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Georgian President Grants Citizenship To Russian Musician

President Mikhail Saakashvili (right) presents Russian conductor Mikhail Arkadyev with a Georgian passport
TBILISI -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has granted a request by Russian conductor Mikhail Arkadyev to receive Georgian citizenship, RFE/RL's Georgian and Russian services report.

Saakashvili presented Arkadyev with a Georgian passport at his concert in Tbilisi on September 15.

Saakashvili said he was "touched by the great conductor's letter" asking for Georgian citizenship and called the Georgian passport "the passport of liberty," adding that Georgian citizenship is not based on ethnicity but "is about the idea of liberty."

Arkadyev, 53, expressed his gratitude to "Saakashvili and Georgian society."

He said that "despite any interstate conflicts, human contacts and creative thinking are the most important values. I am now going back to Russia. We shall see what is going to happen, but I am ready for everything."

Arkadyev, who is openly critical of many Russian government policies, is a member of the Russian opposition movement Solidarity.

He had been expelled from Union of Composers of Russia because he objected to the organization being integrated into a political party aligned with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

This is not the first time Saakashvili has granted citizenship to a prominent Russian political or public figure who has expressed sympathy with Georgia and/or criticized Russian authorities.

Georgian law bans dual citizenship, but gives the president the right in exceptional cases to grant citizenship to a foreigner.

Georgian Culture Ministry officials told RFE/RL that they are open to cooperation with Arkadyev, although no concrete plans currently exist.

Georgian-Russian relations have been tense for the past two decades, since Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia declared Georgia's independence from the Soviet Union in May 1991.

Tbilisi-based political observer Iosif Tsintsadze told RFE/RL that, while Russian intellectuals defected to the West during the Soviet era, many of then now go to Georgia.

"It is turning into a trend and constitutes a headache for Russia," he said.

Read more in Georgian here

Read more in Russian here