Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, currently on a working visit to France, took part in a panel discussion at the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg on 7 November, where she discussed challenges facing democracy, Russian occupation, European integration, and polarization.
Challenges Towards Democracy and Russian Occupation
President Zurabishvili emphasized that the democratization of Georgia started in 1918, with the declaration of the first independent republic. However, this process was “interrupted by the invasion of Russia and the Russian occupation.” “Then, there was the 70-year Soviet regime, which brought a change in mentality, repression, [and] isolation,” she added.
The Georgian President noted that the country resumed its democratic path in 1991, after the declaration of independence, although “even then there was a new Russian attack through the separatist territory.” “Even though the whole world knew it, the West didn’t wish to open its eyes at the time that it was an attack by Russia with its weapons and troops, and then the same in 2008,” she said.
Pointing out that the Council of Europe was the first European institution that Georgia joined, President Zurabishvili recalled the words of ex-PM Zurab Zhvania, and said, “I am Georgian and therefore I am European.” “This is what 80% of the population thinks and wants,” she stressed.
“Of course, we have not reached the ideal of democracy, but which of you has done so today? We have seen periods when reforms were carried out quickly and also periods when they were less quick. Still, today we are facing a challenge that threatens today’s democracy,” President Zurabishvili underscored.
In that context, she highlighted the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and added that this challenge “is perfectly resisted by the entire Ukrainian nation.” “What is even more amazing and exciting is the complete unity of this nation in the face of this great challenge. This is the force that is successful in this war,” President Zurabishvili remarked and expressed her respect for the Ukrainian people.
The President also drew attention to the Georgian regions currently occupied by Russia and emphasized that “we must not forget that the Russian base is just 30 kilometers from the capital and 20% of the country’s territory is occupied.”
“This is not a comforting situation, this is the situation in which we live and in spite of which we are developing this democratic resilience, even though it is not ideal,” she said.
Speaking about the country’s European integration, President Zurabishvili noted the importance of the Association Agreement and visa liberalization, however, she stressed that “Georgia experienced great disappointment” when Ukraine and Moldova were granted candidate status, and it was not.
- 17/06/2022 – Conditions First, Candidate Status After – EU Commission Recommends on Georgia
- 17/06/2022 – European Commission’s Memo Detailing Recommendations for Georgia
She noted that Georgia not receiving candidate status may be read as a “message” to some who will try to take advantage of the “fragile situation” in the country to “compensate for other losses…”
President Zurabishvili stressed, “we have no more time to lose today,” and “Georgia needs candidacy.” “The message has been understood – you are not perfect – and we are not perfect, but today we need candidacy [for EU membership] and it is necessary for that path to be thorough,” she said.
“We are so European and have been for so long that at some point, we have to join this European family,” she concluded.
Speaking about polarization, President Zurabishvili noted that it has in equal parts invaded political life, the media, and the church, which “is a very large and important institution in Georgia.” “You no longer trust another person when you think that the other is already the enemy, when you have an enemy at the border,” she lamented.
The President also emphasized that at a time when Georgia has yet to find itself in a secure position, “polarization becomes a crime against the nation, because it weakens [the country] the most, [and] is the most useful for the enemy at a time when they don’t use a direct military attack.”
- 07/11/2022 – CSOs, Media Appeal to Charles Michel to Urge President to Pardon Gvaramia
- 08/11/2022 – IRI Poll Shows Pessimism Among Population