Speeches & Statements

The President of Georgia participated in the Summit Basecamp

We are incredibly privileged to have the President of Georgia here with us. He is one of the youngest democratically elected leaders in the history of world. He has done an incredible job in improving the economy of Georgia. He has cleaned up the police force and initiated many other social reforms. He has had a tremendous impact on the country. Please everyone give a very, very warm welcome to President Saakashvili.

Felix Marquardt: The first time I went to Georgia was just under 18 months ago. I remember the first lady invited us for lunch; the group of people that I was with. I asked the First Lady what she did apart from being a first lady. And she told me well, I am a nurse at a public hospital. If you are familiar with the region a bit - the Caucasus, that’s not really what First Ladies do. So I thought, this is a good start, a pretty interesting place to be. What I’ve discovered since that is that Georgia is an amazing country in so many ways. It’s rather a small country, but still has 14 different climates. It goes up to 16,000 feet but you can also ski in the afternoon after having bathed in the black sea in the morning. It’s a place where you have some of the oldest Christian traditions but also a mix of all others. There is a village in Georgia, where Christians, because of this mix of influences, go to mass on Fridays and don’t eat pork. It’s a place where you have one of the most ancient alphabets in the world, one of the most beautiful alphabets in the world. I really encourage you to go check it out. Georgian has nothing to do with Cyrillic and it’s just absolutely beautiful. So you have a lot of history and traditions in Georgia, dating back to 3 thousand years BC.

Mr. President, Misha, I’m really pleased to have you here, you also have one of the most modern innovative governments in the world certainly but in general it’s a country that’s focused as much on the future as it is influenced by a very, very ancient past. One of the last times I was in Georgia was through something called a Europe Week. During this Europe Week we had gathered a whole bunch of bloggers and activists from all around the Arab world. Some of them were from countries that had already been through their Arab Spring. Some, who were still struggling to get rid of their dictators and it was really interesting to see the conversations that emerged between Georgians who got rid of their dictators 7 years ago and these kids who were basically dealing with having dealt with their dictators months ago.  There’s a phenomenon that happens in all of the countries that go through these revolutions and that is the enthusiasm and the hopes that these popular movements created and often lead to a hangover effect the next day. So my first question, I’ll keep it very broad but is to say that it takes very different skills to tear down an autocratic regime, than the skills you need to build a country up. So how did that manifest itself in Georgia in your case, Misha?

President Mikheil Saakashvili: I was just recently turned 35, when I got elected to the Presidency in Georgia. We had governmental Ministers in their 20s or 30s. And it was called a country but it did not literally look like one. For 10-11 years before the rose revolution people didn’t have electricity or heating or anything like that, not to mention modern tools to access education. We had a place where corruption was a way of life but that was how things worked.
A couple of years ago together with my assistant at that time, I was looking at images from 2003, and we both looked at each other and then said: why do they all have black and white images on television because everything looked grim, dark. And so we came in, we inherited this mess and from the first moment, day one, we knew that we had no time, we had to start somewhere.
We used to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and now we are the number one fighter of corruption according to Transparency International. No country on the Transparency survey to date has made as much progress in the same amount of time as Georgia did in a 5 years period. According to all the studies by the European Union in last 3 years, in terms of crime rate, Georgia is the safest country in Europe. If you look at the business environment we were 147th in terms the environment for doing business. We moved all the way to become the 12th easiest country in the Eastern and Central Europe. The Canadian Center of Law and Democracy based on the surveys made by Transparency International’s local chapters performed a survey on bureaucracy and they said that Georgia has the second most efficient bureaucracy in the world after New Zealand.
And so we went through difficult times, because we had multiple destabilization efforts, we had 2008; afterwards several years of multiple provocations and all kind of nasty things - energy embargo, full blown economic embargo and we lost sixty percent of our export markets in one week. We had a full blown invasion from Russia. Russia still occupies 20 percent of our territory. They’ve expelled half a million people from there, which is basically one tenth of our population. This year if everything goes well, we expect double digit growth again. And that’s telling you where it’s going. Nobody has time to lose.
Our experience shows that in hopeless situation you can come back, you can rise.

Felix Marquardt: I’d like to pause on some of the reforms, which actually brought most change to the country. I’m starting with the reform of the police. A few years ago the heads of Georgian police carried out this reform and fired thousands of police officers and when all these police officers were sacked, the number of accidents actually went down. Please tell us what was the result of this, how did it happen, how long did you take to do it?

President Mikheil Saakashvili: We were the country that had security challenges but we fired all those policemen. We needed 3 months to recruit the new staff and for this period Georgia had no police force. It was a holiday season; you know its tourist country. The number of traffic accidents went down, crime rate went down, and people started to feel a little bit safer. We discovered an amazing thing that it was the police that was committing the crimes.
That also happened in other spheres of life. The most desperate thing was tax collection and customs.
We have world’s fastest custom procedure, world’s fastest property registration, world’s fastest company registration and these are the World Bank figures. We have the one window principle; there is a philosophy behind those reforms. I claim that we have the best government offices in the world; they are all made of glass and are all transparent. Our Public Service hall is a building where you can get all types of documents, driver licenses, and passports in 5-6 minutes.

Felix Marquardt: Once I missed a plane from Baku, Azerbaijan and I had to take a car to Tbilisi. After long hours on the road we crossed a border and I spent two hours trying to speak with a border-keeper on the Azerbaijan side. During these two hours I lost my car, driver, and when I got a car back, my luggage wasn’t in it. After two hours of this ridiculous nonsense I finally got to the Georgian side. I got a custom agent who looked like Jennifer Aniston and took basically 3 minutes to let me go. I was there a year ago.

The President Mikheil Saakashvili:  The good news is that you will no longer see any customs service officers, because right now we have all this equipment. I don’t remember exactly but I’ve seen an advertisement on CNN that in the future people will have the chips. Georgia has already got this future. Now you go to custom’s gates with your passport. You don’t have to take out anything from your pocket; you just go for it, because it automatically registers electronic chips. My assumption is that one job in bureaucracy kills four jobs in the public sector. At least it’s our experience; I know that some people may argue against it. 

Felix Marquardt: I recall that the police was not obviously trusted at all by the population.

President Mikheil Saakashvili: We had five percent trust for the police, now its 86 percent trust for the police.
Every time I see the increasing of trust in institutions, that’s also an increases for the country in right direction.

Felix Marquardt: Of course reforming the police and the police state is as fundamental as radical changes have been made. What are the other fundamental reforms you are going to implement?

President Mikheil Saakashvili: The worst corruption was not in a police, it was in the educational system. In order to get to any public university you had to pay a bribe, in order to move from one year to another you had to pay a bribe. What really happened are, first of all, university public exams and social composition of people who were passing it has radically changed. It was 90 percent changed, people started to come from poor areas, from remote rural areas rather than from the downtown of the capital where all universities were located at that moment. We send thousands of people funded from government money, the best performers, to go and study abroad, we encourage a lot of people to do that, we are implementing the “One Laptop Per Child” program, which basically means that not only every school is computerized and given access to internet, but basically everybody, almost every kid has a computer now and I think eventually every kid will get that. This is a very important reform. Overall, if you ask me what the biggest change in the Georgia is; I think it’s a mental revolution.

Question : I want to ask you about the beginning, the courage with which you faced the problems in your country. I still remember the moment in the legislature, when you walked in, started yelling and telling the former President what you thought of him. That was an incredibly courageous moment.  Your revolution, your movement has inspired many revolutions now. And I’d really love to hear how you overcame your own fears and how your fellow people helped you face those years and achieve your freedom.

President Mikheil Saakashvili: Well, when you face external facts, for instance, like we now have with our neighbor, it’s not the time to scream that we are conquered. On the contrary it’s the time to act, that’s the only way to move.
If you are afraid of losing your country, or your future, for anything you stood for, there is no way back. I think the real revolution starts when the CNN cameras leave, and that’s the hardest thing to understand.
Even when we started and we had all these young people, they were inexperienced, really idealistic and well educated. There were some foreign journalists comparing the whole crowd to Ocean’s 11 because they came in and did not know where to start. But they had to do thing fast and they had to move and coordinate, improvise, take risks. Without taking risks there is nothing, the whole thing is about taking risks. The other thing is that you should never chase popularity, because popularity is a nice thing for yourself but it’s also nice for you because it enables you to use your power to accomplish, but this is exactly the trick.  If you are seeking popularity or selling popularity then you are lost because it is a political capital and you have to spend it, you have to spend it wisely. 

Question : You and your team brought a big change in your country; In police and a lot of sectors. What amazes me the most is the rule of law; the judicial system. What changes did you need to do in order to sustain these reforms?
President Mikheil Saakashvili: I think the biggest change that happened recently was introducing Jury trials. The trust of judiciary system was close to 0% in the past. Now it is over 60%. Less than that of police but it’s still a high percentage. The jury trials had a very bumpy start, because there were several guys that basically killed a whole family over 15 years ago. It was a pretty strong case for our prosecutors who were inexperienced in jury trials and they almost lost. Reforming the judiciary is always harder, because there is always temptation either to become corrupt or to become politicized. It’s easy to change policemen. You train them and they know what to do. But the judiciary needs tradition. It needs time. We changed almost 100% of judges and most of them are young now. They have high salaries and they will eventually create a tradition.
Question: Not very many countries or governments survive a Russian invasion. Can you talk a little bit about how that affected you and how that affected the country? And how do you see your sovereignty going forward.

President Mikheil Saakashvili: That’s exactly what is happening when you are building your country at a gunpoint. Vladimir Putin publically swore that he would hang me with some certain vulnerable parts of my body. It’s not nice to talk with such phrases. It’s also not nice that hundreds of thousands of my compatriots were expelled from their homes just because someone in Moscow discovered that these homes no longer belong to them.  Russian demonstrators, in the streets of Moscow, now more and more scream publically that they want Georgian reforms.

Question: You and your team brought a big change in your country in only a few years and there are a lot of people in this room that also want to bring a significant change to their country. So what are the lessons that you have learned in bringing the successful changes in Georgia that you could give to entrepreneurs?

President Mikheil Saakashvili: When you start assuming responsibility and leading, then the public will follow. People will do miracles through their free will, but without the interference of the government. At least that’s my experience. We are building all of these skyscrapers and such buildings are only constructed by the countries that are rich with oil and gas. How do we do it? Only through freedom and the spirit of fair play. Be there and be taking risks. That’s my experience with entrepreneurs. If you are brave and taking risks then life is not boring anymore and your country will be successful.

Send link to the email
Captcha* Verification Code
2013 (7)
2012 (12)
2011 (12)
2010 (9)
2009 (11)
2008 (12)
2007 (11)
2006 (9)
2005 (11)
2004 (3)