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Russification or Expanding Opportunity?

As Georgian-language schools disappear in South Ossetia, supporters say the move will expand the horizons of local pupils, while critics claim discrimination. From JAMnews.

11 October 2017

In South Ossetia, a recent decision brings to an end the concept of “Georgian schools,” and replaces them instead with intensive Georgian-language classes in Russian schools. Most of these Georgian schools are located in the Leningor district, which, until the 2008 war, was under Tbilisi’s control. A census in South Ossetia conducted in 2015 shows that 2,337 ethnic Georgians live here – known in Georgian as Akhalgori – making up 55 percent of the district’s population.


All classes will gradually transition to Russian and Ossetian as mediums of instruction, and to a Russian curriculum. This year, the changes have only affected primary classes, which have about 25 students on average. 


The minister of education in South Ossetia, Natalie Gassieva, told reporters that this decision will increase the prospects for ethnic Georgian students, who will have the opportunity to pursue higher education at the South Ossetian State University, and will also be eligible for quotas allocated to students from South Ossetia at higher education institutions in Russia. In Tbilisi, however, this plan is considered discriminatory.


Concerns have been expressed that restrictions on obtaining education in their native language will force ethnic Georgians still residing in South Ossetia to leave their homeland.


South Ossetian schoolchildren


The Georgian minister for reconciliation and civil equality, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, spoke about the decision, recalling similar changes in the Gali district of Abkhazia, another breakaway territory from Georgia, where there’s a dense population of ethnic Georgians. “This process is designed to fully Russify [South Ossetia],” she said. 


All for the Sake of Unity 


South Ossetian authorities and local experts both insist that there will be no discrimination against Georgians.


“The population of the Leningor district should finally feel like part of South Ossetia and not Georgia,” South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov said at a press conference. “We will not by any means prohibit the use of the Georgian language – that would be definitely wrong. We live in one state, we are fellow citizens and brothers, common people of one state. We are one community, which must unite to develop and move forward together.” 


Kosta Dzygaev, a well-known political analyst in South Ossetia, and director of the Intellectual Resources Center, wrote on his Facebook page: “Recently, a colleague from Vilnus, Arkady Nehamkin (along with several others), turned to me with an insulting question about our government banning Georgian schools in the Leningor district … I’m informing you, colleagues … Georgian children have the right, and opportunity, to study their native language.”


Dzygaev asserted that, in the region, four to five times more Georgian children attend Russian-speaking schools than Georgian ones. “Parents understand that fluency in Russian will provide greater opportunities in life,” he wrote.


“Until this year the situation was awkward: in Georgian schools, they were studying according to Georgia’s curriculum. Therefore graduates would leave South Ossetia; so we were financing the education of a neighboring and hostile state.”


In Dzygaev’s opinion, South Ossetia is only trying to keep alive the local tradition of multilingualism. “It has always been taken for granted that we are fluent in our native Ossetian [language], [have a good comprehension of] literary Russian, good conversational Georgian, and that a majority of people are quite fluent in English.”

This article was originally published on JAMnews, a news and analysis site based in the South Caucasus. TOL has done some editing to fit our style. Reprinted with permission. Text image courtesy of JAMnews.

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