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“Abkhaz People Have Never Hindered Schooling Process in Our School,” Director of the Georgian School in Otobaia Village

24.05.2010
 Inga Takalandze, Otobaia

Gela Ratia is a director of the public school # 1 of the Georgian village of Otobaia in Gali district. He occupies very responsible position as an ethnic Georgian because he works in the territory occupied by Russia. He has to consider every word and step because the conflict between Georgian and Abkhaz people is still unresolved. Russian occupation negatively impacts on both nations.

The reader will learn from the interview with Gela Ratia that the situation in Otobaia is not as dramatic as it is exposed by the government-controlled media outlets. Nobody forbids Georgian books in Georgian school; just the opposite – short time ago, 1 600 books were added to the library of the public school sent from the Sokhumi university. In near future, they plan to reconstruct the school and Georgian pupils will have better conditions to study.

The reader will also learn how the director tries to bring Georgian and Abkhaz children closer. “Youth is more eager to have normal relationship. They want to live in normal environment. I think, this relationship should not defame the dignity of any side,” said Gela Ratia in his interview with the humanrights.ge

Gela Ratia, director of the secondary school # 1 in the village of Otobaia: “I have been school director for three years already. Others shall evaluate what has been changed during this period. But I think much has been changed. The school is an educational institution and permanently tries to improve the level of education. We manage it based on the directions provided by the ministry of education of Georgia, based on the experience of local teachers and innovations in the education system. Our teachers can attend trainings once or twice a year while the teachers from the other bank of the Enguri River have more opportunities. Daily involvement in educational field requires more practice and analyze and we lack this opportunity so far.

As for results, 9 of our pupils entered various institutes of Georgia in 2006; 15 pupils became students in 2007-2008; and 7 in 2008-2009. Two of them received 100 % grant for high education and two of them gained 50 %. I do not claim that the results are perfect but they are not bad either if we take into consideration that our pupils never took private lessons in any subject. They trained with their school teachers. Last year, we managed to invite a teacher who trained our pupils in skills and everybody was satisfied with results.

The ministry of education of Abkhazia, located in Tbilisi, and the ministry of education of Georgia sent additional reading materials two times; they gave a computer within the program “Deer Leap” as well as sport equipment; this school year we received text-books from first to eleventh form for free. The pupils did not have to buy those text-books but we had a delay in providing them with books on time and part of pupils had already purchased text-books. The books arrived here only in the middle of October and they were distributed among those pupils who had not bought them in advance. We saved the rest of the books for the next year and pupils will not have to buy text-books. Every public school of Georgia uses those books. This assistance is very important for the parents of our pupils. You know that school text-books are very expensive and sometimes there are three and more pupils in a family.

-Mr. Gela, besides IDP authority of Abkhazia you also cooperate with the de-facto government too; how do you cooperate with the de-facto ministry of education of Abkhazia?

-We have established quite normal relationship with them. I have already told you that all additional reading materials which you see in this room were supplied by them. When Georgian books were removed from the library of the State University of Abkhazia, they had an idea to burn the books; however, the rector of the university Gvaramia said that it was vandalism and preferred to give the books to a Georgian school. Of course, I expressed desire to take those books. We received about 1 600 books. It is very precious present for such a poor school like ours. In addition to that, the furniture was changed in the whole school and it was done by Abkhaz side. Old equipment was replaced by new one; we received normal blackboards, tables for teachers and sport equipment. We repaired 9 out of 14 classrooms very well and the parents also helped us in it. We plan to reconstruct the sport-hall but it is long-term perspective because it requires huge funds. The Minister of Education of Abkhazia Indira Vardania promised to allocate 10 million rubles for the reconstruction of our school this year. We will receive the money gradually throughout three years. If it happens, we will repair the wing of the building and sport hall.

-How does the de-facto ministry of education of Abkhazia find existence of Georgian schools in Gali district? How do they see the future of those schools?

-It is difficult topic. I cannot say that the schools will function forever but we will not face similar problem for the next one or two years. As you know, Gali district has turned into a Russian military base. Several military bases are being constructed for border-army in the district. Russian officers will arrive here with their families and children. So, it will be necessary to open a Russian school on the base of the already existing Georgian school; but, they might also build a new school or open a Georgian-Russian school;  I think the latter will be the best variant. We are all patriots and nobody wants Russian school here but because of certain reasons the situation changes in the area. In 10-15 years, if we manage to cope until then, the locals will think over one simple problem - if my child learns well but has no chance to get education in Georgia, why should not s/he study at a Russian school and get high education in Russia? Thus, they will open chances towards Russia because neither Russia wants closed Abkhazia. In parallel to it, the border with Georgia will be locked.”

-Do you think the population will put up with the rusification process? 

-If a person loses a hope to integrate with the homeland, there will be no other choice. Let us be realistic. The worst situation which we can imagine in future is the fact that nobody needs us here. Maybe, one day somebody will come and evict us from here. I think it is the worst variant of the future; however, I do not exclude this possibility either.

-Abkhaz soldiers are deployed at the checkpoint near your school instead Russian soldiers. What kind of relationship do you have with each other; do they have some requirements towards you?

-They do not require anything at all. They are standing there and do not interfere in our activities at all. The relationship is very cold because we do not have any contact with them and neither have they wished to be friends with us. Many things can be reason for it – nationality, status…  They are soldiers; we are peaceful civilians. You see the present situation in this village. What was done here - burnt and destroyed houses – they or their friends did it; both sides remember it. Despite similar memories, we do not have hostile relationship with them. We chose intermediate variant – I stay in my territory and you will stay in yours; we do not interfere in each other’s life. They have never interfered in schooling process. Abkhaz soldiers have good relationship with the youth of our village. They even play football together. They have much more common with their palls than with elder people like me. They wished to play football on the playground of our school and asked permission. We of course appreciate similar cooperation. Sometimes, they asked the locals for food but it was not violence; they just asked for help.

-Media sources often report about the life in the villages of Gali district. Very often, news is politically motivated and mostly exposes the policy of the government rather than reality. What do you think about it?

-On the one hand, governmental institutions of Georgia, among them the IDP ministry of education of Abkhazia, try to cooperate with Abkhazian de-facto authority. They implement several projects to bring our youth closer. In parallel to it, the disinformation spread by Georgian TV-Channels is completely unjustified. I get astonished when I hear the news about the incident which did not occur in fact. Of course, local population gets astonished too In several cases, they reported about our village too and when I had chance to rebuke journalists in Zugdid for their reporting, they replied to me – we are doing our job. When I am called and asked whether the incident really happened, I explain to them everything; if nothing had happened I tell them the truth and ask them not to spread false information. I live here and I know what happens and what not.

-Do the pupils of Otobaia secondary school have relationship with the pupils of Sokhumi secondary schools?

-Last year, our pupils won the chess tournament and they had to go to Sokhumi. In the same year, our team became the champion of the district in volleyball. After the victory our children saw Gali for the first time not to speak about Sokhumi. They returned from Sokhumi excited. They made friends with the children from Sokhumi very easily. The hosts were very kind and attentive towards our children. When our team played with the team from Gudauta, youth from Sokhumi supported our team. We heard both Georgian and Megrelian shouts during the match. The youth is more eager to have normal relationship with each other. They want to live in normal environment. I think it should not defame the dignity of any parties.

-The Human Rights Center launched Sorry Campaign which aims to take first step towards the reconciliation of Georgian and Abkhaz peoples. Part of Georgian people apologizes to Abkhaz people for not preventing the bloodshed, the war. What do you think about the Campaign?

-I fully understand those people who think that we should not apologize. Although they are the people who were evicted from their homes and were insulted, I think Georgian people should really be the first to take this step, because we were the first who opened a fire and killed a man in Abkhazia. As for Abkhaz people, maybe they wanted this war or others interfered in the bloodshed. If human relationship will be two-sided, I mean if Abkhaz people will realize that we should apologize to each other and that we did not have to fight for, then it will be great progress in our relationship. I cannot say how the Abkhaz people will react on it. I hope there will be people who understand that they lost much in this war. At least, nobody has won anything in this war. The euphoria, part of Abkhaz people had after the war, faded away and now they have cruel reality instead “independent and free republic of Abkhazia.”

Part of new generation might reject the apology because they think they are winners. They do not know our common history, traditions. Nobody speaks with them about it and they lost roots. The Abkhaz youth is fed with the ideology that we are their enemies. As for the middle-aged society, who remembers the past very well, they will not oppose the Sorry Campaign to my opinion. However, I think we should not expect clear respond to the campaign because here people are afraid of many things.
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