Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Georgia mulls banning ex-KGB members from public office

Nearly two decades after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Georgia's parliament is to debate legislation aimed at preventing former KGB members holding public office, as Tom Esslemont reports.

State archives, Tbilisi
Each folder contains the details of victims of Soviet-era repression

Inside the cavernous state archives in Tbilisi, the shelves are piled high with brightly coloured folders dating back to 1921.

Each one contains documents detailing victims of Soviet-era repression - including Soviet Central Committee orders to deport or execute them.

Unsurprisingly, there are a huge number of folders in the section relating to the 1930s - the height of Stalin's purges.

Georgia opened its archives in 2004, after the election of its pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

Gia Tortladze
People of my generation - in their 40s- could have been involved in the KGB
Gia Tortladze
Georgian MP

But it has not gone through the process known as lustration - literally the ritual of "purification" designed to bring Soviet "collaborators" to book - which the Czech Republic, Hungary and the Baltic States made law more than 10 years ago.

Now, though, member of parliament Gia Tortladze has designed a lustration bill he says will draw a line under Georgia's Soviet era once and for all.

"People of my generation - in their 40s - could have been involved in the KGB," he says. "So we need to have the right to investigate their files.

"If they are found to have had links they will be given six months to come forward. Then a decision will be made about their future."

The legislation would ban them - and not only them, but also anyone found to have been a member of a number of Soviet committees - from holding public office.

A brief look at its history shows why Georgia has not passed this legislation before.

During the 1990s, shortly after independence, Tbilisi was trying to restore order in its two warring breakaway states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The government understands that this is more of a symbolic gesture
Ghia Nodia
Ilia Chavchavadze State University

These days, a rejection of all things Soviet goes hand-in-hand with the Georgian government's anti-Russian stance.

Members of the ruling parliamentary party support the bill. But some historians believe the attempts to pass it hide a conspiracy.

"For me this law is about preventing certain people from working in politics," says Giorgi Partskharladze, of the Museum of Soviet Occupation in Tbilisi.

"There are [some figures] who were close collaborators with the KGB and they are very active politically are [still] working for Moscow. And we know it. And it is very important for me to stop their movement to power."

Mr Patskharladze is not naming any names. And it could be the process of identification that provides the greatest stumbling block in the government's attempt to actually implement a lustration law, were it to be passed by parliament.

Only about 20% of the country's Soviet archives still exist. Some are located in Russia. Given that Georgia and Russia are at loggerheads, it is highly unlikely they will be returned any time soon.

Soso Gagoshvili
I don't think the so-called betrayers will ever be brought to book - but, if it comes to it, let them arrest me
Soso Gagoshvili
Soviet museum in Tbilisi

Given the paucity of evidence, outspoken opposition politicians are now calling into question the government's reasons for supporting this legislation.

Nino Burjanadze, the leader of Democratic Movement United Georgia party, says that when the same legislation was brought to parliament several years ago it was rejected.

Now, she says "the same people who opposed it then are now supporting this legislation and that is giving me even more reason to believe that this [all about] PR and nothing more".

So, without access to vital archives why is the ruling party planning to support this law?

Ghia Nodia, a professor of political science at Ilia Chavchavadze State University in Tbilisi, says: "The current political elite, including the government and most of the opposition, is quite young and there are very few people who could have been related to Soviet Special Services - so I think the government understands that this is more of a symbolic gesture."

There are few people who remain committed to the Communist cause in Georgia.

Soso Gagoshvili runs the Soviet museum in Tbilisi - a small, dank place that has few visitors.

As he sits at his desk beneath two life size portraits of Lenin and Stalin, I ask him whether he worked for the Soviet Central Committee and whether he was worried by the proposed bill.

"I believe this period of capitalism will be short lived and the Soviet Union will be restored. Therefore I don't think the so-called betrayers will ever be brought to book - but, if it comes to it, let them arrest me", he says.

The legislation, if passed, could end up being a symbolic gesture - but it could also signal the beginning of a much louder public debate.

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