My bet is that among the next five countries to recognise Abkhazia will be United States of America. – An Interview with Maxim Gunjia

It has been over one year since Abkhazia was recognized by the Russian Federation. The Deputy-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia, now also recognised by Nicaragua and Venezuela Maxim Gunjia replied to our questions about recognition and foreign affairs in a frank and open manner.

Profile: MAXIM GUNJIA was born on March 13 1976 in Sukhum (Abkhazia). In 1998 he graduated from the Gorlovka State Teacher-Training Institute for Foreign Languages (Ukraine). Since 1999 he has been employed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia. Until 2002 he worked in the interpreting Department. He is the author of several analytical investigations in the fields of small arms and landmines. In the summer of 2001 he received a certificate from the Harvard Law School (USA) for an MA in Negotiation Skills. From 2001 until 2002 he was a member of the AbCBL (Abkhaz Committee to Ban Landmines) within the framework of the international campaign against landmines (ICBL). He has participated in various international conferences and seminars on the issues of security and actions against small arms proliferation. 

In 2002 he was  appointed to the position of Head of the International Department of the Foreign Ministry. In 2004 he was awarded with a diploma from the University of South Wales on Human Rights. He was  appointed deputy Foreign Minister in March 2004. From 2005 he has been the representative for Abkhazia at UNPO (The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization), Where he is a member of UNPO’s Presidency.

ABKHAZWORLD: More than one year has passed since Abkhazia’s recognition by Russia. Are you content with the efforts of Abkhazia to secure recognition? While the number of countries that recognized Kosovo, which the Trans-Atlantic Alliance supports, has reached 63, the number of the countries that has recognized Abkhazia stands at 3. Isn’t it a dissapointment that the allies of Russa didn’t follow in the footsteps of Moscow? Do you think Russia hasn’t been trying as hard as it might in this regard?

First of all it is not Russia that should be promoting the recognition of Abkhazia. The recognition of Kosovo by other countries is not so much related to legal right or justice but rather to the expression of support for the policy of the United States and Europe. In the case of Abkhazia, recognition comes by way of pure good will by countries that study the situation and share our striving for independence as our legally and morally based right for freedom. So it was with Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. All these countries have recognized Abkhazia based on a thorough study of our case and historical prerequisites.

AW: What did the Abkhazian delegation expect from the Latin American visit, and what did they get? Is it possible to say that Ecuador and Bolivia are about to recognize Abkhazia?

GUNJIA: Our expectations were as minimal as possible. We did not expect to bring home recognition by Venezuela. That trip brought a new dimension to our policy and new understanding of reality – the reality in which many freedom-loving countries are openly pressured by Western powers. We saw the huge propaganda-machine that builds a negative image of all those who disagree with the West. We share the same striving for freedom and justice. It is not only Ecuador and Bolivia, soon most of the Latin American countries will recognise Abkhazia because they understand that it is about justice and the right of Abkhazia for freedom.

By the way Abkhazia is more of a state in accordance with the principles of the Montevideo Convention than Georgia. There are 4 main principles: 1. Population, 2. Ability to secure international and diplomatic relations, 3. Government, 4. Control of Territory. Most of the Latin American countries consider states according to these 4 principles.

AW: What can you say about the future political, economic, and cultural risks (such as ‘extreme dependence on Russia’) for Abkhazia, if it is to be recognized only by Russia among the neighbouring countries?

GUNJIA: These are risks which are temporary. The dependence of Abkhazia on Russia is much less than the dependence of Georgia on the US or the dependence of Estonia on Europe or the US. There are many countries that pursue an openly anti-Abkhazian policy, and they are completely dependent on what they are told in Washington or Brussels. For Abkhazia Russia is an ally and its main export market. Thus, there is no surprise that Abkhazia should depend economically on Russia while all other gates are closed for Abkhazia. Even in isolation we can develop our own policy based on zero contradiction with our neighbours and partners.

AW: How did the recognition of Abkhazia affect you in person as the number-two diplomat? Did you feel any psychological impact of this on your diplomatic contacts?

GUNJIA: There is no such effect. There is almost no difference, except for the diplomatic passport as between those for diplomats of recognised states and those for diplomats of unrecognised states. To be an Abkhazian diplomat gives one even more determination and satisfaction because one is doing the right thing and one does not have to defend injustice or aggression. In other words, I never envy Georgian diplomats and understand that they have an even harder job trying to convince others that Abkhazia is part of Georgia. Honestly, I could not lie like them.

AW: Are there any indications that other countries might consider offering recognition? What can be done to encourage other countries to take this step?

GUNJIA: Other countries will recognise Abkhazia because Abkhazia is an actual state-entity. Abkhazia is a reality, and by refusing to recognise reality other countries will be consigining themselves to live in a virtual political world. Non-recognition of Abkhazia may bring more challenges. This day will come very soon. My bet is that among the next five countries to recognise Abkhazia will be United States of America.

AW: Are any special efforts being made for developing relations with the EU members?

GUNJIA: We never stop approaching the EU and proposing constructive dialogue. However, the EU is not ready yet to cooperate with Abkhazia. In fact, the common EU policy on the non-recognition of Abkhazia is virtually the only policy on which the member-states seem to be united. The problem of non-recognition by the EU is not a problem for Abkhazia. We recognise the EU and are ready for cooperation, but the EU is not ready. Abkhazia subscribes to the EU Wider Neigbourhood policy. How is the EU to respond to this policy, if they don’t recognise Abkhazia? So it is the task of the EU to think of ways of establishing relations with Abkhazia. We are ready. Our relations with the EU would not be built on contradictions with Russia or Turkey. We need open and transparent dialogue all round.

AW: Are restrictions still applied by the US to Abkhazian officials wishing to visit the UN in New York? Since this was a restriction first imposed by George W. Bush, has there been any attempt to get the restriction lifted by approaching either the UN Secretary General or the new US president himself? Are any other travel-restrictions in place around the world? If so, what measures have been or can be taken to get them lifted too?

GUNJIA: There are no measures possible yet. The US position is openly against the participation of Abkhazia in the UN Security Council consultation-meetings. However, although the new administration is not so open in its anti-Abkhazian moves, there are certain forces within the State Department that keep these restrictions on Abkhazia in place. The EU countries are also not welcoming Abkhazians wishing to travel to Europe, sometimes operating an openly discriminatory policiy. This usually causes no concern to the “democratic” states. There are constant attempts to address the US State Department over the issue of US visas for the representatives of Abkhazia, but as yet the answer has been NO. What is more encouraging here is that Abkhazia has the right to be present at UN meetings, but it is only the visa-issue which blocks us. It seems that they are worried about what Abkhazia’s representatives might say there...

AW: Do you think a change in policy is possible in Georgia through internal means at all?

GUNJIA: No, such change is impossible in the immediate future.

AW: Has there been any progress in developing relations with Turkey after the visit of the Turkish Foreign Affairs Consultant Ünal Çeviköz to Sukhum? What are the realistic expectations from Turkey? Is there any chance of recognition being offered to Abkhazia in exchange of recognition by Abkhazia of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus?

GUNJIA: No exchange of recognitions was discussed. However, we consider Turkey an important strategic and economic partner. We understand that Turkey cannot recognise Abkhazia today. However, at this stage we are seeking economic recognition by Turkey.

AW: What are your expectations from the diaspora in develoing relations with Turkey? Are there any plans for enhancing the relations? 

GUNJIA: Without the diaspora we will not be able to develop relations not only with Turkey but with the rest of the world. The basis for the successful development of such relations lies in unity among the diaspora. The Motherland and Diaspora should stay as one, and the diaspora itself should be united and strong in its endeavours to return or reconnect with the Motherland. There is great power and force among the diaspora which we always consider a hope for the bright future of Abkhazia. 

VIVA Abkhazia!!!

Maxim Gunjia, Deputy Foreign Minister

- Thank you for this interview

Fehim Tastekin & Metin Sonmez - AW




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