Former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili gave an interview to the Georgian Public Broadcaster on January 11 to elaborate on his plans to quit the Georgian Dream chairmanship and politics “for good.”
In a 69-minute-long interview, aired late on January 12, Ivanishvili tried to explain how the current situation differs from his initial – temporary – departure from politics in 2013. He also spoke about the future of GD, problems of the opposition, and Georgia’s relations with NATO and the EU. As the former Prime Minister asserted, this was most likely his last interview with Georgian media, as he prepares to retreat to his pre-2011 “private way of life.”
Quitting Politics ‘For Good’
Ivanishvili said he now plans to completely distance himself from politics and that will not have any communication with the ruling party over political matters, contrary to the 2013 departure when he resigned as Prime Minister.
“I do not plan anymore to give consultations to the team… They understand political matters very well and will comply with this [decision of mine], they will not call me, there will be no criticisms on my part, no public appearances,” the Georgian Dream founder noted, adding that he had been preparing the party for months for his second – and final – departure from politics.
The former Prime Minister claimed from now on, “going to the elections will be the maximum of political activity” for him. “No interviews, no public statements,” he added.
Ivanishvili said he resigned from the post of Prime Minister and departed from politics in 2013 with a different intention: “I always said, without [political] coquetry [in 2013], that I would, of course, keep advising and helping my team… I did not break any [rules] by doing this… No one forbade me from giving advice, I openly helped and supported the team, during [2016, 2017] elections as well…”
Addressing the political context in the aftermath of the initial departure, Ivanishvili stated: “Of course, a controller of the government, if you wish to call it that way, that is how I described my position back then… if someone violated the rules of the game if there was corruption, abuse of power, or anything similar, something that is unacceptable for [the approach of the Georgian Dream]…I would make my opinion known [to the team], and of course, the government [would] take [my opinion] into account.”
They [the GD Government] took me into consideration, they knew I would not […] stay quiet [about problems]… This is how I described my position back then… I was an active aide and supporter of the Georgian Dream, a controller and a critic as well, if you like to call it that way,” the founder of the Georgian Dream party stated.
But this time, Ivanishvili said, he is quitting politics ‘for good’. He reiterated the view, that his entry into politics was a forced decision: “[Politics] is not my preferred or favorite profession, it was forced on me because the country needed it, because the [opposition] had insufficient power for beating the oppressors [meaning the United National Movement government – Civil.ge] and my help was needed. This was the reason I entered into politics… Therefore I had declared [from the outset] that I would enter [politics], force the oppressors to leave, and then quit.”
The Future of the Ruling Party
Ivanishvili said during his 2013 semi-retirement, the GD party was “inexperienced, eclectic, not a one-party team” – a situation that he feels has now has changed.
Ivanishvili noted that in the 2016 parliamentary elections as well, he actively helped the team to “develop and become a party founded on its ideology.” “Unfortunately, I saw and others noticed as well, perhaps, that it was proving impossible due to many reasons,” he added.
For comparison, Ivanishvili said that in 2018, after his return to politics and the departure of the Green party, Social-Democrats, and other GD’s junior coalition partners, the ruling party came into its own.
“I already did what I could, I am leaving a put-together, solid team, which is whole and is uniform, and it is called the Georgian Dream,” Ivanishvili said.
During the interview, the former Prime Minister advised his successors to continue working with his method, to hear out and discuss each other’s critical opinions. “They should filter each other’s opinions, in every critical situation the stakeholders, who could speak their minds, should sit down and not avoid opposing each other.”
“I would give one piece of advice, that the truth springs from the argument… They should not avoid opposing one another… in every critical situation and crisis they should listen to as many opinions [within the team] as possible… They lack experience in this a little bit, they hold back, out of respect [for each other], they believe that they should not say something contrary to what someone else said,” the GD founder added.
Discussing the potential risks of his retirement, Ivanishvili noted:
“The team are very friendly, however, there is a suspicion and a fear as well, that they may start questioning the relationships between one another, which will be complicated for the team… this is one of the dangers for a team without a leader, that quit the party…”
But the former Prime Minister expressed confidence, that nothing will threaten the Georgian Dream party’s dominance for the next four or five years.
Criticizing the Opposition
Ivanishvili devoted a significant chunk of his interview to criticizing the opposition. He noted regretfully that Georgian politics lacks “healthy” opposition, which could duly oppose the ruling party.
As the former Prime Minister said, he looks forward to the day when the Georgian Dream government will be replaced by another “healthy force.” However, Ivanishvili said he cannot see such a force in today’s opposition, because it “is unable to properly fulfill the role of an opponent.”
Ivanishvili remarked that the opposition fails to offer “thematic criticism in any direction” to the Georgian Dream party, be it economy, foreign policy, anti-corruption, or police matters.
“Today’s opposition lacks a constructive approach, does not have arguments, and has turned completely to deception [as a tactic],” Ivanishvili noted, adding that the opposition should refrain from us using “violence.”
Speaking of the opposition, Ivanishvili criticized his arch-rival, former President Mikheil Saakashvili, and contrasted the ex-President’s behavior to UNM Government’s long-serving Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili, who served his sentence in jail.
“Merabishvili, acted significantly more honorably, he paid his dues, he is a man, and he left [the prison],” Ivanishvili asserted.
NATO and the EU
The Former Prime Minister said Georgia already satisfies every NATO standard, including that of democratic institutions and spending 2% of the GDP on defense.
“However, again the United National Movement’s 2008 thoughtlessness… treasonous not in the literal sense, but in what they did [in substance] – not only could they not avoid [the 2008 Russo-Georgian war] – the biggest disaster and stupidity that the Government could have done[…] Today even our partners find it hard to discuss [Georgia’s NATO integration], we also find it hard, so things stand as they are…”
“The actions of UNM in 2008 raised many questions,” Ivanishvili added.
Ivanishvili addressed the GD government’s promise to apply for EU membership in 2024. He argued Georgia can join the European Union, where it has its own place, adding that “it is our [historic] family.”
“It is highly likely that in 2024 we will apply for EU Membership unless we bring some other misfortune upon ourselves,” Ivanishvili remarked, adding that “by 2030 Georgia will manage to become the member of the most interesting family, where we might not be among the richest economically, we will rank the last there, but then other opportunities will arise.”