SPIEGEL ONLINE Interview with Abkhazian Prime Minister 'We Don't Want a War'

Part 2: 'The US Reserves the Right to Turn Georgia into a Protectorate'

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The problem of Georgian refugees from Abkhazia remains unsolved. According to UN estimates, there are 200,000 refugees, many of whom live in extreme poverty in Georgia. Why can't these people return?

Ankvab: We have allowed the unconditional return of refugees into the district of Gali, near the Georgian border. According to various estimates, 45,000 to 60,000 people live there now who had fled during the war. Show us an area in the world where so many refugees have been allowed to return.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Georgia, however, demands that refugees should be able to return to any district of Abkhazia. Why do you reject their demand?

Ankvab: We cannot allow it for security reasons. We will not create the sitation where the majority of the population wants to get rid of our hard-fought-for republic. If we did, then not much of the Abkhazian people, culture and language would remain. We would like to bring Abkhazians whose forefathers were banished by Czarist regimes back to their homeland. If the international community would be willing to help us with that, we could talk again about the return of Georgian refugees.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ninety percent of Abkhazians, including you, have Russian citizenship. The currency in Abkhazia is the Russian ruble, Russian peacekeepers safeguard the ceasefire with Georgia. Does that not limit your independence a great deal?

Ankvab: No. After the war, Georgia declared our Soviet passports invalid in order to prevent us from traveling. I experienced this myself. We became Russian citizens out of our own free will; no one pressured us to do so. The Russian passports gave us freedom of movement -- a human right. The ruble helps our economy -- we can not afford to have our own currency.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There was a lot of Russian involvement in the Abkhazian presidential election at the end of 2004. Moscow wanted to push its favorite through. But in the end, he lost.

Ankvab: There were attempts at involvement and interests were pursued. The most important thing is that we have now left this situation behind us. The people of Abkhazia, and no one else, chooses their leadership. I think everyone understands that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Nevertheless, Russia has turned Abkhazia into a de facto Russian protectorate, without officially recognizing it as a state. Will this situation change?

Ankvab: The US reserves the right to turn Georgia into a protectorate, with its estimated 2,000 civilian and military advisers there. Russia has its interests in Abkhazia. Russian passports are regarded as a form of assistance, and their peacekeeping troops are seen as protection, which we want.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Abkhazia's leadership assures us that it wants a Western-style democracy based on European principles. But your president recently said in a speech that civil liberties are abused in Abkhazia "in many cases" and that a number of state institutions function "very weakly." What's holding back the development of an effective democracy in Abkhazia?

Ankvab: More than anything it's our lack of experience. We are still living in a post-war situation, most of all because of the continued blockade of our harbors and airports. After the war we had to contend with massive administrative problems. We are learning as we go along. There are no massive human rights violations in Abkhazia. However, our institutions must enforce citizens' rights more effectively.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it really just about the lack of experience, or is it also about the corruption that so many Abkhazians complain about?

Ankvab: There is corruption on a grand scale wherever there is a lot of money at stake. That's not the case with us. Yes, crooked officials take bribes or blackmail people. But our main problem is still the dearth of professionalism. Because of the blockade, we lack the budgetary means to pay state officials an adequate salary. This, of course, influences the quality of work on all levels.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Abkhazia lies in the zone of the EU's "European Neighborhood Policy." Diplomats from European countries, including Germany, visit Abkhazia. How can Europeans help the Abkhazian people along the path of peaceful and democratic development?

Ankvab: First of all, it would be good if people stopped trying to convince us to return to Georgia. Training for specialized workers would be helpful, which Russia is already giving us. There are business people in the West who are interested in our region, mainly in the tourist industry because of our 210 kilometers of subtropical coast.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can you imagine Abkhazia one day becoming a member of the EU?

Ankvab: That will depend on us and on Europe.

Interview conducted by Uwe Klussmann


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