminiscent of the 1930s and '40s, a period that saw brutal political repressions sweep across the region. Proposed by President Aslan Bzhania, the bill has sparked widespread debate and concern over its potential to infringe on civil liberties and undermine democratic principles.

The draft bill's introduction has been met with a wave of criticism, not just for its content but also for the painful historical echoes it invokes. Critics argue that it represents a step backward, potentially ushering in an era of increased surveillance, control, and suppression reminiscent of the darkest days of Soviet repression. The leaked list of alleged foreign agents, comprising individuals and NGO workers, has further fuelled public outrage and suspicion, raising serious questions about the criteria for such designations and the transparency of the process.

In an emotionally charged interview on the "Apsny Habar" YouTube channel, Asida Shakryl, the former Human Rights Ombudsman of Abkhazia, shared her deep-seated concerns over the proposed law, linking it to the tragic history of her own family and thousands of others who suffered under Soviet-era purges. Shakryl's narrative provides a poignant reminder of the devastating impact of political repressions in Abkhazia during the 1930s and '40s, a time when over seven thousand individuals were mercilessly targeted for their supposed political affiliations.

Shakryl recounted the harrowing story of her grandfather, executed in 1937, a victim of the very accusations the new bill seems to echo. "My grandfather was shot, and my father and his brother, just boys at the time, were left to navigate a world that saw them as the offspring of a 'traitor,'" she shared. This personal history is set against the backdrop of the broader terror inflicted upon Abkhazia, highlighted by the assassination of Nestor Lakoba and the subsequent purge led by Lavrentiy Beria, which left an indelible scar on the nation's collective memory.

+ Diana Kerselyan: "We Do Not Intend to Be Recognised as Enemies of the People"
+ President Bzhania Accused of Constitutional Breach with "Foreign Agents" Draft Law
+ "How Can We Allow One Abkhaz to Label Another Abkhaz?" By Vitaly Sharia
+ Citizens of Abkhazia Against the "Law on NGOs-Foreign Agents"

Civil Society Under Threat: Liana Kvarchelia's Warning

The OKNO Telegram channel published a commentary by Liana Kvarchelia, co-director of the Center for Humanitarian Programs, who warns that if a law on foreign agents is adopted in Abkhazia, it will “extinguish” the entire civil society. Kvarchelia's stark warning underscores the potential for the proposed legislation to serve as a devastating blow to the fabric of Abkhazian civil society, silencing dissent and curtailing the freedoms of expression and association.

Kvarchelia highlights how the bill could enable the political elite to consolidate their power further, turning parliamentary debates into mere contests over personal gains from investments rather than focusing on the welfare of the public. She portrays a grim picture of a future where even benign business transactions with foreign entities could render individuals vulnerable to being labeled as foreign agents, thereby stifling any critical voices under the pretext of national security.

Her insights raise critical questions about the awareness of the implications of such a law among the parliamentarians. By supporting this bill, they risk relegating themselves to mere puppets of the regime, sacrificing their integrity and conscience for political expediency. Yet, Kvarchelia holds out hope that there remain those within the parliament who, driven by a sense of personal dignity, will recognize the bill's dangers and stand against it.

As Abkhazia stands at a crossroads, the proposed "Foreign Agents" legislation not only threatens to divide the society but also to resurrect the specters of a painful past. The bill's critics, including voices like Asida Shakryl's and Liana Kvarchelia's, warn of the dangers of forgetting the lessons of history, urging a reconsideration of the path forward. 




Articles & Opinion


Abkhaz World

Follow Us