Problems relating to documentation in the Gali district
The population of Gali has been facing problems relating to documentation since 2017. As most of them refuse to renounce their Georgian citizenship, they cannot receive the so-called Abkhazian citizenship either. As a result, due to the lack of documents, they have been deprived of political rights, including the right to vote, and have encountered problems in terms of movement as well.
In 2013, the de facto authorities of Abkhazia suspended the issuance of Abkhazian passports to the ethnic Georgian population on the grounds that the process could lead to the "Georgianization of Abkhazia." In 2017, the de facto administration decided to withdraw old Abkhazian passports and replace form No. 9 with a residence permit.
The de facto authorities of Abkhazia made the Georgian population choose between Georgian citizenship and Abkhazian passports.
However, since the majority of the population refused the above choice, the de facto structures gave residence permits to a part of the population of the Gali district in order to prevent a collapse. However, the attempts to win over the ethnic Georgian population has not stopped. The Gali residents have been offered a number of benefits in exchange for renouncing their Georgian citizenship, including the so-called privileges when joining the Murzakhani Abkhazians organization, as well as Russian passports, but in vain.
As far as the Democracy Research Institute DRI) has been informed, currently the target of the de facto authorities are young residents of Gali. On August 27, the head of the de facto administration, Konstantin Pilia, and the de facto deputy defence minister, Oleg Arshba, who were visiting Gali, told young people summoned to the commissariat that in case of serving in the Abkhazian army and refusing to "go to Georgia", they would get Abkhazian passports, enjoy certain privileges in universities and receive Russian passports in the future. To emphasize that the promise was real, on August 30, Abkhazian "passports" were handed over to 30 residents of Gali, who passed compulsory military service in the "Abkhazian Army" in 2010-2020. As far as the DRI is informed, this is an attempt by the de facto administration of Abkhazia to counter strong Georgian influence in the Gali district. However, in all probability, this attempt will also be fruitless. Military service in the "Abkhazian army" does not look attractive due to widespread systemic problems – the practice of extorting money from soldiers and violence against them, as well as ethnic discrimination against the residents of Gali.
The head of the Abkhazian administration in occupied Gali, Konstantin Pilia, also spoke about the issue of passportization in an August 20 interview with Sputnik Abkhazia.
According to him, it is a "catastrophe" that the ethnic Georgians of the district, who constitute the vast majority of the population, do not have the opportunity to get "Abkhazian Passports" or study at the "Abkhazian State University". According to Pilia, this year, only 17 out of 223 schools leavers of the Gali district continued to study at the “Abkhazian State University”, whereas more than half of the Gali budget is spent on education. Pilia also noted that those who have Georgian passports should not hope for Abkhazian citizenship. At the same time, he said that even those who want to renounce Georgian citizenship and obtain "Abkhazian citizenship" cannot do so, as the Ministry of Justice refuses to suspend their Georgian citizenship in exchange for Abkhazian citizenship on the grounds that such a state does not exist. According to Pilia, this issue should be resolved through joint efforts, because "those who sincerely want to be a citizen and a patriot of Abkhazia should be given such a chance."
According to the information available to the DRI, at a closed meeting with teachers on September 1, Gali school principals reprimanded teachers over the fact that only 17 school leavers of the Gali district continued their studies at the “Abkhazian State University”. This figure is particularly alarming for the de facto administration of Abkhazia given the great efforts and resources devoted to reducing Georgian influence in the Gali district. The school principals blamed the poor work of teachers for the result. Unfortunately, this discussion creates grounds to think that pressure on school leavers will continue in the coming years.
Visit paid by the Center for the Protection of Russian Compatriots in Abkhazia to Gali
Representatives of the Russian Center for the Protection of Russian Compatriots in Abkhazia, Elena Zhilinskaya and Albina Topchyan, visited the Gali district a few weeks ago and met with representatives of the Gali administration. It was said at the meeting that the organization will open an office in Gali, where all Russian citizens or persons holding a residence permit in Russia, including Georgian nationals, would be able to enjoy free legal aid, including the services of a lawyer. If the population wishes, they will provide legal assistance in obtaining Russian passports. According to the representatives of the organization, considering the weak judicial system in Abkhazia, their goal is to promote human rights in the region. According to them, the Gali district will have the opportunity to get involved in the Russian public life. To this end, a polling station will be opened in the Gali district for the Russian Duma elections, where citizens will have the opportunity to vote for the party of their choice. Elections will be held on September 19, 2021.
In addition to Gali, polling stations are planned to be opened in Sokhumi, Gagra, Bichvinta, Gudauta, Ochamchire and Tkvarcheli.
Based on the above information, we can assume that Russia is pursuing a policy aimed at increasing the support of the people of Gali towards Russia. Given that the Georgian Government's access to the Georgian population of Gali is extremely limited and that the isolation of the region has increased during the Covid-pandemic, the strengthening of Russia's soft power can be seen as a serious challenge, especially considering that this process has been very intense recently. Such a policy is aimed at increasing pro-Russian sentiments among the Georgian population remaining in Abkhazia, which may be a precondition for deepening and strengthening Russia's annexation of Abkhazia.
In this situation, it is important for the central Government of Georgia to use all the levers and develop special programmes tailored to the needs of the people of Gali, which will ensure the improvement of the rights situation of the local population.
Civil Georgia, 2017, Sokhumi Starts Issuing Residence Permits to Ethnic Georgians, available at: https://old.civil.ge/geo/article.php?id=31225&search=
The head of the Gali district, Konstantin Pilia, spoke about safety, situation of coronavirus, problems relating to passportization, as well as about how to increase the number of tourists, in an interview with Radio Sputnik, available at: https://sputnik-abkhazia.ru/interview/20210820/1033070049/Bezopasnost-ekonomika-i-pasporta-glava-Gala-rasskazal-o-zhizni-rayona.html
Civil Georgia, 2021, Head of the Occupied Gali on the Passportization of Locals, see at: https://civil.ge/ka/archives/438706
Apsnypress, the Center for the Protection of Russian Compatriots in Abkhazia makes an agreement with the Gali leadership about cooperation, available at: https://apsnypress.info/ru/item/4435-tsentr-pravozashchity-rossii-skikh-sootechestvennikov-v-abkhazii- dogovorilsya-s-rukovodstvom-galskogo-rai-ona-o-sotrudnichestve
Apsnypress, 2021, Voting for the Deputies of the Russian Duma to be held in Abkhazia on September 19, available at: https://apsnypress.info/ru/item/4452-golosovanie-po-vyboram-deputatov-gosdumy-rf-budet-prokhodit-v-abkhazii-19-sentyabrya
Democracy Research Institute - Russian Soft Power in Gali?, available at: http://www.democracyresearch.org/geo/569