Q&A with Nino Burjanadze

Civil Georgia interviewed Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze on July 20 as the Parliament tried in vain to arrive at consensus on the election code. Ms. Burjanadze spoke about her recent visits abroad. She said that to maintain its course for integration with the western world, Georgia needs to show progress in curbing corruption and establishing the favorable investment environment. Chairperson also advocated for closer relations with Eastern European, Nordic states and Israel that have faced similar problems as Georgia currently does. By the end of the interview, we circled back to the debates in the parliament and pre-election plans of Nino Burjanadze.

Q: Ms. Chairperson, recently the western countries, particularly the United States express increasing interest towards the upcoming Parliamentary elections in Georgia. How can you explain such a great interest, considering that the last elections did not draw so much attention of the foreign powers?

A: During my latest visit to the US [in the beginning of June] I had number of very important meetings with the US officials, including Secretary of State Collin Powell. The elections were among the main issues discussed during these meetings. The United States administration is concerned with the elections in Georgia much more than I initially thought. I would never expect the US officials to be aware of the elections in a remote tiny country in details, down to the formulas that our Parliament has been discussing in connection with composition of the new central election commission.

Generally the western countries and the United States give utmost importance to the elections, particularly in the young democracies, since the West believes that the fair and free elections are the cornerstone of democracy.

There are some politicians in Georgia, who believe that for the USA stability in Georgia is more important than fair elections. Stability is indeed important even for the US, at least because of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project. However the West realizes that stability cannot be achieved without fair elections. In other words, there would be no stability in a country, if its government does not have trust [of people].

Interest of the US side towards 1999 Parliamentary Elections in Georgia was not smaller, but we must remember that situation in the country was quite different that year. It can be said that the situation was simpler. We did have certain difficulties in politics and economy. But if we compare these two years, we’d see that the situation has changed completely and it has become way more complicated.

In 1999 there were only two major political groups – the Revival and the Citizens Union, representing two political poles. There were other two influential political parties: the Industrialists [who entered the Parliament together with the Revival and the Citizens Union] and the Labor Party. Other parties did not represent a significant force. Therefore it was known beforehand what the political spectrum of the Parliament would look like. Even today people keep arguing that the 1999 elections were falsified and apparently, facts of falsification did take place, but I believe this has not affected overall picture, except that the Labor could have gained few more seats in the Parliament.

Today the picture is completely different. The Citizens Union of Georgia barely exists and I do not believe in its revival. Public support to the President is much lower than in 1999. Therefore, unfair elections today may trigger serious confrontation between the political forces, hence result in a major destabilization of the country, which, of course concerns our western friends very much.

I was given the same question of what are the West’s interests in Georgia, while I was in Russia. They told me that the West is helping us because of strategic interests. This is true, but the difference between the interests of the western powers and other countries is that the West really wants Georgia to be a democratic country, which coincides with our interests. Relations with a democratic country are much easier since a democratic state is much more predictable.

Q: You have stated many times that you agree with President Shevardnadze’s foreign policy, which aims at integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures. What are the main circumstances, which obstruct Georgia’s integration with the West?

A: Instability, unfair elections, high level of corruption. During my visits to the United States and other western countries I saw something of a big disappointment [by Georgia]; but I really do not want to use this word to its full meaning yet. Several years ago Georgia was an outstanding young country. Especially upon accession to the Council of Europe the country was actively advancing on the road of democratic development. Of course nobody would terminate diplomatic relations with us if we fail to cope with corruption or will not conduct fair elections, but nobody would be willing to cooperate with us at the levels that are in our interests. This was an outline of the attitude of the western countries, expressed during my visits to the US and OSCE. They say they will continue relations with us, but these relations and partnership will not be as comprehensive and deep any more.

We must prove to the world that we want to be a normal country. Otherwise we will become a “banana republic”.

Q: Do the ongoing processes in Georgia facilitate integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures?

A: Not the ongoing processes. This is the main reason of my criticism towards the government. The current processes in Georgia are steering the country away from the road, which was chosen fairly correctly.

I’ll give you a simple example. During the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Rotterdam [in July], I met with the Dutch Finance Minister, who is a Vice Prime Minister at the same time. The Netherlands is the second biggest donor of Georgia after Germany. During the meeting, where we discussed issues of assistance to Georgia, Finance Minister gave me a very simple scheme. We need two simple things to make our small market attractive for foreign investors: good investment environment and elimination of corruption. He said “how can we assist you and how can I tell our businessmen to go to Georgia with investments, if there is an unfavorable environment for investments, instability and immense level of corruption?”

There are other problems, like repeated failure of the government to timely submit a letter to our donors, explaining what we need. Only for this reason we are loosing millions of dollars [in assistance].

We have really good prospects and we should be using them. But if these opportunities would be sacrificed to our personal ambitions, then even our children will have to live in a troubled country.

Q: During almost two years of your tenure as a Chairperson of the Parliament you have been very active in foreign relations. How would you evaluate activities of the Parliament in this direction?

A: Parliament’s foreign activities are very important. Foreign relations are vital for Georgia. Georgia is not the most important country for the majority of other countries. Therefore we must be active, we must be visiting international organizations and foreign states, constantly trying to remind them our problems. I believe that biggest part of my visits did bring important results. Effect of these visits could have been even greater, if the executive government has shown more activity.

We need comprehensive cooperation with the Baltic States, other post-socialist countries and countries like Sweden or Israel. There are many things we can learn from their experience.

We have already established ties with Sweden on the Parliamentary level. With active support of the chairman of the Swedish Parliament, I have initiated creation of the Parliamentary Group of Friends of Georgia. But unless we keep up active work on every level, this initiative will remain only as an expression of a good will and relations between the two Parliaments.

Q: In this regard I would like to outline your activities with the Vilnius Group of Ten. What is the current stage of cooperation with the group and what makes these relations important for Georgia?

A: Cooperation with the Vilnius Ten is very important for Georgia. Several countries of this group have already become the NATO members; others are invited to join the organization. Success of these states is partly a result of comprehensive cooperation within the Vilnius Ten group. They have developed a joint plan, based on the common problems and tried to move towards the NATO together.

My visit to Vilnius [in March], where Georgia was invited to attend the group’s summit, was an unprecedented event. Articles and reports appeared in the local media, saying that the Vilnius Ten summit will be held under 10+1 formula.

Initially there were certain problems with inviting the Georgian side. Although all the member states have very positive attitude towards us, there have been certain political and procedural difficulties. We have made big efforts and here I would also like to thank Mr. Paulauskas, chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament, who has done much to make our visit happen and urged the member countries to include Georgia in the group’s meetings in the future as well.

It turned out that during my visit to Vilnius Georgia was the central issue, as everybody welcomed Georgia’s participation in the Vilnius Ten. We should use such attitude as much as possible. I think that we should have even stronger ties with the Baltic States. Many issues arose during my visit. We do not even have an embassy in these countries. The Foreign Ministry has been suggesting transforming our General Consulate in Vilnius into the embassy, but it was not possible due to financial problems.

Q: Now, let’s turn to the issues that you have been haunted for by the journalists for these last months. What is your pre-election plan? Can you explain on how will you be participating in the elections?

A: I was really sincere when I called upon the opposition to unite, despite that there are people in the opposition side who I might not be liking very much, or vice-versa, because we all have our positive and negative qualities. But there were goals more important than our personal sympathies and antipathies. The opposition should come to the power after the elections to force the President and the executive government to make real steps towards the reforms.

I believe that unification of the opposition was vitally important for achieving this goal, because fragmented opposition in power or in elections has much less chances for success, because in such case most of the fight takes place among these parts of the opposition.

That is why I wanted to see a single major opposition union. Thus we would have a possibility to balance our negative and positive qualities. Regrettably, shape of this union is still very dim, but I keep hoping.

I think that we have too many political parties in Georgia. I never thought about creating a new party together with my co-thinkers before. But several weeks ago I realized that the opposition’s unification process was stalled. My proposal to unite my co-thinkers into some structure and establish some common principles, was my another attempt to make the opposition unite. I would be happy to see certain number of duly skilled people around me, who would have enough sincerity and courage to make radical steps and take risks, for I believe that the country needs revolutionary changes. Otherwise we will have catastrophic situation in Georgia. I would welcome unification around these principles.

If there will be no other option, then I might think of creating an election structure. I cannot say now whether it would be a party or a bloc. Creating a new party would be an extreme step from my side. Moreover, there is not enough time left to establish a new party.

I see this as a group of people, with ten to fifteen persons forming its political core and approximately the same number of people, who would be acting as idea generators, within the set of principles agreed upon. There is no ambition, like here’s Nino Burjanadze and you should unite around her. It should be quite understandable that the initiative of creating this new structure comes from me, considering my official post, or considering that many people regarded me as one of the central figures in the united opposition. These circumstances, that I am the Parliament’s chairwoman and that I am on the opposition’s side, obliges me to make concrete steps more than anybody else.

Q: If I understood you correctly, you are going to create a team of your co-thinkers, who might be representing various parties and unite into a bloc to participate in the elections.

A: Yes. They might be members of different parties. We will create a base for a bloc and these people may work actively to attract other parties as well. All of this activity will be revolving around the core of principles.

Q: What are these principles?

A: I do not want the public to expect very detailed action plan. We are talking about general principles of statehood. These principles would reflect that I’ve talked above, namely: favorable investment environment, elimination of corruption, development of small and medium enterprises, simplification of the tax system, tax liberalization to a certain level, foreign policy goals in connection with the Abkhazia conflict etc. The principles also concern necessity to create a cabinet of ministers. We all see that the state cannot operate properly under current system and constitution. I am not favoring introduction of a purely parliamentarian system, but I am quite sure that we need the cabinet. This is a brief introduction to the schemes and principles that now we are working on.

Q: Whom do you expect to see in your bloc, uniting under these principles?

A: I do not want to name these people or the political forces. I am having consultations now, and there still are obstacles to overcome. I think that open discussions at this stage would hinder the unification process.

Q: After visit of Mr. James Baker it seemed that the government and opposition finally reached an agreement regarding the Election Code, particularly on the rules of composition of the Central Election Commission. However, now confrontation is emerging within the opposition. What is the reason of this confrontation and what kind of influence the government might have on it?

A: It is out of question that current processes in the opposition give upper hand to the government. The government is trying hard to avoid unification of the opposition. I know for sure that the government is messaging certain parties, who claim to be on the opposition side. And the message was quite clear: “do not agree! Do not unite!”

These parties are playing not so positive role in solving the CEC composition problem. The consensus is difficult because the opposition is not united. If the opposition was united, than the Baker’s plan would have been passed in the Parliament without any problems. The voting is scheduled for tomorrow [July 21], but I am not sure that it will be successful. [Voting was was postponed because of lack of quorum – Editors note].

Q: One of the recommendations of the IMF suggests correction of the budget, including cutting of budgetary expenditures. Is this unavoidable? Will you support a demand for the government’s responsibility for the failed budget?

A: Cutting of the budgetary expenditures is undesirable but necessary, because when the revenues are insufficient, distribution of expenditures by unadjusted budget becomes a major source of corruption. If the budget is sequestered, the cuts for each specific government agency or budget line will be predetermined and we will need to distribute only those funds that the Finance Ministry and the Treasury have.

As for responsibility of the government for the failed budget, I think we should examine this issue closely. The budget was never fulfilled in the country since 1997. I am simply curious for how long this can go on.

I was outraged by the data that was compiled by the Parliament’s Tax Committee. They gave me estimated incomes from the imported gas and tobacco and figures of how much money was collected in reality [as taxes]. The gap is enormous, and it is definite that the money went to somebody’s pocket.

We should say the truth one day. I am not a “Kmara” [Enough] activist, but this word comes forward. We should say, enough! We are starting a new life from today. Therefore I believe the government must stand responsible.

Related Stories:
Burjanadze Makes Careful Move
Burjanadze Stands Ground, Warns of Dictatorship
Nino Burjanadze, Waiting
Q&A with Nino Burjanadze – 28.01.03


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