Former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili gave his second televised interview since his return as the chair of the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG) party. Ivanishvili spoke to journalists of three leading broadcasters – Rustavi 2, Imedi and TV Pirveli.
The 140-minute interview was aired late on October 23, with Bidzina Ivanishvili outlining his future political plans and clarifying his stances about a range of current issues, including on the upcoming presidential elections, the Omega Group and the case-fixing recordings.
Rustavi 2 manipulating minds
Throughout the interview, Bidzina Ivanishvili spoke at length on Rustavi 2 TV, a national broadcaster leaning strongly towards the opposition.
The GDDG leader stressed the channel “propagates lies.” “This is your working manner, you are not presenting alternative opinion to the audience, you hold big part of your viewers as hostage, you are a closed television, and air lies 99% of time,” he told the Rustavi 2 journalist.
“The journalists should not be keeping the public in permanent stress and deception; they have to air impartial information, make sure the materials are accurate and present it to viewers that way. What is being done on Rustavi 2 TV, and regretfully also on TV Pirveli on some occasions, lacks argument and impartiality,” Ivanishvili noted.
“If you turn off Rustavi 2, you won’t see anything but progress and development … that we might have problems in the cabinet and in other branches of government is normal in every country; there might be [cases of] corruption and other mistakes, but they need to be well-documented,” the GDDG leader said later in the interview.
Ivanishvili also announced that GDDG’s PR team has elaborated a “program” to ensure that alternative views “enter” the television station. Challenged by the Rustavi 2 journalist that this was a threat to an independent media, he stressed this would merely entail monitoring of the channel’s airtime, “whether alternative views are represented in the channel or not.”
Okuashvili, Subeliani affairs
The GDDG leader touched upon businessman Zaza Okruashvili’s extortion allegations. Ivanishvili confirmed he met Okuashvili twice in his capacity as a businessman, but stressed it was solely to assist him. Ivanishvili said the two spoke on promoting local tobacco production.
He said the covert recordings featuring Okuashvili’s conversations and describing the alleged illegal dealings were not authentic and were doctored. He also stressed the businessman failed to substantiate the accusations against him, to explain “what he paid the money for.”
The GDDG leader claimed this was an attempt to “blackmail” the authorities as Okuashvili did not want to pay the budgetary debt accrued by his company. “How credible one can be when he does not pay 50 million to the state is up to the viewers to decide,” he noted.
The ex-PM also denied Okuashvili’s claims that former Sports Minister Levan Kipiani was incarcerated in a basement and threatened to be raped by Otar Partskhaladze, former chief prosecutor in the Georgian Dream government. He said there was no reference to this in covert tapes, and that it was Rustavi 2 that “made up” the story and “artificially” peddled it.
Ivanishvili commented on the case-fixing tapes as well, saying the Khorava street murder “is a tragedy for the whole country,” but “drawing parallels” with the Girgvliani case (a high profile murder case under the previous government), is “immoral” and “extremely cynical.”
“Girgvliani was murdered by the state and the murderers were covered up by the state … [while in the Khorava street murder] there is no evidence that the state and the incumbent government had any interest in the murder …the only interest of the state and the current government is to conduct the investigation correctly and promptly,” the GDDG leader noted.
Comeback, party reform plans
Ivanishvili spoke at length about his political comeback, saying he returned to strengthen the party management and team cohesion.
“I returned to re-establish the [power] vertical [in the team], to push smart ones forward and make them more active; there will be stricter demands for GDDG members, the party will be strengthened and I will make sure that in one year’s time, everything will have its [proper] name and place – Rustavi 2 will no longer be able to take our society hostage, to make them live in deception and stress,” he said.
“Today, there is a feeling as if the state no longer functions; today, Okuashvili, who does not want to pay the debt, attacks the authorities; they want to draw a picture that there is Ivanishvili-led racketeering in the country and that he extorts money from Okuashvili, which is not substantiated and which has not happened,” Ivanishvili also noted.
Support to candidate Zurabishvili
Ivanishvili used the opportunity to promote the presidential bid of the ruling party-endorsed candidate, Salome Zurabishvili.
The party leader stressed the idea to endorse an independent candidate was his own, since “a non-partisan president will be more interesting for developing state institutions,” considering that “the Georgian Dream is already extensively represented in state institutions.”
Ivanishvili said Zurabishviili has a chance of winning the race already in the first round. “It will not be surprising since her major opponents are from two branches of the United National Movement (implying UNM and the European Georgia),” Ivanishvili noted.
He then called on the GDDG members to rally behind Zurabishvili’s candidacy. “I would like to remind the team members, [only] some of them [of course], as the majority has already been convinced that the decision [to endorse Zurabishvili] was right, but if there are some remaining, I would like to urge them to stop coquetting and follow the party position,” he said.
Ivanishvili also addressed the undecided voters and former GDDG supporters, reassuring that Zurabishvili will be “a very decent president.” “Although she is not a GDDG member, I would like to ask you to put aside all your personal grievances and support Salome Zurabishvili.”
Ivanishvili was also asked to comment on Salome Zurabishvili’s controversial Russo-Georgian war-related remarks. Here, the party leader said he agrees with the GDDG-endorsed candidate that it was Saakashvili “who bombed his own population.”
“What happened in 2008 and how the then government acted under the leadership of Saakashvili, was a betrayal of the country and our homeland; he could have prevented this war from happening and he could have prevented Russia’s centuries-old dream from coming true … if not for the government’s imprudent, treasonous steps, Russia would not have been able to occupy Georgia’s territories,” Bidzina Ivanishvili said.
Civil society organizations
The GDDG leader spoke briefly on the civil society organizations, telling journalists that he understands “very well” the importance of CSOs for the country’s democratic development. He, however, stressed the Georgian civil society organizations have acted in partisan interests.
“They are activists of the United National Movement, who have managed to permeate the civil society and have been attacking the authorities [including Salome Zurabishvili], and when they are responded, they immediately present it as an attack against CSOs,” he said.
Ivanishvili then pointed out that Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze’s criticism of the civil society groups was “absolutely adequate,” but said his word choice “could have been better.” (Editor’s note: on October 8, Kobakhidze said absence of “clear” CSO position on Rustavi 2 TV director’s “fascist” remarks on Zurabishvili was indicative of their complicity to “fascism”).