Wednesday, October 23, 2019

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Article Index

Georgia

Georgian language skills continued to be the main impediment to integration for the country's ethnic minorities; political, civic, economic, and cultural integration challenges also remained. The government took several steps to integrate ethnic minority communities through Georgian-language instruction, education, and participation in several programs seeking to promote civic, cultural, and economic integration of minorities. Access to higher education improved, as did transportation infrastructure to high minority population areas, and several state agencies actively participated in civic integration programs. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) noted in its June 2010 report that the government continued to provide

Georgian-language instruction to members of ethnic minorities serving in the armed forces and police and had developed projects to teach tolerance and respect among students for other ethnic and religious groups. However, NGOs, the public defender, and governmental organizations continued to report instances of discrimination and violence against ethnic minorities during the year. The Public Defender's Office specifically mentioned lack of political participation and unequal access to employment and educational opportunities as persistent problems for minorities in its 2010 Situation of Human Rights and Freedom report.

Ethnic Armenians, Azeris, Abkhaz, South Ossetians, and Russians usually communicated in their native languages or in Russian in the areas where they were the dominant ethnic groups. The law requires that ethnic minority students learn Georgian as a second language. The government continued to provide education in the state language and minority languages in minority regions.

Many NGOs in minority regions stated that they saw an improvement during the year in the number of opportunities for Georgian-language instruction and in the quality of the classes. The government introduced new bilingual textbooks in 40 pilot public schools in minority regions. However, members of minority communities reported many students and some teachers were unable to understand some of the content because 30 percent of the text was

untranslated Georgian. Members of the Muslim community also reported some texts treated historic religious accounts and figures disrespectfully. The public defender's Tolerance Center also received complaints from several ethnic minority families that some schools displayed Georgian Orthodox religious objects in schools. A letter addressed to the Ministry of Education from the Tolerance Center, requesting such objects be removed, received no response.

Students were able to take university entrance exams in minority languages and could take advantage of a program under which the government offered and funded one year of intensive Georgian language instruction and four years of university education for students who passed the entrance examinations in minority languages. The number of ethnic minority students enrolled in this program doubled during the year to 432. A quota system required that a

minimum of 10 percent of all national university seats be allocated to Armenian and Azeri-speaking students. According to government statistics issued during the year, 245 Armenian, 185 Azeri, and two Abkhaz speakers were admitted to the public universities through the quota system.

Some minorities claimed that the law requiring all government officials to speak Georgian excluded them from participating in government. In addition some government materials distributed to the public were only available in Georgian. According to the Ministry of Reintegration, it translated all major legislative acts into Armenian, Azeri, and Russian.

The Zen School of Public Administration in Kutaisi provided courses specifically for students from minority areas and facilitated integration of future public servants from minority areas into Georgian society.

There was a significant surge in statements in the media against ethnic minorities following the July passage of a law allowing all minority religious organizations registered in Council of Europe countries to register as "entities of public law, a status previously accorded only to the Georgian Orthodox Church. NGOs reported that Georgian Orthodox clergy, some opposition party leaders, members of the academic community, and others made critical statements in the first few days following passage of the law. The public defender also criticized major NGOs working on minority rights for their allegedly weak response to the surge in hate speech following the adoption of this law. On July 28, the Tolerance Center hosted a roundtable on minorities and hate speech in media and public discourse.

In August authorities dismissed Robert Sturua, artistic director of the National Theater, for making statements considered to be xenophobic.

The Public Defender's Office reported that its investigation continued into allegations Vahagn Chakhalian was beaten in prison in 2010. Chakhalian was serving a 10-year sentence on charges of organizing a riot, hooliganism, and illegal purchase and possession of a firearm. An Armenian NGO alleged the arrest was politically motivated.

The law permits the repatriation of the Muslim Meskhetian population, a national minority group that Stalin deported in 1944. More than 5,800 Meskhetians had filed for repatriation by January 2010. More than 150 returned unofficially over the previous three years, quietly settling in Akhaltsikhe and

Abastumani. As of year's end, 300 applications had been reviewed, but there were no official repatriations due to the long and complicated process. According to the NGO Toleranti, due to the relatively small number of Meskhetians, there were no tensions with the local population.

The ECRI reported that Roma appeared to suffer from widespread societal prejudice and marginalization and noted that the government needed to do more to integrate Roma. During the year the European Center for Minority Issues estimated the Romani population at 1,500, with no more than 300 in any one location. The most recent census, conducted in 2002, reported the number of Roma at 472. Roma were found principally in the Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Kobuleti, Kakheti, and Sukhumi regions.

Ethnic Georgians living in the Gali district of Abkhazia had no legal access to education in the Georgian language. In practice, instruction in Georgian occurred, but with limitations. Teachers who did not speak Abkhaz instructed students in Georgian but were often harassed by Abkhaz de facto

authorities, who also did not provide funding for teachers of Georgian. Local communities had either to pay for teachers themselves, make arrangements for teachers to cross from undisputed Georgian territory to teach, or send their children from Abkhazia for Georgian-language lessons. An increasingly strict boundary regime imposed by Russian border guards made the latter two alternatives more and more difficult. There were reports of Russian border guards detaining children attempting to cross the boundary for language lessons.

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