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Abkhazian Government suspends issuing of passports to Georgian residents

After opposition protests that citizenship law was being flaunted on a grand scale, the Government of Abkhazia has now suspended the issuing of passports to Georgian residents of the Gali, Ochamchira and Tquarchal Districts, while a commission — made up in part by opposition members — has to report on the issue before August 1st.

It seems there is disagreement within the government over the issue. Two weeks ago, Interior Minister Otar Khetsia defended the policy in place during the last five years. But now Secretary of the Security Council Stanislav Lakoba, one of Abkhazia's leading historians, has condemned it in strong terms, warning ominously about the creeping 'Georgianisation' of Abkhazia. On the previous occasion that the issue came to a head, in the run-up to the 2009 Presidential election, Lakoba resigned over the matter. It should be noted that he was succeeded at the time by Interior Minister Khetsia. Both returned to their original post when Alexander Ankvab became President in 2011.

It is curious that Lakoba in his speech points to the fact that many current Georgian residents of Abkhazia are descendent from ethnic Abkhaz who assimilated during the 19th and 20th Century without drawing the conclusion that they should be treated as such for the purpose of citizenship law.

Very interestingly, while politicians from Gali District don't usually voice their opinions in public, Governor Beslan Arshba has now in an interview with Apsnypress defended the issuing of passports to Georgian residents in particular, and their loyalty to the Abkhazian state in general.

The whole affair shows that Abkhaz are still very insecure about their position. By most accounts, the number of Georgians currently living in Abkhazia does not approach the number of Abkhaz, and so any fear of an imminent electoral take-over (as articulated by Lakoba) seems unfounded.

Most likely the commission will recommend a stricter implementation of existing citizenship law, but not the large-scale annulment of passports already issued. It remains to be seen whether these changes will be substantial or rather more symbolic in nature, and whether they will keep both Lakoba and Khetsia happy. (Opposition leader Raul Khajimba refused to attend its first meeting and Lakoba has also confessed to being sceptic as to its usefulness.)

For the opposition, even the current suspension presents a symbolic victory, since it has now managed to influence government policy for the second time this year (it has previously had an increase of electricity tariffs greatly reduced).

Category: Abkhazia

Tagged: citizenship, Gali, nationality, ochamchira, passports, tquarchal