U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan spoke with journalists about recent attacks against civil society, the anti-western public movement People Power, and de-oligarchization, after attending a meeting between the new USAID Mission Director John Pennell and Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili on 5 October.
Attacks on Civil Society
Speaking with journalists today, Amb. Degnan said today’s meeting with Speaker Papuashvili focused on examining the important role of civil society organizations and noted that some of the attacks against civil society “have been particularly surprising.”
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“As many of the Members of Parliament who have worked in civil society before coming into government know, civil society plays a critical role in a healthy democracy,” Amb. Degnan emphasized.
While the U.S. Ambassador acknowledged that it may be at times “uncomfortable to hear feedback from civil society” from the government, she defended civil society’s role to “protect the interests of the citizens and to hold their government accountable.”
In that context, Amb. Degnan underlined that civil society organizations are not there to work for the government or for particular political parties but “to work for the public and the rights of the citizens.”
“I think Georgia is fortunate to have a number of very professional, strong civil society organizations that are doing exactly that, whether it’s helping to clean the air, address climate change, or to help develop regulations that protect workers that improve communities,” Ambassador said, adding that “we should appreciate the good work that they do every day.”
Ambassador said she would not comment on the country’s internal political developments when asked about the anti-Western public movement People Power, which now is part of the majority together with the Georgian Dream. “I think the Georgian public can see very well what’s going on here,” she noted.
The Ambassador took an issue, however, with a “confusing message” from the government, on the one hand, affirming the unity of values with People Power, and on the other, speaking about the significance of partnership with the U.S., which People Power seeks to question and undermine.
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In that context, Amb. Degnan stressed that she prefers to “deal with facts” while lamenting that “there’s plenty of disinformation and conspiracy theories out there.”
“The facts are that for 30 years the United States has been committed to helping Georgia strengthen its security and supporting Georgia’s sovereignty,” she added and pointed out that U.S. efforts in Georgia have been strictly geared toward helping it strengthen its democracy and achieve its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
“That’s what we all want to see: Georgia more fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family,” she remarked.
Asked about de-oligarchization and the proposed draft law by the Georgian Dream, which reportedly copies the law passed in Ukraine, Amb. Degnan said, “I personally don’t think it’s always helpful to just borrow somebody else’s [strategy] without tailoring it to the specifics of your country’s situation.”
Amb. Degnan stated that there are different ways that “countries address undue influence in the political sector, and I think each country needs to debate that and come up with its own solution.”
In that context, she pointed out that there are many good examples that can be “crafted into something that is appropriate for Georgia, and the underlying problem, which is undue influence that affects the political will of the people.”
“What any law like this is meant to do is to try to ensure that there is transparency, accountability, and a level playing field so that the people’s voice is heard,” Amb. Degnan emphasized.