Anaid Gogoryan ― In an interview with "Ekho Kavkaza [Echo of the Caucasus]," public figure and head of the Association "Inva-Assistance" (known in the republic for supporting people with disabilities -Ed.), Alkhas Thagushev, shared his views on various pressing issues. These included the ratification by the Abkhazian parliament of the agreement on a state dacha in Pitsunda, the draft law on foreign agents, freedom of speech, the establishment of the new Ministry of Energy and Transport, and the actions of the opposition.
Alkhas, on the morning of December 27, the Abkhazian parliament ratified the agreement on the state dacha in Pitsunda. What is your opinion on this decision? Could you please comment?
- How can one comment on what happened at 6 in the morning? One would expect such an early decision in cases of extreme circumstances, such as war, conflict, or natural disasters, but none of these were present. Yet, deputies voted at this early hour, each probably with their own rationale for the absurd timing. I am at a loss to explain the necessity of such timing. This unique decision, viewed by some as a disgrace and others differently, has already made its mark in Abkhazian history. The Speaker of the Parliament described it as an incredible compromise. Time will ultimately place everything in its proper context. I might be mistaken, but I am inclined to believe it was an incorrect decision.
In light of the controversy surrounding the state dacha in Pitsunda, and including statements from representatives of the authorities, there's renewed discussion about the law on foreign agents in Abkhazian society. What do you think could be the consequences if this law is adopted in Abkhazia?
- This matter has been on the table for quite some time, with the authorities eager to advance this agenda, including issues like the Pitsunda agreement, the sale of energy assets, the apartment issue, and the so-called "foreign agent law." Regarding the state dacha, they managed to push it through in an unusual manner. I think it will be more challenging for the authorities to advance other issues, as it's harder to justify direct speculation about anti-Russian sentiment. Particularly concerning energy or apartments, it's going to be extremely difficult to manipulate the situation by invoking an anti-Russian narrative.
There is a precedent now for making decisions at 6 in the morning, and possibly, this could happen again. The authorities might discuss and adopt laws secretly, away from public scrutiny. There was also an attempt to bypass public discussion earlier, indicative of a broader trend of pursuing an agenda that isn’t inherently Abkhazian. We must understand from the outset that this agenda isn’t ours. However, the authorities seem ready to spearhead and implement an alien agenda in Abkhazia. Our allied states, such as Russia and others, will only take us seriously when we respect ourselves. If we don't respect ourselves and give up our positions so easily, we cannot claim to be masters in our own country. This lack of sovereignty is being ingrained in us. We are being told that we are incapable and ignorant. Those in power, who have held their positions for years, refuse to admit their political and economic failures. Instead, they shift the burden to the people, suggesting our inability to handle our affairs. The people who endured the harshest war and post-war devastation are now being told that they are powerless and must sell and give away everything, hoping for mercy from global powers to survive and continue in a subjugated or fully dominated state.
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For 30 years, and only in recent years, this idea or opinion has been voiced, even during the difficult years of the blockade and so on. There were no such statements previously.
- Indeed, such statements were absent before. Many have forgotten that prior to the influx of Russian money and assistance, the Abkhazian state was self-sustaining, with a much smaller state apparatus and fewer corruption issues. Unfortunately, the state that we eventually established is now subordinate to the apparatus itself. The rapid growth in the rates of various officials in our country indicates a move in the wrong direction.
Every president, including the incumbent, has recognised this issue upon taking office. They advocate for downsizing and aligning the bureaucratic structure with the tasks at hand and the realities of our economy. However, once in power, these promises and sincere intentions as presidential candidates become unattainable goals. We revert to a harmful path for our nation, where new officials emerge, supported not by our means but largely funded by our strategic partner, the Russian Federation. The question arises: what will we do if our strategic partner, in its own difficult times, suddenly ceases this assistance? The response and outcome in such a scenario would be telling for our small country.
A new Ministry of Energy and Transport has been established in Abkhazia, following what you've just discussed...
- The creation of the Ministry of Energy and Transport seems to be an effort to remove this sector from certain influences. This lucrative segment, previously under the Ministry of Economy and managed by Christina Ozgan, is now independent. Ozgan is aligned with a faction in power linked to Alexander Ankvab. It appears that her influence has long been unsatisfactory to the president and his close allies. By elegantly removing this sector from the influence of the prime minister and placing it directly under the president, they have sidestepped the authority of other key players. This move is probably linked to the government's uncancelled plans to actively pursue the privatisation of our energy facilities. The terms and methods of this privatisation will likely follow a tried-and-tested scheme, with attempts being made to conceal the process from the public. They believe this will attract investors to the energy sector, who share interests with our corrupt bureaucracy. What they will come up with this time remains to be seen.
As for the transport sector, I assume it pertains to resuming railway transit. This project is quite intriguing. Contrary to many critics, I would not dismiss this idea out of hand. It's not that the question is inherently flawed or unworthy of pursuit; it deserves attention. However, the consistent underhanded approach of those in power erodes trust. A lack of trust in one’s government is a significant problem for any nation, and for a small country like Abkhazia, the danger is even greater.
In general, in Abkhazia, there has always been a diversity of opinions. However, recently, we have noticed that those expressing views different from the authorities face persecution and pressure. How would you assess the current state of freedom of speech in Abkhazia?
- Over time, our politicians, whether in power or opposition, have frequently used topics such as alleged pro-Georgian tendencies among certain politicians or individuals for their agendas. This theme, once overused, has gradually faded. However, a new focus has emerged – anti-Russian sentiments. This new trend, particularly in overtly speculative and political contexts, has replaced the earlier accusations of pro-Georgianism.
When senior officials like the Foreign Minister and the Deputy Chairman of the SGB (State Security Service) make unfounded claims about the hostility of UN agencies operating in Abkhazia, it highlights a troubling trend. Using propagandistic clichés without evidence is one thing, but transforming these into legal acts is another, as it's legally indefensible to declare UN agencies, integral to a globally recognized organisation, as hostile to Abkhazia. In effect, they are isolating Abkhazia from the international community. This situation is absurd when considering that the UN represents a collective of nations, unlike any other global entity. Abkhaz officials, by their actions, seem to be declaring a disassociation from the global community, a stance that awaits legal formalisation.
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This stance raises questions about the reaction of our strategic partner, Russia, which holds significant influence and veto power in the UN Security Council. With these actions, Abkhaz officials, seemingly with presidential approval, are indirectly challenging a key platform of their ally. They have declared development agencies hostile and accused individuals, attempting to shape public opinion with these narratives. However, I anticipate that forthcoming court proceedings will require them to substantiate their claims, particularly regarding the supposed hostility of the UN and those associated with it, even though the mandate for these agencies comes from our own government.
The irony of these accusations is that they ultimately reflect back on those making them. I believe that the accused, unfairly maligned, should – and likely will – seek legal recourse. In court, it will become clear who should bear responsibility: those who claim hostility or those who allowed these so-called hostile entities to operate in Abkhazia. I personally don't subscribe to this nonsensical view. Our people working in the UN Development Program and other UN agencies are competent professionals contributing significantly to our nation. Linking their efforts to some misguided statements on a website is a far-fetched connection. Regarding freedom of speech, especially in the context of Abkhazian television, it has always been somewhat of a governmental mouthpiece. While the degree of bias may have changed over time, the underlying issue of media manipulation persists, evolving from accusations of pro-Georgianism to now anti-Russian sentiment. Despite these challenges, the resilience of our journalists and the widespread use of social networks make it virtually impossible to suppress diverse voices.
What is your assessment of the opposition's actions in general?
- Unfortunately, our opposition seems poorly organised and lacking in unity. Recent protests have highlighted significant deficiencies in internal communication. I won't delve into the specifics of the public disputes between key opposition figures and the Speaker of the Parliament, as the comments from both sides have been somewhat perplexing and unconvincing. This situation should serve as a lesson for opposition leaders about the importance of cohesion and clarity in their stance. Interestingly, the most coherent and relatable voices have come not from established opposition figures but from the emerging civil society in Abkhazia, particularly the group "ҲараҲПицунда (Our Pitsunda)." Observing their struggles and principled stance offers a breath of fresh air. Their ability to stand tall, without playing political games or seeking favor, expressing their opinions boldly, has resonated across the country. This, for me, is a significant and positive development. The opposition would do well to take note and consider incorporating fresh, new perspectives into their ranks. The current crisis within the opposition is evident, and as long as they remain fragmented and weak, the authorities will likely continue to exploit this to their advantage.
This article was published by Ekho Kavkaza and is translated from Russian.