Will Georgia Be Able To Meet Its Main Challenge?
18 October, 2012
Will Georgia Be Able To Meet Its Main Challenge?

 

Interview with Sandor Szabo, Ambassador of Hungary to Georgia

We thank very much Mr. Sandor Szabo, Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary of Hungary to Georgia.

who consented to give an interview, thus becoming the first foreign diplomat accredited in Georgia who will talk and assess Parliamentary Election of October 1 with Georgian Journal. He says that the negative expectations were not justified, that Georgia proved to be a country with lots of perspectives, but adds that there is still a long way to

go to prove its democratic viewpoints.

 

G.J: Do you assess the parliamentary election of October 1 as free and fair?

S.S: I am very satisfied. There were some fears from abroad and even in this country that it would be not free, not fair, etc. That day and the following days proved that these fearful expectations were not fulfilled. The international community was very satisfied, including EU, OSCE, European Parliament, the Council of Europe, NATO - everybody confessed that it was a competitive, free and fair election. Hungary appreciated it very highly.

G.J: It was a historic election for Georgia, there is no doubt about it, as we at last, for the first time managed to transfer the power peacefully, via elections. However, some experts  said that there were some violations, as expected, from the party of United National Movement – former ruling party. But we really do have a reason for celebrating, as the will of people was fulfilled. Do you think that these violations could somehow affect the final assessment of October 1 election?

S.S: We had two observers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary. I met them after the elections. I don’t have any information which would prove that this information is true. In every country, there are shortcomings. But it won’t affect the final assessments, I am convinced.

G.J: How do you assess the fact that the former government has managed to behave themselves and not to cause any escalation and the fact that President Saakashvili admitted the defeat even before the final results were announced?  Do you see the signs of the birth of the civil society in Georgia that we lacked until today?

S.S: It shows a very good democratic maturity. Not of a politician but of a head of the state, it was a very wise act on his part. If he had not done it, there might well be some controversies and maybe some conflicts between the two political sides. Even the messages of the High Representative Catherine Ashton and the Enlargement Commissioner Mr. Stefan Fule praised the wise decision of the President. It is a common international evaluation. Their pressure before, during and after the elections were very important. It is an example and message for the future that NGOs can play important role in politics and in the society. They have to be strengthened too in the future because NGOs are a key factor in the democratic process and development of the society.

G.J: Until today, the Russian government insisted that it would not sit down at the negotiations table with Georgia because they did not want to speak with Saakashvili. But now, when the new government has emerged, we have heard from the Russian administration that they will not speak with the “Georgian Dream” coalition (which is far more acceptable for them as political players), if they don’t acknoledge the sovereignty of self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On his turn, Bidzina Ivanishvili does not intend to restore the diplomatic relations with Russia, if only they don’t leave the occupied territories. How realistic do you think is it that the new government will be able to normalize the relations with our Northern neighbor?

S.S: It is a very difficult issue. It shows to me, personally, that the process will be very long. The war broke out around 4 years ago and it was also a very long process and it did not happen in one day. Even Mr. Ivanishvili said that he does not believe that it can be done in a short period of time. There are some red lines in the Russian position and there are some red lines in the Georgian position. Of course, the solution of this problem lies in the negotiation and not the war. As Mr. Irakli Alasania said, there is a negotiation table and the two sides must sit and negotiate about what they can do. Nobody, who is a realistic  politician, can believe that the Parliamentary election was held on October 1 and on November 1 the diplomatic relations will be restored. As Mr. Ivanishvili said, the first steps can be taken in the field of direct trade, investments and economy, because for Georgian goods Russian market is very important.

G.J: Do you think that it is realistic that Russia will open its market?

S.S: Why not? Business is business. If the partners are interested, they have to do it.

G.J: The leader of the new ruling party said that their foreign policy will not change and its vector will be steadily directed to the integration with Euro-Atlantic structures. However, Ivanishvili also stated that Saakashvili, wanted Georgia to become a strategic partner, but he said that it is not possible because Georgia is a tiny country and we can only be the minor partners for America. Mr. Ivanishvili said that we should never forget about our big neighbor either. Is not it a controversial statement?

S.S:  Integration process and having good relationship with Russia don’t exclude each other. It is my view. It is not ‘either-or’ question. It is “too- too”, which is my option too. They are two processes that can be in accord. There are many cases which prove that it’s possible.

G.J: What about BidzinaIvanishvili’s personality? In the past he was loved and cherished by people as he did a lot of charity and afterwards, the former government tried to stain his good name by saying that he was doing it for some dividends. Maybe, the muddy politics is over; at least, people, hope it is. Will he be able to change the standards of the Georgian politics?

S.S: I am not talking about people; I am talking about the country as a whole. Hungary is one of the partners of Georgia; of course, it is not the United States of America, nor Germany, but one of Georgia’s partners. For us, what matters is, to have a real partner who will be ready and capable to cooperate with us. I am representing diplomacy, which can exist only under international conditions. So, that is my approach. But I can say one thing: his reputation is very high in the Georgian society and its’ a positive thing. His starting position is advantageous.

G.J: The President is still strong; he has self-governance bodies, governors, regional administration and the city Mayor under his power.  Lately, the President subordinated the agency of special connections that earlier was under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. At the same time, according to the new order, it will control all the expenses connected with the President and his administration. Is there a danger of dual rule?

S.S: Well, they will have to cope with the cohabitation – the position and the opposition – strong President and strong Prime Minister is a challenge. Let’s see  how they will cooperate. The first signals are very positive. They are organizing the handover of the government smoothly. We very much hope so, all the EU and NATO member countries hope that it will continue that way, because you still have a long way to go and it is not only the short-term perspective for the country. It is a new challenge for Georgia; as you’ve  mentioned before, it is a historical moment not only because the government was changed peacefully, but also from the point of view of the fact that now there are two poles. We will see how they work together. It is the question of the future. It is quite a tricky transition. We hope that both sides will be ready to meet this challenge. Also, the integration process depends on how these two sides will function together. The association agreement, DCFTA and, visa dialogue, etc. with the EU are on the table and your government has to cope with these challenges in order to be able to meet the new ones.

G.J: The Georgian Dream is a big coalition that lists a lot of new and promising faces but there are some people from the past. Is it normal? The National Movement was using the names of those political figures during the pre-election campaign, telling people that if they voted for coalition, they would risk getting back to Shevardnadze’s stagnation. Do you believe it is normal that old human resources are recruited again by the new government and does it happen abroad too?

S.S: It is not a unique phenomenon for Georgia. But this problem is first of all not connected with the leadership. It may be true for a  medium –level personalities, inside the ministries where they may really lack the personnel. New ministers is not a big problem, because they are only around 20 in number, but the system itself is huge and the ministries are big and they need a lot of staff.

G.J: In your opinion, which was the weakest point of the former government and what the new government should do first and foremost?

S.S: I am not Mr.VanoMerabishvili (he laughs), and maybe even he does not know who is the weakest among them, but as for the second part of your question, I’ll tell you in three words: to work very hard. It is the only way out.

G.J: What will change in the Georgian politics?

S.S: On the political scene, there are two players now. There is the same picture in the parliament, as you have the two parties. But the coalition said that it can be divided into factions. This is the main change – two main players instead of one. It will bring a lot of positive consequences to the country.

 

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