Are Russian citizens who flee their country welcome in Georgia?
Russians fleeing to Georgia
The Georgian government says part of the public’s concern over the possible mass migration of Russian citizens to Georgia amid the Russia-Ukraine war is “ethnic” discrimination which is run by the opposition. Authorities are threatening citizens with “de-criminalization”. Meanwhile, private businesses are already imposing restrictions on Russian citizens.
“The campaign against the arrival of Russian citizens in Georgia is led by the United National Movement, which wants to drag the country to war”, said Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the Georgian Dream
He instructed law enforcement agencies to respond to cases of “discrimination” against Russian citizens in Georgia and announced the tightening of the law against inciting “ethnic hatred”.
“Georgia is the only country where a large-scale campaign has been launched against ethnic discrimination against Russian citizens. Discrimination against people on ethnic grounds is an unheard of phenomenon for the civilized world”, Irakli Kobakhidze said.
According to him, there is a “party of war” in Georgia, whose sole purpose is to involve Georgia in the military conflict, and behind this party stands the opposition United National Movement.
“Another manifestation of the intentions of the ‘war party’ is a new campaign launched by them against Russian citizens in Georgia”, Kobakhidze said.
“Currently, there are cases when private companies refuse services to Russian citizens or make discriminatory conditions for the provision of such services. There is a serious danger that such an approach will acquire a wider trend and turn into physical abuse of Russian citizens. We call on the law enforcement agencies to take all measures to prevent and suppress any physical confrontation and attempts to incite ethnic strife. All those who commit such acts should be punished with the full force of the law”, said the chairman of the Georgian Dream.
According to him, the Parliament of Georgia has already started working on tightening the law against discrimination on ethnic grounds and inciting ethnic hatred.
A few days ago, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said that Georgia would not join sanctions against Russia because “sanctions are ineffective”.
The Georgian authorities also did not allow volunteer fighters leaving for Ukraine to fly from Tbilisi airport, which, according to Irakli Kobakhidze, would mean “direct involvement in the conflict”.
“Shall we let them in or not?”
The Georgian government is outraged by the agitation over the alleged mass arrival of Russian citizens in Georgia, which has been ongoing on Georgian social media and news programs for two days.
After Western sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine were lifted, and the Russian government began shutting down the media, restricting social media and tightening repressive laws, many Russian citizens began to look for ways to flee the country.
One of the most favorable destinations for them is Georgia – because of the visa-free regime and the liberal rules of stay in the country.
A foreigner, including a Russian citizen, can enter the country without a visa and stay for one year without having to obtain any residence permit or registration.
That is why Russian citizens who are planning to move to Georgia have become more active in Russian-speaking groups on social media in recent days.
Many of them ask about how easy it is to find a job in Georgia or enrolled a child in school.
The Georgian Real Estate Association has also confirmed the increased interest of Russian and Belarusian citizens in real estate in Georgia.
Such activity of Russian citizens has caused great unrest on Georgian segment of social media. There are calls for the state to stop allowing Russian citizens in, and for real estate owners to refuse to lease their apartments to Russians.
This issue has caused a heated controversy among Georgian users of social media.
The main argument for not allowing Russian citizens into Georgia is that the increase in the number of Russian citizens in Georgia will allow the Putin’s regime to continue its aggression under the pretext of “protecting Russian citizens”.
“Russians will be followed by Russian tanks, that’s what recent history shows us”, one of the users wrote.
“Now Mr. Vladimir Putin is the one who suffers the most psychologically and needs our true Caucasian warmth and hospitality, let’s give him a rest somewhere in Abastumani or Gonio, hug and caress him and let him go home again”, writes another user sarcastically writes.
“Do not bring Russian imperialists seeking a better life here, those who do not leave the country because they are persecuted, but because they want to buy Nike and Adidas and to travel to Maldives! Introduce visa regime, urgently!”
“There is no collective crime”
However, opposing views are also heard.
“I have seen something like this in many places – why are those ‘normal’ Russians fleeing their country instead of fighting to defeat Putin? To this I would like to say: this is the same as the German intellectuals who fled Hitler in their time – not to mention Georgians who fled from Bidzina”, wrote Davit Darchiashvili, a professor at Ilia State University.
Citizens who do not support the closure of the Georgian border for the Russians offer the state a solution:
“Let all Russians sign a document saying that they recognize the unity of Georgia and let them in as refugees!”
“I do not think the Russian state will need any reason if the Kremlin decides to invade. The time for “reasons” is long gone, now they do not even try to disguise their actions, the most correct decision, in my opinion, would be a visa regime. Even in the form of an electronic visa…
At the same time, experts and politicians are warning the public that their sincere and legitimate outrage may turn into xenophobia and unacceptable behavior.
“If it is true that the Russians are leaving their country, there are two possible reasons for this:
- fleeing dictatorship and impending repressions;
- avoid the discomfort of sanctions.
These are two completely different reasons and the approach should also be appropriate.
- our anger should not turn into xenophobia;
- visa regime was invented to control the inflow of people;
“Those who are running away from sanctions, but still have Putin’s pictures on their Facebook, should not be allowed in Georgia”, wrote Tina Khidasheli, the former Minister of Defense.
“First of all, we have to admit that the problem is difficult. Not only in the sense that a large part of these people share values that are unacceptable for us and their presence here can be detrimental (really) to us, but also in the sense that it is difficult to make a decision on what kind of policy is right”, wrote political scientist Gia Nodia.
“Letting everyone is not good and neither is not letting anyone in. Not showing Russians who come here what we think about the crimes committed by their country is not good too. If we see a Russian, should we shout “Slava Ukraine” or “Putin Khuilo”? A bit primitive, though may be acceptable. In short, we are in trouble in this regard as well. But as for the moral side of the case, one thing we must remember: there is no such thing as collective crime”, Nodia said.
“As soon as you take a step towards acknowledging a collective crime, that is, judging an individual on the basis of their ethnicity, citizenship, socio-economic status, or any other sign, even if it seems emotionally right at the moment, you will take a step toward some kind of fascism”.
However, in his view, there is a collective responsibility. The Russians are collectively responsible for Putin’s government, just as the Georgians are for “the rule of Bidzina and his viziers”.
Alexander Rakviashvili, a member of parliament from the opposition Girchi party, believes that the migration of Russian citizens to Georgia can be beneficial for the country:
“Now the most active people are fleeing Russia, people whose morale makes it dangerous for them to live in modern Russia. The best of Russian population is fleeing the country, and like the Jews, these people can bring great benefits to the country that will receive them”.
Russian citizen: “It’s painful and we are scared”
Russian emigrants living in Georgia call on Georgian citizens not to direct their anger against the Putin regime to any Russian citizen.
“Citizens of Georgia – Listen to me! The aggressor is the Russian regime and not all Russian speakers living in other countries and especially in Georgia.
Almost all Russians living in Georgia participated in the anti-war rallies. Some even burned their passports. “Because we are in pain, we are afraid and it is unbearably bitter to realize that you are a citizen of such country!” – writes one of the emigrants.
Bank of Georgia introduces first restrictions for Russian citizens
The service of the Bank of Georgia will not be used by Russian citizens who do not sign a declaration confirming that they condemn Russian aggression in Georgia and Ukraine. The information about this was confirmed to Netgazeti by the bank’s press service.
In order to provide services, a Russian citizen must sign a form declaring the following:
- I condemn Russian aggression in Georgia and Ukraine;
- I agree that Russia is an occupier that invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 and 2022;
- I agree to support Georgia’s territorial integrity and to recognize that Abkhazia and Samachablo are an integral part of Georgia;
- I agree not to share Russian government propaganda and help fight it;
- I realize that any violation of the above conditions will lead to the cancellation of my account with the Bank of Georgia.
The bank states that the mentioned conditions have been effective in all its branches since March 4. The press service said that several citizens refused to sign the above reservations, which is why the bank refused to open accounts for them.