Officially Speaking

The New Draft Law on State Language Uncovers Deficiencies in Education Program

The Georgian parliament is to discuss the new draft law, which would require the aspiring public officials to pass the Georgian language test. The voices are heard that the law would filter out Georgia’s national minorities whose command of Georgian is not improving due to the failures of the country’s education system.

The parliament is going to adopt the law on the official language, which would not allow those who do not know Georgian to work in the governmental institutions. The aspiring public official would have to pass a language course followed with special examination to become eligible for the post.

Local and international experts agree that the draft law corresponds to the international norms. OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Rolf Ekeus, who has been visiting Georgia on February 6, said the draft law would not violate right of the ethnic minorities in Georgia.

But it is a simple fact that the command of Georgian among country’s ethnic minorities is quite poor, especially in the areas of compact residence. The program of education in Georgian language for the ethnic minorities is failing in part due to the financial constraints, and has no visible results to the date.

Representative of the Armenian community, member of the Georgian Parliament Van Baiburt believes that adoption of this law would shut the doors of the official agencies to the non-ethnic Georgian citizens. He says that members of the ethnic minorities in Georgia are to be filtered out, only because the government itself fails to teach them the Georgian language. Furthermore, Baiburt believes that the language exams will become a new source of corruption.

Armenians, Azeris and Russians are the largest ethnic minority groups in Georgia. Majorities of ethnic Armenians reside in Samtskhe-Javakheti region, Azeris – in Kvemo Kartli. There are almost no ethnic Georgians in the districts of compact residence of these ethnic minorities; hence, knowledge of the Georgian language is quite redundant. Local population has much stronger economic and social links with Armenia or Azerbaijan respectively, than with other regions of Georgia.

“The schools are not enough promote interest to the [Georgian] language of the youth in these regions. The environment itself is not Georgian there. Almost no one talks Georgian in Javakheti or Kvemo Kartli and it is natural that studying Georgian in such circumstances is nearly impossible,” Baiburt states. But he says that the residents of these regions, especially youth, really want to learn Georgian.

Education Ministry’s “Center for Harmonious Development” Ltd, which supplies Kvemo Kartli with the text books, informs that teaching Georgian runs into severe problems in the region, especially in border districts, were the residents barely know even basic Georgian.

Since 1997 the Ministry of Education is implementing a Georgian language education program for non-ethnic Georgian population. The budget allocates 700 000 Laris [approximately $350,000] annually for this program, but delays in funding are very frequent. When talking about ineffectiveness of the program, representatives of the Education Ministry often complain about insufficient funding and lack of professionals.

Van Baiburt says that the funds often do not reach destination and simply disappear through the corrupt loopholes. Consequently, the program is not implemented at a full scale.

The head of the Human Rights Parliamentary Committee Elene Tevdoradze says the draft law would motivate ethnic minorities to integrate into Georgian community. She believes the draft law on State Language should be passed, but 5-year grace period given for the minority representatives to study Georgian; government should use these five years to completely implement Georgian language program.

Norair Baghdasarian, Head of Division for Coordination of the National Program of the Ministry of Education concedes the process would be slow: “Since beginning of the program considerable amount of work has been done in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli for Georgian language education, but it is yet early to talk about any significant changes.”

In last 5 years of operation the program has not brought any tangible results. A simple fact that 8th grade students of the secondary School in Kvemo Kartli know only most basic Georgian words proves failure of the program. Georgian language teachers, dispatched to these regions, do not know the local languages – Armenian or Azeri – and, therefore, are not able to communicate with students freely. As a result an aura of trust is never developing between the teacher and the students.

Furthermore, most of these teachers are not specialized in Georgian language and meager salaries affect their motivation.

Modified program, developed by the Ministry of Education, will require 950 000 Laris annually. The new program is to be approved in March. OSCE has expressed readiness to assist the Georgian government in teaching the official language to the members of the ethnic minorities.

“We are sure that the situation will improve in the nearest future, despite implementation of the program in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli” – says Norair Baghdasarian.

But most believe that controversy about the new draft cut deep into the problems of the Georgian state, which still has a long way to travel for properly incorporating its non-Georgian citizens into all walks of the country’s life. Persistent xenophobia from the ethnic Georgians and mistrust of the non-ethnic Georgians into fairness of the official institutions are to be tackled before these, still disconnected parts of the country’s citizenry can communicate well, even when speaking officially.

By Salome Jashi, Civil Georgia