Melissa's blog, 29 June 2007
Georgia On My Mind - a chronicle of tbilisi
Right now, I am working on a policy paper. The draft law for the Meskhetian repatriation has passed two readings in parliament and I believe it must pass one more to pass into law. It will pass, in spite of some opposition to it. It was proposed by the majority party and since the law has absolutely no teeth, it's really non offensive to most. Well, it offends me because it is a transparent effort to suck up to NATO and the Council of Europe and not really any effort to help people. I have yet to interview any of the key people involved yet, but like I said, I've been slacking at work and actually...and don't tell anyone this...I've been skipping work a lot. But we don't need to dwell on that, do we?
So what are the precise problems with the draft law? Oh, there are many...
- The criteria to actually return to Georgia are quite stringent. For example, you must provide proof of citizenship. As I've joked with people when I've talked to them about this, Stalin didn't exactly send people a postcard saying "Congratulations, you've won a ticket to ride in a cattle car to Uzbekistan!" There is proof on the Soviet government end that these deportations DID happen--I actually have copies of the deportation orders, in Russian, signed by Stalin himself--but I find it hard to believe that deportees or their descendants have proof themselves.
- The Georgian government, as far as I have seen, have no actual intentions on notifying the far scattered Meskhetian population that there is now this law in place. I guess the Meskhetians suffering in Krasnodar must just be mind readers?
- Repatriation will be governed by the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation, but the other ministries are allowed to get involved and veto any applications to come to Georgia based on "undetermined" criteria.
- The draft law has no provisions to set aside funding for ANYTHING, i.e. housing, language programs, job training or anything else you can think of.
Herein lies more problems for me that stem more from my personal thoughts on the matter and is hindering my ability to work on this. Allowing the Meskhetians to return to Georgia is something I truly believe is the right thing to do, but the more I understand the realities of Georgia and Georgian society, the more I think it is a bad idea. There is a lot of unfriendly sentiment directed toward minorities here and a lot of bad attitudes concerning the Meskhetians. Some people are just plain ignorant, but others have sensible reasons for why they would oppose Meskhetian Turks returning. The most obvious is that at this moment, the Georgian government can barely provide for the people already living here. You don't need me to rehash the statistics on unemployment and poverty, just know they are serious problems. Not to mention the social issues that already exist with the poorly integrated Azeri and Armenian minority communities...ahhh, I could go on for hours about all the reasons why repatriation is a BAD idea.
So where does this leave me? When I began working on Meskhetian issues almost three years ago, I was much less educated on the issue and I was also more concerned with the immediate human rights situation in Russia. Given that the human rights situation in Russia is and was so urgent, I automatically wanted repatriation without considering the vast amount of work that actually had to go into making it happen. I was also critical of the Georgian government in those early days--well, I still am--but now my reasons for criticism are much more refined and I understand much better that repatriating the Meskhetians is very very complicated.