GEO

Georgia's not so Freedom Charter

12 July, 2011

Throughout much of Eastern Europe, lustration laws have been enacted to strengthen national security and prevent ex-Soviet operatives and informants from holding public posts. The Georgian Parliament has recently followed the trend, drafting and passing its own equivalent of such a law in May 2011, albeit in a poor manner.

The Freedom Charter has three main tenets: strengthening national security, prohibiting Soviet and Fascist ideologies and removing any associated symbols, and creating a special commission to maintain a black-list for anyone suspected of collusion with foreign special forces. The law was initiated by Gia Tortladze, a minority MP, and was unanimously supported by the ruling United National Movement party.

According to Article 5 of the Freedom Charter, the strengthening of national security and protection from terrorism is assured by giving the Ministry of Internal Affairs the authority to maintain video-recording in strategic locations. These are: airports, ports, railways, subways, bridges, mass gathering areas and “strategic and vital objects.” (Art. 5.B)

“Strategic objects” are defined as related to the production of strategic products (oil products, gas, precious metals, electricity, and bakeries), while “vital objects” are described as essential to the welfare of the nation (Art. 2.B-C). Thereby, this provision results in the authority to install live video-feeds in iron refineries, bread factories, and, due to the vagueness of 'vital objects', potentially in any sort of workshop throughout the country.

Ex-officials and operatives involved in cooperation with foreign special forces will have a six month period to voluntarily report themselves to a special commission that will be set up within the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (Art 12.1). The commission will be comprised of one representative from each of Parliament’s four factions and officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). The number of MIA officials to be on the commission will be regulated by a statute drafted and approved by the Ministry itself (Art. 7.1). The Central Election Commission is obliged to check with this special commission to verify the eligibility of any candidates before registering them (Art 11.2).

In dealing with unwanted symbolism, The Freedom Charter includes a provision requiring collecting information about all objects where Soviet and Fascist symbols are used: buildings, monuments, statues, etc (Art. 7.3). The names of streets and villages reminiscent of the Soviet past must also be registered and subsequently changed. The special commission mentioned earlier will be charged with maintaining this list and give the authority to order the removal of symbols it deems Soviet or Fascist.

TI Georgia believes that:

  1. The Freedom Charter gives no clue to how the Commission will evaluate whether a particular monument or statue constitutes a propaganda of Soviet or Fascist ideology. There is no defined methodology. For example, does the trendy Soviet-kitsch “KGB Bar” in Tbilisi violate the law by displaying hammers and sickles?
  2. The Freedom Charter doesn’t specify the voting procedures or the exact composition of the commission that will be created, thereby making it impossible to determine whether a particular side will dominate the decision-making.
  3. The criteria for the locations defined as ‘strategic objects’ in Article 2 are unclear. For example, bakeries are on the list while the water supply system isn’t. This list should either be extended to cover all strategically significant locations, or abolished and the right to define such objects given to the new commission.
  4. There is insufficient elaboration over what exactly constitutes a symbol of Soviet or Fascist propaganda. This may lead to the new commission's members making decisions based on their subjective interpretations, rather than what is stipulated by law.
  5. Civil society representatives and law specialists will have no role in the process, nor will the public at large be allowed access to archival KGB files.This may cause a lack of accountability and transparency in the Commission’s work.
Author: George Topouria