The President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, who recently returned from her tour of the capitals of the United States and the European Union, gave an in-depth interview to TV Pirveli on March 24 in which she assessed the current processes in the country. Salome Zurabishvili devoted a large part of the interview to discussing the EU candidate status for Georgia and the necessary steps to be undertaken in this direction.
EU Candidate Status
According to the President people of Georgia felt it was unfair when the EU did not grant the EU candidate status “the first time”. She also added “we did not properly express our political will”. Asked whether she agreed with the assessment of the ruling GD that it was not “fair” she said that if one only takes into consideration technical work, it was true to a certain extent, but she added, “if we look at the reality, after [the government team] threw away Charles Michel’s document very aggressively, the political will [of the government] was less felt” and the decision in the European Union had been taken accordingly.
She stressed that now the situation is different… “despite everything, perhaps even some unjustified decisions by the government, or despite their rhetoric, today it is not possible to give second refusal to Georgia – strategically, geopolitically, because we cannot be pushed into isolation,” the president said, adding that “strategically, Georgia today is in a region…that is very necessary for stability, and not for some second front”.
In this context, the President stressed the importance of the will expressed by the Georgian people, adding that the Georgian people “have shown where they are and where they are going, and this should be recognized…” She also said she believes the second rejection will be an “anti-signal” for Russia saying “you can’t give Russia the feeling that Georgia is no longer so closely linked to Europe and America.”
Salome Zurabishvili also stressed the need for the government to show political will to meet the 12 conditions set by the European Union, noting that “this political will must appear”. She added that “this government was elected not because of today’s rhetoric, but because of the prospect of the European Union.”
When asked whether she sees the respective political will on the part of GD, her answer was no, she does not. She then again stressed that the government should fulfil the will of the people, adding she will be guardian of that process and hopes for the support of the Georgian people.
She said: “Wherever I’ve been and whoever I’ve met, nobody wants to isolate the government and push it into a dead end. Everyone wants the government to return to the right path and no one wants Georgia to remain on the sidelines ofthis great perspective,” adding: “we still have this window and it is necessary to mobilize as much as possible in the direction of this window”.
The president criticized the ruling team for insulting opponents and said that such statements are “very bad”. “We are a small country that is in a very important place, in an important period. We are given a great opportunity, no one has the right to miss it, to no government”.
She criticized government for not working hard enough with the European institutions on candidacy issues. She also criticized the Prime Minister for his “schizophrenic statements”, saying that Georgia’s acceptance of candidate status would be a joint achievement of the government and the people, and that the government could not attribute it to its own achievement alone.
Where does the government stand?
Salome Zurabishvili linked the government’s recent criticism of its Western partners and its efforts to open a “second front” to the preparations for the parliamentary elections. “It is more electoral and the feeling that they are losing support among their voters, and it is becoming more difficult and there is a need for consolidation…”
She also did not rule out the possibility that this was a kind of “caution” on the part of the authorities, aimed at achieving more leniency on the Russia’s part. “If someone thinks like that, he does not know anything about the history of Georgia and the relations between Russia and Georgia”.
She completely brushed away the narrative of the authorities that the West is planning to open the “second front” in Georgia comparing this rhetoric to that of the Russian propagandists and saying that the opposite is true, “everyone dreams of calm in the Black Sea and the Caucasus.”
Ivanishvili’s role in Georgian politics and the relationship between the president and the government
Zurabishvili spoke about the role of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of Georgian Dream, in Georgian politics, saying that his status was “incomprehensible” to Western partners. She said it is not understandable where the main decisions are made, or why they [The GD] make some “’schizophrenic’ statements”. Talking about the PM she said: “When the Prime Minister comes to Europe, he says what they want to hear, and when he comes here to Parliament, he talks about completely different issues”.
She talked about the damage to a democracy and political system that such state of affairs brings, when it is unclear who is behind decisions and rhetoric. She stressed that Ivanishvili himself should clarify this.
According to her, she has not communicated with Ivanishvili for a long time, although she wants to. “I didn’t try, but today I really want to, because I think it is so necessary to bring more clarity to Georgian politics…” Also, there are many messages from abroad that he probably needs to understand and hear if he is the main [decision-maker]”.
To the journalist’s question – is Bidzina Ivanishvili an oligarch? – President Zurabishvili replied – “He probably is, yes, in the sense that he has money, influence on the media and politics, in that sense he is”. “But the problem of oligarchy is more than Ivanishvili, and the problem of Ivanishvili is more than oligarchy. The problem is the opacity of this political system,” she said.
Addressing the possibility of imposition of sanctions on Ivanishvli by the West she said that in the area of sanctions statements “don’t mean anything” and during her latest trip this issue was not mentioned by her counterparts. She added that she sees these calls “more as more political messages – come to your senses and approach things differently.”
The president also addressed her relationship with the Georgian Dream government, noting that she has “very normal communication” with all ministers, except the Prime Minister himself.
Nika Gvaramia’s pardon and Mikheil Saakashvili’s state of health
When asked about the possibility of pardoning Nika Gvaramia, the President did not rule out the possibility, saying however that she was not going to discuss during the interview “because this discretion should be protected, not because we want to hide something from you”.
She also criticized MEPs for calling for her pardon Gvaramia, saying it her exclusive discretion and there should be no pressure on their part.
Speaking about the state of Mikheil Saakashvili’s health, the president noted that at stake is the reputation of a country adding: “I don’t agree with humiliating actions against him and I’m sure that a solution can be found”.
War in Ukraine
To the journalist’s question whether she was ready to visit Ukraine, President Zurabishvili replied that she has repeatedly expressed her readiness to go, adding “Ukrainians know very well what my position is.”
Commenting on the possible consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Salome Zurabishvili noted that “Russia has already lost this war because it has not been able to achieve any of its goals during this time. It has lost its reputation as a country with military capabilities that no one can defeat.”
She said that “when there is a global peace summit, Georgia should have its place there, it should be a joint effort. “If there is a global summit, one thing must be achieved – Russia must withdraw from all the territories it occupies…”
Desired outcome of the 2024 elections
“A coalition government, pacified, depolarized as much as possible, a pacified political space, where we can refrain a little from this language of hatred, and obviously, the country that will have received the status of a candidate and will be prepared for the next stage of membership”, – this is how President Zurabishvili responded to the desired result of the 2024 Parliamentary elections.
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