Abkhazia’s President, Aslan Bzhaniya, has said that the iconic Council of Ministers building in the centre of Sukhumi (Sukhum), which has lain abandoned since the 1990s, could be turned into a luxury hotel.
Speaking to students from Abkhazia in Moscow on 10 October, Bzhaniya stated that an investor had plans to reconstruct the building. His statement was aired on Abkhaz state television, following which an excerpt was widely shared on Abkhaz opposition Telegram channels.
‘Some investors are ready to invest in the reconstruction of the Government House’, Bzhaniya said. ‘An examination has been ordered, and in the coming days, we should receive an answer as to whether this building can be completed, whether we can leave it, or whether we will have to demolish it.'
He added that as there was ‘no need’ to return the building to state use, it would most likely become a hotel ‘of a good level’, with a public square and a monument to Abkhazia's first president, Vladislav Ardzinba, in front of it.
The building was damaged during the war in Abkhazia in the early 1990s and has since lain abandoned.
Reactions from Abkhazian opposition-aligned figures were swift and condemnatory.
Former member of parliament and member of the Aamta Expert Foundation, Natalie Smyr, said this was the latest in a series of privatisaitons of state buildings, citing the port in Alakhadzy, which she said was for sale, and a state dacha in Miusera, which she claimed was being rented out.
‘Can you imagine a monument to the leader of the Abkhaz people in front of a hotel?! Or a Victory Parade in front of a luxury hotel?!’, Smyr asked. ‘Aslan Bzhaniya’s statement is fraught with bad consequences for the people of Abkhazia.’
Temur Gulia, the leader of the Aruaa veterans’ organisation, stated that the government’s attitude to state buildings and infrastructure directly contradicted the constitution, and did not strengthen the independence and recognition that Abkhazia aimed for.
‘The state is not an economic project, investment programme, or a real estate office! The state is the power delegated by the people and political leaders to ensure social well-being and preserve traditions and historical memory’, the organisation said .
The subject was also addressed by photographer and documentarian Ibrahim Chkadua and artist Adgur Dzidzaria in the ‘Broken Hour’ TV programme.
‘They remind me of these hucksters from before’, said Dzidzaria, accusing the government of prioritising investors over public needs.
‘They devour us and scold us for not saying bon appetit. They demand general resignation, submission, and agreement with everything from us so that we don’t think at all’, said Dzidzaria.
Blogger Tengiz Dzhopua similarly accused the government of desecrating a historic building, but laid the blame with those who voted for the current government.
‘For our president, our Council of Ministers is nothing!’, said Dzhopua. ‘He does not see any symbol of the state in it and will not see it. He sees ruins. He looks at all this with different eyes, and I don’t blame him for anything. Why blame him if he was chosen by the people who unexpectedly saw a “symbol” and not “ruins” in him in 2019.’
At a press conference on Thursday, Bzhaniya said nothing would be built on the site without public approval. However, he said the building could not be left in its current state as it posed a public safety risk.
The building has been the tallest in Sukhumi’s city centre since it was constructed in 1985. Since a fire in September 1993, during the last days of the War in Abkhazia, the building has not been repaired. While one of the side wings is used by government agencies, the main building has not been in use for 30 years.
The square in front of the Council of Ministers building is frequently used as the site of military parades and rallies, and there are plans to erect a monument to Vladislav Ardzinba on a pedestal at the centre of the square.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.