Temur Butikashvili

Temur Butikashvili
Photo: Temur Butikashvili

Before I begin answering the questions, I would like to use as an epigraph a paraphrasing of the famous quotation from the beginning of the novel “Anna Karenina” -
“Happy countries are all alike;
every unhappy country is unhappy in its own way”

What does the term refugee mean to you?

A person who seeks a basic peace of mind for himself and his family. To our shame, we must admit that in the 21st century the mankind has not yet managed to get rid of this term.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

Under no circumstances. It is the same.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

The same (since the cause creating the problems is man himself).

When does one cease to be a refugee?

When after fleeing from his country a person is not forced to flee again in order to save his life, wandering from one place to another like the biblical Ahasver in search of a place where he will not die from hunger, where he has a roof over his head, where he has a place of work, where he can participate in elections and know that his voice will not be stolen, and where nobody will throw bombs on his head.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

Of course.

If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

He must observe and respect all the laws, the rules of that country. We have a wonderful saying: “When you're in a foreign country, you have to put on your head the hat worn by those living there.”

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

Of course there are limits, otherwise the country will bust like a balloon.

If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

These are, first and foremost, financial, economic limits and of course issues related to security and maintaining law and order. There are so many countries in the world which have repressive rulers, that, unfortunately, I think in the future there will be more refugees. At the same time while there is no country in the world (not even the United States) that could take in such a large number of refugees. It is the prerogative of the United Nations (or maybe the European Union, but this is unlikely). However, we must act quickly and without the red tape usually characterizing the actions of this organization.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?

After the war with Abkhazia there were former party functionaries, Georgians, among the refugees who had formerly held high positions in the state offices in Abkhazia. They had patrons in the Tbilisi government, and with the help of these they got housed in luxury hotels and in state summer cottages. I do not have an information about privileged refugees after the Russian-Georgian war (I hope that they do not exist). However I know that many refugees from the time of the war with Abkhazia live in appalling conditions, and others, on the contrary, are well off.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

This is the biggest challenge for the official government and for the local residents. Georgia is a small country with an underdeveloped economy. Naturally it cannot carry such a burden, and even more so back then, twenty years ago, when after the collapse of the Soviet Union and inspired by the Kremlin many ethnic conflicts immediately broke out in the former territories. There was aid from humanitarian organizations, but the majority of these donations did not reach the refugees, they were simply stolen and sold on the black market. By the time these problems were more or less taken care of. But then a new war broke out in 2008 and everything started all over again. However, it has to be noted that during Saakashvili's presidency there was no corruption of such magnitude as before, and help from the Western countries thus took a more transparent and organized nature (thank God, this remained so even after the change of the government in 2012), although still now there is a large percentage of unemployment among the refugees, while social support from the government is miserable.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?

As mentioned before the solution of the refugee problem take an international nature, it is not a problem of one specific country.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?

The newcomers should respect the laws, the rules of the country to which they arrived. To be more patient with problems that naturally arise in the process of providing housing, allowance, preparation of the documents etc.

- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

Often intercultural problems occur between the newcomers and the receiving party. The latter should be more tolerant and aware of the particularities of the refugees' characteristic features. In this regard, careful selection of the service personnel is of great importance.

Do you know any refugees personally?

Yes. For example, in 2008 my fellow student from the city of Gori with whom I studied yeas back in the Soviet period at the drama school became a refugee after Russian troops occupied the city. He and his family moved to Tbilisi, and when I found out about it, I offered them part of my apartment. They lived there for six weeks, and after the withdrawal of the troops from the city they went back home. I also teach at university, and in the past as well as now I had students whose parents were refugees from Abkhazia.

Do you actively support any refugees?

Unfortunately I cannot say that I'm actively helping. Sometimes I help out with food and clothing that can be brought to a center for the refugees.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?
b) over the next two decades?

Hopefully it will improve, but it all depends on the political changes in Russia. As long as there is Putin's regime, everything will remain as it is. I think Abkhazians understand the loop they've gotten into, that we would be able reach an agreement among ourselves (Abkhazians and Georgians), but...

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

For this the oppressed people all over the world would have to get rid of the regimes. And it would be necessary to control more strictly the large corporations that environmental damage everywhere.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

My cousin from Samachablo (South Ossetia) continues being one, she and her family live in a special settlement near Tbilisi which was built soon after the Russian-Georgian war.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

- If yes: why?

God forbid! But who knows, anything can happen, especially when you have such an uncontrollable neighbor as Russia.

- How do you prepare yourself?

Seriously, I do not know! No! I know for sure! I would prepare a camera to shoot!

- To which country would you take refuge to?

Myself I wouldn’t go, I would stay at home. Perhaps I would send my family somewhere, but then again...

How much “home” do you need?*

One! The one where you were born, where your parents and your family lives, where your ancestors are buried and where your house that you were born in is located!

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.