PRAGUE, 20 January, Caucasus Times. Diplomatic recognition of Abkhazian independence by the Russian Federation and some Latin American countries right after Georgian-Russian war in August 2008 resulted in an increased number of those residents of Abkhazia who supported full Abkhazian independence. Thus, results of the public opinion polls conducted by Prague-based Medium Orient Information Agency during recent years indicated that while in August 2006 68% of those polled preferred Abkhazia’s joining Russia and only 25% were in favor of Abkhazian independence, in September 2011 popular preferences changed drastically with 73% of those who supported Abkhazian independence while number of those who supported joining Russia was down to only 25%.
The most recent public opinion poll in Abkhazia, conducted by Prague-based Medium Orient Information Agency in August-October 2013 reflects the most important trends in Abkhazian society concerning popular preferences and attitudes to Abkhazia’s status, to internal political and economic situation in Abkhazia, to Russia and other countries, and to national minorities’ situation in Abkhazia. Overall, 500 respondents in all regions of Abkhazia have been polled, including Abkhazians, Armenians, Georgians, Russians and representatives of other national minorities.
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Responding to a question “which is, in Your opinion, the best solution of Abkhazia’s status issue?” 38.9% indicated “preservation of independence in its current form” while 28.4% preferred joining Russian Federation and 20% supported the idea of Abkhazia’s joining Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a separate state. At the same time, only 5.8% of those polled expressed their desire to see Abkhazia a member of European Union and 6.8% found it hard to answer this question.
Thus, although almost 40% of Abkhazian respondents prefer preservation of Abkhazia’s independence in its current form, 48.4% are clearly in favor of more active Eurasian integration of Abkhazia either by joining Russia (28.4%) or by joining Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a separate state (20%). Answers to that question testify to a fact that commitment of the majority of the Abkhazian society of their own state is to a certain extent combined with a fairly popular idea of Abkhazia’s integration with other post-Soviet states, in the first place with the Russian Federation. Number of those who prefer integration with the Western countries turned out to be essentially marginal, just not more than 6% of those polled.
However, it is worth of noting that popular preferences concerning the issue of Abkhazia’s status proved to be fairly dependent on respondents’ nationality. Thus, among ethnic Abkhazians number of those who support preservation of independence in its current form made up 50.8%, which is 11% higher than the average number for general population in Abkhazia. At the same time, number of respondents who prefer joining Russia among ethnic Abkhazians was just 18.3%, which is 10% lower than average number for general population in Abkhazia. Quite predictably, number of those who support joining Russia among ethnic Armenians (46.1%), ethnic Russians (60%) and even among ethnic Georgians (23.2%) turned out to be significantly higher than among ethnic Abkhazians (18.3%).
Respondents’ answers to a question “with which state Abkhazia should develop a relationship in the first place” confirm great popularity of the idea of Eurasian integration in a contemporary Abkhazian society. Overwhelming majority of respondents – 63.2% – said that in the first place Abkhazia should develop relationship with Russia and 19.1% of respondents – with CIS countries. Only 7% of those polled believe that in the first place Abkhazia should develop relationship with European Union, 1.9% – with Georgia, 0.5% – with USA and just 0.2% – with Turkey, which looks somewhat strange given the fact that Turkey has very close long-term relations with Abkhazia especially in economic sphere. At the same time, 8.2% of respondents could not provide answer to that question.
It should also be noted that representatives of Russian and Armenian diasporas in Abkhazia demonstrated the most pro-Russian attitudes and sentiments. Thus, 79.8% of those polled Armenians and 85.7% of those polled Russians indicated Russia as a state, which should be the highest priority for Abkhazia in terms of developing relationship. In the meantime, representatives of Georgian minority in Abkhazia demonstrated the highest level of pro-Western orientation. 21.4% of those polled Georgians were in favor of developing relationship in the first place with the European Union. However, 33.9% of Georgians in Abkhazia indicated that Abkhazia should develop relations predominantly with Russia.
So clearly pronounced preference for Russian and Eurasian integration vector by overwhelming majority of Abkhazian respondents can be associated to a certain extent with Russian economic, political and military activities in Abkhazia, which bases its independence mostly on Russia’s support, as well as with general rise of integration processes in post-Soviet space in last recent years, mostly with creation of Custom Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, where Russia is playing a key role.
Respondents’ reaction to a question about the quality of relations between Abkhazia and Russia during recent years revealed mostly positive assessments of those relations. Thus, almost half of those polled (47.6%) were positive about the development of Abkhazian-Russian relations in recent years while 38% of respondents assessed the development of those relations as “rather positive”. “Rather negative” and “negative” assessments of relations between Russia and Abkhazia were given by 4.7% and only 2.6% of respondents respectively; 7.2% of respondents found it hard to provide answer to that question. On the whole, more than 85% of respondents rated Abkhazian-Russian relations as generally good (“positive” or “rather positive”) while only 7.3% were generally critical about those relations (describing them as “negative” or “rather negative”).
Opinion polls results indicate that in spite of certain frictions and contradictions between Russian and Abkhazian elites, which are developing in recent years, most people in Abkhazia continue to remain positive about the development of Abkhazian-Russian relations.
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Respondents’ answers to a question about the most acute problems currently facing Abkhazia, revealed that most people are concerned about social and economic problems (44.8%) as well as security problems, including criminality (34.5%). 3% of those polled believe that the most acute issue facing Abkhazia lies in religious sphere and only 2.6% of respondents consider that that most acute problem lies in the sphere of interethnic relations.
It should be noticed, however, that answers to this question from the representatives of Georgian national minority were marked by much more pronounced concern about the state of interethnic relations in Abkhazia in comparison to answers from the representatives of other ethnic groups in Abkhazia. In general, only 2.6% of respondents consider interethnic sphere to be the most acute issue in Abkhazia while among ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia 8.9% indicated interethnic relations as the most problematic issue for Abkhazia, which most probably reflects numerous problems facing Georgian minority in Abkhazia. Quite high percentage of those polled – 15.2% – could not provide answer to that question and indicate the most acute problem in Abkhazia.
Respondents’ reaction to a question on “how economic situation in Your family changed during last recent years?” revealed quite positive general picture of economic conditions and generally good level of welfare of the local population, which is probably the result of developing tourism industry in the region and large-scale Russian investments. Thus, almost one-third of those polled (27.3%) noted that their economic situation improved in last several years and more than half of respondents (55%) said their economic situation “rather improved”. Only 2.8% of respondents indicated that their economic conditions worsened and 10% – “rather worsened”. 4.9% of respondents could not answer this question.
Similarly, respondents’ perception of human rights situation in Abkhazia turned out to be rather positive than negative. More than one-third of those polled (35.7%) expressed their confidence that human rights in Abkhazia are fully observed; 37.7% believe that human rights in their republic are “rather observed”. Only 12.6% of respondents think that human rights in Abkhazia are “rather not observed” and just 8.6% feel that human rights in their republic are “not observed”. 5.4% of respondents reported difficulties answering this question.
It looks interesting that polarity of opinions while answering this question proved to be much more pronounced among ethnic Abkhazians. Thus, 43.3% of those polled Abkhazians feel that human rights in Abkhazia are fully observed, which is more than 8% higher than among general population in Abkhazia (35.7%). In the meantime, however, 12.1% of Abkhazians are sure that human rights in Abkhazia are “not observed”, which is again substantially higher than among general population in the republic (8.6%).
It should be emphasized that the least number of those who feel that human rights in Abkhazia are fully observed turned out to be among ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia. Thus, only 3.6% of representatives of Georgian minority in Abkhazia think that human rights in the republic are fully observed, which is significantly lower than among other ethnic groups in Abkhazia, including Russians (34.3%) and Armenians (36%).
Among the specific human rights, which, in respondents’ opinion, are violated the most, there were mentioned “right to life and to the protection of this right by the authorities” (13.8%); “the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention” (13.8%) and “the right to possession of the property” (13.3%). Quite significant number of respondents – 10.5% – feels that “the right to publicly display one’s national identity” also belongs to those human rights, which are being violated in Abkhazia the most. It looks characteristic that ethnic Georgians make up one-third of those respondents who think that the right to publicly display one’s national identity is violated in Abkhazia the most. This once again demonstrates that position of the Georgian national minority in Abkhazia is seriously disadvantaged.
Among political rights and freedoms, which, in respondents’ view, are violated in Abkhazia the most, there were indicated “access to state bodies” (18.2%); “the right to participate in government” (14.5%); “freedom of information” (9.1%); “suffrage” (7.5%) and “freedom of speech” (5.1%). Interestingly, almost half of those polled (43.1%) reported difficulties answering this question, which may indicate that political rights and freedoms are perceived by significant part of the local population in Abkhazia as somewhat vague and abstract concept and something hardly realizable in their practical life.
As far as social and economic rights of Abkhazian population are concerned, most respondents feel that among those rights, which are violated most, are “the right to health care” (14.2%); “the right to social security” (12.6%) and “the right to work” (12.6%), which, most probably, reflect current problems of unemployment and imperfection of social legislation typical for Abkhazia. In addition, 7.7% of respondents indicated “the right to conduct business and other legitimate economic activities” and 6.1% – “the right to private property”. One third of those polled (33.1%) found it hard to provide answer to that question.
Respondents’ answers to a question “to what extent rights of national minorities in Abkhazia are observed?” demonstrated once again high level of dependence of the answers on respondent’s nationality. In general, 31.7% of respondents indicated that, in their view, rights of national minorities in Abkhazia are “fully observed” and 54.8% – “rather observed”. Only 6.1% of those polled feel that the rights of national minorities “are rather not observed” and just 1.6% – “are not observed”. 5.8% of respondents could not provide answer to this question.
At the same time, results of the answers to that question are very much dependent on respondents’ nationality. Thus, among ethnic Abkhazians percentage of those who are sure that the rights of national minorities in Abkhazia are fully observed, made up 40.8%, which is 11% higher than among general population in Abkhazia (31.7%). On the contrary, among the representatives of the Russian, Armenian and Georgian national minorities number of those satisfied by the observance of national minorities’ rights turned out to be substantially lower than among ethnic Abkhazians. Among the representatives of the Russian minority in Abkhazia 34.3% believe that the rights of national minorities in Abkhazia are fully observed; among ethnic Armenians 22.5% think that minorities’ rights in Abkhazia are fully observed and among ethnic Georgians this percentage made up only 7.1%, which is additional important indicator of problematic situation of the Georgian national minority in Abkhazia.
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Overall, public opinion poll results from October 2013 indicate that as far as international status of Abkhazia and Abkhazia’s international orientation are concerned, overwhelming majority of the local population in Abkhazia prefer Russian and Eurasian direction; however, ethnic Abkhazians tend to support Abkhazia’s independence in its present form to much more extent than the representatives of various ethnic minorities living in Abkhazia.
Poll results also suggest that economic situation and social standards of Abkhazia’s population seem to be relatively favorable since most of those polled emphasized that during last several years their economic conditions either improved or “rather improved”.
The position of the Georgian minority in Abkhazia, as poll results show, seems to be the most problematic issue since only 7% of the representatives of the Georgian minority feel that the rights of national minorities in Abkhazia are fully observed.