Clientalism and Nationality in an Early Soviet Fiefdom
The Trials of Nestor Lakoba
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Based on extensive original research, this book tells the astonishing story of early Soviet Abkhazia and of its leader, the charismatic Bolshevik revolutionary Nestor Lakoba. A tiny republic on the Black Sea coast of the USSR, Abkhazia became a vacation retreat for Party leaders and a major producer of tobacco. Nestor Lakoba became the unquestioned boss of Abkhazia, constructing a powerful local ethnic "machine" that became an influential component of Soviet patronage politics, engaging along the way in nepotism, corruption, blood feuds, embezzlement, racketeering, and extrajudicial murder on a scale that shocked even hardened Communist Party investigators. Lakoba and his group faced a series of trials, investigatory commissions, and tribunals over allegations of malfeasance, yet they were repeatedly able to convince their powerful patrons of their irreplaceability, until at last they were destroyed through a public show trial during the peak of the Stalinist Terror. Through the prism of tiny Abkhazia, this book provides invaluable insights into the nature of the early Soviet system and the governance of Soviet national republics.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction 2. “Kiaraz” and the Formation of an Early Soviet Leadership Cohort 3. Consolidating Leadership in Soviet Abkhazia 4. The “Rif Revolt” 5. Patronage, Nationality, and Tsebelda Tobacco 6. The Mirzabekyan Commission, 1928-1929 7. The Deluge, 1929-1930 8. The 1930s and Changing Circumstances 9. Lakoba’s Last Trial 10. Conclusion
Timothy Blauvelt is a Professor of Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies at Ilia State University, Tbilisi, Georgia
The achievement in this extraordinary book is the telling of an important story that has been obscured or avoided in earlier historical accounts. Blauvelt has recovered a lost history and written a new narrative against existing narratives, particularly nationalistic ones, that integrates the Abkhaz story into the broader Georgian, Caucasian, and Soviet stories. What looks like a micro-history of a small republic becomes here a deep dive into Soviet nationality policy and the fate of non-Russian peoples in the USSR that gives us greater immediacy and intimacy than we have had before. The Abkhazia case demonstrates how ethnicity was used to consolidate local control and build a patronage network so that a small people might survive in the fierce competition with stronger neighbors. - Ron Suny, University of Michigan