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Prime minister under fire for Kosovo remarks

By Shorena Labadze and Winston Featherly
Tuesday, April 8
The dust is just subsiding from a flap over an apparent slip by the prime minister, who suggested that Georgia will recognize the sovereignty of Kosovo.

Asked in an interview with Estonian newspaper Posttimees whether Georgia will recognize the newly-independent state, Gurgenidze said Tbilisi will “of course recognize Kosovo” at some point.

The Republicans, a moderate opposition party, went on a public offensive last week to assail the prime minister’s comments.

“We consider this statement to be against Georgia’s national interests,” leading party member Tina Khidasheli said, adding that Georgia’s allies don’t expect Georgian recognition for Kosovo.

On a late-night political talk show, fellow Republican leader Davit Zurabishvili pushed majority MP Givi Targamadze to explain the prime minister’s remarks.

“I don’t get what’s hard to understand about this issue,” Targamadze replied. “Georgia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence. That’s the official position of Georgia, not the text of this much talked about interview.”

The prime minister’s press service blamed the Estonian newspaper for misinterpreting Gurgenidze’s comments.

In response, the newspaper released an audio tape and transcripts of the interview.

In the interview, given March 29, Gurgenidze says Georgia “will of course recognize Kosovo” in due time. The prime minister also emphasizes the stance that there are no parallels between Kosovo and Georgia’s own separatist conflicts.

The interviewer asks whether Georgia’s apparent reluctance to recognize Kosovo implies the existence of parallels, to which the prime minister replies, “We’ve just been busy.”

“So in principle you’re actually ready to recognize?” the interviewer asks. “As all of our friends now,” Gurgenidze answers.

Republican Davit Berdzenishvili said the comments could have been inadvertent, or perhaps were testing the waters for Georgian recognition, but are worrisome either way.

“Either Gurgenidze made this mistake because of his lack of political experience or he made it on purpose as an order from Saakashvili. In normal countries, in circumstances like these the political figure must be released from his post,” Berdzenishvili told the newspaper.

If it was a mistake, he should at least apologize, the Republican MP said.

Gurgenidze was appointed prime minister last November, his first political post after a successful banking career.

After the Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in February and the international recognition which followed, there were worries that Russia would use the occasion as justification for recognizing the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

There is significant domestic opposition to recognizing Kosovo, as many Georgians sympathize with Serbia’s loss.

Shortly after Kosovo’s independence, influential majority MP Giga Bokeria told the Messenger that recognizing Kosovo independence is a “tough decision” for all world capitals which could be “misinterpreted,” and probably would not come from Tbilisi for some time, if ever.