On March 19, Salome Zurabishvili gave her first televised interview to a national Georgian broadcaster after being sworn-in as Georgia’s fifth President in December 2018.
In a 90-minute interview with Tbilisi-based TV Pirveli, Zurabishvili focused on her priorities in the office and spoke on a number of ongoing political developments. We have summarized some of the key points for our readers.
Relations with Ivanishvili
Asked to comment on her relations with Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili in the post-election period, Zurabishvili said she meets Ivanishvili often, but in her individual capacity and not discuss political issues.
“[I meet him] as a free person [meets another] free person… I have never consulted him [on political matters]; when Ivanishvili congratulated me on election victory, he told me I should not feel an obligation towards him, which I value very much. This has not changed since, and if it changes perhaps, I will change as well,” she noted.
Zurabishvili spoke about the Presidential elections as well, reiterating that she led “a completely European campaign,” but was confronted by negative campaigning from the opposition.
Asked whether the Georgian Dream’s pre-election rhetoric was in line with her campaign, Zurabishvili said her own campaign tactic was “considerably softer and more European” than the one used by the ruling party.
“My campaign was completely European, and this was what I was responsible for. I cannot control other political forces, including the one that supported me; it is not up to me to decide what wording they use and how they respond to the attacks of the opposition,” Zurabishvili noted.
She also touched upon international assessments of the Presidential polls, saying the conclusions were critical, but not alarming.
“The important thing is that there were no questions on the legitimacy of elections… but we need to recognize that there were shortcomings; we need to address these shortcomings and implement the recommendations,” she said.
U.S. Human Rights Report for 2018
President Zurabishvili also commented on the annual report of the U.S. Department of State, which highlights a number of human rights problems in Georgia.
“It’s a fact that [the report] contains critical assessments, but it’s also a fact that a lot of negative information is being conveyed from Georgia, and I would say our embassies are not active enough in offering alternative views,” she noted.
“Exaggerated and politicized information is being delivered from Georgia [by NGOs]; some of this systemically negative information is valid, as we all know very well that Georgia is not an ideal country… There are shortcomings, but not as salient as described in these reports,” Zurabishvili added.
Relations with Moscow, occupied territories
Zurabishvili spoke about her controversial pre-election statements concerning the Russo-Georgian war, in which she accused ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili of starting “the  part of the war.”
The President said it was the Russian Federation that started the war by crossing into the territory of Georgia, but reiterated the ex-President’s “mistake” in deciding to “bomb Tskhinvali.”
“[He bombed] his own population, [Saakashvili bombed Tskhinvali,] which was partially evacuated… I consider this as a mistake, but not as Georgia’s responsibility for war… I am not accusing Georgia, because it is Russia which is legally responsible for crossing into Georgia; it was not us who crossed into the territory of another country,” she said.
Challenged by the journalist whether she was accusing Saakashvili of bombing a civilian population, Zurabishvili said: “Saakashvili bombed not civilians, but a territory on the night of August 7.” “The civilian population was evacuated a day before, which we should have been mindful of,” she added.
“There are many political mistakes that concern us as a nation, and we won’t be able to move forward if we are not aware of our mistakes,” she also noted.
Asked what can be done to safeguard the security of Georgians living near the occupation line, Zurabishvili said the authorities cannot “fortify” the area with military presence, as this would “transform the occupation line into a state border.” The President stressed more international involvement is needed for urging Moscow to honor the 2008 ceasefire agreement.
The President also said she does not see any possibility of dialogue with Russia. “There are no plans and there can be no plans for dialogue.”
“Such meetings, if they are held and when they are held, have to be prepared [in advance]… there have to be signals from the Russian Federation – that the borderization process is over, that there are no kidnappings any more and that provocations are over – if these factors are not there, there is no point in starting a dialogue,” she noted.
Role of president, other issues
“The President has to be everyone’s president and not [a president] of a single political party… I cannot interfere in partisan politics; the country needs a balancing president, who stands above everyday political scuffles… The country needs a president who is not biased towards any of the parties,” Zurabishvili explained.
Zurabishvili also spoke concerning her controversial decision to hire her daughter-in-law as an advisor. She said every official needs to have someone in the administration enjoying “full trust.” “Every President has one person around, who is completely trusted; I have such person in my administration and I would not hesitate to repeat that [decision].”