Portfolio - Abkhazia
In Soviet days, Abkhazia was one of the USSR's premier beach resorts, attracting the most well-connected apparatchiks and quota-fulfilling factory directors to a coastline known as the Riviera of the Caucasus. Lying in the northwest corner of the former Soviet republic of Georgia on a mountainous stretch of Black Sea coastline, it is the homeland of about 100,000 ethnic Abkhaz.
Just as Georgia seceded from the Soviet Union during the Soviet collapse, Abkhazia broke away from Georgia itself in 1992. The two parties fought a brief but very bloody war, in which more than 10,000 people were killed. In the end, with the help of people like Shamil Basayev, the now-notorious Chechen rebel chief (who was killed by Russian security forces during the summer 2006), the separatists won the war, and nearly all the several hundred thousand ethnic Georgians fled or were deported from Abkhazia.
Although Abkhazia has now enjoyed 12 years of de facto independence, and has their own military, police force, border services, president and constitution, no other country recognizes their existence. The country remains half-abandoned and derelict, with still-open war wounds and shell-damaged buildings everywhere. But all the same, its Black Sea beach resorts attract a motley crew of vacationing Russians seeking discount deals. They are not the first to enjoy what Abkhazia has on offer - both Josef Stalin and infamous KGB chief Lavrenti Beria kept dachas of their own in Abkhazia. Today, characters such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the pungent Russian nationalist who's called for a reunification of the USSR by force, also favor Abkhazia.
Today, the republic is unofficially under the protection of Russia, who supports Abkhazia as a beachhead against a growing Europe and the pro-western leanings of Georgia and the now-common liberal 'velvet, 'rose', and 'lemon' revolutions that have rocked the former USSR. Lingering in a half-way house between a Caucasian war zone and a banana republic Spring Break, Abkhazia never quite made it into the new world order, while also losing all the certainties of the USSR era.