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NATION AND STATE-BUILDING PROCESSES: CASE OF ABKHAZIA

Ольга СТАРИКОВА | 28.06.2013 | 14:32

Introduction

This research is focused on the nation-state building processes of the modern world with a casestudy of the Republic of Abkhazia. The intention of the Master’s thesis is to analyze the phenomenon in its complexity from multiple perspectives, comparing the regulations of the international law with the common practices of the contemporary political reality. We attempt to examine a particular case of a breakaway state that has developed its unique culture and identity throughout long historical period of time. Various issues of nation-state building, namely state formation, ethno-nation, civic nation etc., need to be tackled.

The choice of the case is determined by the fact that Abkhazia appears to be an exceptionally good example of a de facto state that is, legally being an integral part of a larger entity but having and being aware of its actual potential for independence and sovereignty, struggles for secession from a parent state and international recognition. Abkhazia has a long history, mostly as a part of Georgia, but with different extent of autonomy, de jure and de facto sovereignty. Even though sometimes in academia there is a conceptual problem with distinguishing between state-building and nation-building, as, first, unlike in the nineteenths or first half of twentieth century’s, nowadays both processes often occur together. Moreover, there are different interpretations, since it depends on the approach where to draw a line between the concepts. However, Abkhazia represents a case where both nation-building and state-building processes took place. Abkhaz nation was formed within centuries and, whereas primarily it was based on the Abkhaz ethnicity, that has changed and, as we would argue, the community has developed into a multi-ethnic nation in its contemporary interpretation. Nowadays it is a political community that is represented by different ethnicities, viz. Abkhazian, Greek, Armenian, and Russian. This fact became obvious in the Abkhaz-Georgian war of 1992-1993, where Abkhazian residents of the aforementioned ethnicities were fighting together against Georgia for their independent state. Thus, even though the war clearly bore ethnic character, the separatist party was ethnically diverse. The purpose of starting this violent military conflict full of crimes and atrocities was to oppose to Georgian supremacy which was successfully accomplished in an illegitimate and rather brutal manner.

The main research question of this study is whether the Republic of Abkhazia qualifies to be an independent sovereign state or not. There are different dimensions in this regard to be considered. First, there are legal requirements stated in international law. On the other hand, regulations on the self-determination principle and secession right are expectedly vague and rather general, and due to its conservatism international law does not meet the challenges of the reality, otherwise there would be no need to justify the case of Kosovo recognition, which did not fit into the legal framework, as an exception and by doing this increase the degree of confusion in the area. Second, since in the modern world every state is a part of the international community, the perception of a potentially new member of this community by other states is essentially important. Moreover, the entity is supposed to have a capacity to fulfill its tasks internationally and demonstrate evidence of being able to provide certain stability, security and minimal human rights protection on the given territory. Third factor is a statehood capacity which is a rough estimation of autonomy’s potential to be a sovereign state and bear all its economical, political, social and other duties and responsibilities. This factor has to do more with core internal aspects, even though it partially overlaps with the international in regard to capability of being an active member of the international community, accepting and ratifying basic international documents, as well as providing security, stability and ideally nondiscriminating political regime with respect to human rights and freedoms. We pursue a goal to estimate the potential of Abkhazia in all the dimensions described above and, based on the outcome, draw a general conclusion about its capacity to be an independent state. The research is divided into five sections, namely Theory of Nation-State Building: Methodological Concepts, International Legal Framework, Peculiarities of the Political Processes Development in Abkhazia, External Factor: Russia, NATO, the UN and the EU, and Searching for Solutions. The structure of the Master’s thesis is determined by the following logic: having considered various theories of nation-state building and having defined the working definitions of the key terms that are applied in this study, we analyze the issues of state formation and nation-building from the legal perspective after which we examine and evaluate development of the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict after the Soviet Union demise, paying attention to particular events, personalities and the turning points in the conflict progress; then we proceed to the external actors attempting to estimate their role and contribution and, finally, overview of possible solutions suggested to a situation of a seceding entity looking for recognition, analyzing the particular case of the Republic of Abkhazia in its current state and its perspectives for widespread international recognition.

Within this project we intend to follow the development of the political situation starting from the Soviet Union dissolution which became a point of the conflict escalation. Even though the seceding state received partial recognition only in 2008, we consider it necessary to include the whole period of the last twenty two years as it is highly important in order to understand the logic of the self-determination claims evolution.

Before sifting the chronology of events in Abkhazia, investigating the outcome of these happenings and estimating the role of the actors in the process there is a large theoretical part included. Methodologically we would apply the declaratory concept of state formation and Fukuyama’s theory of reconstruction and development that would be explained later. Also, we would consider liberal and communitarian theories of secession attempting to discover if Abkhazian claims for sovereign statehood can be justified within the framework of any of them. In order to be able to answer the questions stated above, we would apply criteria of state recognition summarized by M.J. Peterson in Recognition of Governments: Legal Doctrine and State Practice, 1815-1995 and characterize the Republic of Abkhazia regarding each of the respective criteria separately and create a table reflecting them all. Based on the outcome it would be possible to draw the general conclusion. The criteria are divided into the core ones: defined territory, permanent population, capacity to enter into relations with other states, independence in its formal and real aspects; and extra or additional criteria: popular support, respect for other states’ rights, absence of undue violence in the seizure of power, origins in conformity with international law, and respect for human rights. As we adhere to the declaratory theory of state formation, which we would verify on the case of Abkhazia, following the development of the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict starting from the Soviet Union dissolution, it is vital to explore the evolution of the separatist movement in Abkhazia after the USSR demise. Three periods of Abkhaz-Georgian relationship in the post- Soviet time are distinguished: first, 1991-1995; second, 1995-2008; and third, 2008 – currently. Each of the chronological periods is characterized by its specific socio-political situation. Thus, the first one is extremely hostile and intense, identified with massive human right violations, the military conflict and expulsion of ethnically Georgian population from the Gali region as a result of Georgia’s fiasco. The second one can be described by stabilization of the state of affairs in relative terms and military conflict settlement, but at the same time by stagnation as Abkhazian, according to Tbilisi, self-proclaimed government was rejecting any Georgian suggestions based on semi-compromise and was struggling for international recognition without having real basis for these hopes in the beginning but gradually increasing its reliance on Russian aid; while Georgia, enjoying support of the international community, radically refused to consider an option of granting Abkhazia with sovereignty. The third period can be characterized by a new round of conflict escalation in Caucasus, resulted in the Russian-Georgian war of 2008, after which Abkhazia was recognized by the Russian Federation and few other states that supported the initiative and started receiving investments in large amounts.

We proceed from the assumption that the socio-political processes in Abkhazia can be explained from the social constructivism point of view, and we would attempt to do so after having analyzed the development of the conflict, its climax points, and stagnation that resulted in the ‘frozen conflict» status quo. At the same time as military conflicts due to secession aspirations of a political community normally happen in states that are politically unstable or weak, it is necessary to consider the issue of state weakness in regard to Georgia, which was defeated in the war 1992-1993 and failed to manage the conflict effectively, despite the support and amiability of the United Nations, NATO and the majority of states. For this purpose we would apply Fukuyama’s matrix of state scope and strength to approximately estimate the scope of state functions and strength of state institutions of Georgia, elaborating on some of the influential factors.

There is another important matter that is logically connected to the Abkhazian statehood issue, which we are going to consider in the research, namely the tension between Abkhazia and Georgia due to the absence of solution which received a status of a «frozen» conflict. Investigating alternative solutions for this unstable situation and evaluating their potential effectiveness is not the major goal of the Master’s thesis but we believe it is important to explore this issue, as it seems to be a logically coherent step to do in the spirit of this study, which, however, would leave space for further research in the field. As the political reality and balance of powers in the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict was changing, new proposed solutions were replacing the old ones. However, none of them was considered as an acceptable for all the parties involved so far. We would like, first, to find out if there are any at least hypothetical solutions and, second, investigate reasons why keeping the status quo has been the most favorable option for the parties and learn if de facto there are changes despite the «stable instability» de jure. We attempt to explore the current state of affairs in Abkhazia and Georgia in order to think of the beneficial strategic lines for each of the sides. In order to keep the research objective, we would need to understand the positions of both parties: their national interests, perspectives, economic potential, political forces, and psycho-cultural aspects, viz. identity, national legend, believes and aspirations.

While pursuing the stated goals of this study, we also have few minor aims, namely, to explore the issue of self-determination and its various types in international practice and legal framework; following the evolvement of Abkhaz-Georgian relations, find out main forces and turning points in the conflict development that determined the current situation; estimate the role and impact of the third parties in the secessionist conflict, primarily Russia and the USA, but also the UN and the European Union, particularly focusing on the Russo-Georgian war of 2008; estimate the fact of military conflict happening within geographic borders of Europe in the twenty first century from multiple perspectives, providing reasons and critique in regard to peace and security maintenance; and, finally, question the role of sovereignty in the modern world order. As the concept of sovereignty has been modified due to the integration processes in the modern world, bringing this issue in the discourse might be useful as a contribution to solutionseeking. This shift of sovereignty is currently a widely debated issue by many scholars. Gottlieb, for instance, mentions it in regard to his concept of «States plus nations». Hypothetically, since the modernity changes the international political reality in a way that state sovereignty is vanishing while the interconnection between components of states get closer, an idea of creating an association of states might be reasonable. We would elaborate on this idea further. Unfortunately the Abkhazian issue did not receive much attention on the international scale, at least until the Russian-Georgian war of 2008. Apparently, for the majority of states, which can be classified as the «developed world», Abkhazia and Caucasus in general did not appear to be an important matter. Caucasus is relatively small but full of contradictions and tensions of ethnical and religious matter that have been going on there for centuries. Since Caucasian countries are unstable, economically under-developed, and not that politically powerful, there was no particular interest for the international actors to get involved. Moreover, due to the remote location of the region, for the European Union there seemed to be no need to actively participate in its matters as lack of stability in Caucasus presumably could not endanger security of the Union. For the USA Caucasus and, in particular, Georgia was the way to potentially expand NATO’s sphere of influence, be present in South-Eastern Europe and to restrain Russia in certain sense. In the beginning of 1990s Russia also had little interest in Abkhazia, which has changed drastically after the Russian-Georgian relations got tense. However, the war of 2008 has affected the attitude of the Western countries to Caucasus. It became clear that unresolved ethnic conflicts bear a threat to national security not only of the neighboring states, but hypothetically for the whole continent and even further, in case those kinds of methods to solve a conflict would serve as an example to follow for other statehood seeking communities and parties involved in the conflict. Hence, the war played its positive role in raising international awareness about «stable instability» in Caucasus and potential outcome this situation might lead to. From 2008 on the forsaken topic gained popularity, albeit knowledge of an average citizen of the EU, US, and other states about Abkhazia and South Ossetia is still very limited. Nevertheless, there are scholars working specifically on the topic and whose work we would refer to: Tim Potier, Tom Parfitt, Ronald Asmus, who analyzed the war in South Ossetia, Celine Francis, who wrote her dissertation in Abkhazia after several months of field study and research, and others. However, unlike in the case of Kosovo, research about Abkhazia and South Ossetia is not sufficient, especially in other than Russian, Georgian, or Abkhazian sources and languages. There are even less studies and generally information on the regions of Nagornyi Karabakh and Transnistria. Thus, currently Caucasus is still under-researched and it has a great potential as a topic to explore for political scientists, experts of the international law, ethnologists, historians, linguists and other specialists.

Also, we would raise a question about international law fulfilling its function of being a regulator of conflicts on the international level and a yardstick of justice. Within the modern world order the United Nations played a role of the designer of the international legal framework. However, it appears to be a contradiction that the same organization has the responsibility of the guardian and custodian of the established regulations. Therefore, it is reasonable to question efficiency of the UN performance in the ongoing conflict and make general conclusions about the effectiveness of international law considering the fact that the sanctions that can be implied by the international community are rather limited. Another vital question that is derived from the dispute about the Abkhazian example is whether international law is coherent enough or it is full of contradictions, as in case of Abkhazia two fighting sides appealed to the regulations of international law, claiming the opposite. Even though in many regards international law is rather flexible and general, the issue of national interests, rather than a struggle for objective justice, should be considered as a factor that defines interpretation of the regulations.

After the Soviet Union breakup state fragmentation in the world was fostered and it remains being one of the acute issues in politics and international relations. Researching specific cases of the seceding entities provides one with understanding of the mechanisms of the phenomenon and gives an idea about counter-measures or, what would be better in terms of international security, measures of preventing secession conflicts that have ethnical reasoning and are rooted in discrimination of a minority that incited a movement for self-determination.

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