Over 350 Abkhaz activists and ordinary citizens have petitioned against the forthcoming law on foreign agents, pushed by Moscow through its 2020 deal with Sokhimi on common socio-economic program.
The starkly-worded petition, addressed to Kremlin-backed Abkhaz leader Aslan Bzhania, ‘prime minister’ Alexander Ankvab and speaker Valery Kvarchia, said Russian-style “category of ‘foreign agent’ is a false and propaganda cliché and if adopted, the ‘law on foreign agents” will become a repressive tool.”
The signatories asserted that its adoption would revive Soviet-era “ideological schemes of the totalitarian past, in which the principle of collective guilt was used against the unwanted, when on formal grounds entire social groups were classified as unreliable.”
In their petition, the Abkhaz activists stressed that the adoption of the law, even in milder version, would “inevitably lead to the liquidation of the non-governmental sector, since employees of civil organizations… will not live one day with the slanderous ‘foreign agent’ label.”
Noting that regulation of the work of civil society organizations is an internal Abkhaz matter that goes beyond the scope of “inter-state” relations between Moscow and Sokhumi, the signatories said the bill will cause irreparable damage to both Abkhaz CSOs, as well as democratic functioning of Abkhazia.
“Considering that the idea of adopting a “law on foreign agents NGOs” is being promoted despite the acknowledged important role of the civil sector, it should be concluded that this agenda is largely caused by misjudging the role of NGOs in connection with the geopolitical situation,” the petition stressed.
Highlighting the importance of their work with international organizations, including UN agencies, the signatories said the criterion for determining the acceptability and usefulness of their work “should not be international sources of funding (which are always transparent), but the extent to which NGO activities serve the real interests of society, meet their needs, promote the basic principles and values enshrined in our constitution.”
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The signatories further asserted that the relations between the authorities and CSOs in Abkhazia should continue to be based on traditions, the national mentality of the Abkhaz people, internal dialogue and consensus, not defined by the agreements with Moscow.
Abkhaz activists also noted that the move would strengthen “the false Georgian thesis of “occupation”, which is consistently and not without success fought by representatives of Abkhaz NGOs, using influential international platforms.”
The signatories of the letter have also recalled that NGOs remain “one of the few channels of communication with the international community, which should not be cut off, given that Abkhazia seeks broader international recognition.”
The petition came as Russian Justice Minister and his counterpart from occupied Abkhazia have signed a memorandum on cooperation in the field of harmonization of the legal regulation of non-profit organizations and foreign agents, in line with the common socio-economic program adopted in late 2020.
Some of the signatories include Natella Akaba, political scientist who in 2020 was appointed as the head of Abkhaz constitutional reform commission, Arda Inal-Ipa of the Center for Humanitarian Programs, Alkhas Tkhagushev of Inva-Assistance, Batal Kobakhia, former lawmaker and Abkhaz-Georgian war veteran, and Vakhtang Ubiria (ethnic Georgian) from the Generation in Action.