September 2011 public opinion survey in Abkhazia shows 73% support full independence; 24.6% support joining Russia
More than three years have passed since Abkhazia‘s war with Georgia in August 2008 and Russia’s subsequent recognition of the breakaway republic’s independence. Today, the Caucasian republic seems relatively stable, while the population seems fairly optimistic about the changes that have taken place in the country over the last three years. However, the citizens of Abkhazia are divided when it comes to the future political status of their republic.
These findings, among others, were the result of the public opinion survey Medium Orient carried out in September 2011 at the request of the Caucasus Times information and analysis agency. Over the course of the survey, researchers interviewed 345 citizens of Abkhazia from different professions and ethnic groups. The research sample also took account of the current ethnic, gender and age balance in the country. Among the ethnic groups surveyed were Abkhazians, Armenians, Georgians, Greeks and representatives of other nationalities residing in various regions of Abkhazia.
The population’s opinion on the socioeconomic situation in Abkhazia after the country’s independence was recognized in 2008
The survey results show that the citizens of Abkhazia have a generally positive view of the changes that have taken place in the country’s economic sphere over the last three years. Thus, in responding to the question about economic changes in Abkhazia since 2008, the majority of respondents answered that the situation has “improved” (59.4%) or “rather improved” (11.3%). Only 2% said the situation has gotten “rather worse” and 0.6% said the situation has gotten “worse.” Just over a quarter of respondents said they were divided, answering “neither better nor worse.” 1% had difficulty answering the question.
The respondents’ answers about changes in the social sphere revealed a similar tendency. 48.4% of respondents said that the situation in the social sphere has “improved,” while 17.4% said it had “rather improved.” Only 2% of respondents said that the situation has gotten worse and 2.9% said it has gotten “rather worse.” Nearly a third of respondents had difficulty answering this question.
The political situation in Abkhazia since the recognition of independence in 2008
Respondents were no less optimistic and positive about changes in the political sphere in Abkhazia since August 2008. Over half (54.5%) said that the political situation has “improved.” 14.8% stated that the political situation has “rather improved.” Only 2.6% said the situation has gotten “worse,” and 2.3% said that it had gotten “rather worse.” 22.6% did not have a clear position on the issue. 3.2% had difficulty answering the question.
The security situation since the recognition of independence in 2008
The surveyed Abkhazians were even more positive about changes in the security sphere. Thus, 67% of those surveyed believe that the security situation has “improved,” while 11.3% believe that the situation has “rather improved.” Only 3.5% believe that the situation has gotten “rather worse,” and 3.2% that it has gotten “worse.” It is worth noting that 11.3% of respondents did not have a clear answer to this question, which is a much lower percentage compared to how many people did not have a clear position on other issues. This testifies to the fact that one of the consequences of the military conflict with Georgia has been that military and political ties with Rusisa are now increasingly being seen by the majority of the population as a factor contributing to better security in the republic.
The financial status of families
However, answers to the question regarding how the respondents’ families’ financial situations had changed since 2008 reveal that more people believe in the improving general economic welfare than in the improving welfare of their own families. Thus, 35.4% of respondents said their families’ financial situations had “improved,” compared to the 59.4% of respondents who said the overall economic situation in the republic had improved. 11.6% stated that their family’s financial situation had “rather improved.” Only 4.6% said that their financial situation had gotten “worse,” while 3.5% said theirs had gotten “rather worse.” A considerable number of respondents (43.5%) said “neither the one, nor the other,” thus demonstrating their inability – or, more likely, unwillingness – to give a clear answer.
Evaluating the work of the administration
In their evaluation of the work of Abkhazia’s government since August 2008, the overwhelming majority of those surveyed demonstrated a positive attitude towards their republic’s leadership. Thus, 62% of respondents said they rated the administration’s work as “positive.” 10.7% said they rated it “rather positively.” Only 6.1% said their attitude “was negative,” while 3.8% said their attitude was “rather negative.” 14.2% of respondents could not give a clear evaluation of the administration’s work.
Relations with Russia
The respondents’ answers regarding the development of their country’s relationship with Russia were overwhelmingly positive. 77.4% said the course the relationship was taking was “positive,” while 14.2% said it was “rather positive.” Only 2% said the development was “negative,” while 1.2% said it was “rather negative.” 4.3% answered “neither the one, nor the other.” It would seem such answers are the consequence of Russia’s significant efforts to help Abkhazia during the war with Georgia in August 2008, and the subsequently strengthened military, political and economic ties between the two countries.
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Regarding the status of the republic: full independence versus becoming a part of Russia
Since the war with Georgia in August 2008, and the subsequent recognition of its independence by Russia, Abkhazia has been dealing with the unresolved question of its international status. For various reasons, even Russia’s closest allies in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Kazakhstan and Belarus, have not followed suit in recognizing Abkhazia’s independence.
In the meantime, data from the survey presented above unambiguously shows resistance from the overwhelming majority of the population towards becoming a part of Georgia once again. However, in answering the question regarding the status of their republic, 73% of respondents said they supported full independence, while approximately a quarter of respondents (24.6%) believe it would be better if Abkhazia joined Russia as a separate republic. Less than one percent (0.6%, mostly ethnic Georgians) said they would prefer to be a part of Georgia again. Only 1.7% hesitated to answer the question, which illustrates how clearly most Abkhazians have formed their opinion on the subject.
However, the respondents’ answers concerning what republican status they would prefer showed certain distinctions between representatives of different ethnic groups residing in Abkhazia. Thus, of the Abkhazians, 89% said they supported full independence, compared to 73% of the total sample. Only 10.4% of surveyed Abkhazians said they would prefer to become a part of Russia, compared to 24.6% of the total sample. It is notable that, among the Russians and Georgians residing in Abkhazia, the number of those supporting Abkhazia’s full independence is considerably lower (56%) than among ethnic Abkhazians. The percentage of those who support becoming a part of Russia was 40.2% among ethnic Russians and 36% among ethnic Georgians. Among the Armenian population of Abkhazia, the number of those favoring full independence was 60%, while the number of those who favored Abkhazia becoming a part of Russia was 37.8%. It is curious that in all the ethnic groups, the majority prefers full independence to joining Russia. However, the desire for full independence is represented most strongly among ethnic Abkhazians and is conspicuously lower among other ethnic groups.
It is also of great interest that among the Georgians residing in Abkhazia, only a small percentage (8%) said they supported becoming a part of Georgia again. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of Georgians declared that they either supported full independence (56%) or joining Russia (36%). On the one hand, one might guess that such attitudes could be the result of the ethnic Georgian population being completely integrated into the socioeconomic and political system in Abkhazia. On the other hand, however, this could potentially be the result of the Georgian population’s unwillingness to demonstrate attitudes that are clearly at odds with what appears to the tendency in the rest of the country.
Interesting results also emerged from the respondents’ answers to the question regarding which countries Abkhazia ought to focus on developing relations with. Nearly all respondents (97%) mentioned Russia. In second place were EU countries (58.7%) and former Soviet nations (58.1%). Over a third of the respondents (38%) mentioned Turkey, which has longstanding economic ties in the region. Only 4.1% of respondents mentioned the USA and 2.3% listed Georgia. The negative experience of dealing with Georgia during the past decade has found its expression in the fact that Abkhazia’s population currently deems it unwise to develop relations between the two countries, despite the historically close economic and cultural links between them.
Islam Tekushev, Kirill Shevchenko
Coordinators of the Project for Studying Public Opinion in Conflict Zones and Critical Regions