Breakaway republics in the former Soviet Union live to see another year


03.01.07
MOSCOW. (Alexei Makarkin for RIA Novosti) - In the outgoing year, Russia-oriented self-proclaimed states on post-Soviet territory - Transdnestr, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia have not only survived as proto-state formations, but have also received a fresh impetus for their development.
Each of them conducted public votes, designed to legitimize their status and confirm their viability.
Transdnestr coped with a customs blockade, which was staged by the coalition of Moldova and Orange Ukraine. During half a year, the republic was sustaining enormous losses until Viktor Yanukovich's government came to power in Ukraine. The new Prime Minister has a favorable attitude to Tiraspol (Transdnestr Ukrainians traditionally vote for his Party of Regions).
The initiators of the blockade hoped that Tiraspol would make concessions, and that the local elites would split into the advocates and opponents of compromise. But their hopes did not materialize - the referendum in the republic gave unreserved support for the independence course of the Transdnestr leaders, and the elites consolidated around President Igor Smirnov, whose position grew even stronger, considering that at one time his supporters had lost the parliamentary elections. At the end of this year, Smirnov was re-elected for a new term without a problem.
A referendum on independence in South Ossetia had the same outcome. It was timed to coincide with the presidential elections, which produced the expected results, and brought Eduard Kokoity to power. Former Georgian defense minister Irakly Okruashvili once boasted about his intention to celebrate the New Year in Tskhinvali, South Ossetian capital, which was interpreted as evidence of Tbilisi's aggressive intentions. Now he has retired, while the Kokoity regime has gained a firm foothold in Tskhinvali.
As distinct from Transdnestr, there was a split in the local elites, but it did not have any dramatic consequences. To the contrary, the opposition hugely discredited itself in the eyes of their compatriots by appealing for help to Georgia, and taking part in "alternative" presidential elections in South Ossetia (held in Tbilisi-controlled Georgian villages). Okruashvili's threats and Tbilisi's tactical games with the opposition have made the Tskhinvali regime more authoritarian.
Although Abkhazia did not hold either a referendum or elections in 2006, its people had a chance of making their voices heard at a republican people's assembly, organized by influential parties and public organizations. Participants voted for an appeal to Russia to recognize Abkhazia's independence, and establish associated relations with it. "All attempts to return Abkhazia to Georgia's jurisdiction are totally hopeless," the assembly document read.
In the middle of the year, Georgia tried to exert pressure on Abkhazia by bringing its troops to adjacent Svanetia. As a result, President Sergei Bagapsh said that his republic was ready to hold a referendum like South Ossetia did, all the more so since it conducted republican voting in 1999. When Bagapsh won the presidential elections, some considered him an all but Tbilisi stooge. However, this view was not buttressed in the outgoing year - together with the entire Abkhazian elite, Bagapsh advocates the independence of his republic.
Attempts by the former "metropolitan" countries (Georgia and Moldova) to exert economic, political, and military pressure on the breakaway republics has produced the reverse effect, and impeded political democratization there. In Transdnestr, for one, Smirnov's rivals abstained from the elections not to help Chisinau by splitting the local political elite.
Regress is also obvious in South Ossetia, where the past presidential elections were held in the atmosphere of acute rivalry, and led to the change of presidents (this was when Kokoity prevailed over his predecessor Lyudvig Chibirov).
Abkhazia is the only exception that proves the rule. It is the strongest breakaway country both politically and militarily. Having ensured its security, it can afford a higher level of plurality.
Rotation of leaders and parties is a classic sign of democracy, but the permanent outside threat compels the majority of the elites and the population to suspend democratic reforms until better times. In the outgoing year, the self-proclaimed republics were like besieged fortresses, which is not conducive to political plurality. It is clear that only renunciation of pressure may gradually turn them into more open societies, which would be capable of evolving into democracies.
Alexei Makarkin is an expert at the Center of Political Technologies. -0-