President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili have addressed the nation from the stand on Tbilisi’s Freedom Square, the heart of celebrations today as the country marks 104 years since it proclaimed itself the independent Democratic Republic on May 26, 1918.
In her address, President Zurabishvili largely focused on Georgia’s EU membership bid — “a return to Europe” — Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and peaceful conflict resolution in Georgia.
“Georgia is once again standing at a crossroads, not unlike many crucial moments in its history,” she said. “In front of us has come the time for new opportunities and new challenges and they require certain answers, readiness, foresight, a vision and courage with caution.”
But first of all, the President argued, the challenges and opportunities require Georgia to be united.
“A historic opportunity arose on the road to Europe,” President Zurabishvili declared, adding however that “This road to Europe did not arise without bloodshed and without sacrifice. ”
“Our ancestors paved this path, this aspiration was based on the knowledge that common values united us and connected us to the European civilization”
“While we defended the Georgian faith, identity and values against a number of conquering empires, we also defended Europe,” she said, going on to argue that European values — fair courts, tolerance, respect for human rights and separation of powers — were deep-rooted in Georgian kingdoms of old.
“The protection of these values is neither the fulfillment of someone else’s dictated will, nor the danger of alienation and loss of identity,” the President noted. “On the contrary – taking decisive steps on the path to Europe is tantamount to returning to oneself.”
“For the first time, a real chance has arisen. Neither the civil society united around this goal, nor the souls of our ancestors, nor the future generations will forgive us for missing this chance,” President Zurabishvili said.
Continuing about the war in Ukraine, the President asserted that “we owe it to ourselves not only to feel the pain of the Ukrainian people, but also to show full solidarity with them.”
“Even our accelerated path toward Europe is the merit of the Ukrainian people, achieved with their blood and suffering,” she added. “Ukraine has gone through incredible battles, its warriors have shown the world an example of courage, devotion and endurance.”
“We know, and will not forget that Ukraine defends today not only its own freedom, sovereignty, independence but also the freedom of our and other European states.”
“I would like to pay here a tribute to the fallen Ukrainian and Georgian heroes, because what they all fought for is independence and freedom, and May 26 is a day for independence and freedom.
Against the backdrop of the war, the President argued there is an “attempt” to convince Georgia that it can “use this time and try to return [occupied] territories by force – this is another obvious Russian misinformation.”
Addressing the residents of occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/ South Ossetia, she said: “Georgia will not act against you through war and force.”
The President further noted that the upcoming Russian annexation referendum in Tskhinvali is “yet another provocation by Russia,” trying to sow conflict.
Summing up her address, President Zurabishvili appealed to the public and the political elite for unity. “When if not today, must we realize that we have no other way!”
“A united nation has a great future ahead: Europe and return to our roots!” she declared.
PM Garibashvili Talks “New State of History”
“We celebrate Independence Day this year in a historic moment,” Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili addressed the nation. “On March 3, I signed the country’s application to receive the status of a EU membership candidate.”
“With that, a completely new stage of Georgian history began,” the Prime Minister said.
“A European future is the program and an action plan without an alternative defined by the Georgian nation for every government of Georgia.”
He argued that the Georgian Dream government has made effective steps to bring the country closer to EU standards, including through political, economic, defense, governance and democratic reforms.
“We have secured the longest period of peace in recent history,” the PM said. “Despite the global challenges of today, which has significantly hurt many economies, with our Government’s prudent, reasonable police, based on national interest, the country maintains stability and development.”
The Prime Minister argued that Georgia is a “reliable and loyal partner of the EU” and claimed that the country is a “distinguished leader among the Eastern Partnership states, including among the Associated Trio countries,” Ukraine and Moldova.
“Georgia now awaits a wise, far-sighted, politically just and most importantly, a fair decision by the EU, an acknowledgment of our historic aspirations, tireless efforts and fulfilled obligations and implemented reforms in the integration process,” the PM said.
In his address, the Prime Minister also argued that the development of Georgia since it took up Christianity has been defined by the “values of the gospel, which is also the foundation of modern Europe.”
The Prime Minister also recalled the first Georgian republic, “a highly democratic, truly European state based on Western values, the spirit and constitution of which were in full compliance with even today’s European criteria.”
Alluding to a quote from Georgia’s first President late Zviad Gamsakhurdia, following the restoration of independence in 1991, the Prime Minister also said that Georgia, “constantly in the fight for its homeland, [and] one of the world’s oldest nations, has survived exactly because the people stuck to the morals and ideals of freedom and independence even during the most difficult periods.”
In a brief comment, the Prime Minister also expressed the “solidarity of our Government and our people to the people of Ukraine.”
NB: President Zurabishvili’s remarks were amended as per an official translation of the statement.