Politicized youth camps
Starting in 2005, the government of Georgia established the youth program Patriot, an annual program involving students of different ages. The implementation of this program and the selection process of the participants depend heavily on political considerations and purposes. Therefore, this youth camp may be a situation in which state funds are spent in favor of the ruling party.
In the analysis of this issue two main problems were identified: 1. Vague criteria and procedures regarding the selection of participants; 2. Unreasonable expenditures of state funds due to the political content of the program.
Criteria and procedures in the selection of participants
In contrast to all the previous programs, only Georgian youth will be able to participate in Patriot this year (In previous years Moldavians, Iranians and youth from other countries have participated as well). The body responsible for the program's implementation is the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs of Georgia. There is an application form on the Ministry’s webpage that can be filled by any person. According to a statement by a representative of the Ministry, Amiran Qartvelishvili, the former head of the Caucasus University Student Union, a number of students with high academic records and excellent command of the English language will be selected from different universities to participate in the program. The head of the Tbilisi State University (TSU) Student Union, Dachi Gubadze, made a similar statement, pointing out that students going to Anaklia camp were chosen as a result of the Rector’s directive and in accordance with their academic records.
Contrary to this information, the criteria on which the selection process is based are still unclear to the majority of students. A petition to the Rector of Tbilisi State University, signed by almost 700 students, demanded the disclosure of the recruitment process for the Patriot project. According to a statement by a second-year student, Levan Lordkifanidze, almost no one from the 49 students of the Faculty of Social and Political Studies was selected to participate in the program.
In addition, three members of the TSU Student Union have confirmed that only members of the Student Union and their associates have been asked to participate in the program. Special lists of these Student Union members are being created for this purpose to be confirmed by the United National Movement’s youth wing in advance.
According to our information, the situations in other universities (Georgian Technical University, Georgian-American University, Caucasus University, Aviation University and State Art Academy) are identical. In these universities, Student Unions, with the permission and initiative of the United National Movement youth wing, are to create lists of ninety possible participants. Also, students who study in other universities, but are members of the United National Movement’s youth wing, are actively taking part in the program.
It has also been reported that similar youth events are being held in a hotel in the village of Kechkhobi, Borjomi Municipality. The local custodian informed us that in June people from the United National Movement, whom he knew from previous visits, had come in the hotel with up to 120 last-year school students from different regions. On the other hand, the director of hotel, Nana Imedashvili, has not confirmed the participation of the ruling party’s representatives in the event. She says that 250 students from the University of Georgia are participating in trainings at the hotel
The Content of the Program
The Deputy Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, Giorgi Avaliani, the first head of TSU’s student union, stated that the 2012 Patriot program would include public lectures delivered by foreign instructors. A number of students who participated in the program have confirmed that short lectures with the participation of foreign instructors did take place in the Anaklia camp; however they were delivered on the subjects of leadership and team work. Also, only student union members and their associates were able to attend them. According to one participant, the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, visited them and discussed the coming election. In particular, he focused on the possible problems and risks that the country may face if the ruling party were to lose its power.
One of the students has also announced that during a meeting in Anaklia, the representative of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, Mindia Ugrekhelidze, spoke to them and asked not to make comments to journalists. In case they would have to, he asked them to say that they participated in Student Fest 2012 and that participants had been selected on the base of their academic records. This information has been corroborated by other students as well. Similar instructions were given by Giorgi Avaliani and Amiran Qartvelishvili.
According to our information, the students, during their stay in Anaklia, were accommodated in the five-star hotel Oqros Satsmisi (Golden Fleece) where all their needs were catered to for free. Three meals a day were provided, including the possibility to choose from 10 different meals for lunch and dinner. In addition, concerts of well-known singers were included in the program. While speaking to us, one of the participants recalled with anxiety a time in camp where he expressed his readiness to support the United National Movement in the coming parliamentary election.
According to some Patriot program participants, after the youth camp, they were taken to the office of the United National Movement and offered the possibility to become members of the latter’s youth wing. They also were promised the ability to participate in various projects and the possibility to continue their studies abroad. They were also asked to provide their CVs so that they could be considered for future employment.
"Patriot 2012" program participants in front of the United National Movement office
TI Georgia considers that this kind of event adversely affects the pre-election environment, violates Georgian legislation and breaches International Law. In particular:
- In the given situation, all services (transportation, accommodation, reimbursement of all costs, entertainment, etc) are provided to the students for free. This fact, with respect to the program content, is associated with the United National Movement, unveiling the pre-election context of the program. On the other hand, this action may be considered as a criminal offence – bribing voters (article 1641 of the Criminal Code).
- The money from the state budget spent on behalf of one political party represents the misuse of administrative resources which should also be considered as an unlawful contribution in favor of one political party. In particular, according to Article 26 of the Law of Georgia on Political Unions, it is prohibited to receive contributions from state bodies, state organizations, legal entities of public law or organizations created with state participation.
- Such activities also violate international law. According to the OSCE Copenhagen Document, ratified by Georgia, a state is obliged to make a clear separation between the government and political parties. In the given case, these events are associated with one political party and serve its interests. The programs are organized at the expense of the state budget, crossing the line between the state and a political party.
Accordingly, we refer:
- To the State Audit Office to investigate the organization, purposes, and financial resources of the conducted youth events. Also, we call them to investigate the involvement of the ruling party’s representatives in the process and to find out whether it may be considered an unlawful contribution.
- To the Office of Procurator-General, to scrutinize the case materials and to establish whether a criminal offence – bribery of voters –has taken place.
- To the Interdepartmental Commission of the National Security Council, to react appropriately and to call on governmental bodies to refrain from such actions.