Today the Government of Georgia adopted a package of draft legislative amendments by that making a new, proactive and important step in the frames of peace policy of reconciliation and engagement.

For 25 years already the conflict remains unresolved. The grave situation since 2008 for 10 years and in everyday life poses serious challenges to the population on either side of artificial dividing lines. The recent tragedy of infringement on the life of a young man, Archil Tatunashvili and the delayed hand-over of his body has been another manifestation of gravity of the situation.

In those tragic days we witnessed once again that the actions alike are aimed at escalating tensions, confrontation and hostility between people, deepening divides and undermining peace approach that in the end targets not only concrete individuals, but puts at risk overall security and peaceful future of everyone, be it Georgian, Abkhazian or Ossetian.

With a full acknowledgement of this, the Government of Georgia today makes an open and determined statement that its peaceful policy is unwavering and the existing challenges are to be dealt with peace, development, principled stance, consistency and concrete steps.

On the one hand, we will never reconcile with actions that undermine lives, security and human rights. On the other hand, we will take even more dynamic steps for confidence building and reconciliation between the divided communities taking into account humanitarian needs and pragmatic interests of the population and their strive to peace, development and a better future.  

With this initiative, we seek to pave the way for constructive cooperation, dialogue with participation of various representatives of society and by that, to care about the wellbeing of population even prior to the full-scale resolution of the conflict.   

This can be achieved through applying humanitarian and depoliticized approaches. These are the steps that the Government of Georgia takes today. With flexible and pragmatic mechanisms introduced, they create a ground for improving humanitarian and social-economic conditions of people living in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, for attaining tangible benefits, promoting contacts, free movement and relations across the Fdividing lines, based on mutual interests.  

The package of legislative amendments endorsed by the Government of Georgia in the frames of its peace initiative “A Step to a Better Future” covers three main directions:

1. Firstly, it foresees to facilitate, ease and expand trade across dividing lines through creating new opportunities. Trade and mutual economic interest may serve as a firm factor of peace, apart from bettering the lives of people and providing more dignified environment for them.

2. Secondly, it aims to extend and simplify education opportunities both internally and internationally, to ensure the access to all stages of quality education for the population living in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia. We care for the future of young people, their education and welfare on either side of the dividing line.  This is a generation to live together and build a common future.

3. Thirdly, it implies to further ease an access of the population of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia to the services and benefits that are created in the course of development and successful cooperation with partners, including in the process of European integration. The important novelty is an introduction of a status-neutral mechanism of identification with a personal number for the residents of the two regions that does not relate to citizenship but enables to access a range of different services. Apart from it, for those interested, a simplification of establishing a Georgian citizenship as well as concrete civil facts (such as of birth, death, marriage, divorce, or of legal residence) is also envisaged. Easing the procedures for obtaining a Georgian passport will be a significant news inter alia for those willing to benefit from Georgia’s visa free travel regime with the EU.

The following two points need to be underlined here:

1. Each of these directions includes a range of novelties, among them, status-neutral / depoliticized instruments. Yet, just alike already existing certain practice and for the sake of humanitarian and reconciliation tasks, the application of status-neutral instruments does not mean being “status indifferent” or revising status related issues, but de-politicizing the issues without touching an issue of status when solving specific humanitarian tasks. A shared understanding of this principle is important for all involved stakeholders.

2. The presented initiative and legislative package is exclusively constructive and serves a humanitarian purpose. It responds to the needs of the population and proposes steps to be undertaken by the Government of Georgia, by that creating space for constructive participation of all interested stakeholders, for  dialogue and community based cooperation.

The peace initiative “A step to a Better Future” is implemented in the frames of engagement and reconciliation policy of the Government of Georgia, which is widely supported by the international community.

The nine draft laws will be submitted to the Parliament. Also, two conceptual documents under this initiative, particularly on trade facilitation across the dividing lines and expanding educational opportunities are also published.

Both documents stipulate the measures to serve the purpose of taking care of affected population and reconciling the conflict-split communities, which in turn, have a potential to spur a breakthrough in peace process.

Nowadays there are many factors be those kilometers of barbed wire fences and other visible or invisible obstacles, as well as bitter experiences of conflict and following years of alienation, that divide Georgian and Abkhaz, Georgian and Ossetian communities.

However, there are many others that unite us which do not only tribute to past and previous experiences of peaceful coexistence, numerous mixed families or cultural proximity, as well as the similar painful experience of conflict in common that is still alive on both sides, including for those who lost their kins or remain still displaced from their homes. These factors also tribute to mutual interest and strive for peace, a better future and development prospects, that I believe, is shared across the people on both sides of the divide. For these purposes, concrete steps shall be taken to avoid escalation and build confidence through dialogue and cooperation to first and foremost provide for peaceful future and wellbeing of population.

We have experienced grave tragedies, confrontations and conflict that should have better never happen. We cannot change our past, unfortunately. Though, we can take the steps today for the sake of a better future.

Ketevan Tsikhelashvili is the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality of Georgia