Cohabitation – Great Challenge or Huge Opportunity?
15 November, 2012
Cohabitation – Great Challenge or Huge Opportunity?

Interview with the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Georgia

 

Mr. Ivan Jestrab is the longest serving Ambassador in Georgia within the diplomatic corps accredited in Tbilisi. He represents the Czech Republic.  He feels at home and wishes Georgia all the best, apart from the official support of the Czech Republic in terms of integrating into the European and Euro-Atlantic structures. He confesses in exclusive talks with Georgian Journal that the upcoming Ministerial Meeting in NATO is very important for

Georgia in terms of estimating its efforts and on the other hand, in terms of discussing possibilities for further development of cooperation. He also admits that Georgia can learn a lot from the country like Czech Republic, especially in the foreign policy and normalizing the relations with Russia in all directions. Read more below.

G.J:  What has Georgia won in the eye of the International Community by handing over the power so peacefully?

I.J: Parliamentary elections of Georgia were held very peacefully. They met the international standards. It was a clear step ahead towards the democratic principles. Of course, the international community paid big attention to electoral process, including pre-election campaign and elections themselves. I am sure that all who had a chance to observerve the elections, had to express their satisfaction. Having been here in Georgia for four and a half years, I have witnessed several elections. These elections were clearly the best. Therefore, it makes me think that Georgian politicians and Georgian public won a big respect in the International Community.

G.J: From the international organizations there are and were some talks about the probable political revanchism, which is most probably not only characteristic to Georgia. However, there still are some political figures who really have to be held responsible for because of their previous activities. Where does the border-line lie between mere revenge and the fair punishment of those who have committed a crime?

I.J: This is a very important issue. This is the issue on which Georgian public but also internationals who were here in Georgia, paid and should pay a big attention, because in democratic states the competition between various political forces should be based on the confrontation of ideas, programs, projects, etc. Of course, each country tries to prevent criminal activities of various sorts, which would harm the society and for that there are special instances like police, courts, Prosecutor’s Office and so on. But I think that there should be a very clear distinctive line between what is pretext and what is criminal activity. First of all, I think that there should be always fulfilled and kept presumption of innocence. It is not up to anybody else but only court to decide who is guilty and who is not. In recent weeks unfortunately, there were some cases when in Georgian public we heard conviction of various people based on personal assumptions, not on the evidence and definitely not on the decisions of the court. I think that this is the responsibility of politicians to prevent such cases, not to allow that these voices would prevail. This is not up to me to judge about who should be investigated and who should not. At the same time, I do not hide that among the internationals, some of the developments of recent days and weeks raised questions and to some extent, concern.

G.J: How much have we approached the process of joining NATO and European Union by handing over the power peacefully and fairly?

I.J: First I will start by affirming the long-standing position of the Czech Republic. We want to see Georgia as close to European Union as possible. We would like Georgia also to become NATO member. Very soon, the Ministerial Meeting will take place within NATO and this meeting will be very important for Georgia as well. I think that the member states will in-detail discuss to what extent the democratic path in Georgia is strengthened or not. They will also discuss how to further develop cooperation with Georgia. I am sure that all achievements that the country has made will be clearly named and this meeting will be another important step in the process of joining alliance. At the same time, talks between Georgia and European Union on various issues are on the way, meaning the talks about Association Agreement, about deep and comprehensive free-trade area. Within this association talks are held concerning visa issues. As for visas, there are political and technical components. I’d like to draw a parallel with the country in which I served before Georgia. I was the Ambassador of Serbia for four years. I remember that few years back there were also talks about the visa liberalization and I remember how skeptical Serbian public was saying: ok, these talks will last for decades and we will never get it, and so on. Serbia got visa-free regime into EU and Serbian citizens can travel freely to Schengen Zone. All these pessimistic comments simply did not realize. I am sure that drawing from experience, Georgia and Georgian public and citizens might be pretty optimistic. Of course, a lot of work is still ahead. This is not the question that we will see solution within weeks or months but I am sure that it will not last many years if Georgia really keeps the track within this also very important segment, which I mentioned – fulfilling political and democratic conditions, if it manages to deepen democracy, realize reforms and prove that the rule of law in your country is on that necessary level.

G.J: What is your main recommendation, what should the new government do first and foremost not to lose quite a high trust of the Georgian people?

I.J: It is always difficult to give advice to the government and I am not sure whether it is up to the foreign diplomat, even ambassador, to publicly give recommendations. I am sure that the new government and its members, the Prime Minister included, really understand that they have a big trust of the public but that also expectations are very high. Sometimes, and it’s my personal comment, the expectations are too high, even unrealistically high. This is maybe caused by some cultural-psychological background.

G.J: And maybe by quite a polarized environment too, as we are having country where unfortunately a lot of people still see politics in black and white colors.

I.J: It is very well put. I agree with you. The polarization, which was present here before the elections, still prevails, it did not disappear, and to some extent, maybe this polarization is strengthening, if those signals are correct or if  I read those signals correctly. For instance, the people who were elected in the previous municipal elections in 2010, they are the subjects of the certain pressure to give up political posts, just because the political scenery has changed after these elections. But, of course, they have the full right to continue working. In a democratic country every political force, if it works within the framework of rule of law, has a full right to fulfill their program and to work on the basis of the will of people and this has been expressed during the 2010 elections and during recent elections of October 1. I think that this is exactly what first of all the Georgian politicians should really focus on and be very attentive to these signals and this is also what we observe here as foreign diplomats.

G.J: What about the threats of dual rule?

I.J: Cohabitation is really a new phenomenon for Georgian politics. It is not easy to learn so quickly what to do and how to live under such conditions. First of all, cohabitation requires a lot of restraint from both sides. It requires a lot of dialogue, political talks and will to achieve compromise. It is a great challenge because very frankly, compromise is not what is very often seen in Georgia. You mentioned black and white approach. I think that cohabitation is a great challenge but at the same time, a huge opportunity to develop further political culture of the country, to learn how to listen to your political opponents and how to see a member of another political force as a political opponent and not an enemy, not as somebody who is a criminal already by definition because he or she belongs to other political camp. So, this is a huge challenge and as I said, a lot of restraint and good will is required to really create a balance, which would be beneficial for the whole country. Being here since early 2008, I witnessed Georgia going ahead. This development was positive, it became better and better and suddenly it reached the point when it was possible that power was transferred from one political force to another in a democratic, peaceful and decent manner. I think that this is great achievement. Look, what was happening in Georgia 20 years ago, what disaster it was. How many revolutions took place, how much public violence, and suddenly we see that power was peacefully transferred. What is necessary to add to it is that this achievement must be very carefully cultivated. All political actors should be very careful not to spoil it. To create something takes a lot of efforts, but to spoil something is a matter of hours, its’ very easy. So, I think that all political actors, first of all, those who sit on the decisive places, should be very prudent to these issues and really fulfill the governmental obligations and prevent all political setbacks which would harm first of all your country and citizens.

G.J: But Georgia is not alone in this respect, is it?

I.J: Of course, I don’t say that Georgia is a unique country in this respect. There are a lot of countries which face similar problems, or worse problems. I will say even more. Talking to people, be it in restaurants, shops or taxis, I get a feeling that Georgians think that what is happening in their country is something unique. I often hear a phrase: “that would not be possible in another country.”  It is not true. Of course you are overwhelmed by what is happening here at home. However, we have a lot of examples from other countries. Political problems are there too and strange things are happening and in this respect I think Georgia is quite a normal country (smiles).

G.J: In your opinion, what will change in the Georgian politics?

I.J: As I said, I see Georgia progressing. When I came, there was one strong political party and a lot of small rather weak opposition forces which tried to be opponents. Today, we see two very strong, I would say almost equal political blocs, which compete and which present alternative positions to the public, which is a great achievement because the best way for the progress is to have a dialogue, during which the public will be able to judge whose idea is better. I am sure that UNM delivered the country in much better shape than it received it in 2004. It is the general psychology of people that they very quickly forget about good things and only have wishes and only have demands for what they don’t have. They are not so much grateful for what they have done, as they take them for granted. The new government’s obligation is to continue moving Georgia ahead for which it received a strong mandate from voters.

G.J: How feasible is improving our relations with Russia?

I.J: When you are a citizen of the country it is of course very emotional for you when there are a lot of problems like you are having with Russia. But sometimes the things look different from outside. You should not judge only by feelings and perceptions. I think that it will be important to see the policy of the new government of Georgia and the policy of the government of Russia.

G. J: What should Georgia share from your country in the area of Political, Economic and media experience?

I.J: My country went through the process that in many areas was quite similar to Georgian case. It was also ruled by communists, but not so long as Georgia was during Soviet Union. We also had to find the way how to create functioning market economy, how to return democracy into our country, how to create democratic political structures. From this point of view, I think that Czechs understand Georgians much better than citizens of those countries that have no such experience. We also had Soviet troops on our soil. But of course, Russia is not Soviet Union now. But through dialogue, through cooperation, be it in economy, culture etc we reached the point when we have good relations with Russian Federation. Of course, we have disagreements and we talk about them very openly, we don’t simply agree on everything, which is quite logical, but we are able to exchange our views in a way that it does not harm our cooperation and we see what is beneficial for both sides. I don’t want to say that it was easy. It was also a process for us, for both sides, when we learned how to continue our cooperation. So, Georgia can draw a lot of experience from such countries as Czech Republic in political terms, in the terms of democracy building, human rights protections and also in economy. For Georgia relations with Russia stays very high on the list. I am not sure whether Georgia is so high on the list of Russian Federation, but again it is nothing strange. I am sure that your country has a very good possibility to move ahead, and when the leaders of the country find let’s say after 20 years the old issue of your magazine and read this article we are having today, they will say: “Oh! That distant past, look, how Georgia is different!”

G.J: Where does the border-line lie between criminal prisoners and political prisoners? It would be interesting to listen to you as to a foreign politician, as now it is quite a topical question in Georgia.

I.J: To make distinction between these two sorts of people, I think the best maybe to ask the civic society. When it is really functioning it serves as a watchdog and it is really able to distinguish between these two. At the same time, it is important to defend freedom of media. These are two very important components in each society. That is why European Union and my country always stress that freedom of expressing ideas should be preserved and strengthened.

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