Q&A with Salome Zourabichvili

After being sacked from office, ex-Foreign Minister Salome announced plans to set up a public movement which will focus on mobilization of civil society initiatives and which “probably will grow into a new political party” sometime in the future.

Salome Zourabichvili, who spoke with Civil Georgia on October 24, says that she prefers to distance herself from the existing political parties but does not rule out cooperation with the individual political figures. She also spoke about her vision of Georgia’s European way of development, the country’s short-term foreign policy threats and opportunities, and also spoke out against the passiveness of international institutions in conflict resolution issues. While speaking about the country’s internal policy, Zourabichvili said that there is no balance of power in Georgia, adding that “sometimes the Parliament is much more powerful than it should be.”

Q.: You have announced your decision to move into politics and form an opposition political movement. What are the policies you would advocate for regarding economic development, social issues?

A.: It is too early to talk about it. But we are planning to travel in the regions of Georgia and that will give us ground to elaborate economic and social program. I know what some of the difficulties are, but I do not have the answers today and I do not clearly have an economic and social program.

Q.: Most of the political forces in Georgia suffer from two problems – un-qualified cadre and insufficient financing.  How are you planning to solve these issues for your movement? Do you have any candidates in mind to take care of the, for instance, economic, social or defence policy agendas?

A.: We tend to have the full cooperation of anyone that has something to bring into different fields. In a very short time we will start to have meetings with specialists, experts and also, I would say, normal people  – have their understanding of this or that specific problem, because they view it through a different angle. And we will hold these – I do not know how to call them – conferences, or seminars on a very regular basis in order to be able to involve as many persons as possible. Already, even now, from the phone calls that we receive and from different letters and proposals that we get, it is very clear that there are many more people who have studied and have knowledge and have interests about certain fields. The idea is to mobilize and use all national resources, human resources, which have been left unused at this stage.

And now about the finances. I know that there are finances available -first, among Georgians abroad, which represent a very large community, one that looks forward to any kind of new development in Georgia; they were watching very cautiously what iss happening and yet have not decided what they will do. I am sure that I am the type of a person and I am creating the type of movement that can attract their trust. First of all because I am one of them – I am aGeorgian from abroad who came back. And also because the type of movement and the type of civil ideas I am advocating is something that is probably also more familiar for [the Diaspora].

Q.: The opposition niche in Georgian politics is wide open. You have sent mixed signals to the colleagues in the opposition, offering partnership and, at the same time, planning to set up your own movement. Will you feel more comfortable in a broadest possible opposition coalition or do you think that associating yourself with some in the opposition may damage your popularity?
A.: I think that today political parties in Georgia are not real political parties in the sense that they do not have full programs and they do not differentiate themselves very clearly. I also know that political parties in Georgia today are not too popular and some of them are discredited. I do not think that – for a social movement of the kind we are now preparing – it is very useful to start to have contacts, formal contacts with formal political parties. But that does not mean that we are closed for any type of relation with them and I am sure that we have a lot to learn from individual politicians from the political parties, as long as they come as individuals, but not as representatives of respective political parties.

I think there is a place in Georgia for these political parties,  there is also a place for a large social movement, which one day will probably grow into a new political party, but it is too early to say now.

Q.: You spoke about the “European model” of development that should guide Georgia. The models within the EU range from socially conservative and protectionist – France and Germany – to more liberal Britain and the fast-track developers of Eastern Europe. What kind of mix would you advocate for Georgia?
A.: I think that the European model is, of course, what has to be followed by Georgia. I also think that Georgia is probably closer to those countries which share the same historic experience, hence countries from eastern European, or the Baltic States. Because they had the same development and same experience; at the same time, they do not have the same constraints that the countries from Western Europe have. And one thing I am sure of is that this region that goes from the Baltic Sea to the eastern part of Europe – Ukraine and the Black Sea: Romania, Bulgaria and the Caucasus – this is one of the most potentially dynamic regions for Europe. The future growth of Europe will come from there.

Q.: It is of no secret that many in the EU look with irony and even some irritation at Georgia’s European aspirations. Why should Europe care about Georgia? 

A.: The European Union should be interested in closer involvement with this region – with Georgia and the South Caucasus in general, because this is as I have mentioned the area of future economic development for Europe.

[Stability in Georgia] is also very important for Europe because [this region] is in its neighborhood; in 2007 Georgia will have a common border with the EU through the Black Sea. And Abkhazia, which is a conflict region, will have a direct border on the Black Sea [with the EU].

So it is a very short vision not to see that whatever happens in this region in terms of stability, of political and economic development, will directly effect the European Union. So the stability, prosperity and social and economic development of this region is very essential for the stability and prosperity and development of the European Union.

We are linked, this is a fact – we are definitely linked. Whether we will be linked in the future by entering into common institutions is a different question, which will be treated later on; but this is a fact that we are linked and we are linked with the neighborhood policy. It is clear that the European Union should take a much more active and pro-active look at this neighborhood policy.

Q.: You have recently criticized the EU and the OSCE for, essentially, neglecting Georgian issues. Not constrained by an official position now, can you explain the essence of your criticism? What are the specific actions the international institutions must take?

A.: First I will talk about the OSCE. The OSCE can exist only if it is able to prove that it is effectively dealing with problems. It has been criticized by a number of countries, starting from Russia and other countries from the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]. Georgia was one of the main supporters of the OSCE’s work and one of the major tests of the OSCE’s effectiveness with the border monitoring mission [ceased last December] which was one of the missions that could prove its effectiveness; so if the OSCE is not effective in Georgia then the question comes where it is effective? Today the OSCE has to prove its effectiveness, especially, in the peace process [in South Ossetia]. Because there is little power, because behind the scene there is no agreement, [the OSCE] can not manage to increase its number of monitors [in the South Ossetian conflict zone] and it fails to prove its effectiveness.

These organizations are thinking about their reforms, but in rather theoretical terms when what is needed is to reflect [these reforms] on the actual cases: how they can become more effective. We should look at this from the point of view of: what is the effectiveness on the ground?   

Now about the EU. It is in the EU’s interest to be more actively engaged here. I think that for the time being the EU does not have a foreign policy vision for the region. It does not have a foreign policy towards Russia, nor towards this region. And I think as long as the major countries of the EU – France, Germany, UK and, today, Poland – do not have a clear strategy for its neighborhood, for Russia, for all this eastern part, we will have a very ineffective EU as an actor in foreign policy.

Q.: Please give us your look on the foreign policy environment Georgia is likely to face in the coming years. What are the main threats and main opportunities? 
A.: The main risk for Georgian foreign policy is not knowing exactly what it wants, to sometimes confuse a declaratory policy and effective steps into foreign policy. The risk is Russia seeing the weaknesses inGeorgia’s internal policy and exploiting those weaknesses.

The major strength is support from the United States. Also the trend of the EU’s increased involvement, but we have to help it happen. But our major strength is that our region is very dynamic, that we are an excellent friend to Ukraine, Turkey and to the countries of the Black Sea region, like Romania and Bulgaria. Lots of interests are coming from Central Asia, like from Kazakhstan. We are the country that manages to have good relations with both our immediate neighbors – Azerbaijan and Armenia. We can manage normal relations with Iran. All of that makes Georgia a very special place and makes for very special opportunities.

Q.: When resigning, you said that your work has been impeded by the “old cadre” in the Foreign Ministry. In which areas is the ministry most inefficient, in your mind, and what changes must be made there?

A.:  I was talking [in my statements] of the embassies especially, because it is impossible for the Ministry to function and for the Minister to function if the embassies are not in direct subordination to the foreign policy that is elaborated in the country and put in effect by the Ministry. And it is very difficult when Minister have no direct hierarchic authority over Ambassadors. They are appointed and removed by the Parliament and of course they [ambassadors] have dual loyalty: one to the Foreign Ministry and another to the Parliament, which appoints and removes them. My mistake was not to remove all the Ambassadors when I came into office. But I am not, and I was not, in favor of changing the personnel of the Foreign Ministry, because there is no necessity for this.

Q.: You said President Saakashvili should have adjourned the Parliament and called for early elections. Was this said in the heat of battle or do you still think it is a good thing to do? If so, how would it reflect on Georgia’s international credibility?

A.: I was not pushing for doing this or that, I was just giving my analysis of what the political situation was and what should have been the answer to that political situation. And the situation involved a sheer political attack, not only on myself but on the President himself and on his choices. And in this kind of situation, especially when his ratings were going down, if you do not answer then it means that you are retreating and this is what is happening. Of course [if the Parliament would have been disbanded] it would have been a political crisis in Georgia. But there are some crises you can not avoid.

Q.: Many, especially in the EU have criticized Georgia for having to strong of an executive branch. Don’t you think that disbanding the parliament will be seen as a drift towards authoritarianism?

A.: This is a wrong understanding. Democracy lay not in the fact that there is a weak President. Democracy lays in the fact that there is a balance of power. I was always explaining to our foreign partners that in Georgia there is no clear balance of power. And sometimes the Parliament is much more powerful than it should be. So a balance should be found and this balance has not yet been found. The real balance, in fact, is not so much between the President and the Parliament, but there has to be a much stronger judiciary system, and, of course, a strong civil society which has influence over the power structures.  

Q.: And to conclude, can you describe the Georgia you and your movement would aspire to build, let’s say in 5 years?
A.: I do not know very clearly, but what I hope is that in five years from now we will have a much more active civil society, which will be involved in all levels – first of all in the local and regional power structures, which need to be profoundly democratized.

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