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In Georgia, Crimes Of The Past Haunt The Present

Klaus Kiladze, seen at home in Tbilisi, hopes the verdict encourages other Georgian victims of repression to seek redress.
Klaus Kiladze, seen at home in Tbilisi, hopes the verdict encourages other Georgian victims of repression to seek redress.
Klaus and Yury Kiladze had to wait more than 70 years to see justice served for the repression of their family under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

This week, the European Court of Human Rights found Georgia guilty of denying the brothers financial compensation and ordered authorities to pay them 4,000 euros ($5,560) each.

The landmark judgment, the first of its kind in Georgia, raises difficult questions about who should be held accountable for Soviet crimes -- Russia, the Soviet Union's legal heir, or the descendants of the local governments that once acted at Moscow's orders.

Klaus Kiladze, for one, hopes his legal victory will encourage other repression victims in Georgia to seek redress against their own country.

"The actual victims are probably no longer among us," he says. "It is their children who are still alive, and they might benefit. But from those who fell victim to [the brutal events of] 1937, almost nobody has survived to this day -- just a handful, probably."

Kiladze is now 83 years old. His father was executed at the height of Stalin's Great Terror and his mother was sent to a gulag camp. The family's flat in Tbilisi was confiscated, along with all of their belongings.

The two brothers were separated from their remaining relatives and taken to an orphanage in Russia, which Kiladze describes as cramped and dirty.

"My mother was arrested as a member of traitor's family and was sentenced to eight years. I was 11, my brother was 9," he recalls. "First they took us to a children's center in Tbilisi; we spent around 20 days there. We were then transferred to the North Caucasus, to a special orphanage. Our grandmother tried very hard, and managed to get us out of there two years later."

Kiladze's mother survived the gulag and made it safely back to Georgia. She and her late husband were rehabilitated in the 1950s following Stalin's death. The Kiladzes were officially recognized as victims of political repression in 1998, seven years after the Soviet Union's collapse.

Josef Stalin
In 2005, Klaus and Yury sought compensation for moral and financial damages under a 1997 Georgian law on the protection of repressed people. In the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, many countries in the region adopted similar legislation in an effort to come to terms with communist-era crimes.

But Georgian courts rejected their claims, saying Georgia had not yet adopted additional legislation needed to calculate the sums allocated to repression victims. That's when they turned to the European Court of Human Rights, based in the French city of Strasbourg.

Many, Many More

On a personal level, the court's decision represents long-sought moral and financial relief for the Kiladze brothers.

But the ruling potentially has far broader significance. As part of the Kiladze ruling, the court ordered the Georgian government to pass the stalled legislation swiftly and fill the "legislative void" that has prevented elderly victims like the Kiladzes from receiving rightful compensation during their lifetime.

"What is important -- very, very important -- is that the court specifically says in this judgment that the government must now bring into force this law and must therefore also have a sufficient budget, have the funds available to enforce this law," says Philip Leach, a lawyer for the London-based European Human Rights Advocacy Center, which helped the Kiladzes file their complaint in Strasbourg.

The ruling, which is binding, could have considerable consequences for Georgia, where the government estimates there are as many as 16,000 people who may be entitled to compensation for Soviet-era crimes.

Tina Burjaliani, Georgia's first deputy minister of justice, says her country has honored past rulings at the Strasbourg court, and that this case will be no exception.

But she voices regret that Russia's role in the repressions against the Kiladze family was left out of the ruling.

"I am not going to discuss whether or not Russia should have been held responsible," she says. "The complaint was filed against Georgia, and the court was not in a position to broaden the circle of the defendants. There is no procedure for this. It would probably have been better if the lawyers who worked with the plaintiffs had thought about this."

Shared Responsibility

The court's judgment is likely to anger many Georgians who say Georgia was forcibly occupied and consider Russia the perpetrator of Soviet-era crimes.

Mikheil Saakashvili's government has contributed to promoting this view by opening a state-funded Soviet occupation museum in Tbilisi and removing symbols of Soviet times.

Many other Georgians, however, say Georgians shared in the responsibility for abuses committed in the name of communism.

Tamar Khidasheli heads the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association, an NGO that helped Klaus and Yury Kiladze file their case in Strasbourg.

She says the ruling will force Georgia to confront its Soviet past.

"The Georgian state assumed responsibility when it adopted the 1997 law," she says. "Georgia was indeed a part of the Soviet Union, but let's not forget that the political repressions were carried out by Georgia's own ruling circles. Yes, the orders often came from Moscow, but I don't think this was always the case."