Reviews

One of the subtlest and most innovative historians of the Soviet period in the Caucasus, T. Blauvelt endeavours to raise the veil on the role played by Abkhazia, as a vast holiday resort for Party élites, in the construction and functioning of political networks by mutually concurrent Abkhazian and Georgian political leaders in the Stalin era. The author notably shows how Abkhazia was used by the centre, since the beginning of the Soviet period, as a restraint upon Georgia. Later on Abkhazia’s status as a resort paradise provided direct access to high-level élites to Abkhazian leaders, who were able to form extensive patronage networks. T. Blauvelt demonstrates how Beria’s network in Abkhazia was crucial to the control of his power base in the Georgian SSR as a whole. He also casts light on how Akakii Mgeladze’s own Abkhazia-based network became a tool in Stalin’s hand, notably in denying Beria’s control of Abkhazia. The article also shows how Nestor Lakoba’s strong political base in Abkhazia had allowed him to forestall the implementation of collectivisation, bringing Beria to his assassination, and Stalin to try hard to smash regional patronage as a whole. A feature inherent to the Soviet institutional system, these personal networks popped up again after the dictator’s death. On one side, Abkhaz intellectuals and public activists continued to appeal to central élites bypassing the republican leadership, enjoying access to the central élites during the latter’s visits to the Black Sea littoral. On the other side, Georgian élites endeavoured to restrict the access of Abkhaz élites to advancement at the all-Georgian level. Casting light on the absence of conscious contradiction between the disposal of strong regional footholds, ethnic nationalist instincts, and ardent Stalinism in a figure like Mgeladze, T. Blauvelt exposes one of the key features of the Soviet political élite in general, and unveils a long ignored or caricatured informal peculiarity of the Soviet institutions.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-3.3.D-222