Georgians express outrage at Russian sanctions, deportations
|Publication Date||10 October 2006|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, Georgians express outrage at Russian sanctions, deportations, 10 October 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46a485381e.html [accessed 20 June 2013]|
Diana Petriashvili 10/10/06
As Georgia buckles down to wait out hard-hitting Russian economic sanctions, outrage at Russia's treatment of ethnic Georgians following a recent espionage dispute is growing. Officials in Tbilisi have characterized recent Russian actions as "fascist."
Some 119 Georgians were deported from Moscow on October 9, finally arriving in Tbilisi on October 10 after Georgia denied the plane landing permission for "technical reasons." (Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had earlier stated that only "normal planes with chairs and windows," not "cattle wagons," would be allowed to bring Georgian deportees home.) The plane follows an October 6 flight that brought 130 deportees back to Georgia on board a Russian cargo plane. A Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations plane bearing 150 Russians also departed Tbilisi for Moscow on October 10.
Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili has categorized the deportations and reported police scrutiny of ethnic Georgians in Russian cities as a "softer" form of ethnic cleansing.
Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze has described the measures taken against Georgians – including reports that Russian police are demanding schools to turn over lists of Georgian – as "xenophobic" and "fascist."
Addressing Russian citizens of Georgian origin on October 9, Saakashvili urged them to return to Georgia. "We are ready to give them an opportunity to live in Georgia and to grant Georgian citizenship to all those who are oppressed in Russia because of a Georgian last name or Georgian background," Saakashvili said, as quoted by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Saakashvili stated that he is prepared to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the two countries' steadily worsening relations. "I am ready to meet with President Putin anytime," Saakashvili said at a meeting with members of parliament from the ruling National Movement Party on October 9. "We want to solve problems with Russia in a bilateral format," he added.
The Georgian leader has also stated that his government is considering bringing a case before the European Court of Human Rights about Russia's violation of deportees' human rights.
"We will use all legal means to protect our citizens; we are now considering the possibility of appealing to the European Court of Human Rights," Saakashvili said in comments broadcast by Georgian television outlets. He spoke while visiting one of Tbilisi's Russian-language schools to express, as he said, "solidarity with Russians and other national minorities living in Georgia."
Russia imposed sanctions against Georgia prior to the release of four Russian officers arrested for espionage on September 27. Eleven Georgian citizens were also arrested in connection with the spy scandal.
On October 2, the Russian Ministry of Transportation announced that it had stopped all air, rail, car, and sea traffic with Georgia. Postal communications between Russia and Georgia were also suspended. On the same day, the Russian parliament, or Duma, proposed amendments to existing legislation that would stop money transfers from Russia to Georgia.
The Kremlin has not reciprocated Georgia's willingness to discuss bilateral tension. Russian officials say now is not the proper time for discussions. "The problem is about changing opinions. The problem is not about who takes the first step," Modest Kolerov, the Russian president's representative for regional relations, told Georgian reporters in Moscow on October 9, local media outlets reported. "The most important [problem] is to review the entire system of relations."
Russian officials have presented the deportations of ethnic Georgians as a necessary response to longstanding violations of labor and immigration laws. In interviews with EurasiaNet, Georgian nationals living in Russia say that not only labor migrants are being targeted by Russian law-enforcement agencies.
Several Georgians who have held Russian citizenship since the early 1990s reported having to go to neighborhood police stations in Moscow for interrogations and to have their documents checked. "They said they have to conduct an investigation to see if I obtained Russian citizenship legally," Giorgi Kakhidze, a Georgian national living in Moscow.
Another respondent, who gave her name as Anna N and is married to a Georgian with Russian citizenship, claimed that her husband's documents have been checked six times, and his fingerprints taken three times since October 5, three days after the four Russian military officers arrested by Georgia on espionage charges were turned over to Russian custody. [For details, see the Eurasia Insight archive.] She added that her family could not find a friend with Georgian citizenship who was detained by Moscow police three days ago. "We have checked several police departments, but never got any information regarding his whereabouts."
According to Russian media reports, Russian law-enforcement services have also begun to check the identity papers of worshippers in Moscow's Georgian Orthodox churches. Interfax quoted Mamuka Putkaradze, a spokesman for Metropolitan of Tskhum-Abkhazia Daniil, who said that all visitors, both Georgian and Russian citizens, had to show their IDs before entering Saint George Cathedral on October 7. The spokesman also said that two church choir singers were detained, "although they had valid documents and one-year invitations," Putkaradze said.
Georgians arriving in Tbilisi on the October 6 flight from Moscow told reporters that all their papers were in order. "'Being Georgians is your only fault,' they said to us. Go back and ask your [President Mikheil] Saakashvili why you are suffering,'" deportee Irina Mkheidze told Imedi television.
While most Georgians do not hold President Saakashvili solely responsible for Russia's response, many, both in Tbilisi and in Moscow, express a desire for greater caution.
"The measures undertaken by the Russian side are really inadequate," Marina Dzotsenidze, an ethnic Georgian living in Moscow, said in a telephone interview. "But if the Georgian authorities do care about their citizens, they should be thinking twice before provoking any country," she added. "They should realize that if this situation continues, Georgia will have to take care of 300,000 jobless people and their poor families. I do not think it is possible."
For now, the economic impact of that review has not been harshly felt within Georgia, but further difficulties are anticipated. The National Bank of Georgia's press service stated on October 10 that rapid-delivery international money transfer systems are still operating between Russia and Georgia. Thousands of Georgian residents depend on the money sent to them by family members working temporarily in Russia.
Georgian officials, however, have pledged that the country will turn to international financial organizations to protest the stop of money transfers from Russia. At an October 6 news briefing, National Bank of Georgia President Roman Gotsiridze charged that the measure violates International Monetary Fund regulations. Gotsiridze went on to claim that the ban could lead to illegal money transfer systems that could be used to expedite money-laundering and terrorist activities as well.
With the recent closure of all land borders with Russia, the loss of air traffic poses an additional headache. Georgian National Airways told Black Sea Press on October 6 that the company expects annual losses of "several million dollars" from the cessation of its flights to and from Russia. Georgian National Airways General Director Giorgi Kodua added that Georgian airlines plan to appeal to the International Civil Aviation Organization that Russia's travel suspension violates a pre-existing bilateral agreement with Georgia.
The disruption of postal services, both publicly and privately run, promises further trouble. An employee of international express shipping company DHL in Tbilisi said that all of the company's shipments to Russia had stopped as of October 7. The country accounted for as much as 20 percent of DHL's business in Georgia, the employee said.
One of the company's last Russia-bound shipments was a cluster of grapes, sent to the Kremlin on October 6 by Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who doubles as Georgia's wine tsar. Russian officials, who banned the import of all Georgian wine and mineral waters on the basis of alleged impurities, "have forgotten the taste of Georgian grapes," Okruashvili told reporters.
Editor's Note: Diana Petriashvili is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.
Posted October 10, 2006 © Eurasianet