President`s speech at the PACE
Mister President, Distinguished Members of The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Ladies and gentlemen, it is an immense honor and a great privilege to address you at such a crucial time for Georgian democracy.
Allow me first to express my deepest gratitude to the President of the Assembly, Jean-Claude Mignon for inviting me to echo in this room the European and democratic aspirations of the Georgian people.
As you all know, just three months ago, the first transfer of power took place through elections in the history of our nation.
Like in every democracy, majorities can change in Georgia according to the wishes of the voters, but our national strife for freedom and European integration goes beyond any political division, it is uniting us, constituting the essence of our young State and the identity of our old nation.
This is my main message today and I cannot think of a better place than this Assembly to deliver it.
The Council of Europe gathers all the nations of our continent around the principles and the values that have shaped the European destiny since the end of the Second World War, the values and principles that have torn down the Berlin Wall and led the European reunification, these values of freedom, human rights, political accountability and rule of law that the Georgian people are so attached to and that have driven my entire political life.
Ladies and gentlemen, I remember very well the day I discovered the Council, as a young intern coming from what was still called the Soviet Union, back in 1991.
My first steps in the free world and, therefore, in real politics – since real politics can only exist in freedom - were made here.
My first steps in politics and my main steps in life I have to say. I remember dividing my time between sleepless nights at the Library of the European Court on Human Rights, dreaming about the principles and the concepts that were forbidden in my collapsing world, and very active days chasing on my bicycle in the streets of Strasbourg a wonderful student coming from Netherlands, Sandra Reloefs, who became my beloved wife and who is sitting here today, smiling.
Later, I came back as an MP of independent Georgia, with other young reformists for whom this Assembly has been an amazing school of democracy.
Years after, I was invited here to speak as one of the leaders of the so-called colored revolutions that were continuing the movement of emancipation and reunification initiated by the velvet revolutions of 1989. These were times of hope and enthusiasm.
And now here I am again, standing in front of you, as a President of cohabitation, a leader of a movement that came back to opposition after more than 8 years in office.
It might surprise you, but after all these years, my hopes and my enthusiasm have only grown.
Ladies and gentlemen, from the very beginning, in the early 90s— when Georgia was a failed State, a divided and brutalized nation — my involvement in politics was inspired by the idea that Georgia would finally join the family of European democracies, the family of nations where governments are changed by ballots and not bullets.
Of course, every politician in the world wants to win elections and I am disappointed that the United National Movement failed to convince a majority of voters in the last October Parliamentary elections.
But I am proud that this party – my party – has contributed to build a system in which governments and majorities are changed through elections, not through coup d’Etats or revolutions, an institutional framework that facilitates legitimate transfers of powers instead of preventing them: a democracy.
For more than 8 years, I have led a team that has radically transformed our nation, fought restlessly against corruption and organized crime, systematically dismantled the bureaucratic hurdles inherited from our soviet past, liberated initiatives in society and helped to shape the common perception that the government was there to serve the people and not the contrary, that the legitimacy was not coming from the top to the bottom, but the opposite.
Many observers have rightly characterized this change of paradigms as a “mental revolution”.
Fatalism, passivity, cynicism: the long lasting legacy of the homo sovieticus has been overcome in Georgia.
It means that, like in most of the European nations, alternance will become, has already become the rule and that no leader, no government, no political or social force, nobody can do anything to reverse this.
And this is why my hopes and enthusiasm are stronger than ever.
What happened in Georgia these last 8 years, including on October 1st - a date that stands as an integral part of our democratic experience - has changed our nation and beyond, I deeply believe, our region.
Georgia has shown all these years that corruption was not a fate and authoritarianism not a destiny, that the choice was not between chaos and tyranny as it is too often presented in the post soviet world, but between democracy and all the other forms of government, whatever you call them.
Georgia has proven that there was a radical alternative, a European choice.
Ladies and gentlemen, During the past decade, we have paid a huge price for having chosen the path of transformation and euro-atlantic integration.
Georgia has been threatened, embargoed, bombed, invaded and occupied.
Two of our regions have been ethnically cleansed. Hundreds of thousands of our citizens have been expelled from their homes and still cannot go back to their towns or villages as I speak. This is – my dear friends - the environment in which we have built our democracy, in which our new State has emerged and our mental revolution has occurred.
And I want to tell today how proud I am of the Georgian people, of the sacrifices they have made for our independence to survive and our democracy to grow and flourish, how much I admire their bravery and their faith in the future, their absence of hatred and their thirst for freedom and peace.
I want also to pay tribute to our friends allover Europe: without their continuous support, our democratic experience could not have survived and succeeded. I want especially to thank this Assembly for the multiple resolutions passed after the 2008 invasion.
I want to thank you, distinguished Members, and those who are no longer members but present in this room today, such as Mattias Eorsi, who helped us so much during these difficult times.
The resolutions 1633, 1647 and 1683 have called in very unambiguous terms for the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Georgia, a full access of the EU Monitoring Mission to the occupied territories, the reversal of the ethnic cleansing, a new peace-keeping format and an international policing force, the withdrawal of the recognition of Abkazia and South Ossetia.
As you all know, these demands are still to be met: since these resolutions were passed, Russian military build up in our occupied regions never stopped, more Georgian villages have been burnt and erased from the map by the ethnic cleansers, the EUMM has not been allowed in the occupied areas and Russian diplomacy has been touring the world to bribe and pressure countries to legitimate their illegal occupation …
Nevertheless, the formulation of these requests by the Assembly has been instrumental: such signals coming from you deter the aggressors from going further in their aggression, they show to everyone that principles and values matter, they tell the victims that they are not alone and they remind the world what is so special about this institution and Europe in general.
I know that a resolution on the humanitarian situation in our occupied regions is being processed through the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons and I want to thank you in advance for supporting this resolution and all the efforts you make to help us overcome the tragic humanitarian consequences of the invasion, the ethnic cleansing and the occupation.
So, I came here to express the immense gratitude of the Georgian nation and its hope that your attention and your focus will not decline, in front of external threats as well as in support of our internal democratic progresses.
Georgia needs a strong and efficient Council of Europe and a vivid and relevant Parliamentary Assembly. Georgia needs it, as well as all our neighboring countries, and the European continent in general.
This is why I want to express my appreciation and full support to the reforms initiated by the Secretary General Jagland and by President Mignon.
Je tiens à vous féliciter, en Français, cher Jean-Claude, pour le succès de votre initiative. Il était urgent et nécessaire de mener cette réforme à bien. Je suis convaincu qu’elle donnera à cette Assemblée un role et un poids supplémentaire.
Les principes et les rêves des pères fondateurs de l’Europe vivent dans cette salle et, en Géorgie comme ailleurs, peut-être plus qu’ailleurs encore, nous savons l’importance cruciale de votre mission à tous et nous soutenons avec enthousiasme tout ce qui renforcera cette Assembléé et le Conseil.
Distinguished delegates, During the last 8 years, you have been accompanying us in our journey of institution building and democratic transformation, advising us, welcoming our progresses as in the latest resolution 1801 or proposing changes where you thought we could further improve our practice and our framework.
The cooperation we had during all these years with the Council, the Assembly and the Venice Commission was I think exemplary, constantly helping us to improve our legal framework.
Nobody can deny the expertise, the goodwill and the open attitude of bodies like the Venice Commission. This is why I call on our new government to wait for its recommendations before enforcing laws, especially when it touches the court system and the judiciary.
I would like to seize the opportunity of this address to offer also a special thanks to those of you who have monitored our Parliamentary elections, first of all to the chairman of the observation mission, Luca Volonte.
You have been able to testify that Georgia is getting closer to the standards that this institution is promoting and that should one day unite all of us in this room.
Your vigilance - now that my country has passed what was presented as a “litmus test” - will be crucial to help ensure that Georgia continues to progress on the same path.
Unfortunately, as most of you know and as it has happened in many democracies in their early years, the Georgian political class suffers from “winner takes all” mentality.
From the selective prosecutions targeting former government officials, opposition MPs, local authorities or independent media, to the direct physical assaults by pro-ruling party activists against opposition representatives or elected local self-governments, a coherent campaign has started to silent the political opposition, get constitutional majority in the Parliament through blackmails and pressures against members or their families, and attempt to seize the entirety of institutions.
The peaceful and constitutional change of government – by showing that institutions did not belong to any party and by opening a period of cohabitation between different elected bodies with diverse political colors - should have been a tremendous opportunity to push further the reforms we had not been able to carry out fully, and especially ensure the independence of the judiciary and the media.
But, instead, we have seen the Prime Minister publicly linking the ongoing wave of arrests to the political activities of the opposition, we have heard the Minister of Justice claiming in the media that her mission was to destroy the United National Movement through judiciary, we have witnessed daily attacks on the judges who were trying to assert their autonomy and constant harassment of the independent media, starting with the Georgian Public Broadcaster.
The Georgian Public Broadcaster was created in order to set up new standards of objectivity in the Georgian media landscape and, according to the EU media monitoring mission, the first public channel that was the only absolutely balanced TV during last year electoral campaign.
Instead of reinforcing this emergence of an objective public TV, the new Prime Minister has pushed the director of the GPB to resign and publicly announced his intention to merge the GPB with Channel 9, owned by his family.
It is worrying, especially when, simultaneously, the director of the main private channel in Georgia, Rustavi 2, has been detained and when the Prime Minister has called publicly for a change of ownership of the same Rustavi 2 through judiciary.
It is true that we did not succeed in all our reforms and that much more needs to be done, but the new government should go further in building our democratic framework instead of undermining what has been built.
It is also true that some reforms were not fully understood by various segments of the population, I agree that our communication to the public was sometimes deficient, but I do also believe that principles and values are worth taking political risks for.
The law we passed in 2011 giving equal rights to all religious minorities might have cost us some votes, but is it a reason to resort to hate speech and to revive the fire of intolerance, or to release with all honors fanatics who had been convicted for physical assault against minorities?
It is possible as well that our decision to remove all the monuments to the glory of soviet tyrans and our constant fight against the communist legacy has displeased certain categories of the population, but does it justify the restoration with public funds of the statues of Stalin in several Georgian towns?
Ladies and gentlemen, The new government in Tbilisi is claiming to pursue the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia.
It is obviously a positive signal and I have welcomed it publicly several times, offering to help the relevant ministers on this topic as much as I can.
It is good to claim it, but claiming it is not good enough. One has to act accordingly.
EU and NATO are not simple partners for Georgia: they are the families we want to join, the transformative goals of our foreign policy, the horizon our internal reforms.
This explains the surprise created by the statements of the Prime Minister during his recent visit to Yerevan, stressing that a country can have good relations with NATO and Russia, putting a strange equidistance between both and quoting our Armenian friends as an example.
It is a very good news indeed that the Georgian government and its leader finally stopped attacking verbally our regional partners and opted for friendship instead of insults.
I am very proud that the friendship between Georgia and Armenia has reached new levels under my Presidency and I have been criticized many times for my love of the Armenian history, culture and nation.
But it is a fact that Georgia has chosen to pursue NATO integration, while Armenia has chosen another security alliance.
This is the sovereign right of every nation to choose the alliance it wants to join.
I do think that Georgia should integrate into NATO and have good relations with Russia at the same time.
But I also believe that we should not sacrifice the first for the second, and that the level of obligations implied by the word integration has nothing to do with a simple relation between two entities.
Unfortunately, such a statement comes after several national security and foreign policy moves that cast – for the first time in a decade – doubts on where the Georgian Government actually intends to go.
Denouncing the Baku-Istanbul railway project, while promoting the Abkhaz one, raises questions about our strategic orientation that need to be answered swiftly.
Freeing without investigation people who were convicted for spying for Russia, while putting in jail some of the people who have built our counter-intelligence system in cooperation with the West, this raises concerns too.
As well as explaining proudly to the Georgian public that the new government has repelled successfully the first wave of “western attacks”. Such wording reminds us of an anti-western rhetoric that we thought had disappeared long ago in Tbilisi.
We have preserved our enthusiasm for the EU and NATO despite threats, bombs, invasion, occupation that were aiming at obliging us to change our path.
Is it the time, now that we are closer than ever from our objectives, to show hesitations or to cast doubts on our trajectory?
Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is irreversible and there is room – I am sure - for fruitful cohabitation in Georgia. I told it to the Prime Minister: we need to find a way out of the actual standoff, we would both benefit from it and we owe it to the Georgian people.
I offered a 5-step plan to the majority in order to ensure peaceful cohabitation and guarantee that we all put the supreme interests of the nation above our political rivalries.
From the economy, with a joint conference for investors, to the foreign policy, with common initiatives on EU and NATO, we can and should work together.
Nobody would gain anything out of a paralysis of our institutions, a pause on our Western integration or a decline of our economy.
Nobody has interest in the failure of the new government and the new majority, because this failure would hurt the country in general.
This is my solemn pledge: let us work together to improve what can be improved in our democracy, let us focus on the principles on which we can agree on, the very principles that are at the basis of the Council of Europe and that all major political forces claim to respect, promote and defend in Georgia.
What is at stake is much more important than our respective political interests, much deeper than personal animosities or collective ambitions, what is at stake is the future of our democracy, and, beyond, the future of democracy in our region.