During the year there were several instances of discrimination against the Muslim community. The public defender and civil society expressed their concern about intolerance and violence directed against Muslims. In Samtatskaro, for example, local congregants of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) prevented Muslims from holding Friday prayers in their new mosque. Town leadership claimed the majority of the town’s citizens did not want a new mosque in the town. The Public Defender’s Office recommended the Ministry of Internal Affairs investigate the event. The Kakheti regional police was investigating the incident at year’s end.
In September the investigative arm of the Ministry of Finance deployed police officers to remove a mosque’s minaret in the village of Chela, the construction of which, the ministry said, had violated importation laws. Inhabitants of the area, which is largely populated by Muslim Georgians originally from the Adjara region, viewed the police action as an assault on the mosque and reacted with violent protests. The ministry claimed materials used in the minaret had been obtained in Turkey and violated customs regulations. According to the ministry, it was necessary to remove the mosque to examine the materials, following mosque leaders’ failure to respond to a written letter from the government informing them of these violations. Police arrested nine men who had protested against, and confronted authorities during, the minaret’s removal. Of the nine arrested, police fined six men 400 lari each (approximately $240), and three faced criminal charges for resisting police at year’s end.
Although the government later indicated it would return the minaret to the mosque, the minaret was stored in a field and covered with a tarp following the intervention of the GOC leadership. Following discussions between the government and GOC leadership, two senior Orthodox clerics traveled to Akhaltsikhe to meet with a group of GOC congregants protesting the minaret’s reinstallation and to call on them to disperse. Saying the minaret “will not be re-erected,” the clerics praised the group, which was blocking the road in an attempt to prevent the minaret’s return to Chela.
On November 28, however, approximately three months after its removal, members of the Muslim community reinstalled the minaret after receiving a building permit, approved by the local village council a day earlier. GOC congregants peacefully protested the minaret’s reinstallation.
EU Special Advisor Thomas Hammarberg described the reaction of the local authority in these situations in Chela and elsewhere as “inadequate.” In his September report, he wrote “the perception of implicit complicity between the aggressors and authorities, including law enforcement, may have contributed to repetition and expansion to other villages of such incidents.”
The government included in its factional party leadership several figures who reportedly engaged in xenophobic, racist, and anti-Muslim statements. The Media Development Foundation, a media monitoring NGO, reported that Georgian Dream Coalition member of parliament Giorgi Gachechiladze made discriminatory comments against foreign nationals on a talk show in May.
In June a government interagency commission issued a report on the implementation of the National Concept and Action Plan on Tolerance and Civil Integration (2009-14). The report noted positive trends, such as the active participation of the minority regions in the October 2012 parliamentary elections; the implementation of infrastructure rehabilitation and economic projections in the minority regions; and the government’s focus on Georgian-language instruction projects.
The OHCHR/UNDP-supported NGO Coalition noted in its September report that ethnic minority representation in the government remained limited and far lower than its representation in the country. The public defender’s Monitoring Results of Implementation of the National Concept and Action Plan on Tolerance and Civil Integration, which covered the period from 2010 to February 2012, reported few minorities involved in the executive branch of government, political parties, and civil society.
Georgian-language skills continued to be the main impediment to integration for the country’s ethnic minorities; however, political, civic, economic, and cultural obstacles to integration also remained. Some minorities claimed that the law requiring all government officials to speak Georgian excluded them from participating in government. The law requires that ethnic minority students learn Georgian as a second language. The public defender’s 2012 Situation of Human Rights and Freedom report noted that a significant part of the ethnic minority population lacked proficiency in the state language, hindering their civil integration. In part the report attributed the problem to inadequate Georgian-language instruction at preschool educational centers in minority regions. The report also noted an insufficient number of Georgian-speaking government administrators in minority regions. Additionally, some government materials distributed to the public were available only in Georgian. While the Ministry of Reintegration asserted it translated all major legislative acts into Armenian, Azeri, and Russian, a civil society watchdog group reported that, aside from the constitution and the National Concept on Tolerance and Civil Integration, the government translated only abstracts of a limited number of laws into minority languages.
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 government continued to provide education in the state language and minority languages in minority regions. Some secondary educational textbooks in Armenian or Azeri did not follow the national curriculum, making it difficult for students in minority-language schools to pass high school graduation exams. The 2012 Situation of Human Rights and Freedom report noted that higher educational institutions did not train teachers for minority-language schools.
Many NGOs in minority regions claimed an improvement during the year in the number of opportunities for Georgian-language instruction and in the quality of classes. According to the 2012 Situation of Human Rights and Freedom report, the Ministry of Education and Science since September 2011 had implemented a program to promote Georgian-language learning at eight preschool centers in ethnic minority regions, providing textbooks and additional educational materials for children. The government also introduced bilingual textbooks in certain public schools in minority regions. Nevertheless, approximately 25 to 30 percent of the text was only in Georgian, and many students and some teachers could not understand some of the content. The Public Defender’s Office criticized the government for not adequately funding a multilingual education program. During the 2013-14 academic year, the government was implementing a bilingual program in the minority regions in two stages, beginning at the primary level (grades one through six).
The Public Defender’s Office noted that in 2012 there was an increase in the number of ethnic minorities from Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli enrolled in Georgian universities. Ethnic minority students could take the general skills exam for college entrance in their respective minority language. According to the 2012 Situation of Human Rights and Freedom report, 200 ethnic Armenian and 390 ethnic Azerbaijanis enrolled in Georgian universities. Nevertheless, the public defender commented the government did not implement the 2009 law requiring that the college entrance general skills examination be made available in Ossetian, hindering those ethnic Ossetian students without Georgian-language proficiency from entering Georgian universities.
Some schools reportedly continued to display Georgian Orthodox religious objects, resulting in complaints from several ethnic minority families. Members of the Muslim community reported some educational texts treated historic religious accounts and figures disrespectfully.
The 2012 Situation of Human Rights and Freedom report noted limited access to national television news in ethnic minority languages. The GPB produced only
10- to 12-minute daily news programs in five minority languages and was criticized for lack of news coverage in minority regions. Many in minority regions received their news from Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Turkish television stations, which broadcast news regarding Georgia, but without an obligation to provide comprehensive information about Georgia. GPB Public Radio provided daily audio versions of the national news in Abkhaz, Ossetian, Armenian, Russian, and Azerbaijani, but the radio coverage did not extend to large parts of Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe Javakheti.
Beginning in September 2012, GPB Public Radio stopped its interactive educational program, Our Georgia, which focused on the culture, traditions, and history of ethnic minorities. Circulation of minority language print media (for example, the Azerbaijani newspaper Gurjistan and the Armenian newspaper Vrastan) was limited. Local government officials in Samtskhe-Javakheti voiced concern that the lack of significant Georgian news programs in minority languages alienated many members of national minority communities.
The law permits the repatriation of Muslim Meskhetians, a national minority group that Stalin deported in 1944. Approximately 5,840 Meskhetians filed for repatriation by the beginning of 2010. Approximately 160 returned unofficially over the previous four years, settling in Akhaltsikhe and Abastumani. At year’s end 1,053 applications had been approved, although no repatriations occurred due to the long and complicated process. The Public Defender’s Office criticized the review process, noting that authorities denied 90 percent of applicants because of an inability to provide documents proving the government deported their ancestors in 1944 and that many applicants were unable to afford translation of their Russian-language documents into either Georgian or English, as required. NGO Toleranti, which advocates on behalf of Muslim Meskhetians, believed the low number of applications was due to legal and financial difficulties in obtaining necessary documents. Toleranti also cited other barriers, including insufficient time for submitting the applications before the deadline in 2010, the government’s perceptions of potential insecurity in the wake of the 2008 Georgian-Russian war, and potential animosity from the locals in Samstkhe-Javakheti. At year’s end, approximately 25 Muslim Meskhetians families in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region and 11 families in Gori in the Shida Kartli region resided in the country without legal documents. According to Toleranti, these individuals lacked access to education, medical assistance, property registration, and employment opportunities due to their lack of legal documentation.
The European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI) reported that Roma appeared to suffer from widespread societal prejudice and marginalization and that the government needed to do more to integrate Roma. The ECMI 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 lived principally in the Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Kobuleti, Kakheti, and Sukhumi regions. The ECMI reported the Romani community suffered from extreme poverty, unemployment, lack of education and health care, and isolation from larger society.
The 2012 Situation of Human Rights and Freedom report noted that, while Roma live in extreme poverty, few received social assistance due to lack of necessary documentation and access to information regarding assistance. In 2012, for the first time, with the assistance of local NGOs, some in the Romani community obtained Georgian identification cards and were able to participate in elections.
Ethnic Georgians living in the Gali district of Abkhazia had no legal access to education in the Georgian language, but instruction in Georgian occurred with limitations. According to the Abkhaz government-in-exile, the de facto government used two types of curricula in the Gali district, which was divided into separate zones. In the Tkvarcheli and Ochamchire zones, Russian was the only instructional language and, since the 2008 war, the de facto government had prohibited Georgian language instruction. Graduation certificates for all Gali schools indicated Russian as the native language of students. Georgian teachers who did not speak Russian had to memorize lessons in Russian or instructed students in Georgian, but Abkhaz de facto authorities, who also did not provide funding for teachers of Georgian, often harassed them. Local communities had either to pay for teachers, arrange 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 difficult. De facto authorities did not issue Abkhaz passports to Georgian school graduates, based on a belief that they would not pursue higher education in Sukhumi but would go to Georgia proper instead. During the year 160 students from the Gali district were enrolled in Georgian universities. To take Georgian university entrance exams, graduates had to take dangerous illegal paths.
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 government agencies actively participated in civic integration programs. The Zurab Zhvania 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. Beginning in 2011, however, the school operated at a limited capacity, focusing solely on Georgian language instruction for public school teachers.