Expert opinion
Summoning Patience and Consistency
07 November, 2013

Exclusive Interview with Mrs. Elita Gavele, Latvian Ambassador to Georgia

It is always difficult to predict what will happen in the future. The easiest thing is to wait to make things clear. All we know at the present time is that we have a new president Giorgi Margvelashvili from the ruling party. Let's see what will change. However, there are many expectations and hopes for the better in the society that had a total feeling of injustice. Georgian Journal talked

to Mrs. Elita Gavele, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Latvia to Georgia and Armenia.

Elita Gavele: Via your newspaper, I want to congratulate the ordinary people of Georgia on the peaceful elections. Straight after the elections, we met with the newly elected President of Georgia Giorgi Margavelashvili – the ambassadors of the three Baltic countries and discussed about the future plans in the relations with the Baltic countries. We once again reassured that the Baltic States always have been and will continue to be Georgia’s best friends and supporters in every step Georgia takes towards NATO and EU integration.
G.J: Were these elections really free and fair and how probable was it?
Elita Gavele:
Of course. Not only did the international community recognize it to be democratic, but I saw it myself together with 10 observers from the Latvian parliament and Central Election Committee, as well as a team being formed from our embassy’s diplomats. This was one more step forward. I don’t like those comparisons – “litmus test”, “another exam”. It seems that Georgia has proven once again that processes can happen in a calm, democratic and European way. . For the good friends of Georgia it was a good success not only for Georgia, but also for us, because we are your “advocates” on your way to the European Union and NATO. These elections were also a great response to those skeptically oriented, who did not believe that big changes can happen in a peaceful manner in Georgia. (Note: This is the first case for our country that the President came without any riots and revolutions). So, I can even say that the situation was quite peaceful and calm in the pre-election time and that is how these Presidential elections differed from the Parliamentary elections last year. It means that Georgia is going forward in terms of political development. What is important for me is that it looks like we, Latvia and Georgia, are the leaders in the unusually numerous bilateral visits after the Parliamentarian elections – your Prime Minister, twice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior Affairs (just selected as the next Prime Minister), Minister of European and Euro-Atlantic Integrations. Currently, the Speaker of the parliament Davit Usupashvili is paying a visit to Latvia, in November a visit of a Deputy Minister of Health, Labour and Social affairs is planned to Latvia. Visits of your Members of Parliament who actively cooperate with Baltic Asambely – GUAM, have taken place, as well. It means that the political dialogue between Latvia and Georgia is on the highest level. We have sent a letter of congratulation to the President-elect Mr Margvelasvhili from Latvia’s President Andris Berzins with congratulations and the invitation to visit Latvia next year when Latvia will be the capital of Culture to Europe. From 2015, one half of the year, Latvia will hold the EU Presidency.
G.J: So, the next Eastern Partnership Summit will take place in Riga?
E.G: Correct. We hope that the interest towards Georgia will only increase. Riga is going to be the next Eastern Partnership summit host. Now, I am sure that you will receive the initiation of the Associated Agreement in Vilnius, and Georgia will have a lot of homework to do in the aftermath. There are high ranking professionals participating in the talks in Brussels, and there will be a need to continue the undertaken work, work with a lot of patience, persistence and professionalism. So, I hope that Vilnius Summit will be a success for Georgia even more when the latter has shown that it can hold democratic Presidential elections. ….
G.J: Have you met with Margvelashvili personally?
E.G: Yes, I have had occasions and this is very important – you get to know a person better, which is very important, and set the personal relationship and contact. I have only good things to say about him, He is a philosopher by education as you know and my impression, after meetings that Mr Margvelashvili, is that he is very open-minded and very friendly, too. I found it quite impressive that mr Margvelashvili has an opinion on every topic we have ever discussed, and he is ready to give his opinion and talk also on not always pleasant and easy subjects. I have followed quite precisely Mr Margevalashvilis’s pre-election campaign, his meetings with Georgian citizens, and I do believe that a new President will be loved by a nation if he keeps this connection with his people. Also as you know, the new President will not have such a great power as the former one. It means that you are more getting closer to the parliamentarian republic where the main power belongs to the Parliament and the government. The new President will be more like a representative person for Georgia like in Latvia. In Latvia has never had a people-voted President – the parliament votes for the President. (note: Georgian experts say that it is more probable that we will have a semi-parliamentarian pattern in Georgia).
G.J: Do you think that Parliamentarian model is more successful?
E.G: I think so. Work of the Parliament is very important for a country - there is the majority and the opposition, and every change, every new law, goes through debates. It is very important to talk about the future of your country and it is the responsibility not only of the people who ratify it in the parliament but also the people who will fulfill it - the government. I think it is quite a good model. However, I have heard that there are some talks that there might be some changes from people-voted president to parliament-voted one after the changes in the constitution. Referendum or something is necessary for polling.
G.J: But why do you think that there was not a high participation rate in the Presidential elections?
E.G: I think that 46.6% is a normal participation rate. But on the other hand, this picture is a sign that the majority of people do not think that it is their own responsibility to go and vote. They do not believe that they can change something themselves. Another reason might be that people have started to realize that the President will be a more representative figure and not cherish such a power as the previous one. Now, there is the time for the local elections and I think there will be more participation as it concerns directly the people in the villages and the cities.
G.J: What about the cohabitation that has as if ended?
E.G: Talking about the cohabitation, I want to mention one good point, which proves that there are still some things, that were of a special value and importance for the country, can still have a common denominator between the ruling party and the opposition- for example, the foreign policy declaration. In the talks and negotiations that took place during the year, a very important and responsible work was fulfilled by two figures: Davit Usupashvili from Georgian Dream ruling coalition and Davit Bakradze, leader of the opposition. There was a lot of arguing but there were positive moments as well. The good figure of trust for Bakradze – 22% shows that people need open-minded, balanced and levelheaded politicians. Despite the fact that the United National Movement lost the parliamentarian elections last year, people saw and still see his positive role in the parliament as the leader of the opposition. He did a great job to smoothen the situation and avoid extra tensions. I want to stress very sharply that cohabitation is not something that only Georgia has gone through. You are not unique. All the countries have gone through it. I would not like to wish you to go back to those times when there was no opposition in the parliament. It is always healthy when there is a coalition and a opposition – it means you have someone to have debates with and it is always very healthy. From the very restoration of the independence of Latvia, Latvian Parliament has gone through this “lesson” - to work, work together and work in the interests of a nation, however tough the cohabitation process is at the Parliament. If one does not start to study, the person will never learn anything. This is the same case – the country must learn. Finally the new Prime minister is named - he will have to work very close with the Parliament and I wish him to have the relevant power, wits and wisdom to graciously continue the work that was started together with the team that is not likely to change. It is necessary to work and work very hard with the emphasis to improve the economic situation in Georgia and don’t change direction of Georgia’s chosen Foreign policy goals...
G.J: Have the chances increased to tackle the relations with our Northern neighbor?
E.G: Every country and every nation wants to have normal relations with all its neighbors, Georgia and Latvia included. However, there are many parallels in the relations with Russia and Latvia and Georgia and Latvia. Of course, the Russian market is opening and with its huge population of nearly 140 million is a great seduction to totally reposition interests, including the economic ones, but you should do it very wisely, as the economy very often turns into the political bargaining. We see a very recent example with our neighbors, Lithuanians - Lithuanian milk as if it was not meeting the quality standards. You can start economic relations, but you should be very careful and always remember being careful. If something ever happens on the political level, the first people to suffer are the businessmen. Business environment is always better when there is political peace and less risk. Economic links between Georgia and Latvia are still low, but with the help of the Georgian Foreign Ministry we have assigned three honorary consuls of Latvia in Georgia – in Tbilisi, Batumi and Telavi whose main tasks will be to assist Latvian businessmen acknowledge and come to Georgian market, So, I am disposed optimistically. We have the best political relations, the ideal I can say. But my main task now is to make the economic ties tighter. There is a big possibility for increasing trade in both directions, not only for a Georgian wine to enter Latvian market and the Latvian medicines to the Georgian one. Fostering economic cooperation and support from both sides has been discussed also during the recent visit of Prime minister’s Ivanishvili to Latvia.
G.J: Latvia was one of the 8 countries that joined EU in 2004. Was this path very tough?
E.G: Just recently Secretary General of NATO Rasmussen reassured that Georgia will become a NATO member but not in 2014. You have to be patient. We have gone through exactly the same process; we have worked very hard and were armed with a lot of patience, because nowadays things do not happen in a year or even two years time. I believe Georgia should presently concentrate on people’s awareness - building about the EU standards, requirements and benefits that Georgia will get by joining both the EU and NATO. And at this point you can definitely involve in the process us – residing EU ambassadors in Georgia They just know that EU is a good thing. EU is a community, a unity of friends with some rules that everybody obeys. There, all people are equal notwithstanding their religion or sexual orientation. There are certain economic and moral standards; if Georgia has chosen this way as it was seen during the referendum where 80% voted for NATO, it means that it wants to join this so-called umbrella of security i.e. physical and economic security. This is like the circle of close friends where people do not want to let somebody in, who does not know how to behave himself. It exists for many years and has very decent traditions, all 28 member states know very well how to behave. So, there is no need to search for the causes why we cannot do this and that, you'd better find out how you can achieve something being its member. We also had a terrible financial crisis in 2008, but we overcame it and then became an example for our hard work. Latvia will soon switch to using Euro as the currency, starting from the beginning of 2014. It was a debatable question, this is democracy but the role of the government in this case is not to make its people quiet, but to explain to them what it is up to. It is the same in the Georgian case – the deeper people are involved in this integration process the sooner it will happen. The diplomatic corps is ready to make the Georgian people informed and not only that they are for EU but they should also know what expectation they will have to meet.
G.J: Thank you so much for interesting and comprehensive interview.

P.S: One day after the inauguration of the President, on November 18, the Latvian Embassy in Georgia will celebrate the 95th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia by the photo exhibition “The Miracle of the Latvian Song and Dance Celebration”.