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Abkhazia's Two Challenges Ahead

Now that Abkhazia is celebrating two decades of independence, there are two points I think are worth making.

Firstly, it is no small feat what Abkhazia has achieved. Overall, the outside world has done much more to hinder than to help its statehood. Despite this, Abkhazia has managed to build a reasonably democratic and pluralistic society. It is easy to point out shortcomings and it is important that they are addressed, sooner rather than later. But this is only possible, and what has been achieved can only be protected, if Abkhazians are proud of freedom and of tolerance for dissent, and if they step up whenever individual officials place their own interest ahead of that of the state.

Secondly, despite the common misconception in the west, Abkhazia's independence was not an act of secession from Georgia. Rather, it was a consequence of Georgia's own (justified) secession from the Soviet Union. The primary motivation behind Abkhazia's resistance to incorporation into the new Georgian state was that the future of Abkhazia should be up to the Abkhaz. But there was a second, more implicit motivation, that caused many people of other ethnicities to also choose the Abkhaz side: to protect Abkhazia's multi-cultural society. Abkhazia's most difficult task now is to combine these two aspirations.

Abkhazia's multi-cultural responsibility requires that it be a home for all its ethnicities, including Georgians. This is the ultimate moral test for Abkhazia's statehood. Its demographic situation makes this a very difficult task. The Abkhazian national project can only be secured through state and society building, so that Abkhazia's inhabitants develop a civic identity, through a greater resettlement of the Abkhaz diaspora and through the development of the Abkhaz language as the national language of all of Abkhazia's inhabitants. Abkhazia should also do its best to convince member of smaller ethnicities that fled during the war to return, like the Greeks and the Estonians. And it can try to strengthen national unity by stressing the fact that each minority is a particular Abkhazian minority, that they are Hamshen, Pontians and Samurzaqans, whose home is Abkhazia rather than Armenia, Greece or Georgia.

Abkhazia could also use its increasing international contacts to learn from other, similarly small societies. For instance, Suriname provides an example of a reasonably democratic, multi-cultural society, Malta manages to maintain its language and identity in the face of the dominating presence of English, and Bhutan develops its economy and tourism while preserving its culture and natural wealth.

Abkhazia's independence is now so secure that in another twenty years, it will celebrate its fortieth anniversary. But as a state it could still fail, and it is up to Abkhazia's citizens to prevent that.

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