Speeches & Statements

Mikheil Saakashvili gave a lecture “Georgian Democratic Transformation: A Test Case for the Post-Soviet World” at the Princeton University

Professor Danspeckgruber, thank you very much for the wonderful opportunity to be here.
Actually I’m the kind of person, that is not supposed to exist at all this moment from a country, that hardly has any chance to exist or survive, but I have to quote Russia’s foreign minister Lavrov, who says that the Post-Soviet Space is one big spiritual sphere, with only one anomaly - the Georgian Government.
So I represent an anomaly, my existence is an anomaly, my country is an anomaly, because in 2008, (it’s good that there is no map here, because it would be too scary) a hundred plus times bigger country attacked my small country and as you know they’ve been attacking different countries throughout their history.
They attacked Czechoslovakia in1968, the Czechoslovakian government fell within hours, and they had to sign a humiliating defeat. They attacked Hungary in 1956, and the Hungarian President was hanged by the occupiers. They went to Afghanistan in 1979, killed the President within one hour, Afghanistan is much bigger country than Georgia and they’ve done other things, some of which are not well known.
They’ve done coup de tats, regime changes, etc all around the world from Africa to Asia so basically, we are an anomaly, because this hundred times bigger country invaded my small nation, they always say “this small tiny country” well, we are as big as an average normal country say, in Central or Eastern Europe, but of course, in comparison to whom we were attacked by, we are small. There was an official response when the US Government asked them in 2008 what their plans about Georgia were, and this is I know to be official, you can also read it in Wiki Leaks, if you are not in the US public service, because they are not permitted to read this, but in academy you can read it. They officially said in response to what’s the goal of your invasion of Georgia, the response of the Russians was complete annihilation of the country, not of the government, but of the country. 

My friend Nicola Sarkozy will have lots of time to write his memoirs and he will again go back to this subject when there was a long conversation between him and Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin specifically described to him in detail, and in an anatomical way, by which parts of my body he was going to hang me within the next few days and basically a few days later, former President Medvedev appeared on television and said “Who is Saakashvili, he is a political cadaver.”
And so here I am, 4 years later, in the middle of this auditorium with all of my body parts intact. I’m supposed to be a cadaver. I’m still alive and kicking and my country is supposed to be a total failure. And by all means, when you talk about my country I want to quote the invaders of Georgia. A few days ago former President, now Prime Minister Medvedev, who signed the occupation of Georgian regions, as I mentioned, made a statement on Russian television saying “We would like to imitate Georgian police reforms, but we cannot as a country, we are too big for that” and on the second day he said during his confirmation in Duma, “Well we know that Georgia has implemented  very successful reforms, we know they are successful, we should of course learn from them, implement, copy whatever they’ve done successfully, even if I hate Saakashvili”.
And that’s the biggest paradox, I believe unheard of in history.  There are students of history here, when a hundred times bigger country invaded another, failed to depose the government, failed to take it over in entirety, and four years later proclaims that, by the way, maybe we should learn from this government, which we promised to hang by parts of the body, how to rule our own country. 
That’s the big survival story; a very amazing one, an almost miraculous one of my country. I think this is a success story, which we don’t owe to the military or to particularly heroic leaders or anything like that.
I think this happened because of radical transformation, because of reforms, because of real changes that we implemented in a society that was doomed to be backwards, that was doomed to be old fashioned.
One of the biggest architectural magazines in the world has a cover story on Georgia, Georgian architecture, and I read articles there where they are saying that this is one of the world’s most interesting construction processes.
An absolutely new brand for a new country emerging with absolutely new architecture, but it’s not really Georgian, this architecture. It really doesn’t fit those narrow streets, the old fashion style, and their traditional sights.
As if we always were doomed to be in the middle ages, we are always doomed to be always backwards. As if we  were some kind of nice  sweet country, where people arrive to see like they see a Himalayan resort, nice local traditions, nice things, remnants and ruins from the 8th, 9th and 10th  century or even earlier. We enjoy dancing and singing which has a very old tradition. It’s a nice country to see. But that’s not what our aspiration is.
We want to create a modern society, we want to be successful, and we want to learn from others and to be ourselves, a role model for the region and maybe for the rest of the world. That is what is going on in Georgia and it impacts our region at large. But I’m also here to share my optimism that idealism will ultimately prevail.
And that force of ideas can not be deterred either by old backward traditions or cultural backward traditions. I think most of them are just invented by the ideal of cultural relativism that some people are just not capable of changes and successes. There exists a cultural handicap for some people. Or even a territorial rule and brutality even by the force of money and corruption. I think it’s based on experience; Georgia was one of the most corrupted places in the world. Georgia was one of the most criminalized places in the world.
Georgia was one of the most hopeless and desperate places in the world. I am basing this on the real data from polling that is done in Georgia that was done about 7-9 years ago. We had this idea haunting us that this country cannot be fixed and that it was doomed and hopeless. So we implemented lots of reforms, a new generation came to power after the Rose Revolution. And the least of the reforms we did were absolute amazing.
We fired the entire police force, entire customs office, entire tax service. During the first year and a half of our existing bureaucracy, civil service; we diminished the number of agencies by half. We scrapped 90 % of license and permit requirements from the government and that’s proof that benchmarks do matter for a small country trying to present itself. And you should see what the benchmarks of Georgia are; we have the world’s fastest registration of companies, the world’s fastest registration of property transaction. This is all according to the international finance corporation of the World Bank, the world’s fastest custom procedures too.
We have, according to the recent studies by EBRD and IFC, one of the lowest corruption rates in terms of perception in Europe. We are at par with a couple of Scandinavian countries.
We used to be one of the most criminalized societies in the post soviet world and according to the last three year’s studies by the European Union; we are one of the safest counties in Europe with the lowest crime rate in Europe.
We are basically a safe society. We have 60 to 70 % less crime than in Germany or France; four or four and half times less than Russia. The Civil service has changed tremendously. There is a Canadian Center of Law Justice and together with Transparency International they’ve done studies worldwide. They ranked the Georgian bureaucracy as the second most efficient and transparent in the world after New Zealand.
More impressive than these benchmarks is the fact that a mental revolution has happened; the ways in which people relate to each other. How they relate to institutions, how they respect the institutions. Our police had a 5% of confidence rate based on Gallup polls and now it has a 90% confidence rate. It’s the highest in Europe right now.
We have a tremendous trust in other institutions. Actually, right now every institution is more popular than the institution holder. I’m still quite a popular President but the institution of presidency is more popular than my personality. The same is true in regards to the parliament; it is much more popular than any particular parliamentarians. The same goes for the government, the same goes for the army.
The police have 90% popularity which it’s much higher than say, the head of police or the minister of internal affairs, so these are the institution changes that happened. Georgia is, as you rightly said, a small country, but it has a huge strategic location. It’s a gateway from Central Asia, Caspian energy regions, to most areas in Europe.
It also has a large transit route from Central Asia, Northern China, and Afghanistan and to most European destinations. It’s also, despite any shortcomings and mistakes we might have made, a new alternate model of governance in the post-soviet space.
The problem was, that in the 90’s there were only two choices among former soviet countries: to be messy, chaotic, crime ridden, corruption crippled and to have freedom of speech like the Russia of Boris Yeltsin or to be more regulated, more orderly and of course much more authoritative, basically authoritative like the country created by Vladimir Putin and there was no other third way for us, that was a popular belief.
And I think Georgia showed a third way, of course our democracy is not perfect, but we certainly have freedom of speech, freedom of elections and freedom of civil society but of course, there are still many things to be fixed, but we have a very low crime rate as I said and we have basically next to no corruption.
Seven years ago, eight years ago based on a Gallup poll, 98% of Georgian said they encountered corruption firsthand. Now 0.1 or 0.11% by some studies, amazingly low, it has basically disappeared. So from that point of view we now have tourists, important officials coming to learn our reforms from different countries.
Every other week we receive delegations from Kyrgyzstan, from Moldova, from the Ukraine, from other neighbors, a lot of people coming from Russia to learn from our reforms and that’s something that is really very exciting. 
If those societies can ever modernize, open up, become more normal, especially as it relates to Russian society and from that point of view it is an interesting gamble. 
That’s why Georgia’s survival and success shows that ideas can sometimes be stronger than tanks or even money. It is a message of hope for all freedom lovers in the world.
We are still not there, we have elections now, one, two or three years of elections and again we want to make them as transparent as we can, despite all the odds, because people are really focusing on them. Georgia is still around.
It’s being successful economically, visually transformed, mentally transformed and it has become a shining example of success at least for our region, which is not really seen from Washington or Brussels very well, but it’s very well seen in our region, also by the people who are part of it and this is a sign of hope.
Of course primarily for us and for all of you, who want to be policy makers in the future, my advice would be: don’t take anything at face value, defy things all the time, defy yourself, revaluate yourself all the time and don’t go for established dogmas, because they usually don’t mean anything. Just go for it and everything will be fine. That’s all I wanted to tell you.

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