In her annual parliamentary address on April 9, President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili spoke about the need for national unity, failed EU-mediated crisis talks, the controversial Namakhvani HPP project, among others. In her speech, the President criticized the boycotting opposition and in a rare move, the Georgian Dream government as well.
The date of address, which the President said she intentionally chose, marks both the anniversary of tragic 1989 events when the Soviet crackdown on peaceful protesters in Tbilisi led to the deaths of at least 21 civilians, as well as the proclamation of the restoration of independence from the USSR in 1991.
“The 9th of April is often equated with the tragedy of 1989 and with grief. But on 9 April 1991, this tragedy was overcome, and this date became a symbol of victory,” the President said in her opening remarks.
She asserted that “the peaceful civilians of 1989, who were not scared of Russian tanks and who did not let their hands off the tricolor flag, are the forerunners of victory,” adding that they must be respected “not as victims but as victors.”
Stressing that restoration of the Georgian state as a legal successor of the Democratic Republic of Georgia of 1918-21 adds to the victory of this date, the President said the event “meant that we all won together, from the cadets of 1921, the officers shot in 1923, and Georgian Patriarch Ambrosius, to the insurgents of 1922, 1923, 1924.”
Unity, Solidarity and Namakhvani Controversy
Highlighting that April 9 cannot be celebrated without understanding “that our only strength lays in standing together,” the President spoke of “unity,” and listed “diversity, diversified thinking, multi-partisanship” as its “indivisible parts.”
“We also need to know concession and, if not taking someone’s opinion into account, at least to understand it and putting our country’s interests above our personal, party – or other – interests,” she added.
In her address, President Zurabishvili underscored the vital role of unity and solidarity in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic and warned against disinformation planting distrust towards the country’s moves to cope with it, including vaccination.
“I believe that the first step toward unity is the enforcement of current [COVID-19] regulation evenly for everyone and everywhere – at football games, on Nowruz, in church services, at Pozner’s feast, at the long-delayed weddings and birthdays of our citizens, during protests or public gatherings,” President noted, alluding to multiple controversies that broke out, among others, for alleged unequal enforcement of pandemic/curfew rules.
Noting that it takes solidarity and joint efforts to overcome crisis, president spoke of the controversy and diverging opinions surrounding the construction of Namakhvani Hydropower Plant in western Georgia.
One side, whose concern I understand and sympathize with very well, demands the protection of our natural resources and land from harsh interference and impact. The local population, and not only them, is voicing concern on threats that endanger the environment and the region’s agriculture, winemaking, and tourism potential. And on the other side, we have those who prefer to attract investment, revive the economy, and gain energy independence.
The President said both sides “have strong arguments” and consideration and consolidation of both opinions “have no alternative.” “This requires more communication, more publicity, more analysis of all arguments, and all possible threats,” President said, suggesting forming a state commission over the matter that would involve different parties, including locals and offered her Palace to be used for this purpose.
Russian Occupation, Euro-Atlantic Integration
Listing Euro-Atlantic integration and de-occupation as the major goals, President Zurabishvili called it unacceptable that “some political power seeks to gain a monopoly on being pro-Western and call all others pro-Russians” in the country with unanimous support for de-occupation and the EU and NATO membership.
“We all, at least in theory, know that any difference in opinion between us on these topics is inadmissible, as it only gives an advantage to our enemy,” she said.
In this context, she slammed those Georgian citizens that are “campaigning against Georgia’s interests, discrediting them and lobbying even for sanctions” in Western countries.
“Georgians of the 1918 political emigration also had different political and party views. But the goals were so clear that they united everyone. Independence and Europeanness – these are the goals that drove me back here and are driving me now,” asserted the President.
Criticizing Opposition, Government, Failed EU-Mediated Talks
In her remarks, President Zurabishvili said the opposition “must show more awareness” and “give up the standing of “After me, the Flood” thinking. “But no less is needed from the government” that fails to make “prior warning and attempts to reach consensus,” she said.
Scolding the Georgian Dream Government, Salome Zurabishvili said the topic of submitting European Union membership candidacy in 2024 “was not even discussed with the President of the country, let alone the opposition.”
“If we do not create a future together, we will not be able to overcome the occupation or to reach Euro-Atlantic integration,” the President underscored.
Speaking about the current political crisis amid the continued opposition boycott and the twice failed EU mediation efforts, the President said parties should not have missed “the great opportunity” of the EU engagement, “if Georgia’s only wish is to return to the European family and build a European state.”
“An unprecedented thing has happened to prove how important Georgia is for Europe and how close it has already become,” she said, speaking about the insufficiently appreciated “financial and material, but also political and moral” help the country received from the EU.
Reflecting on the failed talks, the President said “the government did not have the courage to put the stability and democratic progress of the country and the active partnership with Europe above individual ‘details'” and that “the opposition did not have the courage to free itself from external blackmail and pressure, to choose its own political path by returning to a multi-party parliament.”
In her concluding remarks, President Zurabishvili expressed her full support for the compromise plan offered by the EU, calling “on all parties to come to a solution with no alternative for the country.”
Following the President’s address, Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze said: “the President, according to the Georgian Constitution, is an above party political figure, and she [Salome Zurabishvili] once again demonstrated today that the President of Georgia, as the institution and political figure, stands beyond and above partisan agenda.”
MP Alexander Elisashvili, one of the six opposition lawmakers that joined the new Parliament, expressed his dissatisfaction with the address, noting that President Zurabishvili’s speech was “unexpectedly short and very general.”
Another MP, Pridon Injia of the European Socialists party, said “this should have been the report on the work the President carried out, but in this address, I could see nothing the President does n this address… I am not satisfied neither with the President nor with her address and pathos.”
Georgian media cited Giga Bokeria, leader of the European Georgia party that is boycotting the new Parliament, as saying that President Zurabishvili “who contributed to the failure of March 8 Agreement by not fulfilling her duty – meaning political and moral, not legal – should not be didactic to anyone now.”