Annual Address by H.E. Salome Zourabichvili, President of Georgia, to the Parliament of Georgia
04 March, 2020
Annual Address by H.E. Salome Zourabichvili, President of Georgia, to the Parliament of Georgia
President of Georgia Salome Zourabichvili delivered an annual report to the parliament today. Georgian Journal provides the president’s full speech, as it was said: “This is the second time that I have the honor of addressing the Parliament of Georgia and my compatriots. When thinking about the main message for my today’s speech, I decided not to concentrate on the known priorities, which are the object my daily concern: culture, regional development, diaspora, child
oncology… I decided to base my remarks on the main challenges that Georgia faces today, and on its future.

“Almost 30 years have gone by since Georgia recovered its place in the international community as an independent nation. 30 years later, we sometimes fail to see where we have arrived, to evaluate our real possibilities and the new opportunities in front of us. In order to better appreciate where we are and in which direction we are moving, we have to first see the world as it is and our place in this world.

“The world that Georgia returned to 30 years ago is today an entirely different place.

“For Georgia, after some 70 years within the closed borders of the Soviet regime, cut out from the outside world and in almost total isolation, these past 30 years have been that of a return to its place in the international community.

“Today, our fellow citizens live in almost all corners of the planet, the borders are open for us and our borders open for others and, most importantly, we can no longer view world events as independent from us and internal events independent from outside factors.

“Today’s global challenges are no longer contained in one’s territory and within one country’s borders. Any major crisis that appears somewhere turns global and no one can predict where it will blow up and what will be its extension. The latest example is the spread of the new Coronavirus, which has already moved beyond the health sector and is already measured by its economic and financial impact.

“Fear of unemployment, fear of others and of different ideas or religions directly fuels populism – a populism that preaches the consolidation of borders or the construction of new walls.

“In front of us are emerging new international relations, between America, the European Union and Russia, in the Middle East or in the Far East. Yesterday’s enemies start peace talks while yesterday’s friends could start wars. These new relations are defined by total pragmatism, pure national interests no longer hiding behind any ideology.

“It is clear that these changes in the world do and will affect our interests. Today’s EU, after Brexit and the departure of the United Kingdom, is no longer and will never be exactly the same European Union it was just a few years ago, when Georgia embarked on the path of partnership and association.

“Today, the EU, confronted to its internal challenges, has not decided what form to give to the future relationship with its closest neighbors – whether candidates or associate members; what answer to give to our expectations; how not to stop the drive that – through the enlargement policy - has brought the biggest success to Europe itself and to its new members.

“Around our region, the multiple crises are remaining acute and could turn into even larger conflicts at any time.

“Meanwhile Georgia is also confronted to its very own and very serious challenges.
The occupation of its territories, where, on both sides of the occupying line, human rights are violated on a daily basis; the policy of Russia, which as in the past fails to accept our independence and prevents the establishment of normal neighborly relations.

“In the recent years, a new and serious challenge has appeared in the form of a continuous wave of migration that is aggravating the already difficult demographic condition.

“These global and specific challenges raise a question: where are we at this time?

“Instead of being united, mobilizing all our strength and resources to think about the future of the country and how to answer its major issues, instead of looking for audacious solutions, new initiatives and ideas, we are somehow unable to move and we go round and round in circles.

“In place of unity, we have more and more aggressiveness, hatred, jealousy, depreciation – in other words, everything that contributes to the dissolution of social cohesion, everything that prevents us from finding solutions and from moving forward.

“Aggressiveness, hatred, depreciation have transformed the Georgian system of values. Aggressiveness has replaced tolerance; hatred – love; depreciation – politeness; egoism – solidarity and hospitality; fear – traditional bravery; the values that had their source far into Georgian Christian traditions, Rustvelian philosophy, are now negated. As a result, society is experiencing a form of collective depression. We seem to not recognize ourselves.

“And the cause of all this is that we have turned inwards, are immersed in our petty political battles. And hatred, slander, and aggressiveness are depleting our energy.

“What should we do?

“In the first place, we need to rediscover ourselves and appreciate objectively our potential.

“Lost in self-depreciation and ingratitude, we fail to appreciate what progress Georgia has in reality achieved over the last decades.

“Less than 30 years ago we recovered our independence and here we stand at the door of the EU as one of the frontrunner associate members.

“When we were celebrating the results of the independence referendum and the raising of our national flag, who could have predicted that in such a short timeframe - from a historical perspective – Georgia would have succeeded in obtaining visa liberalization and a Free Trade Agreement, that Georgia would have become one of NATO’s most trusted and appreciated partners.

“Who could have predicted that on Georgia’s territory, annual NATO exercises would take place and that Georgia would be hosting this year a military exercise of the size and importance that is “Defender Europe 2020”?

“Who could have predicted that not only Georgia would contribute to NATO and EU peace missions, but that its professionalism and sense of responsibility would be universally recognized?

“Another demonstration of the progress and trust achieved is the Georgia Support Act adopted by the United States Congress.

“Who could have predicted 30 years ago that Georgia would have become in such a short time a valued member of all international organizations dealing with regional issues or global challenges? And if sometimes Georgia gets its share of criticism, this again is a testimony to the fact that it is indeed considered as a frontrunner partner, for which expectations run higher.

“During this same period, Georgia has gone through the different stages of democratic development. Unhindered freedom of expression, high standards of human rights protection are today’s distinctive features, even if, like elsewhere, we are still facing challenges. One of the characteristics of democracy being that the last stage of the reforms is always the most complex and the most demanding; and that no progress is ever acquired definitively. That is why democracy needs to be cared about and needs unity, since its main challenger today, in Georgia as elsewhere, is polarization. Polarization, which replaces criticism by confrontation. And which is the reason why today, the benches of some opposition parties are left empty, instead of being used to take advantage of the progress that constitutes the newly-introduced Parliamentary system and instead of making Parliament the place for substantial debates and discussions.

“I want to also address here the issue of the judicial reform process. This reform has gone in the recent years through four major stages. Despite certain criticisms, some legitimate and some politically motivated, one has to recognize all in all the progress accomplished. For one, the statistics of the cases referred to the European Court of Human Rights have notably decreased, and these numbers are some of the - if not the only - objective measurements of the level of trust by society towards its national courts. It is equally clear that the Georgian judicial system is not to be measured to the European system in the making for centuries. And that is no surprise given where we come from, seventy years of Soviet practice. That is why the independence and high professionalism of judges and raising the level of trust in the judicial system still remains a priority for the country. In this regard, the rapid and complete implementation of the reform of the High School of Justice shows us the path for the future.

“While being aware of Georgia’s diverse potential, its cultural resources and its general attractiveness, one could not have foreseen its rapid development, as shown by the growth rate and economic world indicators which have allowed Georgia to occupy its place in the region. One could not have predicted that it would have risen so quickly as a top destination for tourism, to become home to world class sports champions and host to world-class competitions.

“And what is the most important, our youth are getting meaningful results in top universities and scientific competitions. In less than thirty years, we are proud to see a new generation completely free, with neither fear nor complexes.

“No one government can pretend to be sole responsible for such progress, while all successive governments have had their share. In the end, these achievements have to be attributed to the whole society.

“But measuring the progress will not be sufficient if we do not recover trust in ourselves and do not start believing again that we can forge our future. To re-appropriate our national ideology, a concept that was obliterated in Soviet times, means in reality that we need strong roots in the past in order to build a strong future.

“A united country needs to rest on common values that can cement social cohesion and hence, the nation.

“The Georgian Army is the depositary of such common values. The Georgian Army has the highest mission to both defend the State and be its most solid foundation. The defense of our territory starts with the defense and the respect of the values of the nation and of the state, within and outside our borders.

“Just a few days ago, on the 25th of February, I visited the National Defense Academy and the Military Lyceum. I was met there by the spirit with which our younger generations should be educated and which should nourish society. The national spirit and confidence, without which no nation can exist, was overwhelmingly present in those young military men and women.

“Our common values rest on our culture. It is sad that a nation that is heir to such an ancient culture, has lost the true meaning of culture. Culture is not the mere addition of different fields of creation, nor does it identify to the entertainment industry. National culture is the result of those values that create unity and has allowed Georgia to resist the test of times and adverse events.

“I think that losing the direct contact with its own culture in some form of alienation has made it possible for fear and distrust to rise in society, for aggressiveness, conspiracy theories and hate speech to make their way.

“Such cultural alienation is also at the roots of the attempts to discredit the Church and the faith. In our contemporary society where freedom reigns, everyone should be free to choose its own faith and religion, as it was always the case in Georgia, but no one should use this freedom to undermine the institution on which stood and stands the independence and unity of Georgia.

“Some of the values that are rooted in our traditions and culture - tolerance, courtesy, solidarity – are those same exact values that are so much needed today in the world.

“Without solidarity, the world will be unable to tackle any of the global challenges or crises that defy it. Tolerance has no viable alternative. That was the message that 43 world leaders delivered in Jerusalem at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and of the Holocaust. Georgia has its very own tradition of tolerance, of 26 centuries of untarnished friendship between Georgians and the Jewish people, which we could and should share more widely.

“If we evaluate the path that has brought us here and the possibilities in front of us, we will measure the opportunities we can seize today.

“We have to bring our part to the EU and NATO not only by contributing and participating to existing programs and policies, but by offering new ideas. Cybersecurity, a secure Black Sea and its transformation in a space of communication and connectivity are some of the actual issues where we can say our word. Together with membership, our aim is to become, already today, a more active player in the EU as in NATO.

“If we evaluate the path that has brought us here and the possibilities in front of us, we will also be able to confront our very own challenges.

“In dealing with occupation and occupied territories, we have taken meaningful steps for a peaceful solution, but beyond these steps we have to think wider, to forge a new vision, that we can offer to Abkhazians and Ossetians. We have to show them a perspective on the future that we offer in a reunified state. A perspective that does not represent a threat to them, but opens a new path towards Europe and towards well-being. A path that will salvage their language and identity, and reinvigorate autonomy. We should at all times remember that such a new perspective is necessarily interlinked with de-occupation.

“If Russia wants to use occupation to divert Georgia from its chosen path and make Georgia renounce its aspirations, this result will not be achieved. If Russia’s aim were to establish with Georgia and the rest of the region neighborly relations, that would be in everybody’s interest. But such a new relationship rests on the respect for the sovereignty and the free choice of the nation, it rests on de-escalation. It rests on de-occupation.

“We, on our part, might want to think about new steps to be taken and new positions to present with our partners or with Russia. But it must be underlined and mustn’t be misunderstood: such steps do not mean unilateral concessions, surrendering, nor accepting shadow deals. Any issue that cannot and will not be solved by resorting to the use of force requires, while having drawn clear red lines, the right mixture of rationality, audacity, forward movement and, what is essential, unity of will in society.

“When we know that each move on the administrative line– each redrawing of this line, is designed as a provocation, it should be understood that using this issue for internal political gains or for mutual accusations is unacceptable.

“In all civilized countries which are confronting challenges of such a gravity, the political forces and the society unite around common objectives.

“Migration is another serious challenge in this day and age, and one that is painful for our country. It is not only the result of unemployment, as it would appear. We know that the level of unemployment is quite high, but at the same time there is a lack of professional manpower in practically all sectors. We need to balance these two trends, by raising the professional qualifications of the workforce while attracting our very own reservoir of migrant workers and that should be the subject of our permanent attention. We need to develop closer links with our diaspora instead of transferring our political feuds overseas. It is evident that not only the socio-economic conditions but also the aggressiveness already described is fueling the migration and drives away our youth.

“Our future resides in building a strong, peaceful, democratic and united Georgia. That means in turn that we have to overcome the social and economic problems of today. That requires more initiative and more solidarity. Some of the excesses of ultraliberalism need rethinking here, like elsewhere. We have to facilitate what is the most natural and resonates with our traditions. For instance, creative industry, one example being today’s wine industry, which holds lots of potential. Such new economic endeavors would benefit from more active participation by our diaspora and to that effect, new formats to facilitate itse involvement should be experimented. New economic efforts should include one of the central traditional values of our society – solidarity. That means more solidarity between generations, more solidarity towards vulnerable groups of society. This is the path of development that will bring back Georgia to itself.

“Finally, I cannot end my speech without addressing the issue of the electoral process and the political confrontation that has developed around it.

“Based on my rights and duties as inscribed in the Constitution of Georgia, I do not intend to become part to this political confrontation, nor to express my personal views on the sensitive issues at stake. Not because I do not hold such personal views, but because a non-partisan, independent, above parties President does not impose their personal views to society or to the parties on such sensitive matters.

“That being said, it does not imply that the President should not have a political role in helping to preserve the stability of the country and a peaceful environment for society. To that effect, I have offered to all political forces the presidential platform to allow the dialogue to continue. If such necessity appears in the future, the proposal stands. Today, I am hopeful since these last days have shown steps being taken in the right direction. But the final result is not yet achieved. At this stage, we should all remember that dialogue has no alternative.

“We all have a responsibility to peacefully arrive to the elections and to see to it that free and fair elections are held.

“We all have a responsibility to preserve fair rules of the game, which in turn imply respect for the institutions and mutual respect.

“My responsibility is to make all efforts and ensure that the confrontation does not hurt our country’s interests and does not endanger our stability.

“Differences of views between the opposition and the ruling party, including sometimes fierce opposition, is quite natural, especially in electoral times; but for us, a country located in a complex geopolitical environment, with 20% of our territory occupied, we need to be careful not to let such political struggles threaten the stability.

“That is why the occupation issue cannot become a matter of political speculation and of making political points.

“That is why I deem totally unacceptable that, for personal ambitions or because of political objectives, the orientation of the country be put under question and in doubt. Especially when such accusations are absolutely unfounded, as they do not rest on any substantiated fact- whether political, economic or legal.

“Such unfounded accusations represent an insult to the country’s past, its fight for independence and to the voluntary choice made by our people.

“Personally, as the President of this country, I will rise against such false accusations which are aimed at undermining Georgia’s - and not that of any specific party or political force - national interest. I am not and will never be the President of a country that would change its orientation, renegading on the choice and aim chosen by its people and inscribed in the Constitution.

“On the eve of this new stage of our development that will undoubtedly result in the de-occupation of our territory, the reunification of our people and the return of Georgia to its European family, our generation has one duty and that is to overcome polarization. For only a unified society can achieve this ultimate objective.

“This is our responsibility towards our future generations. It is our responsibility in front of those who have been fighting to restore independence.”

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