The President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili and the US Vice President Joe Biden met IDP children

The President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili

Mr. Vice President thank you very much for your really historic statement made at the Parliament of Georgia.

I was stunned honestly.

It was very important for us.

Very few people can speak without a written text, directly, without any preparation.

This was a truly historic event, because we have declared our independence and you have spoken about the importance of this all.

Dear children, I want to tell you that all of us and personally me are in great debt, because you are the children from Tamarasheni, Kekhvi...

I remember pretty well, our meetings, when I used to come to you.

We together spoke about solving the problem with the only way possible - a peaceful way.

You may remember a lesson that I gave to you that the greatest kings of Georgia were in tight ties with ethnic Ossetians. I told you about Georgians and Ossetians living together in Georgia. Your villages weren't ethnically Georgians, because there lived representatives of various ethnicities. We are all Georgians having different names. We built a very pretty glass movie-theatre, we built an entertaining park, discotheque, we are spending money to bring foreign rock-groups here.

On the other side there stood people with weapons and these rock-groups stood on this side. I was there with you, we organized concerts and this was disco-diplomacy.

After all, the shootings didn't start by ethnic Ossetians, it was done by foreign aggressors and they have stepped over the interests of Georgians, ethnic Ossetians and all other ethnic groups.

We have temporarily lost control, but we haven't lost our villages and gorges.

Till the spirit of freedom lives in Georgia, we will do everything and Vice President also spoke about it - Georgia must reunite peacefully.

They destroyed our movie-theatres, discotheques, schools and hospitals built by us, they have smashed your houses, but they couldn't destroy the major part of us - humanity and love towards, other ethnic groups, and the loe for our country.

I want to apologize for this long introduction, but I want you to know that Joe Biden arrived in Georgia to help us in the period when Georgia was being bombed.

I didn't know, he himself said that a lot of people advised him not to go to Georgia, especially in the period when his political fortune was being solved and every minute was of great importance.

At that very moment he rejected his carrier, it wasn't popular for him but he still arrived to support us. He arrived in the times when flying into Tbilisi was certainly connected with a vital risk.

I say it because I want you to know he is a very informal and warm person.

Here in this hall I wore a red pioneer tie in the soviet period and I was one of the pupils of the Pioneer Palace and I remember some foreign Presidents coming to the Palace. We all were lined, we couldn't speak to them - we should salute them and give a flower. They would smile, waved a hand and would leave.

Now we are a different country. Then the Soviet Union was our patron, their leaders used to bring their guests here and we simply attended these events.

Now this country belongs to you and this person first of all is Georgian people's guest. That's why I want our guest to tell you something, later you can put any question, tell him anything you wish and try to be open at most the way you are with me. Every child calls me Misha and talks to me like their friend.

I am the President of our small country, Joe Biden is the Vice President of the super power, but he is more informal than me.

This is why feel at home and tell him anything you wish.

Thank you!

Joseph Biden: Let me apologize first for not to be able to speak Georgian. Maybe some of you have to learn to speak English very well and come to the United States and teach me. Let me say two things: first of all the press was supposed to leave when we got to the point of view been able to ask questions. But I am happy to answer your questions and talk to you in front of the press. But if you have any personal you want to tell me, and you do not want to tell me in front of all these television cameras and all these reporters, I promise you we will have a little bit time afterwards. We will kick the press out and so you guys can come up to me and tell me what you want to tell me if you do not want to do it in front of the press.

You know, from all I understand, you all have been through some pretty tough times and sometimes I think you probably feel like things are not going to get better. My mother is 92 years old and she leaves with me. She still is taking care of me. And my mother has an expression, she says: "out of everything bad something good will come if you look hard enough. I had four children, but a long time ago, when I was a young senator, my wife and three of my children were riding in my automobile and I got an accident when a great big tractor trailer truck. And my wife and my daughter were killed. And my two sons who lived were in the car when their mother and their sister were died. Like you, they saw some horrible things. And people said they will never be OK, they will never grow up happy and they never will be able to enjoy the life, but they did not know children. All the bad things some of you may have seen only make you stronger. There is an expression in English and there is probably one in Georgian as well, that goes like this: tragedy even makes you much stronger or much weaker. (To young girl and children: you are beautiful, she is beautiful, as so all of you, kids). But, you know, this is a chance, the reason why America is here, the reason why AID is here or our development agency is to give you another chance. Because we really believe in you, because those kids who have seen things that are bad usually turned out to be the very good kids that change their lives and change their countries' lives. I bet you I am standing in from of future president, of future diplomat, of future doctor, of future lawyer, of future businessman or businesswoman. Which one is president, the lawyer, the doctor?

Child: When I grow up, perhaps.

Joe Biden: Be what? Not sure?

Child 1: I would like to be a doctor when I grow up.

Child 2: I want to be an international diplomat.

Joe Biden: An international diplomat? Good for you, honey; And one of the best diplomats we have in the United States of America is right there, or here. I think it is best if I stop talking and start listening. So, I am happy, I want to hear from you. What questions you want to ask me about the United States? Or about the United States or what you want to tell me about your country?

Mikheil Saakashvili: Ask any questions you want. Tell him everything about your lives.

Joe Biden: So you, Mari. That was the best answer you can possibly give to the diplomat. So what you want to ask the first question?

Child: I am Meri Durglishvili from Akhalgori. I am glad to meet you. In 2008 in Georgia was war and my father was fighting. I was very scared. I want never be the war in Georgia. I want to become the international diplomat, because to help my country. And I want Russians and Georgians to be the friends. My dream is to come back to my city. Thank you.

Joe Biden: I hope that it is all of your dream not necessarily to be a diplomat, but to be able to live in peace with your neighbors. The United States does not like at all what Russia did. But that does not mean we stop talking with Russia. When you stop talking there is only one option - and that is fighting. In most countries, the people are good. Sometimes the leaders are not so good. And, so, I think you want to be an international diplomat to get people to understand how much they have in common, not what is different between them, is very good. And I hope no your daddy, or none of your fathers or mothers, have to go to war. You see this little pin that I have in my lapel? In our country our mom or our dad who has a son or daughter in war wears this. My son is in the army and he is in Iraq. And what we are hoping for is that he comes home and all his brothers and sisters come home and Iraq is free. And so I can hardly wait for you to be an international diplomat, because I am tired of war.

Teft: Who else would like to ask a question? Please, right behind you Mr. Vice-President. Tell us your name first.

Child: Hello, I am Nick. I am thirteen years old and I am from Eredvi. First of all I want to talk about my village that was very beautiful and first of all, all of us want to go back to our villages. And now, when I am without my friends, without house, and without my relatives, which are there, I am very lonely in this big town. When I lived in my village in a little house, that was better of course for me, but when I live in a big city like Tbilisi, that is a big world for me, and it is very difficult for me. And second dream for me is to be a banker and I am going to learn and learn and I am going to go in America to have a hard base for my future, for my dreams.

Joe Biden: You are very impressive. How old are you?

Child: Thirteen.

Joe Biden: You are thirteen years old. When I was thirteen, I would be so afraid to stand up in front of all those cameras and the Vice-President of the United States and the president of my country, and I would be unable to talk. I am serious.

Mikheil Saakashvili: They can also ask you questions in Georgian.

Joe Biden: Let me quickly respond. I think that it is a shame, it is terrible what happened to your village and I believe some day, you will have your village back and you will be able to be with your relatives. But you have an example of what my mom says: "Out of this bad thing you going to make some good things to happen". And I hope two things for you: One - you will have your village back, and two - you will come to America, because I promise you, you come to America you can come and see me in a White House, ok? Promise, all right. Thank you.

Child: I am Lika Sigua. I am fifteen years old. I have two questions: First of all, I was born on the day when Sukhumi felt, on September 26, 1993. And I want to have contact with Abkhazian children and adults too. I want to know, what can the new generation do to help to solve this conflict, to solve the problem.

Joe Biden: Let me tell you the most important thing I think all of you can do to help solve this conflict without more killing and without more people being displaced. The way Abkhazia and the South Ossetia would be once again be reunited with all of the rest of Georgia will be because of your success, and I will tell you why: You are lovely young lady and as you grow up and you will be well educated and successful, you going to create better environment for your country. And when all the people in Abkhazia and South Ossetia will look across and see the prosperity and the opportunity in the rest of Georgia, and when they look north, into Russia, unless it changes drastically, and do not see the same opportunity, they are going to say one another, regardless of their ethnic background," I want to be in Georgia". So, the best thing you can do is to make a success of yourself. Because your example will change the thinking of people in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And I am not just trying to be nice; it is true. That is ultimately why the Berlin wall came down; it is ultimately why peacefully the Soviet Union broke up. Because all those people in Czechoslovakia, that no longer exists, all those people in Georgia, all those people in Poland, all those people in Ukraine, all those people listen to what used to be the radio, radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; all those people in East Berlin behind the big wall saw and heard what westward leaners were able to do, their freedom, their opportunity, they were able to go to school, they lived in nice apartments, and they said - "I want that". And all the tanks and airplanes and guns in the world cannot stop people who want to be free. So make Georgia, the not occupied part of Georgia, make it a great success, produce freedom, opportunity, and that is the thing that ultimately will reunite Georgia once again.

Child (Lika Sigua): And I have the second question: My brother and my sister and my dad are living in the United States and I want to know, do American children know how it feels to be an IDP child?

Joe Biden: No, American children do not know what it feels to be an IDP child, but let me tell you: millions and millions of Americans know what was once like to be essentially an IDP child. We are a nation of immigrants. My four fathers came, because there were been oppressed by British, because I could not practice their religion, and my case is Roman Catholicism. We have a great statue - called the Statue of Liberty in New-York harbor, it says give me your huddled masses yearning to be free. Millions of people come to my country in this very day, because they want to be free. People who were ethnically cleansed in Kosovo, in Bosnia, people have been prosecuted because of their religion in other parts of the world. So, although the every average American child does not know what does it mean to be an IDP, millions of the American children in the past and now understand what it is like to show up in a country with no money, no cloth, no family in some cases. And I am going say something that I hope that not offend anybody: My country has made a lot of mistakes in its history, but I am so proud of my country, because those people got off the boats, those people who, in fact, made on foot up from South America, they have been welcomed in my country. I think the only country in the world were people identify themselves in two ways: a young woman like you living in America and you say "what are you" and you know what you say? "I am a Georgian-American, I am an Irish-American, I am an Italian-American, I am an Iranian-American, I am an Indian American, I am a Chinese-American, I am a Japanese-American and I am an African-American, I am a Jew-American". So, my country knows better than any country in the world from their ancestors what it is like to be displaced. And know the incredible thing? The incredible thing about that is - those people who were displaced, their children and their grand children are presidents, and doctors, and lawyers, and diplomats, and farmers, and I am sorry to talk so long about this but I want you to know - there is real hope. The last thing I am going to say about America and American people and American children: I was with your president on the rooftop when Russian planes were flying over your territory and Russian tanks were rolling into your country. And I said to your president "I am going to go home and I am going to bring back billion dollars". And know what? When I was home and told my people the pane of all the people in your country, know what they did? They said, "It is o.k. and take our money. OK, raise the taxes". They send billion dollars to the people of Georgia. You are five million people and American people sent one billion dollars, like that. We cannot solve your problems for you I know. But you should understand. Americans care about you; about you personally, care about all of you. So do millions of other people around the world. We are not going to leave you. It is a hard journey for all of you, but I promise you we are not going away. We are looking forward to your whole country being restored and all of you being able to live in peace. It matters to us. Please go ahead.

Keta Khazalia: Hello, I am Keta Khazalia. I am 14 years old.

Joe Biden: How do you all speak English so well?

Keta Khazalia: I do not know.

Joe Biden: I am impressed.

Keta Khazalia: I was born in Tbilisi. I am from Sukhumi. I want to be a movie director and I want to make a movie about the relationship of Georgians and Abkhazians and how we can all live together.

Joe Biden: These are the people you should be talking to. These are the movie actors. They pretend they are the news and press, but they are the ones you should be talking to. I have no talent. Not any at all. None, but they do.

Keta Khazalia: And I know that there are some people interfering in our relationship with Abkhazians and I have a question: How can you help us with this?

Joe Biden: Let me first of all speak to your desire to be a producer. I am sorry. You know the most powerful force in any country? It is art. It is poetry. It is literature. It is the thing that captures people's imagination. It feeds their dreams and their hopes. Honey, when you make that movie or a documentary you are talking about, if you do it as well and powerfully as you probably can, you will do more with that one film than all the diplomats and Presidents and Vice Presidents in the world. I mean it, really. Because artists give people hope and no dream can be realized unless it fed a wellspring of hope. Now, what can the United States of America do in the mean time? Between now and the time you make that documentary. What we can do is make clear to the whole world and the Russians particularly, that we stand with you. And if they fail to meet their commitments that it is a problem for them. A lot of you think maybe Russia did what they did and they paid no price. They paid a pretty big price already. Diplomatically, the countries that surround Russia, Even those that had been very loyal to Russia in their freedom are now saying very harsh things. Russia has isolated itself more. It has not expanded its opportunities. So what we can do, we can help your president and your parliament make sure that your economy grows and you prosper. We can help make sure that you all get good educations. We can help, not do, we can help make sure that you have the best health care, that you have jobs, that there is real economic growth. Because honey, one of the things I believe that the Russian government intended when they used the pretext to invade your country, they were hoping that it would cause your economy to collapse. Your things to be economically very bad for you and then they would come to the Georgian people and say, there is no future in this democracy thing and you should elect people like you had before. They will tell you democracy does not work. This is a complicated concept for even adults to understand what I am about to say. But I got a, I got a feeling you will all understand it better than a lot of adults. It is very hard for the democracy that has been dreamed of in this very room almost a century ago. It is very hard for it to take root if there is not economic opportunity. There is an old expression: people can't eat democracy, they can't feed on democracy, they can't have shelter with democracy, but what they can do if we help you economically and help you politically and your country grows, those democratic roots will go very deep in your country and never again will anybody inside the country be able to convince you that democracy is a bad thing. You will keep it. So the way we can help you most is make it clear to the world that we disagree with and it is bad what happened. Tell the rest of the world that we should not in any circumstance recommend to recognize independence of South Ossetia or Abkhazia and help you grow and prosper. That I think is the ultimate answer. Now if you will ask me less complicated questions I can answer yes or no and make it shorter. Good question.

John Teft: Yes, the one in the back.

The boy in the back: Hello Mr. Biden, Hello Mr. Teft, Mr. Saakashvili. I want thank you because of what you have said. My dream is to learn international diplomacy and foreign languages. Last year on 28th of July, my village was burned by the Russian army. This was terrible and now I hope my country will be peaceful and united.

Mikheil Saakashvili: That's all right. Your English is good but you can speak in Georgian. Now, what happened to your village?

The boy in the back: Russian artillery bombed my village for two weeks, while rocks and stones were falling on my head.

Mikheil Saakashvili: He was saying that on 28th of July, while Russians are saying that we invaded them on August 7th.

The boy in the back: They destroyed my house and it was terrible. I hope US helps my country and we can go back to our homes. I love Americans and thank you very much for your support.

Mikheil Saakashvili: Which village are you from and where was it bombed from?

The boy in the back: I am from Kemerti and it was bombed from Andzisi and Java where the Russians stood. On August 8 we were forced to leave our homes because Russian planes were bombing people.

Joe Biden: Thank you very much and thank you. I am so impressed you are all so impressive.

Ambassador Teft: Mr. Vice President. I neglected the people behind me. We take one more question if that is ok?

Rusudan Kaluashvili: Hello, my name is Rusudan Kaluashvili. I am from Tskhinvali village Kemerti. I am 13 years old. Yes. I have a question: Is there a program which helps IDP children to study in the USA and if no I was thinking about starting a search for such programs.

Joe Biden: The answer is yes. There are programs and what I hope is going to happen, as I hope we even extend more and more programs. The President and I talked in his office about for us to have more exchange programs or more Georgian children and students would come to America to study, but we also want to make sure that American students come here and study so they understand about IDPs, so they understand another culture so they appreciate what they have and what you are going to have. So I will tell you what, you before I leave give me an address I can write to you and I will tell you what opportunities are available okay? Who is that beautiful young lady? Your smile lights up the whole room.

Mzeona Kakhniashvili: Hello my name is Mzeona Kakhniashvili and I am from Kekhvi. My goal is to become a journalist and write about Georgia. My dream is to return our territories and go back to our sweet homes. What are the chances of my dream coming true?

Joe Biden: Your chances of anything becoming true are very very good. Now you have made the journalists' life very very pleasing, because journalists and politicians around the world are not held in high regard these days, but there is a famous famous American named Thomas Jefferson. He said there are four branches of government basically. He said one of them is free press and he said: "if I could only have one thing" the one thing he would choose is free press. It is the best safeguard we have all people in the world. The best safeguard we have for our freedoms is a free press. So you being a journalist is very good thing, because when you tell the truth it makes it hard for politicians good and bad to not tell the truth. And there is an old expression. It says, "And the truth will set me free." So you become a journalist and you tell the truth and you will find you set a lot of people free. Okay, last question. Big guy over here.

Misha Beruashvili: Hello, Mr. Biden. My name is Misha Beruashvili. I lived in village Eredvi but I live in Tbilisi, in Isani now. I want to go to America and learn international diplomacy, but I do not have much money. I also think that our integration into NATO is very important, because we do not want to live in a dangerous country. What can you say about this?

Biden: about NATO, being able to become an international journalist, not having any money, and wanting to come to the United States. Just so I do not sound like a vain American or too proud of an American, there are a lot of places you can get wonderful educations. In Europe and there is just a lot of places. Because I am an American I think it's best in America, but very seriously there is a lot of opportunities and what Americans are working on and the French are working on and the British are working on and what the Germans and the Italians and the Spanish. They are looking for the young people like you who have no money. There are all kinds of programs and opportunities for talented young men and women like you to be able to get those educations without having any money. Just so you do not think I am making this up I want to give you an example. Last night the President was very generous. He had a lovely dinner for me and my colleagues. And when I walked into this beautiful new building I noticed like here there was a beautiful grand piano and I wondered why. And we started to have dinner and the President interrupted me. He said Mr. Vice President; I want you to meet a talented young man. A 13 year old Georgian boy who had no money, had no influence, but like you had great talent. His talent was playing the piano and he competed in a competition that he won. The President and some of his friends had an idea. There is a famous music school in America called Julliard. It is in New York City and so they arranged for this young man to have an audition to get a scholarship to go to Julliard, one of the most famous music schools in the world and Julliard said this young man has great talent. We will pay for him to come to this school but them one more thing. He could not go by himself, so a group of people including some Georgian Americans, said "we will pay to bring his mother with him. We will give them a living, we will give them apartments, we will pay for him to go to regular school". He is going to have the opportunity to go to the music school as well and because of his talent he is going to live in America for next 10 years. Living well, have decent housing, sufficient clothing and a great education. The one thing the world is looking for is talent and a lot of people, a lot of kids have great talent but what distinguishes two children with great talent from one another most times is an opportunity and very very very hard work.

Mikheil Saakashvili: I have to say Mr. Vice President. America's taxpayers spent something like 70-80 thousand dollars on my education. You met my mother yesterday and back when she was a college professor. She had a very small salary and in those years you could not survive on that salary so I sent her some of the money that I received for my education. You can see that there are a lot of people how with this kind of experience.

Joe Biden: Let me conclude. I promise you, you work hard; you do very well here academically you will have great opportunities. Can I guarantee you will get a free education in America? No. But can I tell you that there is an overwhelming possibility you will have that opportunity? The answer is yes. And you know why? I apologize I am going to have to go after this because my plane is leaving. Let me tell you why Americans want to pay for your education. Why Germans, or Italians, or British, or French would want to pay for your education. Greatest opportunity for continuing freedom in America is for freedom to grow in places it has not grown before. And the best chance for that is to educate people to come back to their own countries. You have smart and very talented President, but if he had not gotten the education he got he would not have been able to deal with all these world leaders. He would be just as smart, as intelligent but he would not be as well educated. He would not know enough or have tools that are needed to make change. We want you to have an American education if you cannot get one here and when you succeed everyone succeeds. And I hope when you do succeed you do not forget other people. When you will be my age you will look back and say we must help them. Sometimes when people succeed they think they did it on their own. They do not think they owe anything to anybody. We all owe to each other. I am very proud you let me come and speak to you. I brought with me almost as a joke some Vice Presidential freebees and some M&M candy. They are not much, but it is sort of a funny way to say to you all I want you to be happy. I really do and I want you to be successful. I have spoken to young people all over the world and every part of my country. No child I have met anywhere in the world has any more talent or capability than you. I told you when I was a little boy I could not stand up like you. I "tttaalllkkkeddddd" like this. When I got to high school and wanted to ask a beautiful young girl like you to go to the dance I was embarrassed because I could not say: will you gggggooooo ttttto the pppproommm with me? Because I could not talk very well people did not think I was very smart. People said: "he'll never succeed" I was lucky. I had a mom who told me how smart I was, how handsome I was, how good I was. She made me believe. Everyone has something to overcome. There is no one I have known that succeeded without problems. You have a lot to overcome because of what happened to your villages and your families. But you are so talented that you cannot use it as an excuse not to succeed. Thank you all very much. It has been an honor to be with you. I must go now.

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