Karolina Stefańczak

Vintage politics

I’m often being asked by my friends – what is so special about Abkhazia? Why do you keep on returning there? Is it so much different from the other places you visit? Is it really worth walking through the Ingur/i river bridge or – even worse – using the horse carriage to get there?

For those, who know me well, it’s enough to say in response: the Abkhaz are very political and politicised and the outside world knows little about it;  the Abkhazians’ “side of the story” is little heard of in Western Europe, the nature is beautiful there, the weather wonderful and the wine even better.

But there is more to it than just Abkhaz internal politics being very dynamic. It’s the development of the political culture which is so interesting, respectful and unique. In the last year my husband and I have followed the election campaigns of Alexander Ankvab, Raul Khadjimba and Sergey Shamba as well as those of the dozens of candidates to the People’s Assembly. I was positively surprised at how open everybody was with me, how warmly I was welcomed by each of the campaign teams and how much information everybody was willing to share with me. The intensity of public meetings, the bluntness of questions addressed to the candidates and the small amount of time the voters dedicated to the external relations, concentrating instead on local issues like jobs, kindergartens, pensions and health care, was also a source of amazement for me. Unlike what most outsiders think –Abkhaz residents spare little time to discuss their international situation, interactions with Georgia or the EU countries. But in the weeks I had spent with Abkhaz politicians and their electorate, I had learned a lot about the production of tangerines and the growth of various breeds of grapevines.

The grapes and the wine made from them have to be mentioned separately. There is something about the flavour, the smell, and the colour that gives them a unique, inimitable taste.

Nothing is more agreeable than an intensive discussion on Abkhaz internal politics over a glass (or more) of Lykhny.

Karolina Stefańczak
Political consultant, PhD candidate Dublin City University, IRELAND

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