On March 31, the President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili presented her annual report to the Parliament. The session was attended by the heads of the central government, as well as of the autonomous republics of Adjara and Abkhazia, representatives of the Orthodox Church, the diplomatic corps, and international organizations.
The President began her 40-minute address by expressing solidarity with Ukraine and, on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy in Bucha, honored the memory of the dead with a minute of silence.
Salome Zurabishvili then emphasized the “historical significance” of the referendum on the restoration of independence held on 31 March 1991, saying that the Georgian nation had “decided its own future” with this referendum. After the introductory part, the Georgian President devoted a large part of her speech to criticism of the government. She also focused on the country’s European integration and candidate status.
“Today you are the government that has slowly begun to metamorphose”
During her address, Salome Zurabishvili reminded the ruling team where they stood yesterday, when they began to fulfil the mandate given by the people, and where they stand now, having deviated from the will of the people and the mandate received from them. Salome Zurabishvili recalled a number of positive steps taken in the first stage of the “Georgian Dream” coming to power, Salome Zurabishvili said to the ruling majority – “Today you are the government that has slowly begun to metamorphose.”
“Instead of strengthening state institutions as the cornerstone of the country’s democracy, the one-party system and its influence are becoming stronger. The laws being passed at an accelerated pace do not serve to strengthen the country’s democracy or the well-being of its citizens, but to strengthen and prolong power,” she emphasized.
In this context, Salome Zurabishvili criticised “Georgian Dream” for failing to break the long-lasting “vicious circle” serving to consolidate power and “with the involvement of the same individuals”, at a time when the reform of the judicial system, which is necessary for the country’s future, “has reached a dead end”. The President noted in this context that people with differing opinions and political tastes were beginning to leave Georgian Dream. “Among you, even a slightly different opinion is no longer heard, because it automatically means leaving the mandate,” she told the members of Georgian Dream.
She also highlighted signs of the growing ruling party’s influence over the government and parliament, saying that “the party has turned into a decision-making space”. “The leader of the party announces in advance his position on all political issues, and most importantly, the decision-making process has become opaque, let alone open discussion.”
She accused the government in taking “incomprehensible steps in recent years” that “go against the country’s foreign objective and the people’s mandate”, recalling in this context the arrival of Russian Communist MP Sergei Gavrilov in Georgia in 2019, which was followed by mass protests in Tbilisi. According to her, it was then that the first question marks and doubts about Georgia appeared.
“However, the real change in government’s foreign policy began in 2021, when Bidzina Ivanishvili, the then Chair of the Georgian Dream party, left Georgian politics,” President said, adding that “from that point on begins a great obscurity about who is responsible for this new course.” Salome Zurabishvili cited as an “obvious example” of that change the GD’s unilateral annulment of the April 19, saying it was an “insult” to the President of the European Council Charles Michel, who had brokered the agreement.
“In the same year, the EU loan was rejected. The anti-European rhetoric, the accusations, and the insults against our partners never stopped. All this finally reached the point where we sent the former EU Ambassador out of the country with reprimands and accusations,” she added.
Speaking about the GD government’s policy towards Ukraine, the president criticised the ruling party for “failing to demonstrate either good diplomacy, wisdom or historical solidarity”. She emphasised that despite joining various resolutions in support of Ukraine, “we have failed to extend any other moral and political solidarity”.
She criticized the GD government for announcing that Georgia would not join the sanctions, when “the government should have done the opposite and said that although we cannot impose national sanctions, we will join international sanctions – no one asked us to do more”, Salome Zurabishvili said, adding – “We took [Russia] into account and did not join the restrictions imposed by the European Union”.
“Salome Zurabishvili also emphasized that “in the last two years we have been noticeably careful not to irritate Russia, which may be understandable, but it is not clear why we do not treat our friends and partners with the same level of politeness and respect. As a result, we have damaged diplomatic relations, especially with the European countries that have especially supported us.”
“With the rhetoric and actions of the past two years, you have erased and changed the path of your nine-year rule, and steered away from the will and mandate of your people and voters,” – President Zurabishvili declared.
Candidate Status – “Why can’t you hear the strong desire of the people?”
Salome Zurabishvili blamed the government’s recent actions and rhetoric for failing to obtain EU candidate status on June 17, 2022. Stressing that the Georgian people “have repeatedly expressed their will and choice, and today they are clearly telling you what future they want and where they do not want to go”, the President asked the ruling party: “Why can’t you hear the people’s strong desire?
“The Georgian people came out three times to make you hear them – not at the request of political parties, not at the dictation of foreign forces, not by order, not by money, not for a coup, not for conspiracies, but for their European future,” the Georgian President said. To illustrate this, she mentioned the anti-occupation protests in June 2020, the pro-European rallies in March 2022 and the demonstrations against the bills on “foreign agents” on March 7-9 this year.
“The call of the Georgian people is crystal clear and unambiguous – the world has heard and seen it very well. The authorities have failed to understand that they are accountable to the people and have been entrusted with a mandate to implement the will of the Georgian people,” said Zurabishvili, addressing the ruling party.
According to her, regardless of the credibility of the accusations that the opposition is hindering Georgia’s candidacy for EU membership through “endless boycotts” and spreading harmful messages about the country in Brussels and the US, “the lion’s share of responsibility still lies with the authorities”. The president emphasized that “blaming others through modeled scenarios, conspiracies, conspiracy theories and insults will not change the responsibility of the authorities”- and the same vein, Salome Zurabishvili stressed that no matter how hard the government tries, it will not be able to convince the people that “Europe is against our national interests, values or even peace”. She noted that “for more than a century, the Georgian people have understood what Europe is, why we want to be a part of it, and how European values are in complete harmony with Georgian values”.
Referring to Georgia’s candidacy for the EU, President Zurabishvili highlighted the 12 priorities issued by the European Commission, stating that “there is nothing alien to us in these priorities and there is no danger of alienation; on the contrary, they reflect our traditional values”. She cited Georgia’s long tradition of tolerance, the ancient monuments of Georgian law and the tradition of women’s emancipation as examples of Georgia’s affinity with Europe.
“The Georgian people know very well that the idea of creating the European Union serves peace and not war. Therefore, no matter how much the ruling team tries to spread conspiracy theories about a “second front” and accuse its European partners, it will not change the fact that the EU serves peace and development of our country, as demonstrated by the EU monitoring mission in Georgia,” President Zurabishvili responded to the accusations.
She stressed that official Tbilisi and Moscow use the same rhetoric on the subject of this ‘second front.
“No matter how hard the ruling team tries to prove that European and national interests are in conflict, it cannot escape the reality that the protection of our territory, de-occupation, strengthening of the defense forces, security of the population, development of the economy and education are impossible without close ties and cooperation with our partners,” the president stressed.
“What has the President done for the European goal of the country?”
At the end of the address, the president responded to the ruling party’s question of “what she has done for the country’s European goal and to fulfill the will of the people.” Zurabishvili cited her use of personal contacts, connections, official visits, international fora, and media appearances to promote Georgia’s European aspirations and achievements.
She stressed that her ultimate goal has always been “to lead Georgia into a world where its identity, independence, freedom and future are inviolable. “I have not wavered, and I would like to believe that you have not wavered either,” she told members of the ruling party. “One thing I am sure of is that the will of the Georgian people remains unchanged.”
“No matter how much you threaten me with impeachment, try to take me to the Constitutional Court, or try to limit my international visits and relations with local authorities in the regions, no matter how much you criticize my Georgian, slander me and my family, or blame me for everything, you still cannot change my goal, you cannot change who I am,” the president said.
Zurabishvili focused on the opportunity to obtain the status of candidate, stating that “we must not let it slip away”. “Whoever achieves this will be able to say that the will of the Georgian nation was fulfilled on that day, she noted.
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