ABKHAZIA LESS SEPARATIST THAN ALREADY SEPARATED
By Jeffrey Sweetbaum
The Moscow Times, Russia
Aug. 10, 2006
While traveling around Abkhazia by bicycle in recent weeks, visiting
most of its cities and peddling through much of its countryside,
I became extremely skeptical about Georgia’s efforts to reassert
itself in the region. I spoke with many Abkhaz and Armenians, who
are the dominant ethnic communities in Abkhazia, and they expressed
a unanimous sentiment that any future Georgian presence would be
absolutely undesirable. After an ugly war and unlikely victory
against Georgia in 1993, the Abkhaz feel that it is their right to
choose their own destiny. It is a point against which it is difficult
to argue. Whatever Georgia’s historical claims, and whatever legal
arguments might be posed in the debate, an attempt on Georgia’s part
to reintegrate Abkhazia into its political sphere would be considered
by the Abkhaz to be an invasion.
While the United States and European Union continue to support
Georgia’s position for certain strategically opaque reasons, the
reality is that Abkhazia is already a separate political entity and
not a separatist movement. Attempting to reverse that status would
undoubtedly cause a long drawn out military conflict that could
not be won in any permanent sense. While there are many wrongs to
be recognized and righted on both sides, embroiling the region in
another war would be the worst way to achieve this. The world doesn’t
need another hot spot, especially one as attractive and conducive to
bicycle riding as Abkhazia.
>From a traveler’s perspective, Abkhazia has the look and feel of
an independent country; the Abkhaz flag flies ubiquitously, while a
range of government institutions provides public services. Chronic
underdevelopment, however is evident. I got a surreal sensation as
I walked along stretches of pristine beaches and peddled past large
tracts of land that anywhere else would be considered prime real
estate. Charming in its own way, the quiet Abkhaz coast has the feel
of an artificial phenomenon. In Sochi, just a few kilometers down the
coast, the density of sunbathers on the beaches jumps by a factor of
20. With the exception of a few adventurous tourists and entrepreneurs,
the incredible potential for tourism in Abkhazia remains locked in
an imposed limbo.
A considered examination makes it clear that the Abkhaz have carved
out a de facto independence that they will never rescind voluntarily.
Moreover, no pretender to Abkhazia could subdue this independent spirit
with any lasting success, so the sooner the facts, and Abkhazia,
are recognized, the sooner a more peaceful, prosperous era in the
region will begin.
Jeffrey Sweetbaum is an American entrepreneur who has lived in Moscow
since 1990. He spent three weeks in July cycling through Abkhazia.