Monday, January 31, 2011

Human rights in the South Caucasus | Similarities and differences

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released its 2011 World Report of human rights conditions in the world. The report is based on investigations carried out by HRW staff in partnership with domestic human rights activists. Their findings show that several of the main human rights issues in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are similar for all three countries.

Freedom of assembly remains a problem in the South Caucasus. In Georgia, HRW points out several incidents where peaceful demonstrations were disrupted by the police. The November 2007 demonstrations are also mentioned and the government’s refusal to launch an investigation of the events. In Armenia, the report focuses on the authorities’ failure to investigate the excessive use of police force during the March 2008 demonstrations. Police officers convicted of excessive use of force were amnestied, opposition activists remain imprisoned and relatives of those killed in the demonstrations unsuccessfully appealed to the court for an investigation into the deaths. In Azerbaijan, the authorities continue to restrict the freedom of assembly by denying requests to hold demonstrations. Unauthorized demonstrations were dispersed and protestors detained.

In all three countries, there are several examples of ill-treatment in policy custody and the police has in many cases failed to conclusively investigate these incidents.

Georgia and Azerbaijan both held elections in 2010. The local elections in Georgia are mentioned as a positive development, despite some shortcomings, but the parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan did not meet international standards. Only one opposition candidate gained a seat in the parliament and political parties could not express their views due to restrictions in the freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Additionally, Georgia is criticized for the authorities’ handling of the eviction of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from collective centers. According to HRW, the authorities do not engage in a dialogue with the IDPs, do not provide notice in advance of the evictions, and do not offer adequate alternatives to the collective centers. In Armenia, violations of the freedom of expression are brought up as an issue. It is, however,the lack of accountability and excessive use of force related to the March 2008 events that is the main point of criticism in HRW’s country summary for Armenia. In Azerbaijan, the focus is on journalists, political activists and bloggers who were faced with criminal charges for criticizing the authorities. Several of them also suffered physical attacks by the police. The government has failed to thoroughly investigate these incidents and continues to hold political prisoners.

HRW does not seek to rate or to compare the human rights conditions between countries. Nevertheless, the annual report provides a landmark summary of the current situation of human rights across the three countries.

You can access the full HRW report here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Subtitling foreign films on Georgian TV? Thanks, but no thanks!

The Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries are often given as examples of countries where the populations have a good knowledge of foreign languages. One of the explanations can be that TV shows and films are shown in their original language in these countries. Learning a foreign language is easier if you hear people speaking the language, not only in the classroom. Many agree that being exposed to other languages on the TV and in the cinemas can speed up the language learning process.

After Georgian, Russian remains the most spoken language in Georgia. According to a nationwide survey on European integration conducted by CRRC in 2009, 32 percent of the population describes their Russian language skills as advanced while only five percent rate their English skills similarly (Figure 1).

Figure 1. English and Russian language skills.

The Georgian government is determined to improve the English language skills of the population through various initiatives. One of them is the Teach and Learn with Georgia program that has the goal to recruit 1,000 native English speakers to teach English to Georgian schoolchildren. Introducing a new subtitling policy can be seen as another initiative in the same direction. Since October 2009, licensed TV stations are obliged to show 30 percent of the foreign movies in their original language with Georgian subtitles. What does the Georgian population think about this idea?

Using subtitles instead of voice translation does not appeal to the majority of the Georgian population. According to the European integration survey, only ten percent support a subtitling policy and as much as two-thirds fully disagree with such policy (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Support of subtitling policy.

After asking whether the respondents agree or disagree with the subtitle policy, CRRC presented several arguments that are used in favour of subtitles and against voice translation. Three of these arguments concern learning languages.

Only four percent of the Georgian population find the argument that subtitles in films combine entertainment and education fully persuasive. A similarly low percentage buys the argument that subtitles teach languages efficiently. Georgians are also not convinced by the argument that the Scandinavian countries have used a similar subtitling policy with great success, and that Scandinavians know many languages. One-fourth of the respondents do not find this argument persuasive at all and only three percent say it is very persuasive. Out of all the arguments the respondents were presented with, the one they found most persuasive was: For the future of our economy and to create jobs, we should understand the newest technology. We need to keep up with the world and learn languages. Ten percent believe that is a very persuasive argument.

After being presented with these arguments the respondents were asked in which way they had changed their opinions about using subtitles instead of voice translation: ten percent of the respondents said they liked the idea of subtitling better than they did before they heard the arguments. The majority did, however, not change their opinion.

According to an article in the Resonance Daily, it is not only the Georgian population that shows little interest in the idea of using subtitles instead of voice translation; the Georgian TV stations also seem to be against subtitling for reasons ranging from costs to viewers’ convenience. Have the opinions of the Georgian population changed since the subtitling policy enforcement? Is it a question of getting used to a new way of consuming movies? We welcome your thoughts on this issue.