Time for Teaming up, Not for Hatred or Vengeance
27 September, 2012
Time for Teaming up, Not for Hatred or Vengeance

Exclusive Interview with Brazilian Ambassador Carlos Alberto Asfora

Carlos Alberto Asfora, Ambassador of Federative Republic of Brazil to Georgia, is the second ambassador who accepted our interview, without inquiring about the questions beforehand. He just said that he would be rather placid as “there is no time for harsh statements”. Let’s see what the only Latin American Ambassador in Georgia thinks about the latest events and agitation taking place in his host country and what are his anticipations about the

upcoming Parliamentary Elections.

G.J: We are worried about the events taking place in the Georgian jail. Could you comment on them briefly?

C.A: I think the reaction was similar from all segments of the society, starting from the President of Georgia himself. He strongly condemned the tortures. The international community had the same reaction. It was unanimously denounced by everybody.

G.J: How does the Embassy see its participation in the upcoming elections?

C.A: There was a request from the Georgian Embassy in Brazil, a letter from the Foreign Minister Vashadze to the President of Brazilian Senate and the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies to send observers to the elections. A few days ago we were informed that the Senate would not send any observers. We still have not heard from the Chamber of Deputies. Our Parliament is bicameral - and we have not received the information from the lower house, whether they will send a representative or representatives to observe the elections.

G.J: What was the reason they did not accept this request?

C.A: I think the reason is that we also have elections in mid-October. So, the whole country is very much involved in the process. This is the clear reason why the Brazilian lawmakers cannot go abroad because they are all participating in the campaign. (Brazil has the elections of city mayors).

G.J: In your opinion, do the authorities use the budgetary resources for conducting election campaign?

C.A: (a long pause…) There have been reports in the press, stating “that the authorities have used budgetary resources for the election campaign.” I have seen them. On the same token, I have also read reports, stating that “the authorities have unfairly accused the opposition of using the illegal financing for the campaigns.” I have seen those reports, but I don’t have any precise or definite information about  either question.

G.J: How do you assess the fact that during the last year, the opposition has been consolidated and has strengthened considerably?

C.A: It is a positive thing, it really is. All vital democracies have a strong opposition. It’s a part of democratic process. Democracy is always evolving. I think that no country in the world has the perfect democracy. In my own country we have lived through periods of dictatorship. We have a very open democratic system for a few decades now, but it’s a constant process that needs to be perfected all the time. In the case of Georgia, it seems obvious to any outside observer that the country has no democratic history. It’s a country that throughout its history experienced very few periods of democratic rule. These elections, as far as I know, will be the first time when a peaceful democratic transition from one government to another will be take place.

G.J: Do you think that the elections will be really peaceful?

C.A: I am glad to read in the reports that

many parties are calling for peaceful reaction on the part of the population, including the opposition parties. They are asking people to refrain from provoking the situation even now, given the latest events, but also during the pre-election period and the days following the elections, that will be very important too.

G.J: How do you evaluate the appearance of Ivanishvili in Georgian politics and how do you compare this occasion to its analogues in the other countries – is it always dubious when a billionaire enters the politics? The opinion about him is quite ambivalent, and this is partly because of the anti-campaign that is on air every day conducted by the ruling party. However, before he entered  the political arena, everybody viewed him as a businessman who had done a lot of charity for this country without appearing on TV or elsewhere. Now, things have changed. I don’t want to sound as being the supporter of either side, but if we see it from this angle, he is not seeking for the money, as he is very rich. As one of Ivanishvili’s supporters said, “why is it bad if a man has a lot of money and wants to use it for the good of his home country?” Is not it possible that he really is interested in the benefit of the country?

C.A: I think each case is different and there is no meaning in comparing different countries and different situations. What I know about Mr. Ivanishvili is what you have just said; that in the past he was greatly admired in Georgia for his good deeds. I think it’s a part of the democratic process that everybody has the right to have political aspirations. I don’t know him personally, I never spoke with him, but I know that at some point he decided to join politics. He did not have any previous political experience, but he had a lot of experience of living in this country and if he decided to join the politics, it’s normal and healthy.  On the other hand, he played a positive role of uniting the opposition because previously Georgian opposition was highly polarized and the fact that Mr. Ivanishvili managed to create a coalition, is a positive move for any democratic system. So, I think it’s very exciting that elections are unpredictable because it’s not good for any country to have elections when you know in advance who is going to win.

G.J:  A lot of criticism has followed the events in the Gldani jail, claiming that it was the responsibility of the President and the government and not only the minister and that in every normal country in the same situation they would resign. Do you think that this must be the adequate outcome?

C.A: I think that the appointment of Mr. Tughushi was a very good step. He has a perfect record as an Ombudsman. I think it is a right direction. I would rather not say anything else, I don’t want to forecast the situation. I have met Tughushi and I have read his reports and I have high praises for his brilliant attitudes and activities, so I thought it was a very good step by the President to announce his appointment to the post of the Minister as he knows more things than anybody else in this system. He is in the right position now and he can keep his promise and change things.

G.J:  Which is the biggest problem that you see in the election campaign?

C.A: I think the biggest problem is the lack of democratic traditions. As I said, you won’t find perfect democracy anywhere in this world. As a diplomat, I have lived in seven different countries and all of them are supposed to be democracies, including my own. In all the countries I have lived, there are some problems. Democracy is not a perfect system, but compared to others, it’s the best one – as they say it, it’s the least bad form of governance. I know that the international community, be it the European Union, individual governments, the United States of America, NGOs, Council of Europe  - they are all focused on the Georgian elections and on his part, President Saakashvili has promised that the elections will be transparent and fair. It’s a great opportunity for Georgia to finally define its choice of western and democratic values over other systems that have ruled here in the past.

G.J: American Diplomat Purse said that if the international community is not actively involved in the Georgian elections, we may get the same picture as in Syria or Iraq. How would you comment?

C.A: I don’t see any similarities. The previous government of Iraq and the present government of Syria were/are led by non-elected officials. President Saakashvili was elected twice in democratic elections, so I don’t see the similarities. The ethnic and religious problems that those countries have faced are also absent in Georgia.

G.J: So, you believe that Georgian people as a whole will cope with this exam?

C.A: Yes, I do, because Georgian people have had their share of violence, blood-shed and unfairness in the past. They have lived through very difficult times. It was not long ago – they do have very clear memories and the scars of very hard times. I have been here for just one year, but still I see that the people want to live in a peaceful and fair country.

G.J:  Thank you for this viewpoint. But in case there still are any confrontations, do you think that the international community will play a role of a mediator and peacemaker and to what extent can we rely on its help?

C.A: There are clear limits what the international community can do. But Georgia is a very special country compared to all the other former Soviet republics except for the Baltic States that are already members of the European Union. Georgia has made the clear choice for western values. In this regard, it’s been closely watched by the west, by everybody, because strategically, it’s an important country that represents a pillar of western civilization in this part of the world; so I think that the international community is very attentive to what goes on in Georgia. But like I said, there are limits of what can be done. I would not dare to predict what will happen. If some impasse sets in after the elections. I feel that all Georgians should take into account that now more than ever the country needs to be united, this is the time for teaming up; it’s not the time for hatred, it’s not the time for vengeance, it’s the time for unification. The whole country has to team up in the search for a peaceful and proper future. It’s well known that foreign donors have supported Georgian democracy in recent times a lot, but the key responsibility is in the hands of Georgians themselves.

G.J: The events of 2003 showed that in the crucial moments the assessments of top international organizations are quite mild. I mean the conclusion that was published after the presidential elections that was known for its total swindle and was followed by massive protest and ended by the Rose Revolution, but the conclusion read: “There were some violations but all in all, the elections were held fairly.” Don’t you think that such rhetoric should be modified and how likely is it that it’ll change?

C.A: I think it’s more likely that the international observers will be more careful in their appraisal of the elections. Hopefully, they will present an accurate picture of exactly what happened and that’s also a big first step towards fair elections, because I doubt that so many people would arrive here and in the end they won’t  present an accurate picture of what they witnessed. So, I think they will play a significant role in the elections.

G.J: The opposition claims that the process of deception has started already, meaning the biased and unequal ground offered to all of them. There is a real information war, as if the media sources are the main contesters. The situation is assessed by all parties as polarized. How do you evaluate the media environment, as one of the key instruments?

C.A:  I agree that before the “must carry” initiative the conditions were not equal and that the opposition had no access to the entire country. It’s undeniable. I think it’s clear that the opposition was not granted a fair ground from the beginning. It came later during the process. The impounding of satellite dishes and the fines imposed on Mr. Ivanishvili, seemed heavy-handed attitudes on the part of the government to avoid the growth of the rating of the opposition in the polls. Further along the road, the government showed more tact in dealing with the opposition and I think the international community played a role there.

G.J: October 1 is Monday. It was declared by the authorities a holiday. However, the leader of the “Georgian Dream” claims that this may cause inconveniences to the Georgian citizens living abroad, as it is the normal weekday there and they will find it rather difficult to vote. Don’t’ you think it was more than possible and better to hold elections on Sunday, as usual?

C.A:  I don’t think it’s a problem, because the polls are open for quite a long period during the day. I don’t think that this should be a problem for the voters overseas.

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