Georgian Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Usupashvili, who is visiting Brussels, spoke before the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee on June 17.
After his opening remarks during which he spoke about Georgian Dream coalition’s reform agenda and challenges, he responded to MEPs questions many of which were about the arrest of former government officials, in particular secretary general of UNM party and former PM and ex-interior minister Vano Merabishvili.
Polish MEP Krzysztof Lisek from the EPP group, who is the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Georgia, drew parallel with Ukraine, where former PM Tymoshenko is imprisoned, when speaking about the detention of Merabishvili.
“Of course there are some differences – Tymoshenko is in much better conditions as she at least has an access to news and television,” MEP Lisek said, referring to Merabishvili’s demand to have a TV set in his cell.
Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski also from the EPP group with whom UNM is affiliated told Usupashvili that “there is no time for being over-diplomatic” as the Vilnius summit of EU’s Eastern Partnership countries was approaching when Georgia wants Association Agreement with the European Union to be initialed. MEP Saryusz-Wolski told Usupashvili Georgia’s current government was following path of “selective justice, revenge and repression of the opposition”, which he said, was also manifested in the detention of Merabishvili. “I think it has already passed the red line,” Saryusz-Wolski said and added that situation now in Georgia was “even worse” than in Ukraine. “If you jail opposition leaders, you deprive your nation the right of choice,” he said.
He also said that perspective of Association Agreement “will fade away” if the government does not change its practice and he would be against of recommending Association Agreement for Georgia by the time of the Vilnius summit if situation does not change in Georgia.
Usupashvili responded that MEP Saryusz-Wolski’s remarks were demonstration of “selective political justice”, suggesting that MEP Saryusz-Wolski’s criticism was originating more from UNM’s affiliation with EPP rather than from actual facts.
MEP Saryusz-Wolski claimed that when former Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, in his capacity of chairman of EPP’s expert group on foreign policy met in March, 2013 PM Ivanishvili, the latter “told our delegation: ‘we’ll put people into the jail to give example to those who dare to oppose’ him. He told this to EPP delegation, including former foreign minister of Italy Frattini.” Usupashvili responded that MEP Saryusz-Wolski was wrong when leveling this allegation. “That’s not correct,” Usupashvili said.
Belgian MEP Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck from the group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) with whom Usupashvili’s Republican Party is affiliated, said that it was not up to MEPs to judge whether crimes were committed or not by former Georgian officials, but added that the arrest of former political leaders were making MEPs feel “ill at ease.” “So I hope you will come with reassuring answers about these concerns,” she told Usupashvili.
The Georgian parliament speaker said in his response to MEPs’ questions that for past nine years all the officials at all the level of government in Georgia were representatives of UNM party and before becoming PM in July 2012, Merabishvili was the interior minister for almost eight years; Usupashvili said that no one should be surprised if investigations into cases of alleged abuse of power, corruption or other crimes would lead to UNM representatives.
He said that Georgia’s current government was facing “a huge problem” as thousands of citizens were filing complaints with prosecutor’s office requesting investigation of seizure of their properties by the previous authorities. Usupashvili also said that about USD 200 million was spent on construction of a new building for the Parliament in Kutaisi and claimed that the previous government raised part of these funds to cover construction expenses by forcing various businessmen and individuals to buy state-owned lands in various parts of the country for price well above their market value. He also read out at the meeting a small portion from the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) into the 2006 murder case of Sandro Girgvliani in which ECHR says it was “struck by how the different branches of State power… acted in concert in preventing justice from being done in this gruesome homicide case.” Although prosecutor’s office said it would initiate charges against Merabishvili, who in 2006 was the interior minister, in connection to the Girgvliani case, no charges have yet been filed.
“What can we do in this kind of cases and how can we deal with these cases?” Usupashvili said. “We are getting advices: ‘ok, there [might] be some wrongdoings, but you need to forgive them otherwise you will be blamed [for pursuing] political revenge’. I am declaring from this floor: we are ready for that,” Usupashvili said.
“We have to answer to the Georgian people as well, because they are owners of this country and they were victims of this kind of situation and if the advice is: ‘forgive everyone, does not matter what they’ve done’ – well, we also need an advice on something else: what justice means then? How to proceed?” Usupashvili said.
Usupashvili called on the MEPs to judge about developments in Georgia not based on his or UNM’s claims, but based on assessments from independent observers. He said that former human rights commissioner of Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, who was appointed by the European Commission as the EU’s Special Adviser for Legal and Constitutional Reform and Human Rights in Georgia, was closely following developments in the country and added that the government was ready to welcome more observers.
During the meeting Czech MEP Libor Rouček from the group of Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), who led a fact-finding delegation from the European Parliament, which visited Georgia in early June, said that before the October 2012 elections Georgia “was a one-party state with one authoritarian leader on the top with no opposition in the Parliament.” He said that “the Georgian society is pushing the Georgian government to take justice into hands”, but warned that it should not turn into political revenge.
“Georgia is in transition from one-party to multi-party system. The ruling party has to avoid some of the pitfalls, some of the mistakes done by the previous ruling party. One of the pitfalls that the new government can fall in would be some sort of political vendetta,” MEP Rouček said.
After the meeting, Usupashvili told Georgian journalists in Brussels that “some persons from EPP” were “European Kandelakis” – a reference to UNM lawmaker Giorgi Kandelaki. “Like Kandelaki, they are also loyal supporters of Saakashvili and his party,” Usupashvili said.
He also said that some of the remarks at the meeting were “such big lies” that he would not like to even comment on them. “It’s little bit unimaginable to expect that people, who have been for years portraying Saakashvili as an example of democracy, will now say something different,” Usupashvili said.
In Brussels, Usupashvili also met European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, on June 17. After the meeting, Usupashvili said that negotiations on Association Agreement were almost over. “It is obvious that Georgia will have a serious progress ahead of the Vilnius summit” of Eastern Partnership countries in November, Usupashvili said.
On June 18, the Georgian parliament speaker met President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz.