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Saakashvili Sounds Upbeat Tone on NATO, Defends Police

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, September 16
Georgia and Ukraine will join NATO sooner or later - but more likely sooner. That was the message from President Mikheil Saakashvili during an interview with the Ukrainian newspaper, Segodnya, on September, 15.

“I think we will have progress in respect to NATO, especially next year. I hope that the summit [of NATO leaders] in Chicago [on May, 2012] will appreciate the progress made by Georgia on reforms,” Saakashvili said in the interview recorded last week. The president added that there is a 'good chance' of this but that "much depends on global processes.”

Among those reforms the president mentioned as preconditions for Georgia's participation in Euro-Atlantic structures, police reform and Georgia’s achievement against corruption were especially underlined. According to the president, the current Georgian authorities' attitude to corruption is “strict and firm.” After the Rose Revolution, previous and current high ranking officials were tried in court. “Ministers, their assistants and city mayors were among them, also four MPs from the ruling party, my former advisors, people I trusted and respected. This is far too many for small Georgia. But we had one approach – they were detained, it means they have to be charged,” the president said.

Mikheil Saakashvili said that those convicted of corruption had to “share” their property with the state.

Saakashvili also considers that the police system has been significantly refined lately and that police actions were adequate during the May 26 events in Georgia, especially against the opposition, which has no rating in Georgian society. “I think we acted correctly. A group of provocateurs, financed from abroad and having the support of less than 1% of voters, took to the streets telling us – we won’t allow you to celebrate the 20th anniversary of independence and that’s it. What could we do? We had to use minimum power. None of the policemen were armed during the crackdown and thank God it was so. It is unclear how the police would have acted after the protesters got in a car and ran over some policemen. One of them died, others were hospitalized,” the president declared, adding that police have to intervene in such cases, though their activity is documented and studied.

“The level of training of our policemen is permanently increasing. We teach them. They act with rather more professionalism now than in 2007. If the same thing happens next year, and probably it will, as it happens in any democratic country, they will act with even more professionalism,” Saakashvili said.

Different attitudes regarding the issues brought up by the president are frequently voiced by the opposition parties acting in Georgia. As the representative of the Republican Party, Tina Khidasheli told The Messenger, "recently Georgia is as far from NATO as it has ever been due to the current leadership of the country," and that with the current authorities, Georgia should not wait for any serious progress in this field.” Controversial attitudes are fixed regarding police reform in the country, Georgian opposition and analysts talk about the pros and cons of the reform. They mention that some positive moves are obvious, like the removal of so-called “thieves-in-law”, and the reduction of certain crimes, however at the same time they state that step by step Georgia is becoming police state. As for corruption, most of the opposition parties state that corruption was wiped out on the lower levels of society however it moved to the upper levels and has become an elite phenomenon. The word “elite corruption" is very often mentioned from opposition members and analysts.

According one researcher of international affairs, Kote Zhghenti, real democratic moves can start quickly in Georgia. “It can only happen as soon as the international community sees that the presidential and parliamentary elections are held democratically by the state” According to Zhghenti, diplomatic actions should be mainly oriented towards Georgia’s foreign image improvement and restoration, “however, this process should be backed by real and not surface reforms. We should consider the target reached when influential international organizations call us a democratic and not semi-democratic state.”