In hindsight, how would you evaluate the pre-election and election processes?
The process was very long – the pre-election situation established in the country commenced in October 2011 once Bidzina Ivanishvili made his statement [announcing his political ambitions]. There was a very serious confrontation between the ruling party and the coalition. The ruling party virtually had the entire state machine at its disposal: legislative power; administrative, financial, police, court resources; largest segment of media. The coalition had to compete in an extremely unfair fight, not with a political force but with a state which was mobilized against the coalition.
There were many dangers along the way, including the danger that the coalition and population would give up on the possibility of elections, thinking it would make no sense because the elections would be completely rigged. But we maintained the conviction and political line through to the end. That proved correct because the society stayed committed in terms of political culture and principled position. During those months, they did not have an opportunity to express their position loudly. There was huge pressure, but they brought their civilian position to [the polling places on] 1 October and expressed it in their ballots.
In retrospect, it is very difficult to call these elections “fair.” That the government conceded defeat does not mean that it was poised for and participated in a fair fight.
The OSCE opinion says that fair elections were held. Do you agree with that opinion?
The day of the elections was better than the election campaign days – that was ensured by international observers. The government did not have any illusion that the observers would turn a blind eye on anything. That was also ensured by the smooth operation of the election machinery, the infrastructure of our coalition. We had proper controls on every polling station, though many violations were observed. Consideration of complaints is still underway. However, all in all, the entire process was better than the election campaign.
What changes does the Georgian Dream intend to make? Have negotiations about the formation of a new government begun and whom can we expect to see in the new government? Ivanishvili said at his press conference that none of the coalition team members is aware of what he is going to do with them – what does that mean?
We do not have candidates for the Cabinet yet. The coalition has to do much work simultaneously – it has certain priorities in terms of timing. The first priority is to complete the election process and find out who will enter the Parliament and who will not. The second is a serious task – to avoid impeding the activity of state bodies. However, we see some signals – for instance, far fewer patrol police cars can be seen in the streets of Tbilisi today than in previous days. Therefore, our objective is to prevent any impediment to the state functioning. The aim of the working group, which has been set up to consult with the President and the government, is to ensure public order and operation of the state within the next several weeks [of the transitional period].
The next objective is to hold consultations with the President of Georgia and the still-incumbent government. The transfer of power cannot be carried out overnight and it is not a simple process. Therefore, given the interests of statehood, we are obliged to enter into a dialogue, to clarify some issues. The next objective is to form the Parliament and make decisions needed for its functioning, including decisions on committee appointments. Only after that comes the issue of government formation. That may not be a subject of our consultations in the next week, but that does not mean that we do not think about that.
Ivanishvili has declared that no one from the Saakashvili government will stay in the new government. Ivanishvili also said that the only correct step for Saakashvili would be to quit. We can recall Sozar Subari’s statement as well that there is every ground for the impeachment of the President. Parallel with that, Ivanishvili says he is ready to cooperate even with Saakashvili. At what level are you going to cooperate with Saakashvili?
We did not like and do not like the political course of Saakashvili and the United National Movement – nothing has changed in that regard. But our principle that we must act within the scope of the Constitution remains in force. According to the Georgian Constitution, the elections have been held and that must be followed by a change of the government. The issue of replacing the President does not and cannot be settled instantly. What Bidzina Ivanishvili declared during the press conference [calling for the incumbent President to step down] is not our political demand. Ivanishvili has also explained that we do not impose any precondition. We understand that the current public officials are incumbent public officials. We do not intend to force anyone to leave their position by ultimatums or pressure. Under the law, many may have not only to resign but also to be prosecuted – but that is the business of the law. I want to make it clear: We are not only ready, but are obliged to have dialogue and working environment with the President and other public officials who still continue their work irrespective of the election results.The working group was set up for that aim of making that contact intensive. Problems may emerge daily. Lots of Georgian citizens consider themselves victims of injustice. We must avoid complications and arbitrary violent actions. On this issue we need cooperation. There are also supra-partisan objectives: security of the country; protection of borders; financial security; ensuring that the economy does not slacken. We will have to discuss all these topics and to take responsibility in some areas through monitoring, in others through cooperation – until after that which must happen has happened.
When saying that a precedent of power change via elections is being set, we must not overlook one thing – since this precedent is being set that means that it has never happened before. Therefore, both sides have to assume additional responsibility – the already-turned-into-opposition United National Movement and the having-come-by-majority Georgian Dream coalition.
According to Ivanishvili, Georgia will keep on its course toward NATO and the European Union and, at the same time, will try to convince Russia that that will not pose any threat to it. He also said that with its actions Georgia must be acceptable to its each and every neighbor. How could you convince Russia that NATO is not a threat to it when the national security doctrine of that country evaluates NATO expansion as a threat?
Like the Baltic States or Bulgaria and Romania did. Russia could not imagine the NATO membership of those countries either and back then considered that that would damage Russia. Like those countries, we must also manage that. That does not mean that the process will be easy or that a meeting will be held with Putin and he will understand and believe in that from that single meeting. No, that will not happen so. We must manage not to be alone in the relationship with Russia as it happened in August 2008 – I mean physically, not morally and politically. And, second, we must not participate in the process of sacrifice with Georgia necessarily appearing a victim in global confrontation or processes. We need a security umbrella for really ensuring the security and not for loosing half of Georgia in the process of seeking security.
There were problems and risks in 2004 as well. But because of the actions of the government, we have not yet become a member of NATO. Nor have we managed to withdraw Russian troops from Georgian territory. Russia has strengthened its foothold in Georgian territory. Therefore, if we keep shouting that we want security and NATO and meanwhile fail to protect Georgia that would be incorrect politics producing incorrect results.
We will further deepen relations with the EU, NATO, USA – that is our objective and political vision. Our Western partners do not believe in government propaganda. They believe that the Georgian Dream will not change foreign policy orientation but intends to take more serious steps in terms of establishing democratic institutions which are a necessary prerequisite for further integration.
In the post-Soviet space, excluding the Baltic States, power has been peacefully transferred in three countries – Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. The level of democracy has sharply dropped in Belarus and Ukraine, while in Moldova the situation in this regard is relatively better. What are the guarantees that in Georgia the situation will be more like it is in Moldova?
The key guarantee is the society, citizens. The second guarantor is the coalition and its political composition – leaders, political parties. Ivanishvili’s promise that he will leave the government soon resounds with that topic too. He thinks, and I agree with him, that the precedent of power change through elections will become unswerving when it is repeated.
Everyone who restricts democratic institutions does so because he/she does not want to leave as a result of a democratic process. We are not afraid if, within the next four years, a better force emerges and comes to power. That is a prerequisite for not restricting democratic institutions.
At the same time, the temptation of some revanchism, retaliation, is sometimes huge or, say, taking the wrong path as Saakashvili did – “so many people support me,” “the truth is on my side.” We must manage to demonstrate quickly – not within months but within days - that we do respect different opinions. We must ensure freedom of speech as well as independent courts. We have a mere two or three months for that. Everyone will see that and questions will disappear. Or, if they do not see that, things will go wrong – for us as well as for the country.
Ivanishvili said that Georgia must not be a geopolitical player but remain a regional player. What does that mean? Will Georgian no longer be active in the international arena, for example, in Afghanistan?
We will stop nothing in Afghanistan – save speculations about these topics. The still-incumbent government merely speculated on the Afghanistan topic. While the rest of the democratic world was busy developing plans to gradually decrease their troops, Saakashvili was the only one who was always ready to increase the contingent there. That was an attempt to gain some dividends and credits in the eyes of the West. That was a certain expression of provincialism. If we want to become part of the democratic world and its equal participant, we must follow certain standards and tendencies.
We must necessarily participate in ensuring global security, otherwise our security will not be guaranteed. But we must also understand that we will not and cannot be in the forefront of such processes, be political decision-makers. We must know our place and not act as a small kid looking brave to impress an older brother.
In the event it joins NATO, how would Georgia be a regional force and not a member of a large geopolitical alliance?
Being a regional player and global player is not related to membership or non-membership of NATO. For instance, Turkey is a NATO member and is a player both regionally and globally. But Bulgaria, also a NATO member state, is not a global player. Saakashvili’s aspiration to have schools better than in Germany, hospitals better than in Norway, etcetera, means setting such objectives that are unrealistic and useless. Given the start-up conditions we have, it will take us very many years to approximate even a mid-European level.
Therefore, when we say that we must be a strong regional player that means that we must contribute to global processes in that capacity and not by saying that “Bush is my buddy” and “Now all come to your senses.” That impeded Georgia’s move to NATO. We must be realists and know our place and weight.
As regards the occupied territories, what concrete steps do you plan to take to settle that issue? How optimistic are you that Russia will de-occupy those territories?
I am sure that Abkhaz, South Ossetians and Georgians will live in one state. But that will not happen soon. That will happen when not only Georgians will be willing to live in a united state, but also Abkhaz and South Ossetians too. For such a desire to emerge and to be their free choice, many things are needed – first and foremost, the headway of today’s de facto Georgia, the guarantee that people will live safely.
That is our assignment. It is very important here to maintain and strengthen the position of the democratic international community on the non-recognition policy. Ongoing processes in Russia are also very important. As present, there is a certain deadlock, but it is impossible that Russian politics continue similarly in any historical epoch. There was the Soviet period, Gorbachov era, Yeltsin era – now it is Putin. Periods have changed there too. We must wait for a convenient moment – not for military operation. The conduct of foreign policy in a delicate way is the remedy to that. And finally – the formation of civil society in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, not obstructing but assisting that process. The new majority inherited very difficult problems, but we must tackle them. No magic wand exists here for dealing with problems.
This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 117, published 8 October 2012.