Akhra Aristava: "The Political Process is Becoming Increasingly Radical"

Akhra Aristava

Akhra Aristava

Abkhazian economist Akhra Aristava shared his insights with "Ekho Kavkaza (Echo of the Caucasus)" regarding the events surrounding the late-night ratification by the parliament of the Pitsunda state datcha (residence) agreement, and the new political landscape that Abkhazia faces following these developments.

Elena Zavodskaya: Akhra, what is your perspective on the events of December 27th night concerning the ratification by the Abkhazian parliament of the Pitsunda state residence agreement?

Akhra Aristava: From my standpoint, this was decidedly negative. The parliament's decision-making approach that night dramatically altered the internal political dynamics of our country.

In what way?

- The parliament had been maintaining a delicate balance of political stability in our state. Now, this equilibrium has been virtually nullified. Previously, the parliament avoided topics that lacked societal consensus. This included issues like the Pitsunda state residence, apartment policies, judicial decision recognition, and energy policy. There were numerous such topics. The People's Assembly deputies, acknowledging the lack of societal agreement, did not address these issues. Recall the summer incident when the state head demanded a resolution on apartment issues in the Public Chamber, and the deputies simply adjourned for holidays. This act had actually increased public trust in them. However, now, by undermining the fragile political stability and voting on a divisive issue, they've ushered in an entirely new reality where no mechanism exists to ensure political stability.

I want to remind everyone that our young nation struggles with peaceful power transitions. We have yet to experience a shift from one political force to another without severe political crises. The deputies' previous conduct had inspired hope for a peaceful approach to the upcoming elections, ensuring a smooth and lawful transition. Today, no one can assure a peaceful progression due to the absence of a mediator between the executive power, opposition, and a significant segment of the populace.

During the crisis when society actively opposed the Pitsunda agreement, the opposition repeatedly urged citizens to join them at parliament in solidarity. Yet the public response was not as widespread as expected. Why do you think this was?

- Many stayed away because, in my view and from what I have gathered, there was a belief in the deputies’ integrity. People felt protesting was unnecessary since deputies historically shied away from controversial issues. This trust has now been eroded. I believe that the decision to convene and vote at night was not a parliamentary initiative. By doing so, the executive branch stripped itself of a protective shield. Now, it faces direct opposition from both political adversaries and a significant portion of its citizenry who disagree with its policies.

+ Alkhas Thagushev: "The Authorities are Ready to Implement an Alien Agenda in Abkhazia"
+ Navigating Legal Complexities: An Analysis of the Pitsunda Agreement, by Said Gezerdaa
+ Liana Kvarchelia: Respect to Those Who Dared to Defy the General Line

Why do you think the authorities resorted to such overt confrontation with society on the night of December 27th?

- There have been public statements from top officials suggesting that failing to ratify the agreement would worsen relations with Russia. This confused many citizens who wonder why relations with our ally should deteriorate. This was not adequately explained. However, examining the executive's actions and the budget reveals unfulfilled commitments. These include the 45 harmonisation issues of legislation, energy matters, among others. It seems the executive's relations with the Russian government have soured, not those of the Abkhazian people. Our citizens have done nothing to harm relations with Russia. They have not shifted their political orientation or views. So why anticipate negativity from Russia?

Nonetheless, why did the authorities push through the Pitsunda agreement?

- They appear to believe that they had no alternative to mend ties with Russian authorities. The reality is they lack sufficient funds for everything – the military, the budget sector, the agricultural sector – as evident from the budget. They hoped the Pitsunda decision would rectify their relations with the Russian Federation leadership. But in my opinion, this will only exacerbate the situation.

Ahead of the Pitsunda agreement ratification, the authorities accused the opposition and dissenting citizens of fostering anti-Russian sentiments in Abkhazia. What are your thoughts on this? Is it a fair assessment?

- Indeed, the authorities have been using this argument, insinuating that some Abkhazian citizens engage in anti-Russian activities. This narrative is dangerous. When Abkhazian leaders claim the presence of anti-Russian citizens, Russia takes this seriously. This rhetoric could inadvertently sow anti-Abkhazian sentiments in Russia, which could further strain relations. I am not aware of any influential anti-Russian political or public activists in Abkhazia. There are no movements here desiring NATO membership or the withdrawal of Russian troops. Thus, spreading such claims, without understanding their impact in Russia, is unwise. We have already received a stark response from Russia's former Deputy Foreign Minister Karasin, who might believe these narratives. Using the law enforcement for actual legal violations is one thing, but wielding this argument indiscriminately could lead influential Russians to view Abkhazia with suspicion, not because of the opposition or public figures, but due to the statements of high-ranking officials. This should not be a tool for political manipulation. Leaders should engage with their citizens more constructively and adhere to democratic norms in political processes. Demonising political opponents and carelessly labelling them, including war heroes and cultural figures, is not the way forward.

Akhra, one apparent outcome in society is the fragmentation of the opposition. Some opposition members recently left the opposition block. What's your take on this development?

- This fragmentation is a direct result of the nocturnal parliamentary session. It signals a shift towards a more radical political process. The statements made by some opposition leaders at their press conference further indicate that political methods and strategies will evolve, especially in relation to the current power. This evolution will likely impact the upcoming presidential elections negatively.

This article was published by Ekho Kavkaza and is translated from Russian.




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