Vienna, June 3 – One in every five Georgians in the world now lives in the Russian Federation, a proportion that is prompting some in Tbilisi to ask whether this nearly one-million-strong community could speak out and thus affect Moscow’s policies toward Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Georgia more generally.
In an article posted on Moscow’s Strategic Culture Foundation website today, Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, an active opponent of Georgian President Mihkiel Saakashvili, discusses this possibility in ways that others, including supporters of the current regime in Tbilisi, are likely to be considering as well (www.fondsk.ru/article.php?id=1416).
On the one hand, Gamsakhurdia draws provides a detailed portrait of the emergence of the Georgian diaspora in the Russian Federation since 1991. (His comments are based on B.N. Kuteliya, G.G. Meladze, and G.Ye. Tsuladze’s “Emigration from Georgia in the Post-Soviet Period” [in Russian] at www.nir.ru/sj/sj/4kutel.htm.)
Unlike the migrant communities in the Russian Federation from many other former Soviet republics, the Georgians of Russia include representatives of virtually all social strata. Many are Russian citizens or have two passports, and a large number of them are married to local people.
And on the other, Gamsakhurdia suggests that the reasons that members of the Georgian diaspora have not become major participants in the debate about Russian policy in Georgia reflect the nature of diasporas in general, the specific situation of the Georgians living in the Russian Federation now, and the actions of Saakashvili’s government toward them.
Most diasporas, especially those as integrated into Russian life as many of the Georgians are – and all indications are that they are far more integrated than the Armenians or Azerbaijanis, members of whom have been regularly involved in clashes with Russian skinheads – are less interested in what is taking place in their old homelands than in the new.
In addition, many undoubtedly fear that they could lose their jobs or suffer other kinds of discrimination in the Russian capital if they were to speak out in any way. Such worries have been sufficient to keep members of other diasporas, such as the Tajiks and Kyrgyz, far quieter than their homeland governments or outside observers might have expected.
And finally – and this is something many Georgians and their friends would dispute – Saakashvili has deployed his own representatives to create what Gamsakhurdia calls a climate of fear among the diaspora equivalent to what he says is “the atmosphere of terror ruling in present-day Georgia” against anyone who opposes Saakashvili.
According to Gamsakhurdia, it is worth noting that “the agents of Saakashvili’s special services and activists of the ‘United National Movement’ have been able to create in Moscow a caricature organization, the ‘unified’ Georgian diaspora in Russia” which routinely issues statements in support of Saakashvili and against any Georgian who disagrees with him.
Again, one need not accept Gamsakhurdia’s assessment of the situation to see behind his words the emergence of something new in the post-Soviet region: an expectation that non-Russian diasporas inside Russia may now be more important players in the future than the ethnic Russian communities in non-Russian countries were in the past.