Said Gezerdava: "Abkhazia’s position in the union state will be very vulnerable"

Said Gezerdaa is a lawyer at the Centre for Humanitarian Programmes, a civil society group based in the Sukhum.

The statement of the President of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania, made in an interview with Russian TV journalist Vladimir Solovëv about the readiness of Abkhazia to join a union-state of Russia and Belarus caused a mixed reaction from Abkhazian observers. Adding fuel to the fire was a comment by Konstantin Zatulin, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, who admitted that, after Abkhazia joins the union state: “It will be easier to agree on the possibility of Russians buying land in this country.” Abkhazian lawyer Said Gezerdava commented on both claims.

– Said, President of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania said yesterday in an interview with Vladimir Solovëv that Abkhazia is ready to become part of a union state – this would be Russia, Belarus and Abkhazia. Please tell me how you perceived this statement as a lawyer and what impression it made on you.

– In principle, I have already heard such statements from other politicians, but no leaders of the state have yet, in my opinion, publicly made such statements. Of course, it surprised me very much, because the president spoke on behalf of the whole people. It seems to me that in order to make such statements, even as a president, you still need to have an idea of whether your people really support such a decision.

"Joining a union-state carries more risks than any advantages. This will mean serious changes in the status of Abkhazia as a sovereign state."

- Said, tell me, please, what concerns do you have about Abkhazia joining such a union-state?

–  For me, as a lawyer, joining a union-state carries more risks than any advantages. For me, this will mean serious changes in the status of Abkhazia as a sovereign state. And this may lead to a loss of control over the domestic political agenda and to irreversible migration-processes, which experts are already discussing. Now, against the backdrop of all these conversations, serious migration-processes are already being observed, and this worries us quite a bit. And not only migration-processes, now there are attempts massively to sell real-estate; there are such facts, in addition to the issues of transferring territories, but this is a separate issue... It seems to me that the position of Abkhazia within such a union-state would be very vulnerable. Abkhazia will be a small part of the mechanism, which will be absolutely asymmetrical in relation to it. If even now leading figures are talking about the need somehow to share sovereignty, then what will happen if Abkhazia is part of a supranational entity? This is very reminiscent of the situation with the successive changes in the status of Abkhazia that took place from 1925 to 1937. This experience should seriously warn us about whether we should repeat this.

"Even the president, cannot take upon himself the burden of the responsibility to voice the opinion of the whole people."

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– From the point of view of the legislation and the Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia, how does such a statement from the President about the readiness of Abkhazia to join such a union-state appear? Do the Constitution and legislation make it so easy to resolve this issue and join a union-state, or are there any legal obstacles in the way of this?

– I think that there is somehow no specific stipulation about this issue in our legislation, but, for example, I see a very serious loss of sovereignty in joining a union-state. Abkhazia, according to the Constitution, is a sovereign state – this remains the basis of the constitutional system, and nothing can happen in this way arising solely out of the fact that the president has voiced such an intention. It seems to me that the president might have been able to voice this intention only after somehow clarifying the actual desire of the people of Abkhazia to join such an association. I see from the reaction of people on social networks, which has been quite massive, that they do not agree. There are very few people who speak out in favour of Abkhazia entering into any kind of entity. Again, these social networks, being a small section of public opinion, and need to be analysed. But the fact that this issue is presented quite simplistically, as if there already exists factual consent, which is utterly wrong and is in many respects a violation of the principle of the country's sovereignty. It seems to me that the president, even the president, cannot take upon himself the burden of the responsibility to voice the opinion of the whole people.

- Immediately after the president's statement that Abkhazia was ready to be part of such a union-state, there appeared a comment by Konstantin Zatulin who said that the entry of Abkhazia into such a union-state would greatly simplify the purchase of land, speaking directly of "the purchase of land in Abkhazia by Russians". Tell me, please, you, as a lawyer, how would you answer such a statement?

– I even wrote on my page on social networks that this is somehow too frank, and this just shows what we should be afraid of when discussing the issue of possible entry into such a union state. When two unrelated issues are linked together and it is spoken about so frankly, it should put us in a state of very heightened alert. I have repeatedly said that, in principle, the issue of selling real-estate cannot be a matter of interstate-relations; this is a private issue, so why should statesmen in Russia worry about this? Whether foreign citizens can purchase real-estate or not is an internal sovereign issue that should be decided exclusively in Abkhazia. And I have a question for real-estate lobbyists: why are they actually lobbying in favour of this issue? They might say that this is a matter of investment, but investment and the sale of real-estate are in any case different matters. We have mechanisms that can compensate for the impossibility of selling real-estate.

There are so many examples of countries in the world that are investment-attractive, but where real-estate is not sold to foreigners. And we have such a protective mechanism whereby we do not sell land even to our own citizens and do not sell real-estate to foreign citizens. These are all protective measures that were provided by the founders of Abkhazian statehood for a reason – they did not come out of nothing. Yes, it seems to me that this is such a clear and balanced position that should be maintained, because it is connected with the survival of our people, is directly interconnected with the preservation of sovereignty, the preservation of the state-forming nation... Simply no-one has the right so easily to take it and say that we are ready to give it up, because these are the decisions that we came to as a result of a bloody war, and as a result of the national-liberation movement. Apparently, it was necessary for us to go through all that in order to understand the significance of these issues...




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