Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

Photography: Cave of Simon the Zealot

According to some accounts, in his later life the apostle Simon preached and was martyred on the northern Black Sea coast. Local tradition maintains that he lived in a cave near Psyrtskha — which in the 19th Century inspired the building of the New Athos Monastery. The cave itself now contains a small shrine.

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Filed under: Abkhazia, Photography, , , ,

Venezuela and Russia and flawed democracy

Following Tolstoy we may say that all happy democracies are alike. And probably, so are all totalitarian dictatorships. But all flawed democracies are flawed in their own way, as the Venezuelan Presidential election of last weekend demonstrates.

According to the official result, the election — following the death of Hugo Chávez — was won by Nicolás Maduro. His tiny majority (50.8%) puts paid to the commonly portrayed image of Venezuela in the west as a dictatorship. In comparison, such a close result is unprecedented in Russia, as is the fact that his challenger — Henrique Capriles, who scored 49.0% — is governor of Miranda, Venezuela’s largest state. Elections are fairer in Venezuela than in Russia. The problem with democracy in Venezuela is a weak rule of law and that, between elections, the President has near-dictatorial powers. Actually, these are also Russia’s problems. The difference lies in the fact that while Putin is generally recognised to be the choice of most Russians — however unfairly elections may be conducted — the administrative support Maduro enjoyed combined with even the smallest amount of manipulation make his popular majority dubious.

Filed under: Elections, Russia, Venezuela, ,

A noteworthy session of Parliament

Last Wednesday’s session of the People’s Assembly of Abkhazia (ApsnyPress, Vitali Sharia/Ekho Kavkaza) featured three interesting details.

First, the session was held in Abkhaz, with interpretation provided for those present with only a command of Russian, even though Deputies switched back to Russian during some of the more critical items. The government has for years now committed itself to strengthening the Abkhaz language by mandating its use in the public sphere. But until now, not much has changed in practice, even though the language law adopted in November 2007 already ordered Parliament to conduct business in Abkhaz by 1 January 2010 — in the meantime newspapers were left struggling to implement the new regulations.

Second, a law was passed decreeing that public meetings and demonstrations are to be registered at least five working days in advance. What makes the law noteworthy is that it makes an exception for the traditional assembly grounds of Lykhnashta (in Lykhny) and Mykuashta (in Mokva). Especially the former is hugely symbolic, being the site of many historical meetings, most famously in 1989 when close to a third of all Abkhaz assembled to call for the restoration of Abkhazia’s pre-1931 union republic status.

And third, the Deputies voted against a series of regulations establishing an ‘ethical’ committee that would have had the authority to censor and even remove MPs in case of misbehaviour. While the proposal was framed as aiming to uphold the high moral standards embodied in apsuara, it was perceived by opponents as patronising and as a potential instrument to quell dissent.

Filed under: Abkhazia, , ,

New developments in Vanuatu

After a relatively uneventful period, three recent events in Vanuatu are relevant for relations with Abkhazia.

First, on 18 March Radio New Zealand International reported that Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot had over the weekend declared in a Radio Vanuatu interview that Vanuatu wanted to establish diplomatic relations with Georgia. And Director-General of the Ministry Johnny Koanapo denied to Radio New Zealand International that Vanuatu had ever established relations with Abkhazia, stating that the document signed at the time had only been a statement of intention.

Then, only a week later, the government of Prime Minister Sato Kilman was overturned in a no-confidence motion. In the new government, led by Moana Carcasses, Carlot was replaced as Foreign Minister by opposition leader Edward Natapei, an opponent of the recognition of Abkhazia.

And lastly, one of the very first acts of the new government was Natapei’s dismissal of Ti Tham Goiset as (designated) Ambassador to Russia and the Eastern Countries, including, presumably, at some future point, Abkhazia.

Koanopa’s statement seems patently false, as the document signed at the time was made public, and it unambiguously establishes diplomatic relations with immediate effect, and Foreign Minister Carlot is on record as reaffirming Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia and the establishment of diplomatic relations, with the government’s official website carrying a message to the same effect.

Goiset has claimed that her dismissal is illegal since such a decision can only be taken by the President, but this in turn was contested by the Ministry.

It is worth noting that Koanopa did not deny that Vanuatu has recognised Abkhazia’s independence, and that Natapei has not addressed this either. Moreover, Abkhazian Prime Minister Leonid Lakerbaia has congratulated Carcasses with his appointment, and likewise, Foreign Minister Viacheslav Chirikba Natapei with his. Perhaps ni-Vanuatu officials have accepted that the recognition of Abkhazia cannot really be undone (unlike diplomatic relations, which can be broken off).

It should also be pointed out that ni-Vanuatu officials have a record of issuing contradictory statements. Thus, for example, the scandal that has plagued Vanuatu in recent months is that of the super-yacht Phocea. Towards the end of February, Phocea was issued provisional registration by the Maritime Technical Advisory Committee so it could leave Vanuatu. A week later, the Minister of Finance declared the committee ‘unqualified’, because “the Maritime Authority which appointed the Committee has been defunct since 2007”.

Filed under: Abkhazia, The Great Recognition Game, Vanuatu, , , , ,

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