Georgia in World Media

Leaders Magazine: No Compromise on the Way of Development


An interview with Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia

Mikheil Saakashvili was born in Tbilisi, Georgia on December 21, 1967. After graduating with honors from the prestigious Kiev University Institute of International Relations, he moved to the U.S. to attend Columbia University in New York City as an Edmund S. Muskie Fellow. In 1995 Saakashvili was elected to the Georgia Parliament initiating Georgia’s first merit-based selection of judges. He also became the first Minister of Justice to address prison reform. On October 12, 2000 he was appointed Minister of Justice of Georgia where he continued to confront and investigate post-soviet Georgian corruption at the highest levels. On January 4th, 2004, as a result of Rose Revolution, Mikheil Saakashvili was elected as the President of Georgia with 96 percent of the votes


  • As  a member of  the  previous  government,  what about it concerned you?

At this time I am the oldest member of the Georgian bureau,  with just a few exceptions.  It was my last year as a student when the Soviet Union collapsed, and so my entire career was with an independent  Georgia.  I was a member of the 2nd parliament that independent Georgia  elected,  and  I was the head  of the judiciary committee which  tried  to  implement judicial  reforms with  some  groups  of  reformers.  And  then  there  was a period when some members of the group (which was an eclectic group of mostly former communist govern- ment officials, headed by former communist leader Shevardnadze)  thought we would eventually choose  in favor of the reformers. It didn’t work out this way, be- cause what we discovered  was that communists never change, no matter their background. So at that moment we had to leave and we went to the opposition,  and we snatched out a victory in a very chaotic election system for local elections, and then won the parliamentary elections, the results of which they refused to recognize because  it was unthinkable that the opposition  would win a parliamentary election at the time. And then we had the Rose Revolution and we took over.

  • What was the situation  in Georgia at that time? You were the leader of the Rose Revolution; what was the aim of this revolution, and did you have ambitions toward not only state revolution, but also in the minds of the people?

Actually yes. I think the people who went out were fed up with corruption.  And they were longing for real de- mocracy  or moral democracy,  meaning  that not  only would there be ways to express opinions,  but that the government would really listen to them. We had a situa- tion in the 90’s that was chaotic, where you could say anything, but then actually nobody cared. And secondly, people wanted to have a government that was account- able to the people. And for government to really have fair elections, not just for the sake of faking them from time to time…but to understand that you need people’s sup- port in the first place to keep your position.

They generally wanted better lives and a future for their children, which sounds of course surreal, but that is how life is. And they wanted a real state, because we were a failed state run by drug lords, local feudal lords and all sorts of different people. So actually, the good thing was that they brought political forms that were not a lie to anybody.  We didn’t take money from any busi- ness  interests,  we didn’t  compromise  or make broad collations for eclectic elements. We were clearly people who wanted to change everything. Of course when we talk about mental revolution we were in a way, by how we were reincarnated,  a revolution,  because  most of the  people  who  came  as  reformers  weren’t  from the Georgian elite, but mainly from the outskirts of the capi- tal, or from the rural areas, or they were from poor/lower middle class families. Most of them had western educa- tions, or if not that, certainly western values.

By themselves they did something very different from what we were used to in this post-soviet world, not only in Georgia. Georgia was in a nutshell a calm incarnation for the soviet world.  We were the most corrupted  and most criminalized o  t of the most failed states of the former soviet territory, and very easy to manipulate.

Georgia in a way has changed  beyond  recognition, but  it has  also  created  new standards.  For instance, 98 percent of Georgians say that six years ago (accor- ding to polls)  they encountered  corruption.  The latest polls showed this below 1 percent or half of a percent, which basically means that corruption has disappeared in a place where it was the most rampant. On criminality today, 60 % of organized crime is in Russia or Ukraine or some central eastern European  country.  While accor- ding to recent surveys,  Georgia is ranked as Europe’s safest country after Iceland;  by far safer than anything n the region. We have 40 % less crime than France and Germany.

  • What was your vision when you became president of Georgia? Did you have a clear vision?

We wanted to change things very fast. We had a clear vision  – we knew that we didn’t  have to compromise. We knew that we didn’t have much time. We knew that we were running against time because people were going to put so many expectations on us, and so inevita- bly they would be disappointed  no matter what results we achieved.  So we needed  to achieve real results in order to change society, because living in a society that is unchanged would basically mean that reforms would suffocate us. That’s why when you look at Georgia today and seven years ago, there is a striking difference with the way people are – how people dress, the body language, how they interact with each other, their per- ceptions on life, their perceptions of state institutions... This is a remarkable change,  and  Georgia  has  made a giant leap forward. And in our way it was historically doable because it’s a very old nation, very multiethnic and with many experiences, mostly negative ones. But you learn from your experiences. But you wouldn’t have even thought that things would have changed so fast.

  • Regarding your country’s  business,  political  and cultural relationships with Czech Republic, ex-Presi- dent Havel often makes political  parallels between Georgia and Czech Republic. What is your viewpoint regarding the similarities in political processes?

Well, President Havel is an amazing human being. And I think if there is one single great person out of all the great moments at the end of the 20th century in Europe, it’s certainly Havel. The reason why he stands out is that he never lost his sharpness, or his acute sense of rea- lity… never compromised. This is a man who does not get into a self-futile kind of liking as many historical leaders have done. Especially if you’re in this position. And actu- ally this is somebody who had a very acute reaction to the Russian invasion of Georgia. Someone who spoke out the truth. We are grateful to Czechs  because  the Czechs had adopted a resolution for Georgia, and they have  been  very supportive  of our international  organi- zations. The Czech government has helped us on many levels. The point here is that Havel’s position had very im- portant value for us, because  if you are a small nation figh- ting for your existence, you don’t expect anybody to rush to help you. That’s not what we expected. It’s very impor- tant that there is somebody  else out there who thinks you’re right. At that point of view, what Havel did was much more important than sending us weapons to fight.

  • What is your vision for your last term as president?

I think that first of all, there are two and half years to go which is a long period for us relatively. What are the challenges?  Well,  we are faced  with a  neighbor  that doesn’t recognize our border or government or our ceasefire agreement. This is technically a very precari- ous situation. This is an existential issue. Secondly, the point here isn’t that we have two and half years… what is important is where we are in reforms.

We are moving parliament to the second largest city in Georgia. We are moving to basically move power to parliament, which is right now totally under the presi- dent,  so to move toward a more euro-centric system. Which is a big endeavor in our context, but I think it’s going to work. We are implementing a series of radical social and economic reforms that are going to have long- standing significance for many generations, and which will affect the future of Georgia. And this is all going to happen within the next two years, which is also of course important. After that we are going to have a system of government that is much more collective and balanced. There will be no one leader. Actually the president will keep most powers, but parliament will have the power to form government and to control it. And the government itself might be both a one-party government or of many parties. There are so many ‘ifs’ that it hardly leaves time to think where I’ll be personally.

  • Do you have any hobbies?

Well whatever I do, call it hobbies. I don’t have useless hobbies as such. I don’t collect butterflies or post stamps. I am very fascinated by architecture,  however. I am very much interested in all kinds of innovation with technology and education.  I am all the time searching for them, and searching on the web for what is new and how to apply it here. But no, I have no time for fishing, for example.


By Benke Aikell ■

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