Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Closed Facebook Pages Helped Abkhaz Opposition Bring Down Ankvab

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 3 – Closed forums on Facebook helped the Abkhazian opposition organize and ultimately bring down former republic president Aleksandr Ankvab, according to Islam Tekushev, editor of the Prague-based “Caucasus Times” and a widely cited authority on the politics of the North Caucasus.

            Many commentators have pointed to the role of social media in general in recent political turmoil in the Middle East and elsewhere, but Tekushev’s observation about the role of closed forums “in the exchange of information and the coordination of the actions” of the opposition points to a still-neglected aspect of this trend (caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=21291).

            “From the very beginning,” he writes, “the conflict between the ruling elites and society  [in Abkhazia] existed in the virtual world, particularly on Facebook pages” where “the opposition and the people discussed urgent problems and the actions of the leadership of the republic.”

            As a result, Tekushev says, “the social networks became a platform for the discussion of a broad range of problems, including passportization, the lack of transparency in the process of distribution of money flows from Russia, and much else.” In this sense, then, the Abkhaz events fit within the parameters of the color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia and the Arab Spring.

            But he also points to two specific aspects of Abkhazian society which made closed Facebook pages more important and shaped the outcome of the rising: the relatively small political base of Ankvab, and the tradition in Abkhaz society of “resolving domestic conflicts” by peaceful means, including intense discussions.

            Consequently, it would likely be a mistake to extrapolate what happened in Abkhazia to many other societies. But because of what happened there, it would be an even greater mistake not to pay attention to social media in general, Facebook pages in particular, and closed – that is, approved membership – Facebook pages in particular.

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