In a lengthy interview with Georgian Public Broadcaster on December 24, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili discussed a broad range of issues, including inmate pardoning, David Gareji Monastery Complex, polarized political environment in the country as well as Russian occupation and dialogue with Russia.
Speaking on the recent inmate pardoning that triggered sharp criticism among both the ruling party and opposition, President Zurabishvili said that many questions related to the issue were raised “gloatingly.” She noted that main attention was drawn to the fact why the President did not explain based on which particular circumstances she pardoned certain inmates, that, according to President Zurabishvili, is incorrect.
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We should not hold another trial. It is not correct neither for families nor for convicts. It is necessary to keep confidentiality [in inmate pardoning] and ultimately, it is a discretionary right, which needs no explanations,” Zurabishvili said.
Asked by the journalist whether the President intends to pardon Archpriest Giorgi Mamaladze, who has been sentenced to nine years in prison for plotting the murder of Shorena Tetruashvili, the Patriarch’s secretary, Zurabishvili responded: “It will not be correct to say Yes or No in advance. I will take into consideration the motion [filed by the Georgian Orthodox Church], like I take into consideration other motions, and make a decision considering all circumstances.”
Salome Zurabishvili also spoke about the issue of demarcation of the state border with Azerbaijan, saying that “all actions in [terms of] foreign [policy] are agreed [with the government].” She explained that “the President is responsible for territorial integrity, including on the borders.”
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Our key priorities prescribed by the constitution depend on having recognized borders. We do not have the [problematic] border only with the conflicting regions [of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions], but also with Azerbaijan and Armenia,” the President noted.
She also explained that the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia “accepted very well” her proposal on continuing the work over state border demarcation and that relevant commissions resumed their work. Zurabishvili also noted that the negotiations are underway, adding that it is not necessary to make it public until the result is achieved.
Asked what she expects from the process, the President responded: “The border on which we will agree.” “We should be established as the state and it requires that our borders are first demarcated and then protected,” she added.
Polarized political environment
The Georgian President also focused on the polarized environment in the country, saying that polarization is “a great disease facing not only Georgia, but the entire world” that, according to her, “is mainly linked to social [media] networks.”
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The President offered the political sides to use her own platform for dialogue, saying that she is ready to play her own role for the stability both inside and outside the country. Zurabishvili, however, added that the opposition is reluctant to attend the events held by the President.
Therefore, I found it difficult to initiate the process launched by our foreign partners [referring to the dialogue between the opposition and the ruling team]… I regret, because, in my opinion, it is a continuation of old neocolonial approaches; we would better decide ourselves than involve foreigners in everything,” President Zurabishvili said.
Occupation and dialogue with Russia
During the interview, Salome Zurabishvili also spoke about the country’s foreign policy priorities and Russian occupation, saying that recent development around Georgian doctor Vazha Gaprindashvili demonstrate that existing technical formats of dialogue with Russia “bring nothing” and that they are “useless.”
“It is clear that bureaucrats fail to make political decisions that we expect,” the President said, adding that political content should be returned to the Geneva International Discussions.
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The Georgian President also noted that Georgia should work with partners so that Georgia is mentioned in all discussions on conflicts.
When the French President told me that he planned Normandy meetings, I reminded him on multiple times that the issue of Georgia and occupied territories should be mentioned and for the first time, within the framework of “Amilakhvari Dialogue”, France focused on the occupied territories using the terms, which it had not used before,” Zurabishvili said.
She also explained that in modern world, “everyone has a dialogue with each other” and “we are in certain isolation,” not using “all diplomatic tools.” “Either we should use all tools, or stay as we are today.”
In this context, she mentioned the Normandy format, saying that it will be good if there is an opportunity for Georgia to talk, together with its partners, with Russia.
Asked whether Georgia plans to attend the events planned in Russia on May 9 to mark the Day of Victory, Zurabishvili responded that she has no “direct” answer to it and that it will depend on many factors.
“If the entire world arrives there, including Ukraine and many of our partners will be there, it should be taken into consideration. Moreover, our direct relations, the condition of Vazha Gaprindashvili and the situation on the occupation line should also be taken into consideration,” she said.
Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration
President Salome Zurabishvili also spoke about Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, saying that “we have no other perspective” and that “our perspective is Europe, the European Union and Euro-Atlantic space.”
At the same time, our goal should be to have normal relations with all neighbors, but this integration has no alternative. It is written in our constitution and it is the most valuable [thing] for me,” Zurabishvili noted.
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The Georgian President also commented on critical remarks made by Western partners against the Georgian government. She said that criticism is necessary, but balance should be maintained.
“I am telling our foreign partners one thing that if there is a feeling in the society that their criticism is unbalanced, it will have a negative impact on our main [foreign policy] orientation,” she added.