And now for something completely different...

This rather lurid set of stamps probably requires some explanation.


After the Soviet Union fell apart, the former Soviet republic of Georgia, like all the other ones, declared itself independent. However, several autonomous regions within Georgia soon declared themselves in turn independent from Georgia: South-Ossetia and Abkhazia. In both cases, violent conflict ensued, but the Georgian attempt to retake the territories failed in the face of massive Russian military support to the break-away regions.


Abkhazia in particular, which has remained de facto independent from Georgia ever since, has depended on Russia for its existence. Ethnic Abkhazians only made up about 1/6th of the population of the territory before, but most of the ethnic Georgians, who had made up almost half the population, fled or were expelled during and after the war. The only countries other than Russia that now recognize the territory's independence are Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, and Tuvalu and Vanuatu.


As you may guess, Georgians tend to love the U.S., seeing America as useful counterweight against Russian influence. Abkhazians, as this set of Abkhazian-issued stamps illustrate, are not such fans.


This set of stamps must have been issued sometime in the mid-90s, at the height of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. I bought it in St. Petersburg in 1995. The cyrillic text says "Respublika Abkhazia".




OK, this is a little sad. A submission of this image on a social bookmarking site got it 18,000+ votes - the power of social media, eh! - but also the attention of some keen fact--checking eyes. And as one of the commenters there points out, "Sorry, but the Monica scandal broke after 1995... In January of 1998 to be exact." A quick check on Wikipedia proves this right.


The commenter concluded that the image is "either fake or OP doesn't remember when he was in Russia." Well, the image isn't fake - they're actual stamps - I scanned these in just last week, after having kept them for many years. But what it does mean is that I can not have bought these stamps in St. Petersburg when I was there that year.


Wish is sad, because I swear I bought them there. It was a good memory too, finding them in some stall on my one stay in Russia, maybe on the Nevsky Prospekt - but obviously, a false memory.


I have no idea where I got my hands on these, then. I've travelled around Eastern Europe a fair bit, though never again in the former Soviet Union, so I guess it could have been anywhere - not even necessarily in Eastern Europe.




More eagle-eyed fact-checking by commenters on that site: "The word "Abkhazia" in written in Abkhaz (should be Apsny) is spelled wrong. The second and third letters here don't exist in Abkhaz and should actually be one letter -- something more like a pi with a tail. Nifty, but alllll sorts of fake Soviet and post-Soviet memorabilia can be had". So were these stamps fakes in the first place?


Maybe not - the plot thickens. Someone else linked to a very nerdy webpage which reproduces a letter from the Assistant Director-General of the Universal Postal Union from 1999, passing on a predictably offended message from the Ministry of Posts and Communications of Georgia. (As you can imagine, Georgia is rather allergic to any kind of assertion that such a thing as an independent Republic of Abkhazia legally exists).


"The Ministry of Posts and Communications of GEORGIA asks me to inform you of the following," wrote the Assistant Director-General: "The so-called Republic of Abkhazia and Republic of South Ossetia continue to issue postage stamps. Those to have just appeared are stamps bearing the inscription 'Republic of Abkhazia' in Russian and Abkhazian and a caricature of President Clinton and Ms Lewinsky, and stamps bearing the words 'Batumi Post' in Georgian, Russian and English. [..]


"The Ministry of Posts and Communications of Georgia [..] states that, as Abkhazia and South Ossetia form an integral part of the Republic of Georgia, all postage stamps bearing the words 'Republic of Abkhazia', 'Republic of South Ossetia' and 'Batumi Post' are illegal and cannot be used as a method of payment."


So that letter indicates that at least the Georgian authorities believed that the Republic of Abkhazia did indeed issue this set of stamps, if illegally so.


OK, that's enough going down the rabbit hole for the day.

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Taken on April 16, 2012