State Memory Politics in Georgia after 1991 and Similarities with the Other Post-Soviet Countries

Author: Megi Kartsivadze, Analyst of Archives, Soviet & Memory Studies Direction, Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)

July, 2020


In the process of elaborating a common methodology for accessing memory politics in different countries, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) divided the evaluation scheme into four dimensions: legal, institutional, commemorative and monumental. Following this scheme, the presentation was focused on the overview of the memory politics in Georgia since 1991 and its comparison with the post-Soviet, mainly the Baltic States.

Within the frame of the legal dimension, the presentation covered the three issues: lustration, prohibition of totalitarian symbols and the rehabilitation of victims. Due to the political tensions and the fire in the KGB building during the Tbilisi Civil War which destroyed 210 000 archival files, the adoption of the Lustration law in Georgia had been procrastinated until 2011 when the Parliament of Georgian finally adopted the Freedom Charter. Freedom Charter encompasses three main directions: anti-terrorist activities, lustration and the prohibition of the Soviet symbols. In the presentation, each of these dimensions were described in details and the challenges were discussed. Freedom Charter was also compared with the similar laws in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. As a result, it was emphasized that the major problem for the Lustration law in Georgia is the destroyed KGB archives which in many cases makes it impossible to disclose information about the Soviet secret service officers, establish their political responsibility and prevent them from holding public posts. Also, the effectiveness of the Commission at the State Security Service, which is responsible for gathering data about the people who have collaborated with the totalitarian secret service through legal means and producing the relevant registry, seems relatively vague.

As for the prohibition of totalitarian symbols, it was shown how the Freedom Charter restricts the public display of certain symbols and how this restriction works in practice. It was concluded that regardless of the existence of such law, its execution and the effectiveness of the Commission, responsible for monitoring such cases, remains unclear. According to the information acquired by IDFI from the State Security Service, until 2015, the Commission had only met once while between 2016-2017 it only asked five entities to stop displaying Communist totalitarian symbols. To this day, the Georgian society has witnessed a number of cases when Stalin’s statues were erected in different locations while there are also many streets in Georgia named not only after Stalin but after the other Soviet leaders as well.

Concerning the rehabilitation of victims, the presentation described the relevant legislation and the changes it has experienced. In Georgia, the rehabilitation of victims of the totalitarian regime is regulated by the law “On the Acknowledgment of Citizens of Georgia as Victims of Political Repression and Social Protection of Repressed Persons” adopted in 1997. According to this law, political and social rights, military and special titles, awards and private property will be restored to those individuals who are recognized as the victims of repressions. A separate article also regulates the compensation of the victims, indicating that such individuals have right to request compensation from the state, but if a repressed person is already dead, his or her lawful heir is eligible to claim the indemnity. Today compensation limit is minimum 1000 GEL and maximum 2000 GEL. In the presentation, the legal definitions of “victim” and “repression” in Georgia and Estonia were compared to each other. Finally, it was concluded that the major challenge for the rehabilitation of the victims of the totalitarian regime in Georgia is the fact that the majority of the KGB documents, containing the information about the victims, were burnt during the Tbilisi Civil War.

Within the frame of the institutional dimension, first, the state commissions of historical truth in Georgia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia were compared to one another. In Georgia, such commission named “The Commission for Establishment of the Historical Truth” was established in 2010 and already in 2011, it published the 50-page document about the 200 years of Russian occupation. Their report was in line with the state discourse, which created a metanarrative of Russian occupation, linking the contemporary occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by the Russian Federation with the past occupations of the Georgian territories by the Bolsheviks and the Russian Empire. Therefore, it can be considered that, unlike the Baltic States, this Commission served more to the explanation and framing of the contemporary developments between Russia and Georgia in light of the historical background than to the reassessment of the past events and the rehabilitation of victims of the totalitarian regime. Additionally, the Georgian Museum of Soviet Occupation was compared with the Lithuanian Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, Museum of the Occupation of Latvia and the Estonian Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom.

As for the commemorative dimension, first, it was emphasized that the celebration of 9 May has particular significance in the post-Soviet space, mainly legitimizing the Russian narrative about its monopoly on the victory in the Second World War for which it has become a contentious topic in many former Soviet republics. Although Georgia and Ukraine have firmly declared the course of westernization, 9 May is still a public holiday in these countries. The presentation showed when all of the fifteen post-Soviet countries celebrate the victory in WWII and highlighted that the Baltic states are the only ones where 9 May is not a public holiday. Then, the street names as a particular form of commemoration were discussed. It was shown that although most of the post-Soviet states have renamed the streets commemorating Soviet leadership and ideologists and the Georgian Freedom Charter also restricts the Soviet symbolism, in Georgia, there are still several streets named after Stalin.

Finally, within the frame of the monumental dimension, the presentation covered the popular cases of the removal of the Soviet statues in the post-Soviet countries such as the removal of Stalin’s statue from Gori, Georgia, relocation of the Bronzer Soldier in Estonia and the demolition of Lenin’s statues in Ukraine. While in Ukraine, the demolition of Lenin’s statues was a form of protest following Euromaidan, in Georgia and Estonia, it was an expression of the state policy, reflecting the geopolitical choices of these countries, which was followed by a huge protest among some groups.

In conclusion, the main purpose of the presentation was to provide the information about the four-dimensional evaluation scheme of the memory politics in different countries. Such division enables the researchers from all over the world to follow the standardized template while assessing the memory politics in particular countries and then conduct comparative analysis of different approaches. Comparison of memory politics in different countries reveals the best and worst practices as well as the challenges that need to be addressed which is the primary purpose of IDFI’s international project.