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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nice Abkhaz Anthem But a Useless Passport

Valery Chkadua walked into the living room of a scruffy third-floor apartment, sat down before the keyboard of his grand piano and began to play.

The portentous melody of Abkhazia’s national anthem rang out forcefully despite the fact that the old piano was desperately out of tune. Chkadua, its composer, wrote it just after Russia backed Abkhazia’s war to break away from Georgia in the 1990s. “I wrote this music here, in this room,” he said. “It was cold then and dark. There was no heating or electricity.”

The national anthem is one of the symbols of what the Abkhaz would like to see as their statehood, along with their flag and their passports (although Abkhaz passports are not valid for travel anywhere in the world and those who want to go abroad use Russian passports).

According to many people in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, last weekend’s presidential election was another nation-building exercise — a step toward the creation of an independent, democratic state. Georgia, of course, has denounced the vote as a Russian-

sponsored farce.

But the presidential election is unlikely to bring significant changes to Abkhazia. Although Sergei Bagapsh was re-elected, all five candidates had stressed that they wanted to strengthen ties with Russia, which now controls Abkhazia’s borders and is building military bases for the thousands of soldiers it has stationed here.

“This is not really about Abkhazia. It’s about a resurgent Russia trying to restore its influence in the former Soviet Union and push back the West by advancing its troops toward Western-backed Georgia,” said one foreign journalist who was covering the vote. “Abkhazia is just a frontline garrison for the Russians.”

There’s no doubt that many Abkhaz worry that they might be swallowed up by their huge northern neighbor. But it’s a risk that they’re willing to take. “We want to thank Russia!” one voter exclaimed when I asked him about the issue. “Without Russia, we could not survive.”

Chkadua told me that he felt the same. “Such a great country and its big army is protecting us, and it will not let anyone threaten us,” he said.

Chkadua also believes that the presidential election won’t change much in Abkhazia. “This election is not so significant since Abkhazia has already chosen its path,” he explained. “No matter who is elected, nothing will change.”

Matthew Collin is a journalist based in Tbilisi.