Interviews

Vakhtang Kolbaia: “The Abkhaz society should be ready for making decisions by themselves”

- Mr. Vakhtang, 24 years of independence is celebrated in the occupied Abkhazia, this year and during this period, generations in Tbilisi and Sokhumi are changing, alienation increases. Accordingly, Abkhazian and Georgian societies develop in various directions. The Russian propaganda is edited on this and results the young Abkhazians grow up with mistrust and enmity towards Georgians. In Tbilisi itself, the events of the 1990s have not been evaluated rationally yet. What do think, how prospective is it to return back in this situation?

In today's world, it is clear that countries and high political elites spend much less energy and time on conflicts prevention than rather on their regulation. It is easy to start a war, after the ceasefire resolution of the conflict situation is complicated and takes decades. The Georgian-Abkhazian conflict is a clear example of this.

Conflict resolution is accompanied by its own terms, which delays the process. You say the truth: Time goes, generations change, alienation increases, Abkhazians grow up with mistrust and enmity towards Georgians...At the same time, the world is changing, there are new political players, we have external factors that cannot resolve the conflict positively. External factors, I mean not only Russia, America or Europe, but also our neighboring countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey.

Let's consider the issue of restoration of Abkhazian railway. Besides the fact that its recovery is unprofitable for us politically and economically, other external factors are also influenced. The approach to this issue will have a different reaction in Baku and Yerevan: in Yerevan - positive, in Baku - negative. It should be considered that Turkey's influence also affects Armenia and Azerbaijan. If we take Iran, it's also affecting Azerbaijan and Armenia. So everyone in this conflict has its own interests. Sometimes it's a global, some have regional loading, and some are distinguished by bilateral contradictions.

We are constantly talked on the signature of "Agreement on the non-resumption of fire" by Russia and Sokhumi that the Georgian side deliberately does not sign mentioned document. We are often asked questions in and abroad why we do not sign...Announcement of the renewal of the fire has been made several times in the Geneva format. There were been specially invited international experts who said that the statement made at the state level whose author is the President of the country, the Foreign Minister, the Chairman of the Government, the Parliament that is incompatible with the principle of international law, it is a guarantee that the country is obliged to refuse fire. Such an approach is not liked either by Sokhumi or Tskhinvali or Moscow side. Why? - Georgian signature is more important for them in other ways as well. Abkhazia and Ossetia are Georgia's territories that are not temporarily controlled by Georgia. Progressive world supports us, and the territories are recognized as Georgia's part. Imagine Georgia making on its territory an agreement on the renewal of the fire within its borders with the Abkhaz and Ossetian side ... This is nonsense! It turns out that we must recognize these indigenous territories as independent legal entities.

There is another moment that is as important as all the rest. The Balkan War followed the recognition of Kosovo by the World Community, was reviewed UN recognized and inviolable borders and as a result, the dormant separatism awakened and it has become the world's greatest headache. Most importantly, the first result of separatism is that Georgia cannot control temporarily 20 percent of its own territory. Georgia is a small country, but a lot depends on its principle and patience. The geopolitical location of Georgia is determined that we live in neighboring Muslim countries that is mixed with its positive and negative manifestations. Therefore, for many reasons Georgia cannot become a mechanism for separatism, which is more or less everywhere - in the middle of Europe, in China, in the Middle East, in India, in Africa and in America itself, even in Georgia.

The "Brexit" scandal once again showed us the political faults of the world are a great problem that can be a threat to the global world and create fertile ground for separatism. Encouragement of secessionism is no less dangerous than territorial attacks, wars and unresolved conflicts that are accompanied by mass waves of homeless people. Unfortunately, we have such kind dangers at a higher dose today.

If we go back to the issue of Abkhazian and Geneva talks, in Sokhumi and in Russia, they say that the Geneva format was created by the sides to sign the ceasefire. Sure, this is not true. One of the main criteria of the Geneva talks was the need for solving the problem of IDPs and establishing Abkhazia's status in Georgia. Abkhazians do not even want to hear about the return of IDPs, nor do they want to establish Abkhazia's status in Georgia. These issues are deliberately and principally ignored. This creates problems for the negotiations. I think we should return to the issue of returning of IDPs in Geneva, which is very problematic, but the Abkhazians will not give us anything with taboo. Step by step we should consider all these topics in complexity and find ways to make decisions. "Gordia's knot should be opened whether Moscow needs it or not, this suits it or not". Then the ways of conflict resolution will be clearly visible. This is one of a perspective of conflict resolution.

-As far as I know, you have connections with Abkhazian society representatives. The de facto authorities traditionally negatively evaluate any initiative of official Tbilisi. However, one thing is publicly expressed position, and the other - the actual opinion that cannot be identified publicly for reasonable reasons. In addition, the attitude of the Abkhaz authorities often does not coincide with the Abkhazian society in relation to specific issues (for example, recently was revealed with the history of establishment of a Joint Informational-Analytical Center between Russia and Abkhazia.) What do ordinary citizens and representatives of the Abkhazian authorities think about Georgia, joint future with whom you have contact?


- So long time observation and experiences have developed my views that I want to share with you. I think we should evaluate the current events in Abkhazia more carefully and attentively. No positive or even more negative events can really help to restore confidence or resolve the conflict by our side. Sokhumi has set up a wall of distrust with Tbilisi and perceives any of our statements as a threat: "Tbilisi again interferes in our affairs and tries to influence our decisions". I think The Abkhaz society should be convinced of making decisions by themselves.

You have mentioned the so-called issue of establishment of a joint informational analytical center. Europe and the international community and we have made assessments in this regard, but I am sure that part of the Abkhaz society that condemned Russia's actions came to this conclusion. By the signing was cancelled the so called Abkhazian Dream about independence. The Abkhazians are well aware of this, but they do not even have the way back. The opinions of Georgians cause irritation on this issue. What is the reason? - distrust, alienation, ignorance of contacts.

You ask me what Abkhazians think about the joint future. Only in personal conversations can be a sense of sadness that living with Georgians was more acceptable for them. At the official level, to speak about the mood you know well that it is categorically ruled out. During Lavrov's visit in Sokhumi was asked, when we will become members of the collective security treaty organization (CSTO)", he replied - "why do you want a collective security arrangement, when our troops will protect you in case of any threat?!" I think the comments are needless.

So everyone understands why it's hard to talk about the future with the Abkhazians. But hopelessness is not a solution, that's why strengthening contacts is essential, it is encouraging and we will not cope with it. If I talk about the contents of these contacts now and share their essence we will have a wave of irritation of Abkhazians that is undesirable.

- We often meet the statements of de facto authorities of Abkhazia, that "in the perspective, the Georgian political elite will come to the conclusion of the necessity to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and then everything will be changed". Do you think Sokhumi really believes this, or is it a kind of attempt to create a sense of "bright future" in the population of Abkhazia to maintain power?

- Sokhumi knows very well that the recognition of "independence" should not be expected from Tbilisi. It is also a fact that Russia does not need independent Abkhazia; I will not talk about why. It is clear also, Sokhumi needs to get this topic to get the peacefulness of internal audience. Yes, it is needed by the so-called Abkhazian political elite, as you say, in the face of growing social discontent, to maintain power. And we are ready for reconciliation not only in terms but also in deeds.

-Despite the existing barriers, a number of groups meet each other from the Georgian and Abkhazian communities and express their interest for the future. Personally what do you expect from this activity?How effective can such contacts be, and how important can contribute they in conflict resolution?


- Every contact is important and each one has its own meaning. No matter how small these contacts are and seems hopeless for today, each of them has its own purpose. That's why we must support all groups, to go more often together. This will definitely result in the future.


I am reminded of the Abkhazian columnist's "lament" in one of the news sources, when "a small crossing was closed and all Europe and the world pay attention to this, what happened?!" For some people it is just a channel, for the locals - a vital crossing, a way to save the family. By this little passage people moved quietly, and the banning on the dramatically changed their mood, the economic situation. The local population did not have to pay at all, but now it's connected with serious costs. Abkhazians also realize that today or tomorrow, sooner or later our contacts will become more tangible, people will talk freely together. Hence being all is being deliberately destroyed that connects us to the common past - for example, there is attempt to destroy Georgian toponyms. I understand that "Leselidze" has been renamed and any village that has emerged in Soviet times, but I cannot understand changing the long term names and be satisfied with this?! - It's clear what we're dealing with. Apparently, they do not know that it is impossible to delete the historical memory.

Let's take the issues of Megrelian language teaching. Megrelian language will never be lost in the consciousness of Samegrelo population and in everyday life. Megrelian language does not need Abkhazians and, moreover, Russians' support- of those Russians who use this as an alternative to the Georgian language. That's why it's waste of energy that has no perspective. Megrelian language can never be replaced by Georgian literature, and our love towards it, but they don't want to notice that. In such circumstances, of course, we do not like the active contacts, but they are there and this is one of our strengths.

-Part of Georgian analysts think that the strategy for restoring the territorial integrity of the country should be reviewed, and this also deals the government's confidence-building and reconciliation policy. Do you share this opinion?

-For me returning to Abkhazia is not only restoration of territorial integrity but it is to getting back home. That's it for all those who have been displaced from Abkhazia. Certainly, the conflict resolution technologies should be modified and reviewed. In this respect we have a great deal of work with all those who do it. There were periods during the 24-year period when the topic of Abkhazia was heard rarely even in Georgia. Now the issue of occupied territories is activated not only by our but also from the international community. The efforts of our friends are a stimulus for us in the future to make very thorough steps in conflict resolution issues. Non-recognition policy, The Association Agreement, US and European Senators' opinions on Abkhazian issue, Public Condemnation of Russia's Action, Document signed by the President of the United States on sanctions on Abkhazia...It's not a little. I cannot speak about the conflict resolution technologies here, but believe me, we are not inactive.

Abkhazians also observe this and make certain conclusions. Moreover, it is well known and declared our peace policy. The main path and message to the Abkhaz population is that we are not really preparing for revenge. We only want peaceful coexistence in the united Georgia.

In the end I want to say few words about our IDPs. This is a very conscious part of our society whose patience is exemplary. They had to deal with: displacement, humiliation, poverty, homelessness... Parents teach their children dignity and to be Abkhazia as precious as it is for all of us. The stimulus is very important for the displaced people to flourish. We, on our part, try not to make feeling to our IDPs being abandoned. Indifference towards them is unforgivable and unacceptable.

News agency "accent"

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