PRAGUE, 7 June, Caucasus Times. Official recognition of political independence of Abkhazia by Russia right after Russian-Georgian military conflict in August 2008 made legal and international status of that partly recognized Caucasian republic more definite and clear. However, this fact did not provide any guarantees for Abkhazia in terms of its internal stability, sustainable development and economic prosperity. This circumstance once again confirmed the fact that successful development of effective state structures and institutions is an equally important task as gaining political independence.
Public opinion poll in Abkhazia, conducted by Prague-based Information Agency «Medium Orient» in May 2016, allows revealing general social and economic situation of Abkhazian society, its attitudes towards various aspects of the internal situation in the republic, as well as priorities of the population of Abkhazia in the field of foreign policy and attitudes to major recent political events on the international scene. In the course of the public opinion poll in Abkhazia there were polled 1000 respondents throughout the republic, including Abkhazians, Armenians, Russians, Georgians and representatives of other major ethnic communities in Abkhazia.
Answering the question about the most burning problems facing modern Abkhazia, 38.4% of respondents indicated social and economic problems keeping in mind high level of unemployment and low standards of living. Slightly less number of those polled – 35.1% – as the most important problem indicated security issues, mostly criminality. At the sane time, 18.4% of respondents thought that the most important was corruption problem. Only 2.3% of those polled felt that the most burning issue in Abkhazia was interethnic relations and just 1.1% – confessional problem, keeping in mind ongoing Church schism in Abkhazia. Overall, it turned out that the most critical issues for population in Abkhazia were social, economic and security problems, which was also confirmed by earlier public opinion polls, conducted by information Agency «Medium Orient» in that republic over last years.
Respondents’ reactions to a question on how economic situation in their families changed during the last year represent rather optimistic picture. Thus, the highest number of the respondents – 35.2% – noticed that their economic situation improved and 19% of those polled stated that their economic situation “rather improved”. In general, total number of those who feel that economic conditions of their families either improved or rather improved, equals to 54.2%, that is, majority of the population. At the same time, 20% of respondents indicated that economic situation of their families deteriorated and 11.5% stated that their economic situation rather deteriorated. In total, number of those who think that economic situation of their families deteriorated or rather deteriorated, is 31.5%, which is significantly less than the number of those who indicated improvement of their economic situation (54.2%).
Poll results demonstrate that generally positive picture of social and economic situation of the respondents is in a quite sharp contrast with very critical attitudes of the respondents towards human rights situation in modern Abkhazia. Thus, answering the question “do you think that human rights in Abkhazia are fully observed?”, most of the respondents (45.5%) preferred to give clearly negative answer. Quite high number of the respondents – 13.5% – said that human rights in Abkhazia are rather not observed. Total figure of those who believe that human rights in Abkhazia are either not observed or rather not observed, equals to 59% of the respondents. At the same time, just 21.9% stated that human rights in Abkhazia are fully observed and 13.6% – rather observed. General number of those who has positive attitudes towards human rights situation in Abkhazia, thinking that human rights in their republic either fully observed or rather observed, is only 35.5%, which is significantly lower than the number of their opponents, who think that human rights in Abkhazia are not observed or rather not observed (59%).
It seems that respondents’ responses to a question on their attitudes towards the treaty of alliance and partnership signed between Abkhazia and Russia revealed the highest degree of unanimity. Overwhelming majority of the respondents – 74.9% – gave a positive assessment of that treaty; 9.5% evaluated this treaty rather positively. Just 6.9% of respondents gave clearly negative assessment to that treaty and 3.1% evaluated this document rather negatively. Overall, overwhelming majority of Abkhazian population evaluate the treaty of alliance and partnership between Abkhazia and Russia positively or rather positively; number of those who evaluate this document negatively or rather negatively is just 10%. Only 5.7% of respondents reported difficulties answering this question, which indicates that vast majority of the population in Abkhazia are certain about that treaty and have clearly formed attitudes towards the relations between Abkhazia and Russia.
Respondents’ reactions to a question concerning their assessments of the work of the new leadership of Abkhazia proved to be surprisingly positive and can be interpreted as an explicit compliment to the new authorities of the republic. Thus, 46.4% of the respondents evaluated the activities of the new Abkhazian leadership positively; 11.9% gave it a “rather positive” assessment. 18.2% of those polled evaluated the work of the new Abkhazian leadership negatively and just 5% gave it “rather negative” assessment. Almost one third of the respondents (18.5%) found it hard to provide concrete answer to that question.
Poll results revealed that different forms of corruption are quite widespread in the modern Abkhazia. 28.3% of those polled indicated that they faced with the manifestations of corruption in Abkhazia and 4.2% said that they rather faced with the manifestations of corruption. At the same time, 60% and 4.4% of respondents respectively noticed that they either did not face or rather did not face with the manifestations of corruption. In this way, one third of those polled – 32.5% – stated that they in different forms and on different levels experienced manifestations of corruption in their republic. Only 3.1% of respondents reported difficulties answering that question.
It seems quite interesting that in most cases respondents reported various manifestations of corruption in law enforcement agencies (19.2%), in health care (10%) and in educational system of Abkhazia (16.2%). Significantly lower number of respondents indicated that they experienced corruption in the judicial system (9.5%) and in tax service of their republic (7.8%). Most probably, this is connected with the fact that the population has most frequent contacts with health system, educational system and law enforcement agencies, which can explain the highest level of corruption in those spheres indicated by the respondents.
Respondents’ answers to a question about the optimal for them version of solving the issue of the international status of Abkhazia revealed several the most popular models of Abkhazia’s possible international status.
Thus, 45.2% of those polled called for the preservation of the independence of Abkhazia in its current format, which proved to be the most popular standpoint. At the same time, more than quarter of the respondents (27%) called for joining Russia as an autonomous unit, which proved to be the second most popular option among the population. Finally, quite a big number of respondents (16.7%) expressed their desire to join Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a separate state. 1.6% called for Abkhazia’s joining Eurasian Union as a full-fledged member.
9.5% could not provide a clear answer to that question. It should be noticed that among the population of Abkhazia number of those who are in favor of preserving Abkhazian independence (45.2%) is approximately the same as the number of those who support various integration projects for Abkhazia, including joining Russia, CIS or Eurasian Union (in total, 45.3%). It seems obvious that number of those who support different scenarios of solving the question of international status of Abkhazia is highly dependent on further successes or failures of Abkhazian nation-building process and various integration projects with Russia and within CIS.
Major priorities of the population of Abkhazia concerning the most optimal international status of their republic were also reflected in their answers to a question on the most preferred vector of international orientation of Abkhazia. Responding to a question “In your opinion, with which state should Abkhazia develop relations in the first place?”, overwhelming majority of those polled (74.4%) indicated Russia. 15.2% of respondents indicated CIS countries as the most preferred partner for Abkhazia, which proved to be the second most popular option. All other major international players received very small number of votes. Thus, only 2.2% called for developing relations with the EU countries; 1.9% thought that developing relations with USA should be a priority for Abkhazia; 1.7% called for developing relations with Turkey and 0.8% – with China. So insignificant percentage of those who think that the first priority for Abkhazia should be developing relations with Turkey – traditional very important partner of Abkhazia in economic sphere and trade is most likely connected with rapid deterioration of Russian-Turkish relations, which had a very strong impact on perception of Turkey by Abkhazian population.
Respondents’ answers to a question “how do you assess development of relations between Abkhazia and Russia during the last several years”, showed that most people in Abkhazia view the dynamics of relations with Russia, which is currently key partner of Abkhazia, mostly positively. According to poll results, 71.3% of the respondents assessed the development of relations between Abkhazia and Russia positively and 18.5% – rather positively. Only 3.5% felt that those relations were developing negatively and 2.3% – rather negatively. In this way, total number of those who tend to evaluate the development of Abkhazian-Russian relations as positive or rather positive equals to 89.9%, while overall number of those who assessed Abkhazian-Russian relations negatively or rather negatively did not exceed 5.8%. Just 4.3% of the respondents reported difficulties while answering that question.
Responses of those polled to a question on how they assess the recent actions of Russia in Syria, are of particular interest. 64.3% of the respondents declared their positive attitudes towards Russia’ actions in Syria; 8.4% took rather positive attitude. 11.6% assessed the Russian actions in Syria negatively and 2.1% – rather negatively. Thus, although the total number of those who have positive or rather positive attitude towards Russia’s actions in Syria is 72.7%, that is, overwhelming majority of the population, there are no grounds to talk about unanimous support of Russian actions since 13.7% of the respondents evaluate Russian actions in the Near East either negative or rather negative. It is also worth of noting that quite a big number of respondents (13.6%) found it hard to provide clear answer to that question, which testifies to the complexity of understanding the true picture of the processes in Syria and Near East for Abkhazian population. In any case, it seems that part of Abkhazian population don’t fully trust the information about the situation in Syria provided by mainstream Russian and Abkhazian mass media.
Respondents’ answers to a question on whether “do you plan to go to another country to live there?” can be viewed as an additional important tool for better understanding the social situation in Abkhazia. Although overwhelming majority of the respondents – 83.8% said that they were not going to leave for another country to live there and 3.3% noticed that they rather would stay at home, 8.2% of those polled confirmed that they were going to move to another country to live there and 3.3% said they rather would go to another country. Overall number of those who either is going to leave Abkhazia and to go abroad to live there or rather would go to another country equals to 11.5%, which is pretty high number. Only 1.1% of the respondents did not provide clear answer to that question.
Poll results clearly demonstrate that Abkhazian society continues to be concerned about the existence of a number of serious problems in their republic. The most important problems for the population include social and economic issues as well as security problems, indicated by the respondents as the most burning issues for Abkhazia. It turned out that one of the most burning issues for Abkhazian population is human rights situation: thus, 59% of the respondents believe that human rights in Abkhazia either are not observed, or are rather not observed.
According to poll results, society in Abkhazia is divided over the question about the most optimal international status of the republic: while 45.2% call for preservation of independence in its current format, 45.3% prefer participation of Abkhazia in various integration projects from incorporation to Russian Federation (27%) to joining CIS (16.7%) or Eurasian Union (1.6%).
At the same time, respondents’ assessment of relations between Abkhazia and Russia revealed consensus in Abkhazian society on that issue, since 89.8% of those polled assess those relations positively or rather positively.