Saturday, January 17, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Abkhaz Stamps No Longer a Laughing Matter

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 17 – A decade ago, Abkhazia issued a stamp in honor of Marx (Groucho not Karl) and Lennon (John not Vladimir) to attract attention and earn money even though no one recognized it or the stamps as legitimate. But now, that breakaway republic is attempting to issue real stamps, a move to which Tbilisi strongly objects and one that is thus not a laughing matter at all.
Since unilaterally declaring its independence in 1993, Abkhazia has issued more than 200 different stamps – including the Marx-Lennon commemorative – but except for stamp collectors, these stamps could not be used in the mails since the IPU did not them as valid issues ( marx-lennon stamp set 1995 and\Abkhazia).
Now that Abkhazia has been recognized as independent by the Russian Federation and Nicaragua and in the hopes that other countries will follow suit, Sukhumi has issued a new series featuring, among other things, a map of Abkhazia in the 8th century when it was much larger, Russian peacekeepers and a commemorative on the 15th anniversary of Abkhaz independence.
Eduard Piliya, the general director of the Abkhazsvyaz State Corporation, told this week that the stamps, which were printed in the Russian Federation, have attracted a great deal of attention but still primarily among collectors because even Moscow does not recognize them as true postal issues (
The stamps are valid within Abkhazia, he continued, but he expressed the hope that there would soon be an agreement that would allow Abkhazians to send them to addresses in Russia and perhaps elsewhere. Ultimately, of course, for the stamps to become generally recognized, they will have to be recognized by the IPU, something unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Not surprisingly, Georgian officials are outraged by this latest Abkhaz move. Tbilisi’s Ministry for Economic Development put out a statement today saying that “Abkhazia does not have the right to the publication of its own postage stamps without the agreement of the postal authorities of Georgia” (
Because Abkhazia not secured such an agreement, it continued, “these postal stamps do not have any legal force.” And Tbilisi is confident that it will win this battle at least legally: IPU rules explicitly state that only the postal administration of a member country can issue recognized postage stamps. Any other issues are put on the IPU’s “’black list.’”
The situation with respect to the appearance of stamps in South Ossetia is somewhat murkier. On the one hand, that breakaway republic has issued stamps of its own since 1995, although no one has recognized them ( and\South%20Ossetia).
But more important perhaps is the following: For most of the last decade, South Ossetia has recognized and put its own cancellation marks on Soviet-era stamps, something that made these “survivals of the past” enormously attractive to collectors and hence a significant source of income for Tskhinvali. Whether South Ossetia will give that cash cow up now is thus uncertain.

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