English transcript of Vladislav Ardzinba's speech | The 1st Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR | 1989
The problems of the individual regions. We should wait a little on this. Resolving all-state [obshchegosudarstvennyh]problems is unthinkable without taking into account the interests [ ..] of the country, regardless of where they are located. I am focusing attention on this problem because several addresses were made in this hall today that touched on the problems of the small, or more precisely the numerically small peoples.
The object of discussion was the union republics, restructuring their relations with the centre and expanding their rights. In this connection we must not fail to point out that implementation of the idea of possible greater sovereignty for the union republics elicits a certain concern, it seems to me, on the part of all those peoples who failed to be included among the 15 strong ones – and there are 50 of them represented in this hall. The total number for the whole country is even larger.
[ …] takes the form of national statehood, while others are deprived of any form of national-cultural autonomy. What’s more, masses of problems arise with regard to national populations living outside their own national territory. It follows from this that the restructuring of nationality relations should encompass the entire gamut of problems. Otherwise, serious complications and violent conflicts on national grounds will be inevitable.
The status of the autonomous republics envisaged in the current constitution leads in fact to national and legal inequality. Dividing peoples in this way according to rank is the direct heritage of Stalinism and also of the administrative-command system which […] has affected the autonomous republics in particular.
This situation can be [??] on the development of Soviet statehood of the Abkhaz people, and also of other autonomies. Soviet power in Abkhazia […] on the 4 March, 1921 with the proclamation of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia. In December 1921 under pressure from Stalin, the Abkhaz SSR concluded a union treaty with the Georgian SSR which existed until 193[…]. In legal terms that treaty meant the creation of a federation based on the sovereignty and equal rights of the two republics. So, for example, Article 4 of the Constitution of Abkhazia reads: The Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia implements Soviet power on its territory free from external constraint [samostoyatel’no] and independently, insofar as this power is not limited by the treaty obligations with the Socialist Soviet Republic of Georgia and the constitutions of the Trans-Caucasus Socialist Federal Soviet Republic [and the USSR??] That sovereignty was also manifested in the existence of its own coat of arms and state flag and a series of codices and laws.
In actual fact, however, that treaty marked the beginning of the liquidation of the sovereignty of […]. In 1931, treaty Abkhazia was transformed into an autonomous republic within the Georgian SSR. Thus, Abkhazia is just about the only republic whose political status was downgraded rather than upgraded by Stalin.
Today we know a great deal about the mass repressions against the Soviet population, against entire ethnic groups, during the period of the Cult of Personality. The period from 1937 – 1953 in the history of the Abkhaz people was a period when the question arose of the liquidation of the Abkhaz as a nation. The whole entirety of the reprisals against the Abkhaz demonstrates that this was what was intended. The nation was deprived of its leaders, the most important state and party leaders of Abkhazia were destroyed, together with practically the entire newly-born intelligentsia. Christianity was subjected to particularly harsh reprisals.
As of 1940, the Abkhaz people were no longer called Abkhazians. In 1941 radio broadcasts in the Abkhaz language were discontinued. In 1945-46 Abkhaz language schools were closed and the teachers were left [?without employment]. There were practically no Abkhaz left in leading party and Soviet posts.
A mass forced resettlement to Abkhazia was begun. Huge amounts of money were spent on that resettlement program. It did not stop even during the difficult years of 1941-42. Greeks, Turks and others [were expelled] from Abkhazia and their homes were given to resettlers from the raions of Georgia.
As a result of that artificial population increase, the Abkhaz became a minority in their ancient homeland. The indigenous toponyms of the Republic of Abkhazia were subject to repression, between 1948 and 1951 alone, 147 place names were changed. Eduard Ambrosievich Shevardnadze, when he was first secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia, said of the essence of the policy of that period: “It must be said directly that in the past […] a policy was implemented with regard to the Abkhaz people that could practically be characterized as chauvinist. Let us call by their proper names things that were contrary to the interests of both the Georgian people and the Abkhaz people […] the Leninist friendship of Soviet peoples. At the same time, the official condemnation of the Cult of Personality at the XXth Party Congress did not bring about the liquidation of the heritage of Stalinism. That heritage continues to make its presence felt. The serious violations of nationality policy with regard to the Abkhaz people were detailed in collective and individual letters addressed to the central Party and Soviet organs by representatives of different strata of the Abkhaz people: the intelligentsia, the working class, the peasantry, in 1947, […] 1957, 1978, and 1988. Initially after those appeals various measures were adopted to improve the situation that had arisen in the autonomous republic. But after a while one could again observe a regression to the situation that had prompted those complaints by representatives of the Abkhaz people.
The situation became particularly complex at the end of 1988. At meetings in Tbilisi calls were made to liquidate Abkhazia’s already curtailed autonomy. One of the informal societies drafted a program to fight the Abkhaz people and its cultural institutions. It is worth noting that that society, whose members considered themselves campaigners for democracy, declare in the program they drafted that “during the years 1936 – 1954 the hegemony of [?? ] was ended [..] the Apsua – which is how they referred to the Abkhaz – with regard to the other nations living in the Abkhaz SSR.” In other words, from the point of view of those democrats, the best years were when the Abkhaz people was being destroyed.
Adherents of the democrats came to Abkhazia, where they stirred up anti-Abkhaz sentiment among the local Georgian population. They succeeded in December last year in organizing an unsanctioned meeting in Sukhum and a march through the town.
Not just the Abkhaz but other peoples living in the republic were seriously concerned by the drafting and discussion of a state program of development of the Georgian language included the question of the exclusive use of the Georgian language as the sole official language in all institutions, and the mandatory study of it by every resident in the republic. This once again […] and called to mind the gross distortions of the history of the Abkhaz people and […] Abkhaz autonomy. Abkhaz society was particularly concerned by the failure of the republican leadership to give a principled assessment of those actions.
All of this together was why a sanctioned meeting was held on 18 March 1989 at Lykhny, on the historic square where historically questions of importance to the Abkhaz people were discussed, a sanctioned meeting took place at which [an appeal] was adopted addressed to the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, the chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, and a series of scientific institutions. Some 32,000 people appended their signatures to that appeal, including the heads of numerous top party and Soviet organs and all the deputies of the Abkhaz Oblast Soviet. More than 5,000 Russians, Armenians, Greeks, Georgians and others also signed it.
The appeal contained a request to restore the status of a Soviet Socialist Republic that Abkhazia had had in 1921 when Lenin was still alive. Contrary to affirmations, that does not mean that Abkhazia leaves Georgia, but that the status of treaty Abkhazia is restored. According to the 1921 treaty between the Georgian and Abkhaz SSRs, that status gave the Republic of Abkhazia the possibility to decide its fate independently of external constraint in the event that the question arose of the secession of the other union republic from the USSR.
Because the Abkhaz people considers remaining within the USSR the sole possible means of preserving its national self-identity. [Applause] I consider that experience of a union treaty could be used in the drafting of normative acts regulating the mutual relations of autonomous republics with specific union republics of which they are a part.
The essence of the appeal was that expanding the rights of the republic is in the interests of the entire multi-national population of the Abkhaz ASSR and does not create favored status for any single ethnic group. The appeal is not in any way directed against the Georgian people with whom we wish to continue living in friendship.
The assessments of that appeal made from the podium of the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR on 29 March 1989 contradict the spirit of the decision of the 27th Party congress, the directives of the 19th Party conference and are […] nepravomerny. It transpires that the Abkhaz people did not have the legal right to express their opinion, and the organs of the Soviet republic decided the fate of the Abkhaz autonomy long before the CPSU Central Committee plenum on inter-nationality relations.
The assessment of the leadership of the Soviet republic contributed to the even greater intensification of that campaign which even today shows no sign of abating. Evidence of this is the articles appearing in the press even during this congress. At a meeting with the [members of the Soviet] leadership who arrived in Tbilisi after the tragic events [of April 9, 1989, when troops attacked and killed peaceful demonstrators, most of them women and young girls], representatives of the Georgian intelligentsia [claimed?] that the reason for what happened was the Lykhny appeal, although the events in Tbilisi had different causes and pursued other goals. We regret very much the tragic developments in Tbilisi, we express our profound sympathy, and we believe that this event must be investigated and [??those responsible should receive their due punishment] [applause]. On May 26, 1988, the restoration of Georgian statehood was marked in the Abkhaz ASSR. It is up to historians to evaluate the significance of this event for the Georgian people. By the way, in the history of the Abkhaz people these events are linked with the statehood that in 1918 drowned in blood the Abkhaz Bolshevik commune and then unleashed a wave of terror in the villages of Abkhazia.
That festive celebration brought the [??] population of the Abkhaz Republic to the verge of confrontation. According to the [a bell sounds to indicate he has overrun his allocated time] I’m about to finish -- numerous telegrams, telephone calls and other communications that we are still receiving, even today the situation in Abkhazia remains extremely alarming. If urgent measures are not taken, it could [become uncontrollable? Irrevocable?] Unfortunately the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers remain silent despite the request submitted by a group of deputies from the Abkhaz SSR on May 25 this year. We insistently request all USSR people’s deputies to support our proposal to create a commission from among those people’s deputies to study the situation in Abkhazia with regard to inter-ethnic relations. It would be desirable of there were a permanent commission formed from USSR people’s deputies to study the problems of the autonomous formations, to defuse tensions in the regions so the situation does not deteriorate into conflicts.
Our request connected with the Abkhaz ASSR is necessitated by the fact that extremist forces shifted the focus of tensions to Abkhazia, in our view, in order to incite people to a precipitate a clash and [..] blame our [Abkhaz] people for it. It would not be difficult to lay the blame on the Abkhaz, because the propaganda media circulate one-sided information, and representatives of the Abkhaz people are deprived of the opportunity to express their point of view. I would like to note that people understand the need for the maximum restraint and calm, [..] because the future of perestroika, the future of our great Fatherland depends on this. And we deputies should act, and are acting, to that end.
A few concrete proposals: 1) introduce in the chambers and commissions of the Supreme Soviet that focus on inter-ethnic a system of public hearings and scientific assessments. 2) create in the Chamber of Nationalities of the USSR Supreme Soviet and the Supreme Soviets of the union republics commissions on national groups and national minorities. It is imperative to return to the founding principles of Soviet power, to the Leninist approach to resolving the national question which is based on the declaration of the rights of the peoples of Russia. A decision on creating a commission of deputies to study the situation in the Abkhaz ASSR will bring a degree of calm and will restore faith that justice will prevail.
Thank you [Applause]