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Abkhazia: Risks and threats of long-term instability

The enduring political crisis in Abkhazia has roots in some latent social problems. So, we should not expect early improvements: the country still has a long way to go with no light yet seen at the end of the tunnel.

Political intrigues within a larger crisis are less interesting but are still quite dangerous, especially before the next spring’s parliamentary elections.

One of the most dangerous factors here are the “critical” changes developing in the public consciousness, which have been caused by general instability and are giving rise to special models of behavior under hard social and economic conditions. It is natural for a human being to look for external excuses when facing growing challenges.

In Abkhazia’s case the key problem is in stability of the inter-ethnic relations. Restricted economic opportunities are fueling struggle for markets. Shrinking personal budgets are forcing the Abkhazian authorities to pressure local SMEs, where there are lots of ethnic minority representatives, especially in resort areas.

In fact, they have nothing against the ethnicity of those people. Simply, they are looking for “weak links” and since ethnic minorities are a priori weaker and less capable of protecting themselves, the growing problems in Abkhazia may one day transform into inter-ethnic conflicts. And this is a very bad trend.

This also concerns Abkhazia’s relations with Russia. Moscow is an external world for the Abkhazians. So, now that they are dissatisfied with their lives, they may blame the Russians for them. We have lots of precedents in the history of the post-Soviet republics, when in the face of political crises people in Georgia, Moldova and the Baltics blamed their strategic partners, in those particular cases the EU.

Today, Abkhazia is facing the crisis of transforming social space. This crisis is giving rise to political problems, which are not yet being openly discussed.

During the war, Abkhazia lost lots of men, which is still a big problem. Those who are now 30-40 are alive but are mostly unemployed. In the early 1990s, they were children and were not involved in the post-war sharing of Soviet property. So, now they have no resources for development.

Those people are mostly educated. In a normal economy, they would have no time for anything but work. In a normal economy, they would carry out business projects and economic and social reforms.

But they do not. And not only because the “pre-digital” system is breeding corruption and is closing social lifts but also because there are no platforms for them to use their competences. In other words, Abkhazia should have long had a developed tourist sector, a ramified transport system, big ports and transit communications. But in reality it is a kind of “Caucasian Moldova” – a deadlocked country, surviving due to the use of Soviet-time infrastructure or new businesses serving the interests of a limited group of proprietors. In Abkhazia’s case the only business is seasonal tourism.

Educated people have nothing to do here. And this is a “fertile” soil for problems and shocks. Already today we are witnessing growing nationalism and Russophobia.

Lots of new political organizations have appeared of late to represent the interests of educated Abkhazians but their attitude is mostly negative.

It is good that educated people are trying to get defenders but the problem is that they will get no access to power as this is the prerogative of proprietors.

Today, educated Abkhazia can be seen mostly sitting in cafes and posting political messages in social networks. De jure they have jobs but de facto they have no chances to develop either professionally or economically.

With no chance to influence the authorities by political means, those people will sooner or later turn into outcasts disseminating radical ideas.

The key problem of those people is that they become diffident. Many of them consider themselves to be uncompetitive. And instead of seeking more transparency and order as a way for them to get new economic niches, they are insisting on the destruction of the existing reality. Those having any property are engaged mostly in services and retail trade. They have no high ambitions and are happy at what they have. Very soon they will hand their businesses down to their children and will live happily in a mostly depressive country. In the meantime, their educated compatriots will be appearing on the political stage with radical slogans.

One more problem is the wear of the Soviet-time infrastructure. Over the last two decades, the Abkhazian authorities have been just making plans while their Soviet-time infrastructure has been pulling their economy. The last winter has shown that Ingur Hydro Power Plant, the country’s key electricity supplier, cannot go on any longer. So, the local authorities will have to look for alternatives and this implies heavier financial burdens and higher political tensions.

The only good news here is the Russia-sponsored Investment Program stipulating recovery of roads and other communal infrastructures.

But in general this problem seems unsolvable as you cannot recover your infrastructures if you don’t have either money or necessary institutional mechanism.

All this may cause political contradictions. People are fed up with constant electricity shortages and this is a good ground for some political forces and their populist leaders.

Anton Krivenyuk, specially for EADaily

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