The Georgian government has crafted a new framework to facilitate the reintegration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into the Georgian state. A special blueprint drafted by the National Security Council reportedly proposes an asymmetric federation with an unprecedented degree of sovereignty for Abkhazia.
Giorgi Khaindrava, Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution, said on January 3 that the government is developing a new statement on the status for breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia . He said that that the section regarding Abkhazia is actually based on an existing concept. Prior to the Rose Revolution, five liberal Georgian experts had developed a model at the initiative of several members of the National Security Council and with technical support provided by Conciliation Resources, a British NGO. The current National Security Council planned to consider the blueprint by January 10, the deadline that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had set for the Georgian think tanks and national Security Council for elaborating a blueprint. As predicted by many think tanks, the time allotted was not sufficient to work out a sound, mutually acceptable document (Imedi TV, January 3).
The pre-2004 model creating a special status for Abkhazia within the Georgian state first came to light last summer (24 Saati, June 30, 2004), and Khaindrava announced it would serve as his main guideline.
Kote Kublashvili, a lawyer and co-author of the project, admits that the concept is leading Georgia toward a federal state where Abkhazia must have all the rights of a sovereign state except of the right of internationally recognized independence. He refers to the structures of the United States , Spain , Germany , and Switzerland and conclusions of foreign experts about the model, which, they argue, would not give Abkhazia any legal leverage to secede. However, Kublashvili allowed that Abkhazia could still violate any federal agreement (24 Saati, January 12).
Georgian Minister of Justice Giorgi Papuashvili said, “Not everyone will be satisfied with this blueprint.” As he explained, “Everyone should understand that the Abkhaz have their own legitimate interests.” Papuashvili forecast “resistance from various political groups” but said the authorities should overcome this obstacle by using the mandate of the people’s trust. He also implied that a referendum might be called on the matter (24 Saati, December 29).
The comments and actions by some Georgian officials and representatives of civil society indicate that some Georgians are becoming less rigid in their views regarding the Abkhaz conflict.
On January 6, 16 Georgian NGOs and several individuals who have been long engaged in “public diplomacy” with the Abkhaz sent an open letter to Saakashvili containing four preconditions that they believe Tbilisi must follow to regain Abkhazia. The letter called on the government to abandon military rhetoric and recognize peaceful means as the sole method of conflict settlement; provide an unbiased and comprehensive assessment of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict; treat the Abkhaz side as an equal partner in the talks; and lift economic sanctions on Abkhazia, including restoration of railway links and investments to the region’s economy.
Pro-governmental and Western-leaning analysts argue that, for the sake of reconciliation, Georgia must bow before the Abkhaz and publicly acknowledge that the military campaign against Abkhazia in 1992 was a grave mistake. Moreover, these analysts emphasize the absolute necessity of recognizing the legitimacy of the Abkhazians’ right of self-determination. “We [Georgians] have found ourselves captives of our own truth and didn’t think about the Abkhaz truth,” one analyst argued. These analysts advocate, apart from granting Abkhazia a high degree of sovereignty and symbols of respect, the creation of special economic zones in the trans-border areas of Abkhazia and Georgia under joint Georgian-Abkhaz administration and financial support and security guarantees from international organizations. They also suggest supplanting Russia as mediator (24 Hours, January 12-13; Resonance, January 12).
Abkhaz leaders have responded cautiously to the proposal. Alexander Ankvab, the anticipated nominee as prime minister in the new Bagapsh government, supports peace talks but is worried about the bellicose statements that sometimes emanate from Tbilisi . “Yes, we certainly support peace initiatives. However, we have recently been hearing Mr. Saakashvili and his ministers make threats against us,” he said in a phone interview with Imedi TV on January 3.
There are also reports that part of the Abkhaz establishment is ready to make peace with the Georgians so long as the Georgian government publicly apologizes to the Abkhaz for the 1992 military invasion (Asaval Dasavali, January 17).
Meanwhile Tbilisi ‘s liberal model incurred sharp criticism from Abkhaz refugee organizations at an Institute of Political Science roundtable discussion on January 5. Malkhaz Pataraya, chair of the public movement Dabruneba (“Return”) said, “It’s not difficult to understand where the idea of federalization is coming from” alluding to Russia . Some representatives of the Abkhaz government-in-exile dismissed the model as “discriminative for Georgians” and paving the way for a “velvet,” and this time legitimate, secession of Abkhazia.
Georgian hardliners advocate a tough policy. The editorial “What will the President choose, ‘political fancies’ or real politics?” (24 Saati, January 11) says the peace concept ignores vital interests of ethnic Georgians. It calls on the government to triple the Georgian army and intelligence budgets instead of flirting with unrealistic peace initiatives.
The newly created “Unitary Georgia” movement argues that federalization of Georgia is a Russian scheme and “national suicide” that will lead to the further fragmentation of the country (24 Saati, January 11).
The Union of Georgian Veterans of the Abkhaz War said that if the government accepts the NGO’s concept, the Union would oppose it “by all legal means (Akhali Taoba, January 15).
The Georgian government likely prefers to remain on good terms with both sides. Saber rattling by the hawkish Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili alternates with conciliatory gestures to the separatists. An ethnic Ossetian, Alana Gagloyeva, has become Saakashvili’s spokesperson and an ethnic Abkhaz, Leila Avidzba, has been appointed as government spokesperson (Prime News, Rustavi-2, January 11).