Fearing Russian spies, Georgia seeks to ban ex-KGB agents

18th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Fearing that Moscow continues to use Soviet-era spy networks against it, Georgia is planning a law to bar former KGB agents and senior Communists from top government positions.

Tbilisi -- Locked away in secret archives, thousands of files hold the names of ex-KGB agents and top-ranking Communists from before Georgia's independence from the Soviet Union.

Now Georgia is planning to open those files in a hunt for spies who may still be working for Moscow, this time against the pro-Western government in Tbilisi.

Fearing that Moscow continues to use Soviet-era spy networks against it, Georgia is planning a law to bar former KGB agents and senior Communists from top government positions.

Those running for elected office will also be required to disclose any former KGB or Communist connections, or see their pasts exposed to the public.

Supporters say the law is vital to Georgia's national security amid fraught relations with Moscow after last year's Georgia-Russia war.

But critics say the law is unworkable and will be open to abuse by authorities looking to persecute political opponents.

"Today the KGB's network of agents is in the hands of the FSB (Russian security service) and naturally the country... is using this network. The adoption of this legislation is crucial for our security," said opposition lawmaker Gia Tortladze, who drafted the bill.

Based on similar "lustration" laws passed in Eastern European countries like Lithuania and the Czech Republic after the demise of communist rule, the law will apply to KGB agents and senior Communist Party officials who worked for the Soviet authorities from 1921 to 1991.

Georgian officials have repeatedly accused Russia of spying on Georgian territory and of backing efforts to topple President Mikheil Saakashvili.

A newly established state commission will be in charge of enforcing the law, exposing ex-agents if they refuse to come forward voluntarily and vetting new officials.

It is still unclear who personally may be targeted by the law, but Tortladze said that Georgian archives contain the names of more than 100,000 potential suspects.

Tortladze said he expects the bill to be approved by the end of October.

A similar bill was voted down two years ago, but this time the bill is being supported by the ruling United National Movement (UNM), which has an overwhelming majority in parliament.

The head of the UNM's parliamentary faction, Petre Tsiskarishvili, said the party "supports this initiative" and is ready to approve the bill after some technical details are worked out.

Georgia's opposition, which accuses Saakashvili's government of persecuting opponents, fears the law may be used to silence government critics.

"Right now, the lustration law will not serve the goal of identifying and restricting the actions of people who are agents of Russian special services or are involved in anti-state actions," said David Gamkrelidze, the leader of the New Rights party.

"Under this government there is a high possibility that it may be used for black PR against some people," he said.

Opponents also say the law will be unworkable because many Soviet-era records are unavailable to the Georgian government and some records cannot be trusted.

"I do not see how this law can be implemented. It is a dream to think that Russia will return these archives because that would essentially be asking it to expose its network of agents," said deputy parliament speaker Levan Vepkhvadze of the opposition Christian Democrats.

He also said that the wide net cast by Soviet-era secret police might leave innocent people open to accusations of collaboration. Opponents of lustration often point to inaccuracies and even outright fabrications in the records of Communist-era security services.

Analysts said that Georgia's volatile political climate and lack of an independent judiciary make it a dangerous time for such a law to be approved.

"At a time when we do not have a democratic environment in the country, the lustration law... could be used by the authorities to neutralise people with opposing political views," said Giorgi Khutsishvili, the head of the Tbilisi-based International Centre on Conflict and Negotiation.



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