Georgia remains in the focus of international policy and Mass Media. Current processes in the country incite ambiguous reaction, assessments among the upholders of the President Saakashvili as well as among his opponents. After the war in August of 2008 with Russia, Georgia lost 20% of its territory. One of the most famous Georgian politicians Nino Burjanadze gave an interview exclusively on her view on current situation and future prospects in Georgia. In 2008 she established and headed the opposition party “Democratic Movement “Edinaya Gruzia” (“United Georgia”).
- We hear about parliamentary, non-parliamentary opposition in Georgia. So what is the opposition in Your country and can we talk today about united opposition?
- Yes, we do have parliamentary opposition and non-parliamentary opposition has quite serious claims towards it. There are enough reasons to think of it as a pseudo opposition rather than real opposition. I think one demonstrative example is enough for a person knowing of the basis of parliamentarianism, democracy, position of the opposition.
Under the Rules of our Parliament annually President holds a report in front of the Parliament. Then he answers questions of the members of Parliament. And after the war, I think this March, President addressed the Parliament with this report. There he spent about four hours that included report, discussions and answers the questions. Try to guess, how many questions on this war were asked by the opposition of Christian Democrats. None. I think that there can be no real opposition when a party, even a ruling one, and moreover opposition has no questions on the lost war and resulting loss of twenty percent of the country’s territory.
> Map Of Georgia
As for united opposition, we don’t have such a notion at all. And I think it’s good. There was a united opposition in past and we’d better don’t repeat the same steps that were made then. There was certain unanimity in April 9th when a single headquarters that included oppositional parties was established. And the important thing was to be able to act in cooperation. There was an absolutely right agreement between them not to criticize each other, but to support those politicians who acted for a main goal – to demand snap Presidential elections. This goal united opposition. When one phase of political struggle was over, the next one came. Today there are consultations on regrouping of opposition forces. By current connections, interrelations, there still is a certain coordination of opposition moves.
In Georgia and West, people often say that we have mixed un-united opposition. I don’t think it’s a sin to be different. Moreover in post-Soviet area, where such a classic party structure of individual party hasn’t formed yet. Once I joked that we all lived in a one-party system and we shouldn’t orient on one party, one leader. The most important for the opposition got faith in its actions, coordinate them, not impeding each other in achieving the goal that we announced.
- Are these presidential elections snap?
- You know, there are new parties that intend to participate in any elections. Although, naturally, by this Government the conditions of democratic elections won’t be satisfied. I.e. saying about their participation in elections, they anticipate the conditions of free procedure of the elections, free justice, and normal conditions for the activity of political parties. We also have claims to the Government. But I consider faulty the statements that we will participate constructively in any elections. I don’t think that there is a sense to take part in local and even parliamentary elections while there is a current reality in our country.
- As for foreign policy, as far as I understand, there are no disagreements within Georgian opposition, are there?
- No, practically no. No matter how critically we treat the actions of our President, the thing that Russia did against Georgia last year is out of line. That’s why we are extremely outrageous about the acknowledgement of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the steps made. The claims that Russia punishes Saakashvili, and not Georgian people are a lie. People, country, interests of Georgia suffer. And Saakashvili strives to remain in his chair as long as possible.
- There were ideas sounded by Your upholders that if You would have resigned from the position of the Parliament Chairman right after the events in Tbilisi in November 4th 2007 than You would be a real alternative to the President Saakashvili. Do You agree?
- And I wonder what would that take? Today former candidates for President say that if I would have resigned last year, than I would have greater chances to run for Presidency. And this is the truth. But I wonder what that would take. The answer: it would take blood. Then I think it was emotionally difficult for me to do that, but from political point of view it would be right. Because it’s wrong to leave the team and the second position in the state by these kind of cataclysms. My resignation would have called internal destabilization in the country. Don’t forget that in November 2007 the reality differed a lot from the one we have today. Saakashvili had numerous supporters not only opponents. He felt himself much more confident and could use force. I simply know that he would use force to suppress any following demonstrations after November 7th. And my resignation would definitely result in bloodshed. Frankly speaking, judging today, if I knew that it would all happen as happened, if I let at least some percent that Saakashvili wouldn’t become wiser after November 7th, that he would not only proceed the course that led him to November 7th, and would act even worse, that he would lead us to the tragic August, then I would make a decision to stop the horror we appeared to be in even if it would take blood. But I suppose it’s extremely difficult to make such a decision. When on the one hand there is a presumable catastrophe, and on the other hand there is a real threat of bloodshed, then one should be absolutely courageous self-confident politician to make such a step. I couldn’t do that. So that is why considering that situation I acted as a responsible politician. But of course, humanly, emotionally it was hard for me. Although now, I think people saw many things that they hadn’t seen before, for example, before last year when I was at power. So I took my place among people in opposition and I’m sure that we’ll have more and more supporters. People just see when you do something sincerely, that you believe in this and give yourself totally for the struggle. Moreover, that people heard my sincere words and explanations of my decision, when I acted against public opinion and heard my excuses about the situations where they think I let them down and wasn’t able to protect them.
- You say that people heard You. Is that possible by the current situation of Mass Media in Georgia?
- This is an absolutely right question. Today electronic media almost hundred percent, let’s take ninety percent, depend from President. Naturally, this makes life extremely difficult. But there is another factor – Georgia is a small state. And information spreads fast here. Even in terms of lack of information people find possibility to get it. Of course it’s not enough. That is why I regularly contact with the regional representatives. I mean with heads, activists of our regional structures. I have a schedule of this activity. We discuss, define current problems and then work directly with the people of this or that region of the country.
- And do the authorities consider these contacts legal?
- Surely, they impede. They intimidate people, arrest illegally party activists, influential people that support us. Arrests for guns keeping and drugs became usual. And no matter how sad it is, it’s noteworthy that they kidnap people, slaughter them. There are such facts. But all the problems and the disaster of this power is that they realize that they can intimidate someone and exasperate extremely at the same time. They leave people no other choice just to fight till the end. And we will fight till the end.
- They say that one of the unexpected results of the last year war in August for Russia was the loss of such a strategic partner as Belarus. As up till now it refrains from de jure acknowledgement of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And everybody perfectly knows that Presidents of Belarus and Georgia didn’t always welcome each other.
In addition, in comparison with Russia, people in Belarus still drink Borjomi and have no visa regime with Georgia. How do you see the development of Georgian-Belarusian relations also in the framework of “Eastern Partnership” of the European Unio, that includes Georgia and Belarus as participants?
- I don’t think that today situation in Georgia is better than in Belarus. Those photos showing tortures of opposition, that I showed you, demonstrate the real face of current Georgian Government. I don’t know the details of the situation in Belarus today, but naturally I think that its people deserve more freedom, democracy and openness of society. Although I would be absolutely unfair if I won’t thank Mr.Lukahsenko for he, despite the pressure from Russia and resulting problems, haven’t made a decision unfair towards Georgian people. Frankly speaking, it would be really painful for us, if Belarus made such a decision. Of course I realize that such decisions are made by the Head, and not by people. Nevertheless, it would be perceived as an unfriendly step of Belarus. That is why despite some other sides on this matter, Mr. Lukashenko acted correctly and fairly towards Georgia. And I shouldn’t underestimate it.
As for the inclusion of Belarus into the “Eastern Partnership”, I consider this as a right move of the European Union. I think that isolation of Belarus and its Government from European structures and organizations won’t do any good. Isolation results in self-restraint. And when those European institutes will actively promote the demands concerning democratization of the society, it can lead to serious results. I guess that this policy of stick and carrot should exist. On the one hand Belarus wants to be independent from Russia and strives to open for itself new ways to international community (which is its absolute right). On the other hand – some certain steps should be made for that. I think that permanent pressing should exist.
For example, considering our situation international community has serious opportunities. The following should be done: yes, we should help Georgia, our people. But this help should be conditioned. If the regime of President wants to gain support, then he should understand that this support will be given in exchange for democracy development. That’s why I think that isolation is not the best way. People remaining on their own with the state suffer from the isolation of the state of regimes of this or that country.
- But there are some opinion that, speaking about Belarus, it has never been isolated. Its ruling regime appeared self-isolated due to evident reasons. Do you agree?
- No. I remember OSCE Parliamentary Assembly refused to include Belarusian Parliament for a long time…
-…Because the regime re-organized Parliament in 1996 pretty strange and the following elections weren’t acknowledged by the international community. Isn’t that right?
- Yes, elections weren’t acknowledged. From the legal point of view it was right. And even I supported then the decision not to include new Belarusian Parliament into OSCE PA. But in the end, OSCE had to acknowledge the situation de facto. They demonstrated us vividly, that, yes, we need to cooperate with Belarusian opposition, but no matter what, the reality is that laws are adopted and agreements are ratified but the Parliament, that was eventually included into the OSCE PA. But it was included under conditions.
Surely you know that you can “choke off” a state, tightening it from all sides, to break the relation. But what will it lead to? I think that to even greater sufferings of people.
- And how would you comment the view that some real changes in the current Belarusian policy to a greater extent have been made under the pressure of rigid position of the USA, expressed in the “Act for Democracy Support” with sanctions rather than the policy of dialogue of the European Union?
- I wouldn’t like to interfere into internal situation in Belarus with my assessments. When I was in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly naturally I knew more about internal situation in Belarus. That is why from my side, it wouldn’t be correct to talk about it in details. Concerning your question, there is a method of pressing, preserving certain relations at the same time. And this is better than a total isolation. But I think that this is also a wrong way, because in this case the regime will be in self-isolation.
- Regarding OSCE, let me ask You about future OSCE Chair in 2010. For the first time from CIS countries, it will be Kazakhstan. And at the same time as known Russia intends to start the initiative of President Medvedev on the establishment of new security system in Europe, that will include either totally reformed OSCE or, as some politicians and political analysts suppose, OSCE will disappear at all. How do You see the future of OSCE within this context?
- It’s hard for me to answer this question. This is an absolute fact that OSCE needs to be reformed. In time of my personal participation in OSCE, we adopted very good resolutions. But almost all of them remained at the level of wishes. Including resolutions on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As for not only OSCE PA, but also the executive branch of OSCE, with the procedure of decision-making “consensus minus one”, than it gives any state for example Russia a possibility to control OSCE. I’d like to remind that the negative stance of Russia wasn’t only about the OSCE mission in Georgia. Several years ago it also blocked OSCE frontier mission that controlled border territories and was almost the most efficient mission for the whole history of OSCE. And of course the decision of Russia to block now OSCE mission in South Ossetia and UNO in Abkhazia, can’t help international legal institutions to solve these problems, improve the situation and promote contacts between Georgia and Russia. And if Russia intends to lead the policy of acknowledgment of these territories as states till the end, that I think is not within the interests of Russia, then it would be pragmatic to isolate Abkhazia and South Ossetia from international community. But I think that in this case neither Georgia nor anybody else will benefit.
As for OSCE, I don’t know how it will be transformed. If there are some definite offers on OSCE effectiveness, for it to make more sound decision and sanctions for violations of these or that adopted decisions, then I will be only for that. No matter who suggests it. Although frankly speaking, I really doubt that Russia will present suggestions that will strengthen OSCE as an organization. It’s absolutely evident, that Russia creates parallel structures today.
- Would You name several definite examples of such structures?
- These are decisions on CSTO, EurAsEc, CIS…. So Russia intends to enhance other directions.
- I’d like to remind that EurAsEc was the idea of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Is that possible that as a new OSCE Chair Kazakhstan will take another position in comparison with Russia on the issues of reformation, definition of main tasks of OSCE?
- I’m sure that Kazakhstan has an absolutely right and healthy ambition to be independent from any state monopoly. Including Russia. Especially in the situation with energy carriers, considering mentioned ambition, it can play a serious and effective role. I think Kazakhstan has this ambition, to be really independent, maybe not a super-power, but still a power. I understand it perfectly.
- And as known, Kazakhstan is one of the biggest investors of Georgia. Has anything changed after the war with Russia?
- Kazakhstan is a really big investor. Today many investment projects are suspended. It’s difficult to connect the problems of investors in Georgia only with the last year war. We should also keep in mind world financial crisis. But foreign investors say that there are some difficulties with our Government, and Government says that these are due to the world financial crisis. And when these problems of investors with our Government arose I don’t know.
- Obviously, that the relations established during past years between Georgia and the USA can be called special. Recently You’ve visited the USA and Vice-President Joseph Biden has visited Tbilisi. What have these visits given to the bilateral relations?
- I think that my visit to the USA was quite interesting and fruitful. We had meeting in the Congress, State Department, White House. I had a speech in the Strategic Research Center, a number of meetings in National Democratic Institute, Republican Institute.
- Excuse me, was that a casting of the future Georgian President?
-I don’t need any casting in the United States. People I met, have known me for more than ten years. For example, Congressman Christopher Smith has known me since 1997. And when some of my fellow citizens tried to criticize me he said clearly, that he observed me defending the interests of my country for 15 years in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. And for him this is the best characteristic of Burjanadze as a politician. I greatly appreciate these words. Naturally, during my meetings in the USA people wondered what had happened to Burjanadze. They always considered her to be constructive, the only guarantee of dialogue in Georgia. And now, as the Government, tries to depict it, Burjanadze has taken a radical stance. Certainly, I explained everything to people I talked with in the USA. And I definitely saw that for the United States Georgia remains to be a strategic partner. For them it’s not important who will be the next President of Georgia. The most important for Georgia itself to be stable, democratic country. I helped them to know about current Georgian problems with proves. Naturally, we’ve got strategic relations with the USA, I’ve got a lot of friends there. But don’t be naive, thinking that Georgia is a priority within American policy. It can be in the list of ten priorities, which is already fine.
- Hasn’t Biden’s visit to Tbilisi changed Your opinion?
- No. no. I’m not saying that Georgia takes some hundred or one hundred and twentieth place. But not the first one. And this impedes people there to monitor regularly daily events in Georgia. I can tell you that today there are such events in Georgia that one can hardly believe them not being in the country. I myself had situations when talking about the horrible things happening here asked: am I telling this about Georgia? This country I was proud of several years ago despite all serious mistakes. There even were tragic mistakes from times to times. But there were also great achievements, successes. Including democratization of society. That is why it’s hard to perceive, hard to understand. But I explained our American friends that till I saw the prospects of dialogue, till I believed that Saakashvili would learn his mistakes I was behind him. But when I realized that each step of the dialogue he perceives as fear, weakness, then I decided to leave. I can give you one example.
Saakashvili called the Security Council and invited opposition. According to the logic of our Western friends, opposition should have accepted the invitation and come, if you were a constructive person, if you worried about destiny of your country. I think we shouldn’t have gone there. Why?
Saakashvili calls me and opposition almost Russian agents. If we are that bad, so why should we present on the Security Council Session that will discuss the issues of strategic security of the country? I think it’s logic. I proposed Saakashvili to apologize first for false claims and acknowledge that he invited the agents of the Kremlin on this session for PR. It’s difficult to explain, but people understand when you do. This is the situation.
As for Biden’s visit to Tbilisi, I think this visit is very important. I think that President Obama made a very clear statement supporting territorial integrity of Georgia and its sovereignty. And I’m really grateful for that. And when Medvedev during that joint conference with Obama in Moscow kept silent, I had a slight hope: what if made that to start new era of relations? Unfortunately, in few days I got back to earth, when Medvedev visited South Ossetia. It was wrong and extremely unfriendly move. I’d like to hope that in future there will no such moves (the conversation was held before the visit of Putin to Abkhazia - R.Y.). I don’t understand at all why need Russia challenge Georgian people so openly? No matter who tried to convince today, that the visit of Medvedev was a challenge for Saakashvili, it was the challenge for every Georgian. No matter whether I like Saakashvili or not, I absolutely can’t treat differently the thing that done Medvedev by visiting South Ossetia. I think these actions are wrong, no matter how strong Medvedev and Putin dislike Saakashvili.
And Biden’s visit to Tbilisi was another sign of support of Georgia. The important thing was that the US Vice-President said clearly that his country doesn’t value a person, but reforms and values that lie in the basis of the country. For me personally, as a politician, Biden left an extremely important message. The man said, that you should over your revolution, you need independent media, independent justice, reforms, powerful state institutions. Biden also noted that this should be done, for Georgia to develop normally, to be a part of international community, to be territorially integral.
- Has your President heard this message of Biden?
- No. Saakashvili hasn’t heard it. Moreover many other Georgian people haven’t heard it because they have no possibility to hear in live broadcast. Later on they could only hear Biden’s words about what a great son Saakashvili had. Naturally there is nothing wrong about this praise. For me it’s absolutely fine. When a person visiting you meeting your mother, an old lady, should he talk about democratic reforms? I don’t think it would be normal. But then the scene with Biden’s praises dependent TV interpreted as a support of Saakashvili policy, saying as if Biden waved his finger towards opposition. It wasn’t like that. Although I should tell you the following: after Biden left, terrorist attacks from the side of state and political terror intensified. That is why I think that this is not only the case if Georgian opposition anymore, but also the matter of prestige of the United States and its Vice-President. They should response on the events of political terror and force Saakashvili to stop.
- Once you said that Saakashvili acted silly. What was the silliness? Does this mean that he began this last year war with Russia?
- The silliness of his moves concludes in military rhetoric, rhetoric that turned into insults towards Russia, and surely it always poured oil on the fire. One can criticize Russia a lot and there are reasons for that. I also allowed harsh comments towards Russia. But one should keep decent. And one should be absolutely inadequate that Russia won’t either interfere into the conflict or if will, than Georgian troops will smash Russian army.
- And did Saakashvili really have such intentions?
- Yes. And this brought to catastrophic results. You know it’s not about whether he started or didn’t start the war. It’s not about it. Nothing was done to prevent this war. And quite the opposite. They rattled the sable and were sure that the next day there will be a protest in Tshinvali, that Saakashvili will arrange. The main thing is to understand that we’ve lost this war and how did we loose it. And what were the actions of Saakashvili afterwards. He forced to celebrate the victory on the Rustabeli avenue in Tbilisi while at this moment our troops left Kodori – it was simply immoral. To lie to people, telling them that now we have more chances to return Abkhazia and South Ossetia, than it was before August – this is an impudent, barefaced lie. And the state that lie to its people this way and the president who lies so rudely has no moral right to stay at power.
- But Georgia will hold Presidential elections in 2013. Are you sure that they will give a new President to the country?
- Saakashvili intends to remain President till the rest of his life. I assure you if he will be President till the end of 2013, then he will stay for long. I’m more than convinced that the Constitution will be changed and Saakashvili (if he won’t stay for the third term of Presidency) than he will change Presidential for Parliamentary Republic and will be a Prime Minister or a Chairman of the Parliament.
- How do you see the further development of the situation in Georgia?
- I think that crisis in the country will aggravate. The fact that Saakashvili tries as an ostrich to hide from this crisis, doesn’t improve the situation at all. When I saw on TV the fashion-shows in Gori, than this was not only immoral but also stupid. I’ve got a feeling that we are like a very sick person who needs extremely serious treatment course and medicines. But due to some reasons he refuses to acknowledge that he is sick and needs medicines. This will end sadly if proceeds. Saakashvili simply refuses to see that there is a serious crisis in the country, that the situation in the country is grave. He lives in virtual world that they show on TV. And this will lead to disaster. If Saakashvili continues this terror he started everything will end very badly. And it’s very sad. No matter how bad and negatively I treat him, I don’t want the tragic course of events. I have no desire of revenge. If the President of my country can end his life so badly, than it will be bad also for my country. That is why I think that any other sensible person on his place would resign, opening at least some democratic “windows”. Naturally at the same moment there should be political guarantees from prosecutions. And as for legal, than if someone committed a crime, than an independent court should consider it. And this court will be held the next day after democratic elections of a normal President. And for the court as well as media are independent, we need only one single thing – political will. To prevent any prosecutor to call and instruct the judge.
The interview is prepared with the assistance of the editor of the newspaper “24 chasa” (“24 Hours”), a member of journalistic network Levan Girsiashvili
The questions of the observer Roman Yakovlevsky
Translated by Eurodialogue.org
Chairperson, Democratic Movement – United Georgia
Born on July 16, 1964
Married with two children
1981 Legal Department, Iv. Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University
1986 Ph.D., International Law, Moscow Lomonosov State University
1995 – 2008 Member of the Parliament of Georgia
1995 - 1998 Deputy Chair, Committee on Constitutional, Legal affairs and Rule of Law
1998 – 1999 Chair, Committee on Constitutional, Legal affairs and Rule of Law
2000 – 2001 Chair, Committee on Foreign Relations
Nov. 2001 – Apr. 2004 Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia of the 5th convocation
Nov. 2003 – Jan. 2004 Interim President of Georgia
Nov. 2007 – Jan. 2008 Interim President of Georgia
2004 – 2008 Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia of the 6th convocation
2000 – 2008 Vice-President, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
2001 - 2002 President, Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation
1999 - 2002 Co-Chair, EU-Georgia Parliamentary Co-operation Committee
1998 - 2000 Rapporteur, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues
Since 1991 Professor of International Law at the Tbilisi State University
1992-1995 Expert Consultant, Committee on Foreign Relations
1991-1992 Expert Consultant, Ministry of Environment
Author of numerous articles and publications, including a book “Legal Problems of International Organizations of New Type”
July – Dec. 2008 President, Foundation for Democracy and Development
Since December 2008 – Chairperson, “Democratic Movement – United Georgia” political party