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Georgia in search of "neutral" Ossetians and Abkhazians23.12.2010 | 15:48
Eka Tkeshelashvili, Georgia's minister for reintegration, has invented a new task for her ministry: to issue so-called neutral documents to citizens of Abkhazia and South Ossetia allowing them to travel freely around the world. At first sight the idea looks innocent, albeit useless. Still, it has a double bottom. Irakli Khintba, an Abkhaz politologist, told GeorgiaTimes why Tbilisi wants to "neutralize" citizens of former autonomies.
These are ordinary pieces of paper with the data of "neutral" citizens written on them. The documents will even look neutral bearing no symbols of the state they are issued by. One of the benefits is that a holder of such a passport will be able to move around the world freely.
State minister for reintegration Eka Tkeshelashvili speaks about the decision of introducing neutral passports as of a heroic act of the country's authorities calling it "a consensus with the reality" that has not been tough for the government. According to her, thousands of Abkhazians and Ossetians presently oppressed in their small republics will immediately go walking around the world.
"Neutral documents" is an alternative that helps Georgia avoid "legitimization of Russian passports" (i.e. acknowledgment that issuance of Russian documents for citizens of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is legitimate). That is why Tkeshelashvili condemns the international organizations that do not support the reintegration ministry's brilliant idea.
As always, Georgia is late to present this initiative, 10-12 years this time. All this could have been useful at the time when Abkhazians and Ossetians did sit locked up within four walls. Times have changed and now people have more than one passport to cross borders.
Eka Tkeshelashvili did not mention the third and easiest way to solve the passport problem - to recognize documents issued in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and not hamper movement of citizens of the republics travelling under these documents.
The idea to provide neutral passports to citizens of Georgia's former provinces is old, dating back to the time when people could cross the Russian border on some fake death certificates of some relatives. And the idea was suggested in Sukhum, not in Tbilisi. At the internationally mediated talks the Abkhaz authorities proposed issuance of UN passports specifically for Abkhaz citizens to let people out of post-war isolation. But it was Georgia that blocked the idea in the end.
Still, there is a huge difference between the idea of UN passports and Tkeshelashvili's neutral passports. In the first case a neutral mediator was supposed to launch the process. Now this is the Georgian government represented by its ministry for reintegration. This one thing dooms the whole process to failure. Besides, it is unclear in what way the Georgian authorities will disseminate "neutral documents" not having an access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
It is also obvious that some people from both republics will use the new proposal from Georgian government to add another piece of paper in their loaded document set. Most probably these will be residents of near-border Gal and Leningori districts, or probably those who regularly depart from the airport of Tbilisi that offers better and cheaper flights to Europe, the States and other countries than North Caucasian airports.
It seems, after all, that Eka Tkeshelashvili's ministry will have to print out some two or three thousand documents. After 5-7 years of complete isolation residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia acquired a "passportmania" complex. They consider it great luck to get a new passport. But happiness does not lie on the doorstep: travel-banned people are there still.
This is how it was done in late 1990s. In 1998, before going to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, some important papers were needed: first a telegram on the death of a relative. No wonder, there were people that had their relatives "dying" every week. Russian citizens could present a certificate acknowledging ownership of some property on the other side of the border.
In 1999 border-crossing under Soviet passports was allowed. Access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia for Russian citizens was open. Locals rushed to restore their Soviet passports since many of them had lost their documents in the war. People used a whole bag of tricks to find forms, inscribe their names and stamp them.
Border-crossing under USSR passports, by the way, is possible still - up to February 2011. But Soviet forms were not enough for everyone so dozens of thousands of people lost freedom of movement.