“Georgian Electorate Should be Commended”
01 November, 2012
“Georgian Electorate Should be Commended”

Interview with Pieter Langenberg, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Pieter Jan Langenberg is the next Ambassador accredited to Georgia who kindly accepted our offer to meet and discuss the post-election events and state of affairs. The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was one of the most active during the elections as an observer. Mr. Langenberg was the one who himself was an observer on the Election Day.

The Dutch Embassy was most actively involved in the process. He thinks

that overall, he shares the positive assessment of OSCE/ODIHR, but adds that certain key issues remain to be addressed.

However, H.E. Mr. Ambassador approves of the restrained attitude of both sides that guaranteed the peaceful development of political events and thinks that now the main thing is for the new government to start the work so that the population won’t be disappointed. He believes that there is no need to reinvent a wheel and hopes that the bilateral relations will continue to develop. Moreover, H.E. reiterates the main promise of Ivanishvili to make the court more independent and effective, which the Dutch diplomat calls the pillar of democracy. This seems to be the main challenge for the new government to be met, and the diplomatic corps is ready to wait and see what happens.

G.J: Do you assess the parliamentary election of October 1, 2012, as free and fair?

P.L: The people of Georgia have a lot to be satisfied with.  Although the campaign was rather polarized, the people were able to choose freely and government will be transferred to the former opposition party in a peaceful and legal manner. As you know, the Netherlands seconded long and short term observers to ODIHR and a large part of our own staff was involved as election monitors, including myself, to underline the importance of the fact that the Georgian people could freely and fairly choose their representatives. I personally observed the elections in Tbilisi on the Election Day, in a joint effort with American and British Embassy colleagues. Furthermore, we financed about a 1000 Georgian observers to monitor the elections. Generally speaking, I share the positive assessment of ODIHR although certain key issues remain to be addressed. As I said before, it is very important for democracy that there was a high turnout, and that the results are accepted by all Georgians, thereby giving legitimacy to the outcome. All in all the Georgian electorate should be commended for making use of the ballot box the way they did.

G.J: While asking you whether you shared our satisfaction, I was implying those violations that are not very clear for the wide society. For instance, Smaralda Enache, one of the international observers, Co-chair of Liga Pro Europa mentioned that there were numerous cases of intimidation, or availability of either more ballots than voters or vice versa - not enough ballots, which is a sign of “circular voting”. Do you share this opinion?

P.L: There were many irregularities, even violations observed, especially at regional polling stations. This has partly to do with the fact that some local precinct election commission members did not know the regulations and procedures but also because there were so many monitors from Georgia itself and abroad. The more observers are present, the more irregularities are observed. Unfortunately, while most irregularities that we noted, were made due to the ignorance, there were more serious violations of the election code at certain polling stations. A team from our own Embassy was turned away in Marneuli in a non-acceptable manner for example. Although the CEC and District Election Commissions performed well within the framework of their mandate, the important lesson to draw from it is to be better prepared at the local levels, during the next elections. The Netherlands Embassy funded a series of trainings, of CEC, observers and others. I hope we will be able to do this again during the next elections.

G.J: How do you assess the fact that the former government has managed to behave themselves and not to conduce to escalations?

P.L: It illustrates that Georgian political culture is more mature, and more Western than people often think. Both party leaders - the President admitting defeat in the elections and Mr. Ivanishvili restraining his followers - are to be applauded for acting in a responsible way at the Election Day. As such, it was a back-out  from the past. They set a positive example for the future.

G.J: It has become known that Russia was preparing another provocation against Georgia. As one of the Russian analysts said, no pretext was left for Russia to act. Do you think that we have survived and how do you assess the chances for improving the relations between Georgia and Russia, while “Georgian Dream” rules out all kinds of restoring diplomatic relations as long as Russia occupies 20% of our territories? And while, on its turn, Russia shows no wish to speak with the new Georgian government if they do not declare the sovereignty of self-pro claimed Abkhazian and South Ossetian Republics?

 

P.L: Of course it would be a positive development if Georgia would achieve better neighborly relationship with Russia. It will be difficult to restore the relations in a short period of time. The breaking away of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is not easily overcome, becoming more challenging as time passes by. Nonetheless, it would be generally good for stability in the region if the relations gradually improve; perhaps starting with easing commercial and direct people-to-people contacts at all levels. Conflict resolution is only feasible when people are willing to talk to each other, whenever the discussions might take place, at the Geneva talks or elsewhere.

G.J: The leader of the new ruling party Ivanishvili also stated that they will not change the vector of foreign policy and their aspiration, like in UNM’s case, it will be directed to Europe and NATO. He says that we should never forget about Russia as our neighbor and America as our strategic partner. How would you comment on it?

P.L: We have all noted that there seems a high degree of consensus between the parties in the parliament on the priority of Euro-Atlantic integration. At the same time, striving for the best possible bilateral relations with your neighbors, especially Russia, is a natural thing too. You can try to do both!

G.J: Generally speaking, what is your personal opinion of Ivanishvili’s statements, and personality of Bidzina Ivanishvili, who was a philanthropist for years and now is blamed that he was doing it for getting political dividends?

P.L: The political choices of the Georgian electorate are to be respected, whoever wins. The outcome of the election was clear, and the EU member states are ready to work with the new government and Prime Minister. Governments have relations with other Governments, not with individual persons as such. For me as a diplomat, it is important to have good working relations with the authorities, and I’m satisfied that it has always been the case. I’m confident this will be the same in the near future as well.

G.J: The associates are another matter of discussion. “Georgian Dream” is a rather big coalition and the formation of the new government has once again proved its colorfulness. There are a lot of new and reputable faces, but there are some dubious personalities too whom people may put under question marks - were not they corrupted in the past? What will they do now? We would like to listen to your viewpoint.

P.L: It is up to the new Government to choose who they will put in a position of responsibility. In every society, media and NGOs play an important role to keep the powers to be objective, by reporting and discussing issues in a fair and transparent manner, and also by working together with the Government by advising and informing them and the Georgian people in general. At the same time it is important to keep the current level of expertise and knowledge in key Ministries and State Agencies. We have been running quite a number of programs and trainings in the past. For example, the program in the field of environment - measuring of air pollution in Tbilisi. Naturally, we hope to continue the bilateral collaboration at the technical level, so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

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

P.L: That’s the question you’d better ask the former government itself. The new leadership has to start to familiarize themselves as quickly as possible with their new responsibilities, and to work hard, so that there will be no disappointment because of a long transition period or not keeping up with the promises made during the campaign. For example, Mr. Ivanishvili has announced that he wants to build up the courts in Georgia and make them more independent and effective. A strong and independent judiciary is a cornerstone of every democracy.

G.J:  It is difficult to predict, but in your opinion, what will change in the Georgian politics?

P.L: The main difference seems to be in the current more pluralistic multi- party Parliament. At the same time there are more centers of power, the Government coalition and the opposition. The consequence will be a more lively political culture and a bigger role of the Parliament controlling the Government.

G.J: How do you feel about the Parliament that was moved to Kutaisi?

P.L: You might know that I am coming from a country where the capital is formally Amsterdam but the head of state, government and parliament are all located in The Hague. It shows that many options are feasible, and that historical considerations are playing a role. So it is up to the Georgians themselves to decide where the seat of Parliament should be located. We’ll wait and see.

G.J: There are many talks on the part of International Organizations about the political revenge (revanchism). However, actually, there are some criminals among the members of the former ruling party. Where does the border-line lie between revenge and fair punishment of criminalized political figures?

P.L: Your comment is rather outspoken, but you are a journalist. As a Western diplomat, I can only say that if there are serious allegations made, it is up to the judicial authorities to investigate. Any investigation and consequent judgment should be done according to the law and in a transparent way: the rule of law should be observed. Consequently, I would like to stress that a person is considered to be innocent, unless otherwise proven. A “witch-hunt” would diminish the positive image that Georgia now enjoys, going through a democratic transition process of the change of government.

G.J: What should Georgia borrow from the Dutch Republic in the sphere of Politics, Economics and media?

P.L: There are a number of shared values, and standards that all European nations, members of the Council of Europe, the European Union, have in common. Western-style democracy, rule of law, human rights and market economy are essential elements. At the same time, the European family of nations has many different traditions and customs, which make us unique and which give us our identity as nations. For example, there are constitutional monarchies, like the Netherlands, and republics, like Georgia. Naturally we have our strong points, as a trading nation and a country of long-time multi-party democratic traditions. Also we have our checks and balances, like a pluralistic media landscape, trying to be objective as possible and to give the two sides of a story.

 

 

 


 

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