EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Georgia is a multinational state, building democratic institutions and forging a civic identity. However, it has made little progress towards integrating Armenian and Azeri minorities, who constitute over 12 per cent of the population. Tensions are evident in the regions of Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli, where the two predominantly live and which have seen demonstrations, alleged police brutality and killings during the past two years. While there is no risk of these situations becoming Ossetian or Abkhaz-like threats to the state's territorial integrity, Tbilisi needs to pay more attention to minority rights, including use of second languages, if it is to avoid further conflict.
Some steps have been taken to improve the lives of minorities. With donor support, Georgia has invested in road and infrastructure rehabilitation in minority regions; created a ministry for civic integration; established a public administration institute to train minorities; and ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. But overall the priority has been to assert national unity over minority protection.
Azeris and Armenians are underrepresented in all spheres of public life, especially government. The problem is especially acute for the Azeris in Kvemo-Kartli, where Georgians hold all important positions. Ethnic minorities' political participation and representation – a key to more effective integration – is disturbingly low. Lack of dialogue between Tbilisi and minorities adds to perceptions of discrimination and alienation.
The minorities' biggest problem is inability to speak the state language. Since the Rose Revolution, the government has been enforcing laws obliging minorities to communicate in Georgian with local officials, even to acquire official documents, submit complaints or receive services. State jobs and professional licences are contingent on knowing Georgian and passing new qualification exams. Language instruction in schools is inadequate, and fewer minorities are attending higher education institutions.
The administration of President Saakashvili is undertaking ambitious local government reforms. A new law on self-governance was passed in 2005 and elections for new municipalities were held in October 2006. Yet, power remains largely with regional and Tbilisi-based officials. Minorities are unconvinced decentralisation will give them greater decision-making influence. Armenians especially want to take their own decisions on such issues as education and culture. Unless decentralisation allows this, they will continue to demand autonomy for Samtskhe-Javakheti. (Azeri activists in Kvemo-Kartli prioritise greater representation in local government rather than autonomy.)
Minorities have been emigrating to Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, Yerevan and Baku do not publicly advocate on behalf of their respective minorities. Their priority is good relations with Tbilisi and short-term stability. Armenians are mobilising politically more than Azeris but both minorities have organised recent protests which have on occasion turned violent. Tbilisi needs to do more to encourage minorities to address their problems through state structures rather than in the street.
To the Georgian Government:
To develop and implement more effective overall minorities policy
1. Complete work on the National Civic Integration Strategy and Action Plan and allocate funds in the 2007 state budget to implement them.
2. Increase funding and capacities for the Ministry for Civic Integration and appoint a senior, respected official as presidential adviser on civic integration issues.
3. Ratify the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages and the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities.
4. Take affirmative action to encourage minorities' representation in central and regional government.
5. Fund public defender's offices in Marneuli and Akhalkalaki.
6. Consult with councils (sakrebulos) in municipalities with over 20 per cent minorities on issues sensitive for minorities and include their representatives in the National Council on Civic Integration and Tolerance.
7. Consult with the Council of National Minorities when drafting new laws affecting minorities.
8. Continue investigation into land distribution in Kvemo-Kartli and expropriate and redistribute land obtained illegally to local farmers.
9. Make evening news TV broadcasts available in local languages in Kvemo-Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti.
To secure minorities' rights in public administration and education
10. Introduce legislation allowing Azeris and Armenians, in municipalities where they exceed 20 per cent of the population, to use their native language to communicate with administrative authorities, submit complaints, acquire civil documents and certificates, benefit from public services and conduct municipal business and sakrebulo meetings.
11. Amend all laws on civil service testing so that where minorities are over 20 per cent of the population, officials may be eligible to serve without knowing the state language at least for an interim period of ten to fifteen years.
12. Amend the 2005 Law on General Education to emphasise bilingual education in minority areas and ensure that core social science subjects are taught in Azeri and Armenian (in parallel with Georgian).
13. Strengthen Georgian as a second language (GSL) teacher training, development of GSL teaching materials and opportunities for minorities to learn GSL in primary and secondary schools.
14. Improve access to higher education by amending rules to allow minority students to take national entrance examinations in Russian, Armenian or Azeri and provide intensive GSL study to students who do not pass Georgian language exams.
15. Transform the Zurab Zhvania School of Public Administration into a two-year civic administration academy targeting minorities and offering intensive GSL training; set quotas so that at least 50 per cent of new entrants in the Akhalkalaki branch of the Tbilisi State University and the Marneuli branch of the Ilya Chavchavadze State University are minorities; and accept Armenian government support to improve the Akhalkalaki branch of the Tbilisi State University.
16. Create joint commissions with Azerbaijan and Armenia to develop history textbooks for Georgian schools. To improve minorities' access to the judicial system and participation in local government
17. Strengthen public services at the municipal level.
18. Allow judicial proceedings in Azeri or Armenian in municipalities with over 20 per cent minorities.
19. Translate into Armenian and Azeri and disseminate all new legislation.
20. Revise electoral boundaries to ensure equal representation in municipal councils and equality of suffrage.
21. Remove legal and administrative barriers to registration of political parties on a regional or ethnic basis and decrease the threshold for a party's representation in the parliament to 5 per cent nationally.
22. Distribute information, manuals for precinct election commissions (PECs), voter lists, ballots and protocols certifying results in bilingual form in municipalities with over 20 per cent minorities.
Full report (pdf* format - 479 KB)
Source: International Crisis Group (ICG)
Europe Report n° 178
Date: 22 Nov 2006