Ekho Kavkaza ― It has been two weeks since the opposition issued an ultimatum for the Abkhazian government to resign. Adgur Ardzinba, leader of the Abkhazian People's Movement, discussed with "Ekho Kavkaza" the likelihood of meeting this demand and what the government's opponents plan to do if the resignation does not occur.
Adgur, you recently shared your proposed course of action should the government resign. How hopeful are you that the government will actually step down?
― People are asking us: you're calling for the government to resign, but what comes next? In response, we have shared our plan for moving forward. Regarding the possibility of the government's resignation, this decision can be made by the head of state, or Alexander Zolotinsky himself can make the right and wise choice. The demand for the government's resignation is not solely from the opposition, but is also a public demand. People are exhausted; over the past three years, we've experienced multiple crises – fuel and energy crises, a lack of reforms and programs, skyrocketing prices, stagnation in the social sector, and disappointing economic indicators. For instance, comparing our trade balance to 2019, we had a negative balance of around 14 billion rubles ($181 million), which has now increased to 26 billion rubles ($335 million). While we saw a growth dynamic in exports from 2014 to 2019, tripling during that time, exports have remained practically unchanged from 2020 to 2023, with imports rising to 33 billion rubles ($426 million). What does this tell us?! There's a credit program, but everything is done covertly, and we were discussing 10 billion rubles ($129 million). To this day, no one knows who received loans, for what purpose, and why, or who will receive them in the future. In my opinion, it is clear to everyone, except the government itself, that they have not managed to accomplish a single task. Therefore, the wisest decision in this situation would likely be for the government to resign voluntarily.
The government vehemently disagrees with your claims and remains confident in their position...
― It's likely this confidence in their position that led to the laughter at the last cabinet meeting when demands for the government's resignation were expressed, and the prime minister laughed out loud. In reality, they aren't laughing at our demands; they're laughing at ordinary people who are increasingly struggling. Consider how the head of government's laughter is perceived by those who spent the entire winter, late autumn, and early spring without electricity for six or seven hours, or by those who can't afford medications today, or by people whose lives have genuinely worsened due to this government's actions. This laughter represents the cabinet leadership's attitude towards its citizens. In simple terms, it means: we'll do what we want and how we want, we'll become wealthier, we'll improve our personal well-being, and you just have to endure it. If you dare to speak up, we'll laugh at you. That's precisely our interpretation. It's evident that some individuals have lost touch with reality, and these people urgently need to be removed from decision-making; otherwise, further tension will result not only in a change of government but also in a change of the head of state. This cannot be ignored or misunderstood.
Adgur, the opposition set a two-week deadline for the government to address the issue of resignation. Has that time already passed?
No, the deadline is on May 10th, and after that, as promised, we will announce the date for the rally. We are already preparing for it, and in the city of Sukhum, we will stage a protest.
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― You suggest establishing a platform for urgent reforms, involving a diverse range of political forces, scholars, and public organisations. The aim of this platform, according to you, is to swiftly develop a roadmap to exit the crisis. Several commissions have already been formed, and various platforms exist, but their effectiveness hasn't been noticeable yet. Won't this platform also become another place where people discuss, but nothing gets accomplished?
This platform can only be established if the government steps down. If the head of state makes such a decision, it will signify that they are genuinely willing to engage with society. Based on this decision, a broad platform can be created. The era of leaders and monarchs has passed; now is the time for teams and programs. We have our vision for the future, our program, and ideas for various reforms. Naturally, our proposals will be submitted to this platform. Additionally, we have a parliament – a collective body that undoubtedly has thoughts and ideas. The executive authorities, the presidential administration, and the cabinet of ministers also have their ideas, as do public figures. There's no harm in gathering all these ideas, setting priorities based on them, and creating a straightforward roadmap for the next two years remaining in the current president's term according to the Constitution. This work will serve as the foundation for the new government to begin its activities, with widespread support.
What actions are required, in your view, for the situation to change?
― The first priority should be defence and security, so the 2024 budget must be designed with this priority in mind. We need to direct maximum efforts to support our armed forces, on one hand, and our mobilisation resources, on the other. This includes addressing demographics, education, and public health. Up to now, there are no programs in any of these areas; only some measures that tackle specific issues on a case-by-case basis. As a nation, we are vanishing, and under these circumstances, it's pointless to discuss anything else. When you're physically disappearing, you need to direct all your resources and strength to solve this problem. The second issue is public health; we have very poor birth rate indicators, and the low birth rate is due to a high prevalence of diseases. And, of course, education, because the world is rapidly changing, and if your nation is uneducated or has an average education level below the regional standard, your nation becomes service-oriented. We are being encouraged to build apartments and attract large capital investments. Sure, we will construct apartments and create these mega-projects, but what role will our people play in these projects? That's what we need to consider.
If you examine the 2023 budget from an expert perspective, you won't realise that there's a war happening around you, that your nation is vanishing, and that people's health is critical. In other words, the budget doesn't reflect any priorities, do you understand what I'm saying?! Right now, this spring, the budget for the next year, 2024, will be formulated. If we don't change the government and approaches now, in the spring, we will experience 2024 just as we did in 2023 - without priorities. This is because the people in leadership, including the cabinet of ministers, do not match the challenges of the times they are facing. These people were shaped during the Soviet era, and then after the recognition in 2008, significant financial support came from the Russian Federation.
The acting Prime Minister at that time focused on constructing several social facilities; there was plenty of money, and the government's task was to use it effectively. This is a Soviet model, the model of an autonomous republic. But now, in 2023, the situation has changed dramatically; there isn't as much money, and we need to earn it ourselves. Unfortunately, these people are not capable of doing that. Look, in three years, not a single social facility has been built. Why? Because it's one thing to build when Moscow sends you money, and another thing to understand where to get it, how to earn it, and build it yourself. These are different things, and sadly, these people cannot handle these tasks. To this day, the Republic of Abkhazia has not switched to a program-targeted method of management; we won't look for those responsible, but without this, we won't survive in the modern world.
Regarding the protest action you mentioned, do you have widespread support from all opposition forces in Abkhazia?
― There is a systemic opposition, parties, and public organisations that have been operating for three years under the current government. There are also organisations such as the "Forum of National Unity" - one of the oldest parties in the country, the "Apsny" party, the veteran organisation "Aruaa" - also one of the oldest in Abkhazia, and our youngest organisation - “AND”. These organisations have been engaged in public political activities in Abkhazia for all three years. When you say that the opposition is holding a rally, it's not entirely accurate. In reality, this is a rally that people are already demanding. We held meetings in various districts - in Gudauta, Ochamchira, in the city of Sukhum, and several other districts, and everywhere people say that they are tired of living like this and something needs to change.
When the authorities take actions that worsen the lives of every citizen and no one is held accountable for it, people become extremely outraged. They see how brazenly the authorities behave, committing gross mistakes and not even intending to change or admit their mistakes. As soon as someone talks about their responsibility, they even dare to laugh out loud at all of us or try to arrest or intimidate someone, but this doesn't work well. Just yesterday in Gudauta, it was already evident how the situation changed when residents simply put up posters in broad daylight that they deemed necessary. Then the city administration tried to remove them, the residents came again, hung them up, and spoke to the administration in the necessary manner so that the administration would understand, and the posters remained in place. This will be a social rally where people will come to defend their rights.
This interview was published by Ekho Kavkaza and is translated from Russian.