MINELRES: Georgia: national minorities' attitude towards NATO accession

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Mon Jul 7 18:05:42 2008

Original sender: Alexandra Kalatozishvili <yupmmg@yahoo.com>

Press conference Wednesday 2nd July 2pm
NATO initiative


Multinational Georgia launched the initiative 'Multinational Georgia and
NATO Expansion' because we were concerned about the lack of information
about and support for Georgia's bid for NATO membership in the regions
where minorities live compactly. The most important thing is that
Georgia's ethnic minorities are consulted, rather than excluded, in the
pre accession negotiations, and that their interests therefore be
accounted for by the authorities and NATO. 

Our main motive is that we do not want to see two separate political
directions emerging as regards NATO membership, so that popular feeling
among minorities and the centre become alienated from each other. In
recognising that some minority communities are strongly opposed to
Georgia's bid for NATO membership we developed the initiative to conduct
research in the minority communities in order to produce a coherent set
of policy recommendations, for NATO representatives, NGOs and the
government, to ensure the inclusion of Georgia's minorities into the
NATO agenda. 

It should be noted that we are confident that, as Multinational Georgia
already has an established reputation and network of contacts in these
regions, we are better equipped to conduct such research than someone
from the government or NATO.

The initiative will involve a number of stages. 

Firstly, we are directly mapping, through local consultations, how
people feel about NATO, what is important to them and what tools can be
applied to support this agenda. 

Secondly we will be working on producing the policy recommendations. We
will be particularly focusing on how to reconcile the recommendations
proposed by NATO in order that Georgia will be ready to join the
alliance, (MAP), with those that emerge from our research as being
critical in minority regions.

Another aspect of the initiative is that we will be seeking the approval
of the Georgian Ministry of Defence to provide specific multicultural
training seminars for Georgian soldiers who will shortly be posted to
Iraq. We consider this to be another crucial aspect that already
NATO-trained Georgian troops are prepared for working in regions
populated by minorities in Iraq, some of these minorities are also
present in Georgia. 

I would like to comment also on the results of the first step in this
process, in which two representatives of YUPMMG held focus group
discussions with the population of Samstkhe Javakheti. This was
completed on 23rd /24th June, in Akhalkalaki.  Samstkhe-Javakheti as you
know is a region which hosts a large number of ethnic Armenians, many of
whom reside in compact settlements. We selected to hold consultations
with representatives of the following focus groups, who were invited to
attend discussions at the media centre established by PMMG for the
purpose of election monitoring: 
Mass media representatives
Political elite 

Attendance was very encouraging- the group sizes varied between 5 and
18, so we were able to speak to 35 community representatives in total.
The focus groups encouraged attendees to discuss their fears openly and
allowed us also to present some positive information about NATO, in
order to allay directly some misleadings they already had.  

We learnt three key results from this series of focus group discussions.

 The lack of information amongst the community about NATO as an
organization in general and what it should mean for Georgia was clear.
Although everyone involved had heard of NATO most knew only about its
military activities, associated it with the coalition war in Iraq and
were unaware of specific benefits NATO membership could bring for the
Georgian armed forces. Throughout the discussion forums we gathered
feedback from attendees on what methods of spreading information would
work here, such as what mass media resources to employ and how to
involve teachers. Further details of these specific recommendations will
be in the final recommendation paper. After meeting with local political
elites we also learnt that some meetings had been held, prior to the
recent elections, by Georgian authorities and by NATO representatives,
to inform them about what NATO membership would mean for the region but
that the only people invited to these meeting were 10 local politicians.
Teachers, meanwhile, do not have the information or the training
available to even answer questions about NATO, even though the children
are often curious. 

 Political fears about expansion that emerged were contrary to initial
expectations. Rather than being worried that joining NATO would mean the
establishment of Turkish bases in the region, attendees were primarily
concerned about the negative impact joining NATO could have on their
traveling to and working in Russia, as well as the neighborhood
relationship with Armenia. Their main interest is that they can maintain
both economic and familiarial ties with both Russia and Armenia. It is
good to note that this is not evidence of a widespread ethnically
hostile feeling towards Turkey but reflecting economic priorities of the
relations with their neighbours. For some people we spoke to the concern
that the road to Turkey will be re opened and this will bring Turks
through the region was a distant, though emotive concern- but this is
contrasted against a feeling this is an inevitable change.

 The critical economic aspect for this particular municipality is that
until recently a Russian base operated there which provided valuable
economic input into the community. With that gone, the residents of
Akhalkalaki and its surrounding villages are markedly worse off, and
therefore more dependent on Russia, as many of their relatives and
friends work there and most of the goods they can afford are Russian. If
NATO will construct a new base here or if they can affect these problems
directly remains an open question. But we can make specific
recommendations about how to best impact the community should a base be

What we have learnt from these focus groups is being fed into the
process we have now started which is to formulate a practical set of
recommendations on how policy makers should proceed, with the intention
that the same process will also be undertaken in respect to ethnic
minority residents living in Kvemo Kartli region and Pankisi. 

We are focusing particularly on feasible ways of disseminating the
information about NATO which the community needs-as we are establishing
exactly what that information should be. We are also underlining for
policy makers what minority interests need to be taken into specific
account within the pre accession negotiation process. 

When we have compiled sufficient information to make the recommendations
we will have an additional press conference as well as publicizing the
recommendations on our website,

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