Georgia?s Policy towards its National Minorities:

Fernand De Varennes F.deVarennes at
Sun Jun 8 01:54:23 UTC 2008

This document is very instructive, but I am wondering if anyone in the
discussion point can clarify an inportant and highly contentious point:
the language of education in public schools.

The report seems to suggest that public schools teach in a variety of
languages, and that Georgia has not substantially modified the use of
minority languages in these schools, particularly those that use the
Armenian and Azerbaijani languages.

My understanding is that this is completely incorrect (though I stand to
be corrected), and that indeed the Georgian government has very much
started to replace these languages with Georgian as language of

Can anyone clarify what may be a very contentious move?


Dr Fernand de Varennes
2004 Linguapax Laureate
Associate Professor, International Law and Human Rights
School of Law
Murdoch University
Murdoch, WA 6150
Tel: +61-8-9360-6510
Fax: +61-8-9310-6671

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-lgpolicy-list at
[mailto:owner-lgpolicy-list at] On Behalf Of
r.amirejibi-mullen at
Sent: Saturday, 7 June 2008 5:39 AM
To: lp
Subject: Georgia?s Policy towards its National Minorities:

Georgia?s Policy towards its National Minorities:

Tolerance or Integration December, 2007 Historically, Georgia has been a
multiethnic country and remains so to this day. Georgians consider that
they are among the most tolerant countries/nations in the world and
argue that non-Georgian minorities residing in the country have never
been threatened or suppressed or otherwise disenfranchised.  
Minority communities in Georgia do not always share this opinion,
however. Feeling isolated and deprived, minorities often accuse the
national authorities of being unwilling to take the issues more
seriously and address the existing problems. Georgia has recognised the
international principles and best practices regarding the policy towards
national minorities and the need for their integration. The country is a
signatory to the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the
Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) and takes note of most
international instruments and recommendations on the subject of minority
rights.1 However, the country has not ratified other important
conventions, notably the European Charter for Regional and Minority
Languages.2 Taking note of the fact that effective protection of rights
of minorities at times substantially differs from the general protection
of human rights the EU-Georgia ENP Action Plan specifically addresses
this issue. Chapter 4.1.1 calls on Georgia to ?ensure respect for rights
of persons belonging to national minorities; sign and ratify European
Charter for Regional and Minority Languages? and ?develop and implement
a civic integration strategy and ensure its implementation, including
creation of appropriate monitoring instruments.? In spite of these
international commitments, the government has not addressed the issue in
a coherent and consistent manner. This paper will explore the state
policy towards national minorities in general and on the individual
institution level and review several key concerns voiced by minorities
and the state?s responses to them. The Georgian State and National
Minorities The three largest ethnic groups3 in Georgia are Georgians
(83.8% of the population), Azeris (6.5%), and Armenians (5.7%). The
remaining 4% is made up of smaller groups, including Abkhaz, Ossetians,
Russians, Ukrainians, Kurds/Yezids, Greeks, etc. When discussing
national minorities, emphasis is placed on Armenians and Azeris. Besides
the sheer numbers, there is another reason for this. Although there are
sizable communities of both Armenians and Azeris in Tbilisi, the bulk of
them are concentrated along the borders with their kin states (Armenians
in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Azeris in Kvemo Kartli). In many districts of
the regions the minorities actually account for the majority of the
population. For example, Azeris make up to 83% of the population in
Marneuli district and over 66% in both Bolnisi and Dmanisi. Armenians
make up 94% and 95% of the population in the districts of Akhalkalaki
and Ninotsminda respectively. This raises concerns about irredentism and
Georgia?s territorial integrity, a subject of great concern considering
the two provinces currently outside the de facto authority of the
country (South 1 These include the UN Declaration on the Rights of
Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic
Minorities and the OSCE documents:  
The Hague Recommendation Regarding the Educational Rights of National
Minorities and Explanatory Note; Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of
the Conference on Human Dimension of the OSCE; The Lund Recommendations
on the Effective Participation of National Minorities in Public Life and
Explanatory Note. 2 There has not been much public discussion of either
what the Charter obliges the signatories to do or what consequences it
might have for Georgia. However, both the ruling majority and opposition
so far seem to be strongly opposed to its ratification. Their concern
seems to be legalisation of minority languages in the bordering regions,
ostensibly due to fears of irredentism. Another lesser concern can be
the demand for official recognition of Megrelian or Svan languages.
Although both Megrelians and Svans are ethnic Georgians, they both have
distinct languages, which are part of the Kartvelian language family. 3
2002 National Census
Ossetia and Abkhazia). The fears and insecurities associated with the
ethno-territorial turmoil of the early 1990s still largely define the
attitudes and actions towards national minorities both on the state and,
to some degree, even on the personal level. The policy of Georgia?s
first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, did not help relations with
Georgia?s national minorities. Gamsakhurdia was the charismatic leader
of the nationalist movement that led Georgia to independence from the
USSR. But Gamsakhurdia?s nationalism did not serve the country well once
he got to head if after independence. Although Georgian citizenship laws
were made quite liberal after independence (everyone living on the
territory automatically became a citizen, regardless of ethnicity, etc,
unless they themselves refused it), this was not the initial wish of the
man who coined the motto ?Georgia for Georgians.? Despite the fact that
the laws of the young Georgian state were not actually discriminatory
towards minorities, the overall tense and nationalistic atmosphere
forced many representatives of minority communities to leave Georgia.
Many left for kin states, including Israel, Armenia, and Russia.
Although no reliable data is available on who left, for where, or why,
looking at the census data over the years gives an indication of the
changes in the country?s ethnic composition. The data from 1979, 1989,
and 2002 shows the Armenian population of Georgia falling from 9% to
8.1% to 5.7%. The decrease of the Russian population was even more
dramatic, falling from 7.4% to 6.3% and then to 1.5%. During Eduard
Shevardnadze?s presidency (1995-2003), the state lacked a policy toward
national minorities.  
Shevardnadze?s time is well known for its lack of policy elaboration and
implementation. His tenure is probably best characterised as an attempt
to balance different interests to maintain stability. In general, this
meant that while on the surface there was no immediate or explosive
conflict, problems were brewing underneath. This was very much evident
with regards to national minorities, who were largely ignored by the
Tbilisi authorities and integration and other problems were not
recognised at all. Practically, the minority-populated regions were
governed by local clans who were obliged to support Shevardnadze and his
party. This was demonstrated by transporting the population to the polls
on election day and delivering votes for the ruling party. Otherwise,
the state did not interfere in these regions.  
Naturally, there was little need or use for policy documents. After the
?Rose Revolution? of 2003, the new government, especially President
Mikheil Saakashvili, began to refer to the issue of national minorities
on a frequent basis. President Saakashvili in his speeches likes to
emphasise Georgia?s multiethnic makeup and the great potential this
carries.4 The president and other high officials now frequently talk of
the need to integrate national minorities into Georgian society and
stress that this does not mean assimilation and abandoning own
identities. Rather, the new government is promoting civic nationalism
over the ethnic pride that has so far dominated Georgian history. Still,
to date Georgia has neither developed a comprehensive document outlining
its policy towards minorities nor shown a coherent policy orientation in
its actions. However, on the institutional level, the Office of the
State Minister5 on Civil
Integration6 was created following the ?Rose Revolution? to signal the
importance the new administration gives to bettering the lot of the
minorities in Georgia and integrating them into the mainstream society.
This body headed by Zinaida Bestaeva, arguably the least active and
recognizable minister of the entire Cabinet, is in charge of formulating
the civil integration policy and coordinating its elaboration and
implementation with all other state institutions.  
Critics have often voiced concerns that both the creation of the
ministerial position and the selection of its head were politically 4 As
a symbolic gesture, during the inauguration ceremony of Mr.  
Saakashvili as a president in January 2004 he addressed the nation with
a multilingual speech, greeting various ethnic groups in their native
language. The flag of Georgia was jointly raised by children dressed in
national costumes of the various ethnicities living in Georgia. 5 In
Georgia a state minister is a cabinet minister without a formal
ministry, but with an office instead. Arguably some state ministers have
proven to be more influential than traditional ministers, depending on
their field of authority. 6 This organisation has however ceased to
exist in January 2008
motivated, rather than prompted by an earnest desire for the new
structure to function effectively - Ms Bestaeva was then the only women
in the cabinet and an ethnic Ossetian7. The Office is furthermore argued
to be understaffed and under-equipped for its work.  
In addition to the Office of the State Minister, there is the
ministerial level Council on Civil Integration and Tolerance, also
chaired by Ms. Bestaeva, which includes representatives of civil
society. This is the body created for drafting the Civil Integration
Strategy/Concept and its implementation Action Plan. Other state
institutions involved in formulating the policy are the Ombudsman?s
Office and the Council of National Minorities under it. The president
too has an advisor on issues of civil integration. On the legislative
side, the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee has traditionally
been active and vocal in its endeavours. Besides these specialised
institutions, the Ministry of Education and Science plays quite a
significant role in supporting the civic integration of national
minorities, since a significant problem for the minorities and a major
obstacle to their integration into Georgian society is the lack of
Georgian language skills. Relative Deprivation Major research on the
topic of national minorities in Georgia consistently refers to their
general sense of being treated as second class citizens. They feel that
while the rest of the country prospers and develops, the regions where
they actually are the majority have not seen much change in conditions
throughout the last decade. However, it must be acknowledged that in
other rural regions of Georgia, where majority of inhabitants are ethnic
Georgians, the situation, especially economics and infrastructure-wise,
is no different. National minorities, mostly secluded in their
communities, fail to grasp that the development boom is largely confined
to Tbilisi and tourist centres, while the rest of the country lags
behind. The seclusion has several reasons. Firstly, up until very
recently, conditions of roads and communications with Kvemo Kartli and
Samtskhe-Javakheti were disastrous, severely limiting contact with the
rest of the country. Secondly, this situation was, and still is,
exacerbated by the fact that the signals of Georgian TV stations,
including public broadcasting, largely fail to reach these regions,
effectively leaving the regions in an information vacuum from the
Georgian side. The minority regions have therefore tapped into the
information sphere of their kin states. Azeri and Armenian populations
get their news via Azeri, Armenian, Russian, and Turkish TV outlets that
do not focus much on Georgian events and developments. Thirdly, given
the limited economic possibilities in these regions, national minorities
tend to have closer economic ties with their kin state across the
border, rather than rest of Georgia. These tend to be small-scale trade
and short-term employment opportunities. But perhaps the single largest
obstacle to communication and interaction/integration is the absence of
a common language. The minority population largely does not know the
Georgian language, despite being born and raised in the country. During
the Soviet times, Russian served as a lingua franca among the different
nationalities living in the country and facilitated communication among
the soviet republics. This practically eliminated the need for studying
the state language, which was always only Georgian in Georgia, unlike in
other republics. Rather than promoting integration into local cultures,
the USSR?s policy goal was to form loyal citizens of the USSR. This
legacy has left strained relations among nationalities in present day
Georgia. While the minority feels alienated, the majority feels
threatened by concentrated populations of national minorities with
little 7 Another woman ministers are Eka Tkeshelashvili, appointed to
head the Ministry of Justice in August 2007 and Maia Miminoshvili,
appointed Minister of Education and Science in November 2007, however
following the new cabinet reshuffle in January 2008, currently the only
female Minister is Ekaterine Sharashidze, heading Ministry of Economic
connection to Georgian culture, especially the Georgian language. The
language issue becomes further complicated because of the diminishing
role of the Russian language since 1991. While the older generation does
have at least some proficiency in this language (except in more remote
villages), the generation born in independent Georgia no longer learns
Russian. This ignorance is equally widespread among national minorities
and ethnic Georgians, and has eliminated the only means of bridging
these communities. To date, Russian has not been replaced by a new
common language, most logically ? Georgian. Public Education and
National Minorities Since independence, Georgia has maintained the
Soviet system of public schools, which allows different languages of
instruction. Thus Georgian citizens of school age can enrol in Georgian,
Russian, Armenian, and Azeri language public schools. In addition, there
are mixed schools, where within one school there can be different
language ?departments? or ?sectors?. Thus, for example, a regular
Georgian language school may have a Russian sector, where students are
instructed in Russian. This system allows minorities from sizable
communities to receive full primary and secondary education in their
native languages. Unfortunately, these schools often fail to live up to
the Georgian national educational requirements for the teaching of the
Georgian language.8 Many schools also fail to meet the basic criteria
for teachers of Georgian languages. Some Georgian language teachers in
the regions populated by national minorities do not know the language
themselves. Although there are no real data on the number of such
teachers, the first hand experiences of Transparency International
Georgia9 and other organisations working on the issue suggest that this
is the norm rather than an exception.  
Prior to the recent reforms, the non-Georgian schools in the
minority-populated areas mostly depended on their respective kin state
for textbooks. This particularly concerned the Ministry of Education and
those interested in the education/minority policy since core social
science courses (e.g. history and geography) focus on the kin state
rather than Georgia. This inadequacy or non-existence of Georgian
educational requirements further exacerbated the problems caused by the
lack of Georgian language skills and impeded minority access to higher
educational institutions. Unlike primary and secondary schools,
practically the only language of instruction in universities other than
Georgian is Russian, with a few English language programs at state and
private universities. Several English language programs do exist both
within state and private universities, but these mostly target foreign
students and are largely irrelevant for the needs of domestic
minorities. Minority enrolment in domestic universities has become an
issue since the new administration took charge. In recent years, the
Ministry of Education launched a large-scale reform of the entire
education sphere, which included the introduction of the new Unified
National Exam (UNE) for university admission. While previously each
institution administered its own exams and decided the programmatic
requirements, for the last three years the unified national examination
has been run by a semi-independent agency under the Ministry. The
previous system, notorious for its corrupt dealings that favoured money
over merit, has been eradicated in the state-accredited universities.
The new process itself has won great public trust and is largely
considered both corruption free and fair. 8 Currently, Georgian language
classes are required for three hours a week, though the Ministry of
Education states the programmes are being reworked. 9 Transparency
International Georgia and International Centre for Georgian Language
Recommendations for Better Integration of National minorities available
The UNE is comprised of three mandatory standardised tests: Georgian
language, general abilities, and a foreign language (Russian, English,
French, or German). In the first year of the exams, there were two
versions of the Georgian language test: one for native speakers and one
for non-native speakers that was available in Russian. Applicants who
took the latter were able to apply only to non-Georgian departments. In
the second year of the exam, there was only one version of the Georgian
language test for all applicants, though applicants could apply to any
university. The remaining tests were still offered in Russian versions.
Minority representatives have argued that the change in the Georgian
language test requirement is discriminatory, since non-native speakers
cannot possibly compete with students graduating from Georgian language
schools on equal footing and will correspondingly have much slimmer
chances of university entrance. But the Ministry maintains that the
examination aims at testing language comprehension of the applicants,
not their knowledge or memory of complex Georgian literary works.
Besides, the threshold for passing the exams, including Georgian, is
very low at 15%. This, the education authorities argue, is the absolute
minimum to demonstrate qualification for university level study. The
complicated system of weighting the importance of different exams, as
determined by the university and department, suggests that the Georgian
language tests are assigned far smaller significance for the Russian
department applicants. Proving a minimum competence in the language
should not hamper the minority students? chances of getting accepted.
Further, the Georgian language scores do not have an impact on the
prospective student?s chances of getting state funding for education.
The Georgian state sets a maximum threshold for state university annual
fees but has no influence on private ones. Within this amount, the state
provides four grant packages for outstanding students ? 100%, 70%, 50%,
and 20% for all four years of undergraduate study. Students are awarded
funding based upon the scores of the general abilities test only. Given
the fact that this test can be taken both in Georgian and in Russian, it
creates a fairly level playing ground for all students.  
Still, the minority advocates argue that option of Russian language
tests does not adequately meet the needs of minority applicants whose
native language is not Russian or whose education was not in Russian.  
Lately the idea of opening an Armenian-language university in
Samtskhe-Javakheti has been promoted by the government of Armenia. But
the Georgian side has rejected the idea on the grounds that ethnic
Armenians or other minorities are not disadvantaged by the Georgian
education system. The Ministry already supports special preparatory
courses in the Georgian language for minorities to prepare them for the
UNE and pays a stipend of 100 GEL to participants.10 It should be noted
that the number of minority students entering Georgian universities has
declined since the introduction of the UNE three years ago, now that
requirements of Georgian language knowledge are not smoothed over by the
universities. However, the Ministry of Education officials argue that
throughout the last three years the number of national minority students
has been increasing. At the same time, they reaffirm that there will be
no ?positive discrimination? to benefit minorities and reject any form
of quotas, eased requirements, or special exams. The argument is that
there will be no discrimination ? including positive ? because the
measures adopted temporarily will be hard to abolish upon their intended
end. The Ministry of Education has made efforts to improve Georgian
teaching in minority-language schools. The state budget funds the
programme for creating textbooks for teaching Georgian as a second
language. Two books for beginner levels have already been published and
are part of the curriculum.  
This ?Tavtavi? series will eventually provide material for all 12
grades. Deputy Minister Bela Tsipuria maintains that the methodology is
compatible with the European Commission recommendations in the field,
however visible challenges remain. For example, the first (absolute
beginner) book does not include a section on the 10Kvrivishvili, Ana.
?Lomaia: No Chance for Armenian-Language University in
Samtskhe-Javakheti? The Messenger August 23, 2007
Georgian alphabet and pronunciation and is monolingual Georgian. This,
Tsipuria argues, was appropriate because the teachers can independently
teach students to write and read in Georgian. Yet this claim does not
seem to be well grounded given the realities in the non-Georgian
language schools and the levels of Georgian knowledge of both the
students and teachers. Here it is worth remembering that Georgian
alphabet is not similar to any other in the world, including the
Armenian, Latin, or Cyrillic that is native to most of the minorities,
and would require special instruction. The Ministry of Education has no
intention at this time to introduce bilingual education programs, be it
through multilingual textbooks or outright multilingual classes. The
Ministry acknowledges that these approaches may be an option, but they
neither plan to employ them, nor rule out doing so in the future.
However, Tsipuria says that there is a school initiated movement towards
this end, with about 20 bilingual classes already operating in Kvemo
Kartli. This experiment was started at the schools? own initiative11 and
the Ministry so far has no intention to extend this experience
nationwide or contribute to its implementation in interested schools.
Another grassroots development is the school partnership within the
country, operational since 2004. Tsipuria says that schools from
minority-populated areas team up with schools from predominantly
Georgian areas to implement special projects, like joint excursions,
etc. This initiative aims at strengthening human interaction to counter
the isolation of the minority-populated regions and provide an
opportunity for inter-group socialisation at an earlier age. In addition
to this, some language benefit can also be derived from the encounters,
but probably to a much lesser extent. Although Ms. Tsipuria described
this initiative as a grassroots movement, with which Ministry was not
involved, we have encountered elsewhere in the Ministry documents that
budgetary funds of GEL 10.000 has been assigned for the school
partnership program. The Language Policy The Georgian language has had a
dominant role in defining the Georgian nation and nationalism. Language
is one of the three components of ?fatherland, language, and faith? ?
Ilia Chavchavadze?s12 understanding of what it means to be Georgian. To
illustrate, descendants of Georgians living on the territories occupied
by the Ottoman Empire centuries ago?devote Muslims and loyal citizens of
Turkey?are still mostly considered Georgian, since they have maintained
the Georgian language and culture. Even during Soviet times, when
Russian replaced local languages in most of the member republics and
acquired the status of the official language, Georgia fiercely resisted
the attempts to legalise Russian. Georgian has not been challenged as
the only language of the country since the Russian empire. Therefore the
commitment of ratifying and enforcing the European Charter for Regional
or Minority Languages is largely seen as a threat and is dismissed both
by the government and opposition representatives alike. Although its
ratification was one of the promises Georgia made while joining the
Council of Europe in 1999, opponents of the Charter like to point to
other states long members of CE and EU, like the Baltic three and France
who despite the same pledge have so far refrained from adopting it.
Although the Georgian constitution stipulates that both Georgian and
Abkhazian shall be the state language on the territory of Autonomous
Republic of Abkhazia (currently outside the control of the Tbilisi
authorities), there is hardly anyone in the country that would support
establishing Armenian and Azeri as the state language in the appropriate
Nonetheless, in reality, Armenian and Azeri are largely used instead of
Georgian as the working language even in government institutions.  
11 Correspondingly, the novelty is funded by the schools themselves,
without assistance by the Ministry or other outside donors. 12 Ilia
Chavchavadze was a famous writer and the leader of 19th century Georgian
national awakening.. 6 Perhaps the only exception from this is the
judiciary. Court hearings are conducted in Georgian only, to the locals?
objection, but with translation and interpretation services provided by
the state. The minorities are pushing for formalising the use of
minority languages, as they are the most convenient and cost effective.
This idea of giving official status to Armenian and Azeri languages in
the areas mostly populated by these minorities is supported by several
non-governmental organisations,13 which stress that such arrangements
can be made temporarily. The argument is that at least some time needs
to be given to the local populations to adjust and acquire Georgian
language skills, and in the meantime their language could legally be
used for official communication both locally and with the central
authorities. But the government argues that such temporary fixes would
only protract the amount of time it takes national minorities to embrace
the national language and would not alleviate the situation.  
Further, the argument goes, once given such a possibility, the
minorities would again feel deprived and discriminated against when the
period came to an end. Elene Tevdoradze, Chair of the Parliamentary
Human Rights and Civic Integration Committee, says that Georgia will
probably not sign the Charter or change the existing legislation on
language policy until Georgia?s territorial integrity is restored. If
Abkhazia and South Ossetia come under Tbilisi?s control, the government
would definitely have to look for new arrangements when defining their
status, including language issues.  
But still, few believe that any changes would be applied to the status
of other minority languages. Georgian Language for Adults Regarding the
provision of Georgian language training for adults the state does not
have any general programmes. There is a programme that trains school
teachers and head masters in Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti, which
is supported by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.
Perhaps most importantly, the state-run Zurab Zhvania School of Public
Administration in Kutaisi accepts citizens from minority and mountainous
areas and provides them with special training, including three-month
long intensive Georgian language courses for minorities, to improve
their employment prospects in the public service. The School generally
targets those already in the Georgian civil service for retraining, but
accepts other candidates as well. This state-run institution is
commended by the experts in the field, however concern remains that the
graduates? employment rate is not very high. While Deputy Education
Minister Tsipuria regards the 30-40% employment rate14 as quite high,
Elene Tevdoradze, Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights and Civic
Integration Committee, believes that the graduates do not necessarily
need to be working for the government and should rather focus on
employment in the private sector. While the government claims that
allowing equal opportunities for all, it does not provide the older
generation, which is already disadvantaged by the old system, adequate
resources to catch up with the majority population and compete on equal
ground. The starting conditions may be better now for the generation of
national minorities that is just now starting school, but those caught
in between, i.e.  
those already in the upper grades of public school, young adults, and
older people remain deprived. Unfortunately, the latter group
constitutes the majority of the national minority population. Problem of
Isolation The language problems of the minorities have a universal
bearing on their civil rights. The right of access to information is
greatly hindered because of language. As mentioned above, minorities are
largely detached 13 NGOs such as ?Multinational Georgia? and ECMI are
viewed as being in favour of such arrangements. Representatives of
?Multinational Georgia? could not be reached for the purposes of this
report. 14 This employment figure is based on anecdotal evidence only.  
Reliable/official data is currently not gathered.
from the Georgian information sphere. Georgian Public Broadcasting
(GPB) on weekdays has daily news programme in five minority languages
(Russian, Armenian, Azeri, Ossetian, and Abkhazian), but this means that
each group gets news in its native language only once a week.  
Hence, these programs cannot possibly be very informative or enable the
viewers to get a clear picture of the developments in the country.  
While a daily Russian language news programme was proposed by several
organisations to remedy this problem, the waning Russian skills among
national minorities arguably would not allow for better impact either.  
The leadership of GPB is well aware of the limited influence its efforts
produce and is open to suggestions for a more workable scheme.  
However there is no clear consensus within the minority communities
above to improve the situation. Providing subtitles for Georgian
language programs, one idea considered, is a challenge, Mr.  
Tarkhnishvili,15 Chair of the Board of Trustees explains, since there is
no agreement among Azeris about the script for the subtitles. While
modern Azeri language uses Latin script, during the Soviet times
Cyrillic was used instead and the Azeris living in Georgia are more
familiar with this way of writing. But using Cyrillic would be
problematic in terms of violating official language norms. Mr.  
Tarkhnishvili argues that better representation of minorities themselves
in the mainstream Georgian media could be a good starting point. He
believes that in addition to minorities being taught Georgian and
integrated into Georgian society, Georgians themselves need greater
exposure to minorities in order to understand and appreciate them. A
weekly TV talk show, called ?Italian Courtyard?16 that has been on the
air since June is aimed at precisely this. The programme focuses on the
issues of multiculturalism. The show?s themes thus far have included:
the role of women, national cuisines, national costumes, wedding
traditions, stereotypes, mixed families, employment in the regions, etc.
Another aspect of the public education campaign about minorities is the
documentaries and social ads that depict ethnic histories and their role
in Georgian history. So, along with the talk show format, the programme
also airs short features about minority individuals. GPB is not the only
national media recently devoting time and attention to minority issues.
Commercial Imedi TV, in cooperation with the Horizonti Foundation, ran a
weekly talk show called ?My Country? that focused on minority issues.
The number of shows was limited, only four, and focused on four
different topics:  
citizenship, cultural diversity, Georgian language teaching, and
integration of minorities in social and economic life. While national
media outlets continue deliberations on how to better communicate with
national minorities, local attempts are being made in Armenian populated
areas to bring Georgian current affairs close to home. OSCE funding has
enabled two local independent TV stations to air news programmes
accompanied by simultaneous translation into Armenian.17 While such
undertakings may be quite costly, they indeed are a good opportunity to
fill the information gap. One way to integrate the minorities could be
by strengthening the local bureaus of GPB. This remains a priority for
the organisation, but is slow going due to financial constraints and the
shortage of resources. Another unresolved issue is the extent of
coverage. Tarkhnishvili explains that the GPB signal fails to reach not
only minority areas, but also the remote ethnic Georgian areas of
Svaneti and Racha-Lechkhumi, 15 Since the time of his interview for this
report Mr. Tarkhnishvili has left his position with Georgian Public
Broadcasting and was appointed Chair of the Central Election Commission
of Georgia. 16 The show is created in cooperation with United Nations
Association Georgia and USAID. Residential buildings with an inner
courtyard characteristic of old part of Tbilisi are popularly called
Italian Courtyards. They are closely associated with traditional
multiculturalism and good neighbourly relations of old Tbilisi. The
programme?s web page also provides an
overview in Georgian of the content of previous shows. 17 8 underscoring that this
technicality is not an ethnic bias. When these technical problems are
settled, GPB plans to revive the old tradition of radio and TV
language-learning programs.18 GPB is not alone in its plans to design
self teaching language aids. The Office of the State Minister on Civic
Integration reports it is also involved in producing manuals and CDs
that would be accessible for those interested in the minority populated
areas. It remains to be seen how effective CDs will be in the regions
marred by poverty and underdevelopment. Policy Formulation ? the
Attempted Strategies and Shortcomings Formulating a coherent minority
policy has been on the government agenda, at least formally, for years.
While there is no single comprehensive document adopted thus far,
several drafts and ideas have already been developed, albeit some quite
contradictory. One important signal was the parliamentary action while
ratifying the Framework Convention on National Minorities. The
Convention was signed in 2000 and ratified in
2005 by parliamentary resolution. While Georgia did not formally make
any derogations or declarations, as attested by the official web
page19 of the Convention Secretariat, Article 2 of the resolution shows
a different picture. The resolution defines what a ?national minority?
means in Georgia ? the term, according to it, applies to a group of
persons who: are citizens of Georgia; differ from the majority of the
population in terms of their linguistic, cultural, and ethnic identity;
have inhabited the territory of Georgia for an extensive period of time;
and are compactly settled on the Georgian territory. Further definitions
and derogations concern Articles 10, 11.1, 11.3, 16, 18, and 30. Article
3 of the resolution states that the declarations given in Article 2 ?are
an inseparable part? of the ratification decision. However this latter
statement can easily be challenged. Georgian legislation provides for
supremacy of international treaties to which Georgia is a signatory over
domestic law, which includes acts of parliament. Since the definitions
and declarations were not officially applied to the Convention by the
Georgian side, the definitions provided by the resolution can only be
assumed to be part of domestic law. But since they contradict
international law, they should constitutionally be made void. Hence, the
content of the resolution does not possess any legal power whatsoever.
Experts in the field largely consider it to be an attempt by Parliament
to at least declare its own stance and make it known.  
But the use of such assertion remains unclear. Another document prepared
in Parliament, by the Committee of Human Rights Protection and Civic
Integration, is the draft Concept for Protection and Integration of
National Minorities.20 The document itself, although aimed at protecting
minorities and contributing to their well being, is not devoid of the
spirit of fear and mistrust of minorities. The Concept demands ?strict
compliance? in terms of: the inviolability of Georgia?s territorial
integrity, minorities? adherence to Georgian legislation, and not
undermining state security, among others.  
Further, minorities explicitly are to respect Georgian and Abkhazian
people, history, and traditions as well as other minorities. Although
the document vows to reject forced assimilation attempts, it also states
that the state may in some cases contribute to their integration into
Georgian society. While minorities will be granted opportunities to
learn their own language, good knowledge of Georgian is a ?necessary
prerequisite? for their integration. Further, the concept stipulates
that minorities have a right for meaningful participation in deciding
issues concerning them. But imagining issues that do not concern 18
Until the mid-1990s Georgian state radio and TV ran programmes for
learning foreign languages: usually Russian, English, German, and
French, and also programmes on proper Georgian and grammar. This time
around Georgian language classes would probably be devoted more
attention. 19 20 The
English version of the document is available at the Committee web page
at: 9
minorities as a component of Georgian society is a difficult task. It is
probably due to this biased attitude, insiders say, that this Concept
still remains a draft and is largely disregarded in the process of
policy elaboration. The Tolerance and Civic Integration
Council21 created in August 2005 is the main body in charge of this
process of policy elaboration. It works closely with the United Nations
Association Georgia (UNAG) in implementing its own four-year National
Integration and Tolerance in Georgia programme. As Mr.  
Tarkhnishvili, who has served as a member of the Council, says, this
helps avoid duplicating efforts. The assessment survey report recently
published by UNAG22 reaffirmed what was already well known, he says.  
However, there still is no consensus on many key issues even within the
Council. What is agreed on is that there should be no affirmative
action, a.k.a. positive discrimination. The Tbilisi head of the European
Centre for National Minorities (ECMI) argues that wrongly equating
affirmative action with (a form of) discrimination will not prove
beneficial. There is no common view on the need for a law on minorities
or state language, as well as on how to define minorities.  
The definition proposed by the draft Concept of the Human Rights
Committee is clearly dismissed, but the question is lingering whether
rights should be somehow tied to numbers or not. Regarding the language
issues Tarkhnishvili believes that the Charter is not quite tailored to
Georgia?s present needs. He explains that the Charter is more applicable
to the situation where integration is no more an issue and preserving
minority identities is more problematic. In Georgia, though both
questions are equally pressing, integration and ending mutual isolation
is the top priority. Although many note that concerning protection and
provision of formal, legal rights of minorities the situation in Georgia
is not bad at all, their integration is a different story. But related
to this is another concern ? while the state tries to promote Georgian
language and culture within minority communities as a means for their
integration, so far it shows little understanding of communication being
a two-way street. Still limited efforts are made to disperse the fear of
?Georgianisation? expressed by minorities. Considerations for the Future
Overall, the current Georgian leadership better recognises the urgency
of a comprehensive policy towards national minorities compared to
previous governments. However, there are no tangible outcomes yet.  
The state?s inability to thus far formulate a coherent and
comprehendible policy reflects the contradictory attitude of the
Georgian public, which supports the fair treatment of national
minorities, while remaining suspicious towards them. This mistrust is
not associated with the majority population only. Easing this mutual
anxiety should be the starting point for successful integration
beneficial to all communities and the state as a whole. This integration
process cannot succeed without taking into account the grievances that
the minority communities justly have. Systematic and coherent approaches
must be employed to address the language problems of the minorities. The
state has a responsibility to provide all citizens with adequate
opportunities to learn the state language and must take steps to fulfil
this responsibility. It must be understood that this is an important
prerequisite for the meaningful engagement of a significant part of the
Georgian population in civic and economic life of the country. As
president Saakashvili likes to stress when talking with or about
minorities, Georgia cannot afford not taking advantage of the resources
and promises these people have to 21 The Council was put in charge of
producing the first State Report on the Framework Convention due in
April 2007. The Report has been submitted and is available at:
P315_16467 22 Unfortunately UNAG has not made full text of the document
available online. However we can provide an electronic copy upon
offer. This message needs to be understood well both by the state and
the minority communities as well. Minorities too need to be explained
the opportunities that will come with better knowledge of the state
language and intensified efforts from their side to actively engage with
the rest of the country. Only after establishing workable conditions for
dialogue can the alienated communities come to terms with their
differences and similarities and establish a truly pluralistic society.
The minorities themselves need to be involved in the process of
elaborating the integration strategy. While the government-initiated
bodies are abundant, they are largely dysfunctional. Usually minority
groups are present within these groups, but are mostly represented by
NGOs from the capitol. Although these organisations/persons are
legitimate actors, being based in Tbilisi and better integrated urban
areas, they may not have sufficient ties with the regions to adequately
convey their grievances and interests. Revitalisation of the existing
mechanisms is needed to ensure that regional voices are heard. Another
problem that needs to be addressed is that of consistency ? in minority
policy in general and regarding the language teaching policy in
particular. While donor-driven efforts have predated the state
involvement and have provided new opportunities, they have tended to be
quite patchy, with programmes running for a year or two only. Long-term
commitment and coherent programmes are needed to ensure sustainable and
meaningful results. Acknowledgements Transparency International Georgia
would like to thank following individuals for their assistance in
preparing this report: Mr. Tom Trier (European Centre for Minority
Issues), Mr.  
Ramaz Aptsiauri (United Nations Association Georgia), Mr. Beka
Mindiashvili (Director, The Tolerance Centre), Mr. Zurab Jamagidze
(Office of the State Minister on Civic Integration Issues), Ms. Bela
Tsipuria (Deputy Minister of Education and Science), Ms. Elene
Tevdoradze (Chair, Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Civic
Integration), Mr. Levan Tarkhnishvili (Chair, Georgian Public
Broadcasting Board of Trustees at the time of preparation of the report,
currently Chair of the Central Election Commission), Mr. Vano Tavadze
(Horizonti Foundation). 11

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list