Paata Zakareishvili: Georgia should meet Abkhazia halfway
A row has erupted in Georgia. A famous Caucasus scholar, Mamuka Areshidze, has called on Georgian society to discuss the conditions of possible recognition of Abkhazian independence. His suggestion provoked a strong reaction, and Areshidze prefers not to comment on the issue. His colleague, Paata Zakareshvili, gave an interview to VK and shared his view on the problem.
- You have been dealing with the Abkhazian problem for 20 years. Of course, you are the first person to comment on the furore surrounding Areshidze’s suggestion, and everybody wants to know your opinion. Moreover, some media reported that you stated that his suggestion is absolutely unacceptable.
- I’ve never stated this suggestion is unacceptable. I said that, at the moment, recognition of Abkhazian independence is premature. Before including this issue on the agenda, it is necessary to take a lot of reasonable steps. If in 10-15 years time these steps do not yield any result, then we should talk about recognition. Areshidze didn’t suggest recognizing Abkhazia at the moment. He called for the issue to be discussed and for negotiations to be conducted. If negotiations are initiated, the results of the process can lead to the opposite situation, when the problem of recognition will disappear.
Recently Areshidze has stated his view clearly: it is necessary to begin a public discussion of recognition of Abkhazian independence . I agree with him. Areshidze thinks that we should lay it down as a condition that Abkhazia has to allow Georgian refugees to return to Abkhazia, if it wants us to recognize its independence. Moreover, Russian military troops have to leave the territory of Abkhazia. But Abkhazia sees these conditions as unacceptable.
- So you don't think that recognition of Abkhazian independence is unacceptable?
- Of course, but I think there are no appropriate conditions for it at the moment. If Georgia is ready to recognize their independence, it should take less radical steps toward Abkhazia. The border between Abkhazia and Georgia should be opened, so that any goods produced in the republic can be sold in Georgia. We should let in all vehicles with Abkhaz license plates. We should recognize Abkhazian passports and give them all rights. We should pay them pensions, teach them at our universities, have business with them, and so on. Later we should ask our neighbors – Armenia, Azerbaijan and
Turkey – to let citizens with Abkhazian passports into their countries, as we recognize them.
- There is information that Georgia is blocking exports of some goods, including food products, to Abkhazia. This is causing price rises and a decrease of tourists from Russia.
- If our authorities are trying to ruin the tourist season in Abkhazia, they are stupid. It is impossible to the ruin tourist season in Abkhazia by such methods. They are trying to stifle Abkhazia, instead of integrating with it. Through unreasonable prohibitions we tie them to Russian market.
- Could your suggestion be called a policy of small steps towards a settlement of the conflict?
- I have stood for this policy for several years. After these small steps are taken, positive conditions for a settlement of the conflict will appear.
Interview by Georgy Kalatozishvili, Tbilisi. Exclusively to VK.