Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili delivered her first annual state of the nation address in the Parliament chamber in Tbilisi on March 6.
Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze and government members were present in the legislature along with the Acting Chairperson of the Supreme Court, Chairman of the Constitutional Court, Tbilisi Mayor and Head of Tbilisi City Council, officials from the Autonomous Republics of Abkhazia (in exile) and Adjara, as well as Georgian Patriarch’s Locum Tenens, members of the Holy Synod and foreign diplomats.
President Zurabishvili opened her 37-minute address summing up her foreign trips, noting that “the level of reception, warmth, openness and readiness to cooperate, which was apparent everywhere, has been determined by Georgia’s current achievements, the degree of trust and its real prospects, not by the personal attitudes.”
“I want to assure all of you in that from outside it is often easier to see what path Georgia has gone through, despite a number of difficulties, and [we can see] how positively it is being perceived today, as a trustworthy and reliable partner,” Zurabishvili said in her address.
Relations with EU, NATO, Russia
President Zurabishvili said in her address that Georgia’s EU and NATO aspirations “are not aimed against anyone, neither have they any aggressive purposes.” “It is the sovereign right of a sovereign country to freely choose its allies for strengthening its security and defense [capabilities],” President Zurabishvili said.
She then noted that, despite “threats, aggression, pressure, war, [and] occupation from Russia,” Georgia has not changed the course aimed to strengthen democracy, economy and independence. “This is the victory of peaceful policy over the policy of violence and threats,” she noted.
“We do not and will not accept occupation of [our] territories, abductions and creeping boundaries that are parts of this policy of violence and blackmail,” the President said.
She also said Georgia is not satisfied with the current formats of negotiations, and that she discussed with international partners “the necessity of renewing the high-level political format” in which they should “make Russia understand that in the 21st century zero-sum game is no longer in anyone’s interest” and that “aggressive policy is the way of remaining in the past.”
On disinformation, hate speech
In her address, Salome Zurabishvili again spoke of “putting into civilized frames” the development in news and social networks, “to stop the flood of disinformation, defamation, hate speech, and private life videos,” which Zurabishvili believes would “support reconciliation process in the society and restoration of public trust.”
“When media is full of wrong and fake news, mistrust to news takes root. As a result, the society may remain outside the information coverage, deprived of the ability to analyze, which is opening the way to conspiracy theories and to developing a violent environment,” Zurabishvili said, noting that “without the secure and objective information, neither democratic system nor the state stability can be preserved.”
Pardoning inmates, selection of judges
President Zurabishvili said it is the competence of executive bodies to comment on current political processes, and that according to the new constitution that entered into force upon her inauguration, the President “should be distanced from any party” and “stand above the [political] upheavals as [the President] represents the stability of the state, the symbol of continuity.”
However, due to high public interest, Zurabishvili spoke of new rules for pardoning inmates, saying that this discretionary right implies selection of “the most significant individual cases” based on humanitarian principles, and thus the caseload addressed by the President should “significantly decrease”. She also said, it is foreseen to transfer commission on pardons to the Justice Ministry and will provide its recommendations, while the President will make the final decision.
Zurabishvili also spoke of lifetime appointment of judges, hoping that the legislative body will make a decision aimed to “strengthen trust towards the judiciary.” “The only thing that a President can do is to remind all the judges of their professional obligation to exercise restraint,” she said, stressing that the judges shall not be making political statements, which is “negatively affecting the trust towards judiciary.”
She then spoke of the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia’s losing parliamentary majority as well. President Zurabishvili believes such a development “is neither strange nor should be considered destructive… unless it threatens the country’s stability and its main trajectory.”
President Zurabishvili said breakup, merger and reshuffling of factions is less important, but “more significant is the political discourse, sharp statements, cases of personal attacks, that might prevent emergence of the future formats of cooperation” among the political forces.
“All of us who think about tomorrow’s Georgia and about strengthening our state, carry high responsibility and the obligation to demonstrate political culture,” she concluded.