Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party spoke extensively in the interview with the pro-governmental Imedi TV on November 27, about the Parliament’s downvoting the constitutional amendment, a wave of protests, Georgian civil society organizations and U.S. organizations operating in Georgia, as well as the relations with the West and employment problem.
Civil.ge offers a compilation of the key topics from Ivanishvili’s interview.
Downvoted constitutional amendment and ongoing protests
The ruling party chairman comprehensively discussed the Parliament’s downvoting of the constitutional amendment on transition to fully proportional electoral system from 2020, saying “it is regretful that we failed to keep our promise.” Ivanishvili added that it was him who offered the initiative on transition to the proportional electoral system to his team as well as Georgian public, as a “good will in the difficult situation, following the June 20 events.”
Ivanishvili noted that negative stance of majoritarian MPs towards transition to proportional system was known from the very beginning, even when they were adopting a new constitution, in which 2024 was defined as the year of transition to proportional system. “But we then managed to reach a fragile consensus [with skeptic majoritarian MPs],” Ivanishvili noted.
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He explained that the majority changed its attitude towards transition to fully proportional system largely due to the actions by the opposition and civil rights activists, and that he even had “to calm down” his teammates who were skeptically disposed towards the amendments. “Instead of receiving certain reactions to what we have offered [to opposition and activists], we received worse aggression,” Ivanishvili said.
The ruling party chairman said that Georgian Dream initially considered this demand of protesters to be a public order, but later they saw only the National Movement and its “satellites” behind the desire for changes. “We faced euphoria within the team that it was the demand of youths and the public demand, but gradually it emerged that the public was sidelined,” he said.
Commenting on the protests ongoing in Tbilisi for over two weeks following the Parliament’s downvoting the constitutional amendment, Ivanishvili said that the protesters “fail to achieve anything… they simply cause harm to themselves, but we observe the principle of democracy, the right to freedom of expression.”
Ivanishvili also said that downvoting the constitutional amendment also caused harm to the ruling team. “The team suffered harm not only because it failed to keep its promise, but because many dignified members quit our team.” The ruling party leader stressed that members of the team, even those who did not support the amendment, feel sorry about it.
“We have democracy within the team. Many people quit the party and are now swearing at us. It is their problem, not ours. Let them recollect my dictatorial behaviors. They would fail to do it. I am democrat by nature, be it in a family or outside and I have the same attitude in the team… But I failed to persuade them and it [downvoting of the amendment] happened.”
Ivanishvili said that he tried to persuade his teammates, who were skeptically disposed towards the proportional system that the party could easily garner 50-60% of votes, but all in vain.
He also emphasized that any party might have an unfulfilled promise. “Look at the developed countries; there is no party without unfulfilled promises…nothing dramatic has happened, if we assess [this] pragmatically,” Ivanishvili said, adding that “I do not remember any principled promise given during our seven-year history … that we have not fulfilled.”
Ivanishvili on opposition, civil society organizations
During his lengthy interview, the ruling party leader criticized the UNM for multiple times. He said that “the [United] National Movement did it best to lead Russian troops into Georgia. Nobody should think that I am trying to justify Russia’s actions. The greatest crime committed by the [United] National Movement is 20% of Georgia’s territories occupied by Russia.”
Speaking about the opposition politicians in general, Ivanishvili said that “they do not love their homeland.” He stressed the problem of human resources and professionalism in all the spheres, including in the parties. “To say nothing about finances, people are needed to set up a party,” he said.
Ivanishvili also suggested that Georgian civil society organizations, as well as Georgian branches of U.S.-founded organizations like National Democratic Institution (NDI) and International Republic Institute (IRI) are following the agenda of United National Movement. “Nationals” [UNM] arranged this system in line with the mechanism demanded by the U.S. and they [UNM] have their moles there [in NGOs], like “captain Gigauri” [meaning Eka Gigauri, head of Transparency International Georgia].
Ivanishvili further slammed non-governmental organizations, noting that “the society has such a sentiment… [that Georgian] society disgusts, has aggression towards this type of NGOs, that are spreading lies for years and that represent satellites of [the United] National Movement.”
Georgia’s relations with the West
In the interview, the ruling party chairman also spoke about Georgia-U.S. relations and generally, the country’s pro-Western foreign policy course. “Pro-Western orientation means sharing and establishing pro-Western values. We are striving towards developed Europe and we are establishing human-tailored, human rights-tailored institutions,” Ivanishvili said. He also noted that Georgian Dream unwaveringly protects western values.
“The entire Georgian Dream team is pro-Western… you should be called pro-Western, when you are having human-tailored legislation and institutions,” he said.
The ruling party chairman said that “after Georgian Dream came to power, all institutions are developing in a democratic, European manner. So, neither our American nor European friends can doubt that Georgian Dream is the most pro-Western team [in Georgia].”
Ivanishvili also noted that he met with the ambassadors for several times and that none of them have any questions about the level of democracy in the country.
“The United States no longer supports the National Movement, nobody cares for their leader,” he said, adding that “today we completely depend on our strategic partner [U.S.]. They did a lot to help us achieve stability in our country, they support us in all aspects.”
Ivanishvili stressed that “Georgia has never had such support from its strategic partner, the United States, an unprecedented, bipartisan document was adopted by the Congress… so, we have unprecedented bipartisan support from the United States, our strategic partner.”
The ruling party chairman also noted that his team “firmly protects and pursues American interests;” he, however, expressed doubts that some officials might fail to explain it to American partners. “Probably, it is not so simple, we have some more plans to tell Washington what is happening here. But if we fail to achieve it, I do not rule out addressing the Senate and the Congress,” he said.
Unemployment, emigration and legal employment in EU
Ivanishvili named unemployment as the key problem persisting in the country. Responding to political opponents’ criticism, Ivanishvili said: “Why are people unemployed? They are demanding an answer… There are a lot of poor people, but if will make an objective analysis and blame Ivanishvili for it, we will receive misfortune.”
Ivanishvili said that he tried for a long time to convince his teammates that instead of giving a promise on creating jobs, it would be better to hold negotiations with the EU states on opening up legal employment opportunities for Georgian citizens.
“2 million [Georgian] people are presently living in emigration… In light of good coordination, 50,000 jobs may be created in Georgia [per year]… It needs decades to employ everyone in our homeland… their absolute majority has been employed illegally [in the EU]… we can negotiate with the developed European countries… to fill the gap that Europeans have. Europeans have jobs, they lack labor force, we do not have jobs,” Ivanishvili said.
The ruling party chairman added that several hundreds of Georgian citizens could be sent to Germany already in spring for seasonal work.