Commentary: the deported - 2017
Another round of Georgians deported from Ukraine have arrived in Georgia. As in 2006, when cargo planes full of Georgian citizens who had been expelled from Russia landed in Tbilisi, journalists hurried to the airports or ports, in order to capture a possibly ‘ordinary’ event.
Ukrainian authorities have tried to arrange a group deportation of Georgians once before, and I happened to be among them. At that time, Viktor Yanukovych was President, and the Euromaidan Revolution had already been going on for twenty days.
On 10 December 2013, three people presenting themselves as members of the Ukrainian security service and the migration service came to us at our hotel. My cameraman and I (we were representing the Georgian TV company Tabula) were urged to leave Ukraine as we had ‘participated in mass riots’. Otherwise, they threatened to deport us from the country by force.
They had a list of all the Georgian journalists that were working in Kiev at that time with them, and naively believed that we would help them find them.
Saying goodbye to our guests, I reported the incident to the Maidan headquarters, and then to the Georgian embassy. Thanks to Ukrainian journalists, this story had a huge resonance that day, and Georgian diplomats began to ask the appropriate offices what was happening. As a result, authorities had to explain that, supposedly, no one wanted to deport us, but just wanted ‘to warn’ us.
Yes, they could have done to us what they are doing now to Georgian citizens that the current Ukrainian government considers unfit: come in the middle of the night, beat us up, handcuff us, blindfold us, push us into a trunk and put us on a plane or ferry. But the people eventually saved us. Journalists, human rights activists, deputies, and ordinary Ukrainians who later recognized us on the street expressed their support and thanked us for our work.
Tamaz Shavshishvili, a cameraman deported from Ukraine and who all Georgian journalists know as Tomazo, along with the personal cameraman of former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili for many years answered questions from members of Saakashvili’s Ukrainian party via Skype as, by and large, no Ukrainian media sources were interested.
Do you think this cameraman, who has accreditation to work and permission to stay in Ukraine, was pushed into a trunk and kicked out? There are more important topics. In recent weeks, Georgian citizens, who are in Ukraine completely legally including ATU veterans, have been expelled from the country by means of force, and in obvious violation of the law. It would seem that few people in Ukraine care about this, except for Saakashvili’s supporters.
For many years, I had not felt such shame as I did in May, when Azerbaijani journalist, Afgan Mukhtarli, was abducted from the center of Tbilisi and illegally transferred to Azerbaijan, to prison. My friends in Ukraine are feeling the same shame right now because of how the authorities of that country are acting towards compatriots.
It doesn’t matter which political party these people support. It doesn’t even matter whether or not they violated rules or laws. In any case, such brutal use of force is not justifiable, and Ukraine has every chance of losing a case in the European Court of Human Rights, should the deportees sue.
Apparently, shortly after the Euromaidan Revolution, Ukrainian society again began to get used to lawlessness. They most likely naively believe that this first selective application of laws, as in the case of Saakashvili’s deprivation of citizenship, and then this purely gangster style brutality, will only concern the supporters of a certain politician within the scheme of some mutual showdowns, and that the government would not dare to apply these methods to other citizens. But this has been proven in practice as a delusion in many countries.
The relationship between Georgian and Ukrainian societies is unlikely to suffer any negative impact caused by either the authorities in Tbilisi or Kiev; our peoples have a united intimacy and mutual sympathy. Simply by this happening again it confirms that much has gone wrong in post-Maidan Ukraine.
It seems more and more that current Ukrainian leaders believe they came to power after Maidan not owing to the courage of the Ukrainian citizens, but to the weakness of Yanukovych. This means that there isn’t anything bad in Yanukovych’s methods, but it’s more important not to give in and repeat his mistakes. I think that neither they, nor Ukraine will lead to anything good in the end.