“They must go!” - Zourabichvili
By Etuna Tsotniashvili
Friday, February 20“Being Georgian and thus Caucasian is our strength; equality and cooperation are our acts; dialogue and tolerance are our mission; It’s our way; the Way of Georgia.” These are the words of French-born Georgian diplomat and politician Salome Zourabichvili, a descendant of Georgian emigrants who fled the country during the Bolshevik invasion of Georgia in 1921.
Zourabichvili was appointed the French Ambassador to Georgia in 2003. In 2004, after a personal request from Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, the French Government allowed her to become Georgia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, a post she held until 2006.
The Messenger has interviewed the former Foreign Minister and now leader of opposition party Georgia’s Way, who has shared with us her political views, future plans, how she and her opposition colleagues plan to remove Saakashvili and what Saakashvili told her when she was dismissed from her post.
Q: When did you realise that President Saakashvili was not so perfect a President as people first thought? Did you notice it during your Ministry or after you resigned?
A: Mostly after my resignation. When I was a Minister I was busy with my work and with foreign policy. However even during my tenure I had some doubts. One reason was Zhvania’s death, the explanation of which was absolutely unsatisfactory. I also questioned why the President allowed Parliament to accept the ultimatum about Russian military bases when negotiations about this were proceeding quite effectively. He knew this was not a good decision at the time, so it is a mystery why he agreed to it when he controlled the Parliamentary majority. So many things were unclear for me. I also made comment about the privatization that started from Tbilisi and spread throughout Georgia, and asked several questions about this at Cabinet sessions although I did not get answers. But my priority was not internal affairs and I was not involved in internal affairs.
The main issue for me was when I was dismissed. At a time when very important negotiations about Ossetia were due to begin in the OSCE, I did not understand the reason for dismissing a Minister who had achieved a positive result concerning the withdrawal of Russian military bases and had contacts with all the countries which were very important for us. Then I understood that something was happening that I had not previously seen. My dismissal was soon followed by the murder of Sandro Girgvliani, and this case like Zhvania’s was not investigated.
Q: You said you did not understand the reason for your dismissal: what reason did the President give?
A: My dismissal was not unexpected for me because about two months after I was appointed serious things were being said against me, either by the media or Parliament, concerning our unpaid debts to the UN from Shevardnadze’s period which did not have anything to do with me. They started saying that I was not an effective Minister and this lasted for a long time. At first I blamed Parliament and the Chair of Parliament, but not her as a woman: it was often said that the Chair of Parliament and I were personally hostile, but I blamed Parliament as an organ for what was happening and considered it an attack on me as a member of the newly-appointed authorities.
When Parliament dismissed me from my post I went to the President and asked him, “What are you doing? Why don’t you understand that what is said about me is an attack on you and if you don’t respond it will continue?” He listened and said that he wanted to think about it and talk to the majority, and I then understood that something was not right. I also realized that everything being said about me ultimately came from Kirkitadze, [former MP, now governor of Kvemo Kartli] who was a ruling party member, therefore Saakashvili’s representative not anyone else’s.
I understood that Saakashvili was not going to defend me and that the team wanted me out of the Government. I think this was because I was not dependent on anyone; I made decisions on my own and did not think the way they did. Another important issue is that they did not have any levers they could use against me, there was nothing they could blackmail me with.
Q: Saakashvili often says that most people in opposition were dismissed from their posts and are just upset at losing their careers....
A: I had a career before Saakashvili and I will have one after Saakashvili too. I did not go into opposition immediately after my dismissal. I thought there was a lack of democracy in the country, and especially among the people, so at first I created the Public Movement. I think I would not have created my party if it were not for the local elections. It is very important to have democracy not from the top down but from the bottom up. One of Saakashvili’s big mistakes was changing the election code to prevent villages having their own councils and budgets.
Q: You were the initiator of the recently-signed memorandum which demanded Saakashvili’s resignation. The President is not going to resign. How do you plan to make him?
A: I don’t think the President will go on his own; he should have resigned after the war and given the people an opportunity to make a new choice. But he cannot rule the country or manage its internal or external affairs. He should go. The Government cannot make serious decisions, the country is in isolation abroad and no one takes us seriously. How will it happen? It will happen by the people’s will.
If we know what democracy is, we know democracy is the nation’s will; the Government should stay for as long as the people want, but then it should go. Those of us in politics and the broader society should work on this together. We should develop our demands, so that we avoid the situation where one day we say one thing and the next we change our minds and have dialogue. Trust that political parties will not change their mind should be guaranteed. The rest will happen when this trust is secured.
As for rallies in the streets, it would be better to avoid these so that there is no repetition of the scenario of previous years. The cleavages within the authorities have already started, In City Hall, regarding the PMs and so on, so we should be ready and judge correctly when the time they must go will come. Our society should be assured that we know very well what to do when they are gone, what kind of elections will be held etc. First we will hold Presidential elections and then Parliamentary. The Government will be a coalition, but this may not last long as we are still in the process of learning how to govern this way.
Some may consider that having one leader and one party represents stabilization, as the current Government says, but how acceptable this is society has said. Our president has had many chances to regain his popularity and power. If he had addressed the people in November 2007 and said that he realized he had made many mistakes, appointed elections and guaranteed they were fair he could have become a hero. But now it is too late. Since the war this possibility has vanished. Even then he had the chance to make a speech and hold another election, no matter who started the war and what mistakes were made. But it is obvious that he cannot bear to give up even a small part of his power.
Q: How united is the opposition?
We are not united, we are coordinated. We are moving towards one goal. There are different aspects of the opposition. I have a kind of facilitator’s role, I think I should be neutral as regards other political parties so that no one thinks I support one more than another. I cannot be a Presidential candidate as our constitution does not allow me to do this. But I think this is a good thing, as it gives me the opportunity to approach any opposition party, as no one can think I am a potential opponent.
If opposition parties present 2 or 3 candidates I think this will be very good for the country’s democratic development. We should prepare for elections where there will be not only one choice but several. Society’s trust in the opposition is very low, there are many who are opposed to Saakashvili but they do not trust the opposition political parties. We should work on this. We will not step back, we will struggle until our goal is reached. Personally I am among those who regrets that we stopped before simply in order to avoid provocations and violance, because I still think that if we had continued the war would not have happened.
Q: If the Georgian President calls Parliamentary elections, what will happen then?
A: Our main demand is the President’s removal, we don’t want anything else, we want only his resignation, no consultations or things like this. We are not going to take part in elections with them. I am categorically against taking part in any elections called by this Government.
Q: Will the opposition have a common leader, as Gachechiladze was previously?
A: No, because now the situation is very different. Gachehiladze’s leadership was not a real leadership at all. We chose him in 2-3 hours. We chose him because the only way we could have defeated Saakashvili in that election was to have a joint candidate. That’s why Badri [Patarkatsishvili] and other candidates played a negative role in the elections, not because it is bad to have several candidates but because they weakened the opposition. Now we declare that first Saakashvili should go and then new elections should be held. Several leaders should be presented as candidates in order for people to have the opportunity to make their choice.
Q: What do you think about restoring the monarchy?
A: The monarchy can be restored in Georgia and maybe this will become necessary to stabilize the country. But this does not mean we can make Georgia a monarchy right now; the best way towards monarchy is to reduce the powers of the Presidency. If society wants to return the monarchy to Georgia we must first return dignity to society. I cannot imagine a monarchy in an undignified society.
Q: Would you like to send any message to our readers?
A: My main message is that the ruling authorities must go!