Letters

Sitting in Limbo

The government of Abkhazia and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization take issue with Graeme Wood's "Limbo World."

After spending only a few days in our country, Graeme Wood ("Limbo World," January/February 2010) dismissed Abkhazia as a "fake" country filled with "functionaries in neckties" whose language is a "linguistic freak show." Wood's flippant tone shows a lack of respect for our people and history. His misrepresentation of Abkhazia, past and present, is disappointing and discouraging.

On Dec. 12, in a turnout of 73 percent, 100,740 Abkhazians cast votes for a chief executive. President Sergei Bagapsh was re-elected with 59.4 percent of the vote in a vigorously contested race, declared fair and free of fraud by both international observers and local NGOs.

This is the third presidential election my country has held since gaining independence from Georgia in a bloody war 16 years ago. Despite ongoing hostilities from our larger neighbor, Abkhazia is rebuilding its war-damaged schools and hospitals and rewriting laws to meet international standards.

We are expanding relations with countries such as Russia and Turkey, modernizing our tourism industry so that visitors to the 2014 Sochi Olympics can enjoy our beaches, and rebuilding libraries so the next generation has the historical understanding to avoid past mistakes.

I do agree with Wood on one point: The post-Cold War world has not devised a satisfactory method for determining a country's legitimacy.

Still, while the justices at the International Court of Justice in The Hague debate the legitimate markers of statehood, Abkhazia's people are building a country. Like the founders of the United States, Abkhazians have sacrificed their lives and livelihoods for independence and understand that the mantle of nationhood is earned. We cherish that opportunity. We hope that someday Wood will return to our country with an open mind and a willingness to see what we are creating: one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

—Nadir Bitiev
Deputy Official Representative to the President of the Republic of Abkhazia
Sukhum, Abkhazia

 

We welcome Graeme Wood's analysis of so-called "limbo" states, but fear that it will remain little more than an enjoyable series of colorful pen-pictures. His references to "fake countries" and "wannabe states" are intended to be wry, but undermine the significant role played by what are more accurately described as "de facto states."

The very real contribution that de facto states make to good governance and democracy, both regionally and within their own territories, goes beyond mass production of miniature desk flags. The glib description of Somalilanders doing "quite a bit of dying for their land and for their spaghetti" does not progress our understanding, but worse, risks reinforcing false perceptions.

It's disappointing that little attention is devoted to the fact that many de facto states enjoy more vibrant democracies and accountable institutions than many U.N. member states. It fell to Maxim Gundjia, Abkhazia's deputy foreign minister, to make this point in the article, referring to the quality of life in Afghanistan.

We must ask why there is such reluctance, in a globalized world, to open the United Nations beyond its current 192 states. It is, after all, a community of nations, and to do so would be to democratize the international system.

Wood's article adds to the growing corpus of articles and study into de facto states, and we hope it will not be his last on the subject. We might have hoped that it would dwell on newer ground, but it is nevertheless important in ensuring that debate about the future global system does not remain in a state of limbo itself.

—Marino Busdachin
General Secretary
Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
The Hague, The Netherlands

 

Graeme Wood replies:

Nadir Bitiev and Marino Busdachin wish that I took limbo states more seriously. I assure them that I regularly treat more established states with equal or greater insouciance in my writing and that in my experience the ability to welcome gentle ribbing is a mark of a country that has arrived.

I must correct one false impression. Bitiev assumes my description of the Abkhaz language as a "linguistic freak show" is snide, when in fact the vice here is jealousy. I wish I spoke a language as eccentric as his own. Abkhaz (which, incidentally, has produced a rich literature, some of it available in translation) has 67 consonants and only one vowel, giving it one of the most skewed ratios of any tongue.

Like many limbo states, Abkhazia was born in a moment of ethnic conflict, in this case related to Abkhazians' understandable fear that they would occupy a second-class status in Georgia. Part of ethnic pride is linguistic pride, so I can understand tetchiness on this point. But I would encourage Abkhazians to embrace the oddity of their language, as I have in my so far unsuccessful attempts to learn it.

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