Survey: Attitude of young Georgians towards Abkhaz-Georgian relations
A generation of young Georgian students at the Tbilisi State University consider Georgian-Abkhaz relations an important issue. A vast majority of them recognise Abkhazia as an integral part of Georgia.
On February 8, 2018 the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (TSU) celebrated its centenary. TSU, the oldest university in the Caucasus region, was established in 1918 by its patron Ivane Javakhishvili, a Georgian historian and academician. Abkhazians are also enrolling in TSU. During the 2015-2016 academic year they were among 396 students (along with students from Azerbaijan and Armenia) attending the Georgian language learning program. There is also a number of ethnic Georgians from the Gali District of Abkhazia who are students at TSU.
According to the findings of the survey, which was a part of an academic research project carried out mainly among the TSU students in the Autumn of 2015, 90 per cent of respondents did not recognise Abkhazia as an independent state. In contrast, only about 3 per cent believed that it was. The survey set out to identify the way in which the younger generation living in Georgia perceive Abkhazia and Georgian-Abkhaz relations. A total of 102 individuals participated in the survey, of whom over 60 per cent were female. The largest number of respondents (76 per cent) was in the age group 19-25, and 20 per cent of the participants were under 18 years of age.
The vast majority of respondents (79 per cent) reported that they consider Abkhazia to be an integral part of Georgia. Just over half of the participants perceived Abkhazia as a friendly or rather friendly place, whereas 13 per cent of the respondents expressed the opposite opinion. Interestingly, the three most chosen options to the question: ”What comes to your mind when you hear the word ’Abkhazia’ were, respectively: “Conflict”, “common history” and “breakaway territory”. Equally interesting were the respondents’ own answers. These include: “Georgia’s lost territory”, “Motherland”, “part of my country, part of me” or “problem that needs to be solved”. As many as 89 per cent of all respondents admitted that Georgia-Abkhaz relations are very important.
The survey revealed that 47 per cent of the respondents supported the implementation of aid programs by the Georgian government for Abkhaz people, while 16 per cent of people referred to this issue negatively. Nearly half of the respondents perceived Abkhazia as a threat to Georgia’s stability and territorial integrity. Almost two times fewer people presented the opposite opinion. A large number of respondents (71 per cent) did not contact people living in Abkhazia. As many as 80 per cent of the respondents were of the opinion that Abkhazia should return under Georgia’s sovereignty. Only 3 per cent of the participants presented an opposite point of view.
The rather positive attitude of young Georgians towards relations with Abkhazia are not reciprocated by the Abkkhazians. Among the younger generation of Abkhazians, who have grown up in the post-war era, there are many for whom the memory of conflict still evokes hostile attitude towards Georgia. Some of the Abkhazian State University’s (ASU) students exclude the possibility of any friendly relations with ethnic Georgians. Liana Kvarcheliya, Deputy Director ot the Sukhumi-based Centre for Humanitarian Programmes, notices that Abkhaz youth grew up among the ruins of the conflict. Almost every family in the region had lost at least one of its members during the 1992-1993 war. It appears that not many in Abkhazia truly believe that relations with Georgia will be restored.
A related point to consider is the generational change that is already taking place in Abkhazia. The economic and political situation in this breakaway territory could potentially create a crisis. This situation, however, is unrelated to with Russia’s declining financial support to Abkhazia. This has resulted in growing dissatisfaction among the young towards with the failing state systems. The first and the second post-conflict generations often have very poor education and, to a great extent, they have no idea of how their country should function best. However, Abkhazia had the largest number of students interested in study abroad programs that are offered to them by Western educational institutions. As a result, young Abkhazians have the opportunity to experience the world outside and the higher standard of living as well as see how civil society functions.
Abkhaz people prefer to remain skeptical about relations with Georgia. Even though the collective memory of the war is still popular among the generation of young Abkhazians, there are people who simply want to live a happy life, with functioning hospitals, police and social system, just like their peers in Georgia who are more optimistic about future Abkhaz-Georgian relations.
Agnieszka Tomczyk is a PhD candidate in the Department of Eastern Studies at the University of Warsaw.