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Ethnic minorities and NATO

Thursday, July 3
Georgia’s critical bid for membership in NATO has broad, if not unquestioning, support here. But ethnic minorities, particularly the sizable Armenian and Azeri communities, are in danger of being left on the wayside.

Ethnic minorities in Georgia are unlikely to be well-informed on NATO, and less likely than other citizens to support membership in the alliance.

This is in large part another symptom of the weak integration of Georgia’s ethnic minorities. Most are poor, many do not speak Georgian; predictably, they are at best on the margins of civic society and practically unrepresented in high office.

In one ethnic Armenian district, Akhalkalaki, the closure of a Russian military base there plunged its residents into even deeper penury. Many work in Russia and send money home. Now, among other concerns, they fear Georgian membership in NATO could take away that option.

In a referendum accompanying the January presidential poll, 63 percent of Akhalkalaki voters supported the bid for NATO membership, far below the national average of 77 percent. And they’re hardly a renitent bunch: 87 percent picked incumbent Mikheil Saakashvili for president, compared to barely half of voters nationwide.

Their worries are clear. The government is not oblivious; its efforts to shore up support for NATO across the whole country should continue with strong backing. Georgia needs NATO, and the integration campaign will not be helped if the country’s impoverished ethnic minorities are unhappy about membership.