Ethnic politics and nationalities policy in post-conflict Georgia

Rusiko Amirejibi-Mullen r.amirejibi-mullen at
Wed Jul 16 10:01:29 UTC 2008

paper: Filling the void: Ethnic politics and nationalities policy in  
post-conflict Georgia
Laurence Broers
Nationalities Papers, 36(2):275?304, 2008

Of all the post-Soviet states, the challenge of managing ethnic  
diversity has perhaps been the most problematic in Georgia. Following  
the secessions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the early 1990s,  
Georgia has recent experience not only of the radicalization of ethnic  
relations but also of defeat in violent ethnic conflict. Current  
debates surrounding the conceptualization and management of ethnic  
diversity are thus inseparable from urgent questions concerning the  
future of the Georgian state, and explanations of the conflicts and  
questions of power and domination. Perceptions of the issue are  
further overshadowed by memories of the chauvinist rhetoric and  
illiberal policies of the early phase of sovereignty under President  
Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Abroad, perceptions of Georgia as a ?micro-empire?  
continue to be fuelled by references to the Gamsakhurdia era, above  
all in the Russian press, and short-sighted recourse in Western  
sources to theories of ?ancient hatreds.? Defeat also means that  
contrary to demographic evidence of a proportional expansion of the  
ethnic Georgian population, independence has not imparted to the  
Georgian majority a sense of security associated with majority status.  
As a result of Georgia?s apparent inability to influence outcomes in  
either the peace processes or internal developments in the seceded  
territories, and the decline in the Georgian population in real terms,  
the attainment of sovereignty has not allayed Georgian fears of either  
permanent territorial fragmentation or ethnic ?degradation.? Georgians  
consequently approach issues of majority?minority relations from a  
position of perceived weakness, coupled with as yet unfulfilled  
?post-colonial? desires for Georgianization.

The fragmented nature of the ethnic issue is made more complicated by  
the fact that the policy-making environment over the first decade of  
independence was less coherent than in many other post-Soviet  
republics. Ethnic policy must be simultaneously compatible with  
interethnic relations within the rump Georgian state, the predominant  
current concern, and with any reintegration of ?lost? territories, a  
problem for the future. The fact that these two realms are defined by  
different conditions and local realities is a major obstacle to the  
formulation of a unified or coherent policy. As a result of military  
defeat, territorial fragmentation and the resulting economic  
constraints (but not only for these reasons), the Georgian state is,  
emphatically, a weak one. Consequent features of the policy-making  
process are its tactical, rather than strategic, nature and the  
absence of formal objectives or generally agreed positions. For  
example, it was only in 2004, some 13 years after independence, that a  
formal policy concept for managing ethnic diversity was produced by  
the Civic Integration Committee of the Georgian parliament.

Furthermore, a key resource for the fledgling Georgian state has been  
international aid, which imposes a certain conditionality on its  
policy output. Policy is often produced in relation to the conditions  
and expectations of external donors, and not as a result of negotiated  
outcomes with domestic constituencies. In the absence of generally  
agreed terms or goals, the issue continues to be dominated by  
dispersed, often mutually incompatible, positions emanating from state  
agencies, other domestic political actors, external actors, the  
academic community and constituencies in wider Georgian society. In  
the light of these conflicting agendas, actual policy output has been  
dominated by inertia and modified borrowings from the Soviet  
ideological and institutional toolkit for managing ethnic difference.  
Collectively, these factors make the management of ethnic diversity in  
Georgia both urgent and intractable, a contradiction reflected in the  
policy impasse characterizing this field.

The ?Rose Revolution? of 2003 brought a new dynamism to ethnic issues,  
although not necessarily in a positive sense. Although the Rose  
Revolution was motivated more by desires for social justice than  
resolution of Georgia?s conflicts, the pledge to restore the country?s  
territorial integrity has been a core theme in the discourse of its  
new president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Since taking power, his  
administration has wavered between policies widely perceived as  
provocative (such as the ?humanitarian storm? in South Ossetia in  
summer 2004, leading to a renewed, if fleeting, outbreak of violence)  
and more measured approaches promoting ?roadmaps? for resolution. In  
this paper, we will begin by presenting a general outline of the  
demographic context of ethnic relations in Georgia, before considering  
the variety of ways in which domestic and external actors conceive  
ethnic diversity in Georgia. We will then assess policy output in the  
key areas of political representation, language and education, and  
Church?state relations, before considering the impact of these policy  
domains on the incidence of ethnic discrimination in Georgia.

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