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At New Year Reception, Zurabishvili Talks ‘National Accord’

'People Are Tired' of Polarization, President Tells GD, Opposition

President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili is hosting both Georgian Dream and opposition politicians for the New Year ceremony today, seizing an opportunity to stress the need for political de-polarization and “national reconciliation.”

At the reception, uncharacteristic for enmity-dominated Georgian political elites, President Zurabishvili spoke of the need “to change the atmosphere a bit and bring a new mood” after a long series of political crises in Georgia, highlighting that “endless tension” has sunk and stopped the country. 

She said presently there is “practically not an issue that we can solve today due to this polarization,” adding that it is “time to get out of this youthful trap and move on to more mature politics.”

“The People Are Tired”

“The people are tired. And on top of this unbearable situation, we have COVID, the current social and economic conditions and there is practically no prospect in the country that we can look at for calm to address the main issues,” the President Zurabishvili regretted.

“Everything is divided. Even the [Georgian Orthodox] Church is divided,” President Zurabishvili went on, adding that “we’re forgetting what is happening in the outside world, all around us, the threats and opportunities that we somehow forget.”

The President noted that young people are fleeing the country: “They have one aspiration: to get out of here, because if one is young and feels some opportunity in themselves, they will not want to live in a country of hatred and jealousy, a country where they can’t see their future and we are responsible.”

She said mitigating confrontations is the sole way to address “the realization of our European integration, the establishment of our new role in the region and in the world, the occupation on which we are practically not talking about anymore.”

“From time to time, we say what is happening on the occupation line is unacceptable, but the real plan on how to overcome this does not exist and cannot exist as long as the country is not internally united,” President Zurabishvili underlined.

Vision for Reconciliation

The President noted she has no pre-created plan on how the dialogue should take place. “Rather, it is an open process that should involve everyone and the first stage of this process should be listening.”

She said the process should be preceded by any preconditions, it should be based on several principles, including inclusiveness and transparency.

“Reconciliation itself cannot be a precondition – it was misunderstood. Understandably, reconciliation is the result, not the beginning,” the Georgian President underlined.

In her words, “it begins with reading, exchanging ideas, continuing with telling the truth and understanding the truth (especially if it concerns the past and the present), justice, and then reconciliation can take place, which I prefer to call the process of national accord.”

According to President Zurabishvili, consultations should imply extensive communication, so that the people not involved in the process can learn the results and understand the content of the consultations.

In the President’s opinion, a quest to national accord should be a Georgian process, “where maybe we will see at some point some form of support from our partners.”

In her speech, Salome Zurabishvili also struck a conciliatory tone when speaking about part of the opposition leaders, who opted out from joining the ceremony.

Sounding understanding, she said not everyone would come after the first invite. “It is neither an insult, nor an inconvenience. There will be many other opportunities for us to start necessary discussions.”

GD, Opposition Reactions After the Ceremony

After the reception, Georgian Dream chair MP Irakli Kobakhidze named justice as a foundation of reconciliation. “Justice, among others, implies the assessment of the past, present, and future prospects of particular political forces.”

Alluding to the United National Movement, GD’s arch-rival, MP Kobakhidze noted he does not believe “these people would admit to their crimes, which is, of course, a prerequisite for any reconciliation.”

MP Salome Samadashvili, independent lawmaker who broke from UNM ranks over signing EU-brokered April 19 deal, said she intends to participate in the discussions, despite “not knowing what will come out of the proposed civic and political dialogue.”

MP Samadashvili critisized MP Kobakhidze’s “hateful” comments made after President Zurabishvili’s ” very good speech,” as well as expressed regrets that the UNM, “a political force on the other side of polarization” did not attend the ceremony.

Meanwhile, Natia Mezvrishvili, one of the leaders of ex-PM Giorgi Garkharia’s For Georgia party, underlined the importance of compromises and overcoming narrow party interests to achieve results on the path of reconciliation.

“We have a great desire to get a result because it is good, above all, for our people and state’s interests,” Mezvrishvili told reporters after the meeting.

Jailed Ex-President Saakashvili Reacts

Jailed former President Mikheil Saakashvili, currently recovering in Gori Military hospital following his 50-day hunger-strike, also weighed in on President Zurabishvili’s address, praising her courage for “objective and very accurate description” of the social-economic and political crisis in the country.

Saakashvili welcomed the call for the dialogue, despite his conviction that “the key to the country’s liberation and progress lies in consistent and peaceful popular protest.”

To improve the situation, Saakashvili said, both peaceful protest and inclusive dialogue are crucial. “After all, we are all children of this country and there is no alternative to national reconciliation, to agreeing on the honest rules of the game,” noted the ex-President. 

List of Hopefuls and Skeptics

A number of political party representatives attended the reception in the Presidential Palace on Atoneli Street in downtown Tbilisi, including, GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze, Vice Speaker Archil Talakvadze and GD MP Davit Sergeenko. From the Parliamentary opposition, MP Nika Machutadze of UNM-led bloc; Citizens party MPs Alexander Elisashvili and Levan Ioseliani , Girchi lawmakers Iago Khvichia and Aleksandre Rakviashvili, Lelo MP Ana Natsvlishvili, independent lawmakers Salome Samadashvili and ex-Speaker Davit Bakradze, as well as GD-friendly European Socialist MPs have visited the Presidential Palace.

From the non-parliamentary opposition ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia’s teammates, Kakha Kemoklidze and Natia Mezvrishvili, former Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze, Ana Dolidze of the For People party, Gocha Tevdoradze of the Alliance of Patriots, former MP Eka Beselia, among others, have accepted the President’s invitation.

Some opposition politicians have politely declined the invitation. Nika Melia, the leader of the United National Movement, the largest opposition party, as well as right-libertarian Girchi-More Freedom leader Zurab Japaridze, and European Georgia leader Giga Bokeria have expressed scepticism towards President Zurabishvili’s efforts to contribute to political depolarization.

The Article was last updated on 22:05, December 17.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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