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18-06-2009

Working Paper #42

Georgia is a multilingual and multi-ethnic society. A large number of minority languages are spoken in Georgia, including Abkhazian, Ossetian, Azeri, Armenian, Russian, Ukrainian, Kurmanji (Kurdish), Chechen (Kist), Ottoman Turkish, Pontic Greek, Syriac, Avar, Tsova-Tush and Udi. In addition, four distinct languages are spoken by the majority Georgian population - Georgian, Megrelian, Svan and Laz - although these are basically vernacular languages that are not normally written.
According to Article 8 of the Georgian constitution, the official state language is Georgian, and in Abkhazia, also Abkhazian. Most minority languages are spoken only in certain regions of the country.
On being formally admitted to the Council of Europe in April 1999, Georgia pledged to sign and ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) within a year of its accession. However, ten years after joining the Council of Europe, Georgia has still neither signed nor ratified the Charter. There are a number of reasons for the reluctance of the Georgian government to sign and ratify the ECRML. There is for example the very practical question of whether the goals of integration on the one hand, and promotion of minority languages on the other, can be reconciled. The main problem facing Georgia in terms of consolidating a community or demos, consisting of ‘we, the people’ is the absence of a common language that all ‘the people’ speak.
This problem is one that is common to most, if not all successor states to the USSR; however in Georgia, the problem has been especially severe due to the weakness of the state during the 1990s and early 2000s and the consequent failure to integrate geographically isolated non-Georgian speakers into the civic life of the country.

To read the full Working Paper #42, please click here.

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