Speeches & Statements

REMARKS To the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe President Mikheil Saakashvili January 24, 2008 - Strasbourg, France

President de Puig, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

  • I am honored to join you here today to further our work together in strengthening democracy, pluralism, and the rule of law in Georgia.
  • Your gracious invitation will allow me to share in what I am sure will be a thoughtful question and answer session.
  • Let me express my particular gratitude for the hard work and timely advice of the co-rapporteurs: Mr. Kastriot Islami and Mr. Matyas Eorsi - both of whom played an indispensible role.
  • And to all of you who participated in the Observation Mission and are gathered here to today to express your interest.
  • I am especially grateful that the doors to this assembly are open both during our triumphant times and our more turbulent ones.
  • It is, in fact, during the latter periods when the wisdom represented by this assembly is most valuable to an emerging democracy like ours.
  • The people of Georgia and my government are profoundly committed to building a stable and healthy state, one based not on personalities but on robust democratic institutions.
  • Like all democracies, ours remains a dynamic work in progress.
  • A few weeks ago, we took an important step forward along this path, when for the first time in our history we held truly competitive Presidential elections.
  • Anyone who has been in Georgia these past two months knows how vibrant our democracy is, as seven presidential candidates loudly and clearly articulated different visions for our future.
  • I am proud that, at a critical turning point in our history, it was the citizens of Georgia who retained the power to decide our country's course through a vote that overwhelmingly reflected the will of the people.
  • Today, democracy in Georgia speaks with many voices.
  • I value and welcome these many voices-this democratic chorus on which our future must be built.
  • While our progress in building lasting democratic and electoral institutions is very real, these past several months have highlighted how much further we need to go.
  • On behalf of my government, I would like to express how grateful we are to our friends and partners-at home and abroad-for your advice and support as we travel the challenging road to democracy.
  • And let me personally assure you that, no matter how difficult and how many sacrifices we must make, we will not deviate.
  • In conducting our presidential election, we opened our doors wide to the democratic world-and Georgia willingly became a laboratory for democracy.
  • And in a laboratory, anytime you place anything under a microscope, some flaws appear.
  • Later today you will continue Monday's discussion on the ways in which we can improve our electoral process-and no doubt there are many. Ours is still a young republic.
  • Yet no responsible observer, domestic or international, has asserted that the shortcomings of our electoral process thwarted the will of Georgia's voters.
  • Our decision to invite more than 1,000 international observers-and to welcome the scrutiny of more than 34 local civil society organizations-reflects the substance of our commitment to ensuring and defending transparency.
  • And although this assembly resonates with many voices and differing opinions, I feel that I am among friends: for we are united by our common pursuit to build more equitable, more democratic, and more just societies.
  • The best of friends offer not just praise, but constructive advice.
  • With one hand, they point out our weaknesses, while showing us the way forward with the other.
  • And they travel this path together with us, because our destiny is a common one.
  • I will be listening carefully for ideas that can help ensure that our Parliamentary elections in spring constitute yet another step forward in Georgia's historic journey of democracy and the rule of law.
  • And I will act on those ideas.
  • With that in mind, I would like to share with you some of the initiatives currently underway in Georgia.
  • Immediately after our presidential election, I reached out to our opposition parties to find ways to give them a more influential and formal role in our major institutions including Cabinet and senior level positions.
  • Already, important steps have been agreed.
  • We will continue this dialogue, because debate and dissent are essential to democratic life.
  • In my own government, today we will announce a new Cabinet, with fresh faces, bringing new energy, new ideas and new constituencies to power that include prominent members of civil society and the business community.
  • This Cabinet, led by an able Prime Minister, will engage in a robust dialogue with all members of society - making sure the interests of all stakeholders are taken into account.
  • Reflecting for a moment on these elections, I believe what mattered most was not whom the Georgian people voted for, but what they voted for-and how.
  • They voted to make the elimination of poverty our society's top priority.
  • They voted for a path of balanced but resolute reforms, designed to continue reshaping our society.
  • With an equally loud voice, our citizens endorsed Georgia's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration; in a plebiscite, 77 percent supported Georgia's goal of NATO membership.
  • And finally, these elections underscored that we are making progress in building democratic institutions that will endure far longer than any single individual.
  • That is the legacy that me and my government can and must build.
  • Just four years ago, Georgians joined together to break the chains of hopelessness and stagnation.
  • The far-reaching reforms we pursued opened our society, freed our economy, eliminated gangsterism, empowered the country, and unleashed the talents of our people by attracting new investment and jobs.
  • I would to thank our friends at the Venice Commission, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and GRECO for working together with us during this transformation.
  • But let us not forget, that after the Rose Revolution we inherited a failed state where corruption was the rule - while today it is the exception.
  • Electricity was something to celebrate and blackouts were a fact of life.
  • Today every citizen of Georgia has a 24 hour supply and we even export electricity to our neighbors.
  • In our universities, accessing higher education was only possible through bribes or personal connections.
  • Today, a universal national exam uses merit to open the door.
  • Our economy was also stagnated and largely operated in the shadows - with little or no FDI.
  • Today, despite a full economic embargo from Russia our economy has been growing by double digits for the last three years and the World Bank has named us a top reformer in 2006 with the 18th most friendly investment and business climate.
  • Law enforcement was virtually non-existent and the police were a part of organized crime, extracting confessions and bribes by torture on a regular basis.
  • For the last three years, this institution has enjoyed one of the highest levels of public trust - over 70% - and these practices have been largely eliminated.
  • We have laid the foundation for a liberal and sustainable democracy.
  • During my second term, we will focus on making these changes irreversible and even more inclusive.
  • Yet, during the election that just passed, both my government and I were truly humbled to learn that, despite our successes, we have not achieved enough.
  • I worked hard during the campaign to understand the hopes and needs of our citizens throughout the country.
  • I traveled to scores of villages and cities.
  • I saw modern roads that have replaced dirt paths. Schools and hospitals that have blossomed across the land. Areas once torn by tension that are now thriving.
  • But I would be misleading you if I did not share another Georgia that I saw.
  • I saw too many families struggling to live on meager incomes.
  • I saw too many people denied education, health care, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.
  • Over the past four years, our priority was freeing our workers and entrepreneurs, our farmers and businesses so they could begin to modernize and compete in a global economy.
  • Over the next five years, our priority will be to ensure that the benefits of that liberation reach every family of Georgia.
  • Once, our great challenge was to build a Georgia without corruption, a Georgia with responsible leadership.
  • Now our great challenge is to build a Georgia without poverty-to ensure that the benefits of our reforms reach every farm and village, every home and individual in our land.
  • These are the tasks that our new government will tackle - with renewed focus and vigor.
  • Meeting these challenges will require strong political will.
  • But political will alone is not enough.
  • The fight to establish equality must be built not on the shifting sands of politics, but on the bedrock of human rights and the rule of law.
  • So hand in hand with eliminating poverty, my government will dedicate itself to ensuring that our courts serve our citizens more effectively and impartially, that due process prevails, and that civil and human rights become non-negotiable.
  • Nowhere is this more necessary than in Abkhazia and South Ossetia where systematic abuses of human rights continue today.
  • The victims of ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia are still denied the basic human right to return to their native homes and furthermore, their property rights continue to be abused and ignored.
  • Those who still inhabit these largely depopulated territories live under a climate of constant fear and oppression.
  • Ending human rights abuses and bringing lasting peace to these regions is a challenge not only for Georgia but for the international community as a whole.
  • Every day without progress is another day of human suffering - these are not frozen conflicts as they are frequently called, but real places with real people.
  • What about the children who are denied the right to learn their own language?
  • How about those who are threatened and terrorized just because they want to vote in elections?
  • The way forward must be based on political negotiation that ensures Georgia's territorial integrity and respects fundamental human rights, including minority rights.
  • Almost three years ago in this Hall I presented a peace plan for South Ossetia.
  • Let me reiterate that Georgia offers modern European solutions to both of these conflicts.
  • Solutions which simultaneously guarantee the integrity of the State, the political rights of the regions including broad self governance, and protection of human freedoms for every citizen of Georgia regardless of ethnic origin.
  • This outcome is achievable - especially if we multiply our efforts.
  • In the next five years, we will measure our success not only by what we achieve within our country, but by the bonds we build with our neighbors and allies.
  • Secure borders should serve as bridges, not barriers. Bridges to the north, the south, the east, and west.
  • Georgia is forever yoked to Europe.
  • We are joined by a common and unbreakable bond-one based on culture-on our shared history and identity-and on a common set of values that has at its heart, the celebration of peace, and the establishment of fair and prosperous societies.
  • Together, with our partners in the European Union we will continue to strengthen these historic ties.
  • I have heard the voice of the Georgian people when they expressed their overwhelming desire to enter NATO-and so too has the community of shared values that makes up this great organization.
  • Together with you and our partners, we will do our utmost to complete the process.
  • But let me be clear: Fulfilling the dreams and desires of the people of Georgia does not mean disregarding the concerns and interests of our neighbors.
  • Four years ago, when I was first inaugurated, I stood before the Georgian people and extended my hand in friendship and cooperation to our neighbors and colleagues in Russia.
  • This past Sunday, at my second inauguration, I did the same once again.
  • The path of transformation is never an easy one. It means finding the power not only to change on the inside, but to change as well on the outside.
  • It is my hope that together with our friends in Russia, we can walk down this path of change together-in a spirit of mutual respect, camaraderie and shared gains.
  • Today, in our region we are constructing exciting new projects, weaving together peoples and economies in ways never before thought possible.
  • With our friends and partners in Ukraine, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and further east in Central Asia we are building an open, new economy-from which everyone can prosper-and where everyone can lend their skills, talents, energy, and ideas.
  • There is much we can do together. We cannot lose any more time.
  • In pursuing this agenda for my second and last term as President of Georgia, I will continue to ask the opposition for their ideas, their cooperation, and their help.
  • And if we succeed, they will share in the credit.
  • It is clear to me, reflecting on the events in early November, that Georgia's political system remains fragile and vulnerable.
  • So when our institutions were under threat, calling an early election, and returning power to the hands of the Georgian people, was the best way to safeguard democracy.
  • In the subsequent election, what mattered most was for Georgia to emerge from this experience with stronger institutions, part of which means a stronger opposition.
  • Because democracy - is plural.
  • And, judging from the vigor of the opposition today, there can be little doubt that pluralism is alive and well.
  • This spring, Georgia will hold Parliamentary elections.
  • I cannot promise that they will be flawless, but I can assure you that our government will use every hour of every day between now and then to make our electoral process as fair and effective as possible.
  • We will take our cues on what needs to be done from the reports delivered by domestic and international monitors who observed our election this month, especially PACE.
  • Already, in our dialogue with the opposition, we are working diligently in several areas and I expect this process to continue.
  • The functioning of our Central Election Commission, for instance, can be improved-we need to reinforce the Commission's capacity to organize and safeguard the voting process.
  • We are working, meanwhile, to continue reforming Georgia's Public Broadcaster to further safeguard its editorial independence.
  • And we will strive as well to reform the thornier aspects of the electoral process, those that challenge all democracies, even mature ones-such as ensuring that forces in power do not use undue influence in shaping the will of voters.
  • In the days to come, we will be turning to you and to your governments again for very concrete assistance in addressing these issues.
  • Let me close by saying that, with your indulgence, Georgia will call on this assembly's advice and support on a variety of crucial issues.
  • Yet we must not lose time because other challenges loom. I need only point to the open wounds of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to underscore this.
  • Both individually and collectively, those gathered in this assembly have invested a great deal in healing the breach of Georgia's sovereignty and in repairing the lives of hundreds of thousands of IDPs.
  • We must rejoin this effort as quickly as possible.
  • Of one thing I can assure you:
  • In pursuing our democratic journey, we combine the determination of an ancient people and the energy of a young Republic.
  • If we combine this with your experience in constructing democracies and protecting human rights, there is no challenge to large for us to overcome.
  • Thank you.

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