On January 3-5, Abkhazia saw new public disorders prompted by President Raul Khajimba’s unilateral decision to exchange Georgian war criminal Giorgi Lukava with an Abkhazian heavy crime suspect who escaped to Georgia.
In fact, relatively new political forces and leaders are testing their power and influence on public and political processes.
There was a threat to repeat the events of May 27, 2014, when the former president of Abkhazia Aleksandr Ankvab was overthrown. The protesters in front of the parliament building regularly called for resignation of President Khajimba. The threat was especially serious on the first day of the rallies, on January 3.
In the given case, MP Raul Lolua, the former interior minister and once president’s supporter, headed the process. Lolua is a young, rather strong-willed politician having a big experience of work in security and law-enforcement agencies.
Meantime, supporters of ‘soft power’ and processes not prompting protest rallies dominate in the parliament of Abkhazia. The current disorders were prompted by the resolution by the parliamentary committee to inquire into circumstances of pardoning and repatriating war criminal Lukava. According to the law, the president had a right to adopt a unilateral decision to pardon and he has exercised his right. Opponents say the law was violated, as no associated procedures were implemented, for instance, no pardon committee was set up.
In Abkhazian political woes, newsbreak is usually used to spark a protest campaign. During the recent years, their final goal has been the president’s resignation. The protest was generated not by “traditional opposition,” the group of forces that joined the opposition in 2014, but by relatively new persons in the Abkhazian political landscape. Along with Lolua, it is Dmitry Dbar, also from the law-enforcement and security services, parliamentarian Batal Ayba and some other persons. The group of these politicians can be called a ‘third power.’ Whether the new and old opposition forces will make an alliance remains unclear.
At the same time, it is hard to understand the logic of the protest leaders. Some 1.5-year remains until next presidential election in Abkhazia, and it is evident that no one is so far ready to join the campaign, in case the president resigns. Besides, such campaign will drive the country to civil clashes, since too many people will claim the post of the president and opposition leaders. At the same time, there are no distinguished persons. Ex-president Ankvab, the only person to have a high chance to win, cannot run for president due to age restrictions. However, he can support this or another candidate, which is important for any Abkhaz politician. However, this process has just started. At least, no one who led the rally this January has chances to get the president’s post so far.
Actually, Raul Khajimba has won this round. He avoided at least impeachment, so far. Besides, the events of January 3-5 showed that pro-presidential alliance is not as strong as the alliance of quite different forces interested in legitimate political process. Perhaps, this is the only positive conclusion from the latest developments.
On a bigger scale, there is a deadlock situation in the Abkhazian political field. The reasons for public unrest are of secondary importance. Anything may be used as a newsmaker to gather in front of the presidential and parliamentary buildings in Sukhumi. This can be repatriation of a criminal to Georgia, discussions on real estate bill, and any other reasons somehow related to foreign policy affairs. Strange as it may seem, no protests have been held over social and economic problems, though Abkhazia is now the poorest post-Soviet state.
Nevertheless, it is poverty, weakening statehood, no hope for progressive development within the current decade, crime rate and dozens of reasons of social and economic nature that prompt public unrests. These problems cannot be settled within current living standards in Abkhazia. Therefore, the situation and the Abkhazian political life of the recent years shows that each new group of forces coming to power on the wave of protests faces an overthrow in a couple of years. If the emerging third power overthrows the president, in two years, protests will overthrow it and so on… Conditions necessary for the country to overcome the crisis within this and coming decades will hardly emerge any time soon. What we see in Abkhazia is not a crisis; it is a real life at the level of a Fourth World country. This is a result of the reasons deep in the culture and these reasons cannot be transformed through government mechanisms. The Abkhazian people so far fail to admit that their current life will not change by living standards of the current generations.
At the same time, the people try to find a consolidated figure of the national leader, a charismatic and strong-willed person who will manage to improve the life in the country, though the country’s problems exceed the capacities of any, even the most progressive group of forces. The Abkhazian social culture that denies hierarchy prevents emergence of own “Kadyrovs” and “Saakashvilis.”
The only thing that can be done amid collapsing statehood is to develop respect for the law at least in political processes. Some positive shifts have been observed here recently. If Raul Khajimba retains his grip on power within the current year, it will be senseless to overthrow him in 2019. This will pave the way to presumption of governance mechanisms in the Abkhazian politics.
Anton Krivenyuk for EADaily