The politics of non-recognition in the context of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict


The politics of non-recognition in the context of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict

This publication is the third in a series of ‘Dialogue through Research’ reports produced by Georgian and Abkhaz experts. The reports seek to shed new light on the conflict and to stimulate a different way of thinking about conflict-related issues.

As the conflict dynamic changes, whether on a political or social level, so too does the discourse on the conflict, with new topical issues coming to the surface at dialogue meetings. International Alert provides a platform for researchers – representatives of civil society – to voice these issues, analyse them, exchange opinions with the other side, and stimulate public debate within their own societies on alternative approaches to conflict transformation.

For its part, Alert does not take a position on the issues – by maintaining strict impartiality towards the ideas voiced and the various proposals and recommendations made, this allows the space for a much broader spectrum of opinions to be aired. The collegial process by which the dialogue participants develop the research questions is an important part of the process of producing a shared product – a joint publication – which is considered to be a valuable component of this Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue, with a strong potential to influence.

The first publication in this series, released in September 2009, was entitled Dialogue on Security Guarantees in the Context of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict. This publication considered the separate analyses of both Georgian and Abkhaz civil society experts on the need for security guarantees, along with the reasons why the sides have been unable to agree on them, as well as barriers and opportunities for future agreements.

The second collection of papers on International Engagement in the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict Resolution Process, published in May 2010, considered the consequences of the closure of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the potential for the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) to assume their role. The papers also assessed the impact of non-governmental peacebuilding initiatives and the effectiveness of the ‘Geneva discussions’ co-facilitated by the UN, the EU and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as well as exploring prospects for Abkhaz engagement with the international community.

Together, the papers present a powerful argument for continued international presence in Abkhazia and for direct and impartial engagement by both governmental and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). However, the papers also pointed to the fragility of the status quo for both sides. This prompted researchers to want to look more in-depth into the sustainability of the status quo, including the sustainability of that cornerstone of international policy – the policy of ‘non-recognition’.

The issue of the ‘recognition’ or ‘non-recognition’ of Abkhazia was one of the first themes to be tabled at the beginning of this ‘Dialogue through Research’ process in May 2008 – even before the tragic war of August the same year and the subsequent unilateral recognition by Russia of both Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence. Until then, and indeed ever since, the policy of ‘non-recognition’ – based on the principle of territorial integrity – has remained the cornerstone of Georgian and Western policy towards the resolution of the two conflicts.

Generally, civil dialogue processes tended to avoid the hot issue of political ‘status’ that had driven the official peace process into the ground, focusing mainly on ‘human security’ issues and areas of ‘common interest’. However, after August 2008, the dialogue participants themselves felt they needed to reassess the ‘new political realities’.