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South Ossetia’s Documentary Displaced Persons

In the last few weeks, Georgia has sprung back into the news.  Protesters are calling for Saakashvili to resign as more and more people have become disillusioned with the six year old Rose Revolution. Russia is threatening to pull out of a NATO meeting to protest military training exercises outside of Tbilisi, while some are speculating that Russia’s own military exercises near South Ossetia might signal that it’s ready to occupy the Caucasian country if political tensions escalate or if they’re provoked.

Georgian officials are claiming to have prevented one possible provocation this past week when they stopped 20 Nashi activists from “provoking incidents” at the Georgian-South Ossetian demarcation line.  The Georgian MVD detained Aleksander Kuznetsov, a Nashi commissar who claimed during his recorded interrogation that he was seeking to get to Tbilisi to hold a Nashi action to support of the opposition. Keznetsov’s detention has infuriated Russian officials.  Andrei Nesterenko, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said of Kuznetskov’s detention sparked “another feeling – disgust with the methods of Georgian security services – unwittingly adds to the founded indignation. It seems they were ordered to obtain ‘proof of Russian interference in Georgian affairs’ at any cost.”

Such is a day in the life of Russian-Georgian relations.

Lost in the mix are the so-called “internally displaced persons,” or IDPs, the rather cold term applied people driven from their homes when the standoff between Russia and Georgia turned hot last August. However, it’s not easy to become recognized as an IDP and receive the benefits that status confers. There is an estimated 26,000 displaced residents of Tskhinvali, many of which are of mixed Ossetian and Georgian families, who according to Paul Rimple at Eurasianet.org, are “hanging in bureaucratic limbo within Georgia.”  They are in limbo because they lack the documentation to verify their residence required to register as IDPs with Georgia’s Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation.  Once registered as an IDP, a refugee is entitled to a small stipend ($13-16 a month), resettlement in housing with a piece of land, medical benefits and schools supplies for their children.

Nor can these refugees return to Tskhinvali to get the necessary papers. Movement between the “Demarcation line” is difficult and dangerous.  Plus,there is no guarantee that the documents still exist.  Many people left their identity papers in their destroyed houses. As one refugee named Nona Hubulova told Rimple, “All my documents, everything was in my house.  All I have is my Soviet birth certificate, which was miraculously in Tbilisi, but that is not enough to get me my IDP status.” The only refugees that have been able to register were those from Georgian occupied South Ossetia.  Village authorities managed to take many documents with them as they evacuated to Georgia.

While the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation promises to have a decision by mid-May, and assures that all these people will eventually receive IDP status, the fact that one’s identity must be proven raises the centrality of biopolitics to being recognized as a refugee.  As if being displaced, driven from your home, or fleeing ethnic violence isn’t enough, refugees must prove themselves as victims of inhumanity by supplying biopolitical proof of their humanity.  Without birth certificates, passports, and other forms of identity documents–all documents recognized, generated, and issued by a state, it is as if these people have no rights, and barely the right to exist. As Ilita Dudayeva told Rimple: “They say they’ll know more in a month, but I don’t know if I’ll be alive in a month.  In a way, our humanity begins, and to a large extent ends, with how our condition is categorized, processed and filed, i.e. codified in the law of  a distant and faceless bureaucracy.

Where are the human rights in that?

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