President of Georgia

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 28 January 2004

Mr President, it is an honour and privilege for me to address this distinguished audience. I see many friends in the Hemicycle and I wish to thank them for their tremendous support for Georgia over the years. Despite the widening of the European Union, the Council of Europe still has a tremendous role to play in the border areas, as well as throughout the former Soviet states and eastern Europe. Nor should we forget western Europe, because in that respect, too, there are many instances in which the Council of Europe is irreplaceable.

I am also very grateful for the many years that I spent here in the Assembly. In fact, Mr President, I felt more comfortable and protected sitting in your chair when I was Vice-President than I do right now. That said, it is a nice escape for me, at least for one day, to enjoy such a protected, secure and pleasant environment.

Please know that your support was not wasted. Today is the beginning of a new era for Georgia – a new era of reform, stability and strengthened partnerships with our friends around the world, and particularly our friends in Europe. It is not by accident that my first official trip abroad as President of Georgia is to Strasbourg and the heart of Europe.

I wish to say a few words about our rose revolution. During November 2003, the Georgian nation rose up in defence of its fundamental right to be free and to freely choose its representatives, along with its fundamental right to live in a free and democratic nation, in which the people hold the exclusive right to choose their own leaders. Leaderships do not have the right to impose leaders without the consent of the people.

Our peaceful rose revolution was not inspired by Georgia’s economic or political stagnation; nor was it incited only by the rampant corruption. Rather, the revolution was a direct manifestation of the European values of liberal democracy – values that form the basis of Georgia’s identity and culture, and that are widespread and shared by all Georgians. If anything, the non-violent rose revolution served as a message to the world that all Georgians aspire to build and live in a democratic, independent and stable state, where human rights are respected, protected and revered.

Furthermore, we Georgians showed the courage, tenacity and commitment necessary to defend those fundamental values in a civilised manner when they were under threat. I believe that Georgia’s revolution can provide a model and a message for the entire region, and provide a concrete example of how the nations of the former Soviet Union can successfully bring about peaceful and democratic change.

Success in Georgia means success for the entire region – that is a window of opportunity for everybody. However, if Georgia fails we must all understand that it will spell failure for the whole region. For that reason alone, we must seize the moment today, in order to change the fate of an entire region, and of the people who inhabit it, tomorrow.

Today, I am enormously proud of my nation – a nation that has given me an overwhelming mandate to return Georgia to its rightful destiny as a responsible member of the European community of democratic nations.

After returning from Davos last week, I was struck by the power of globalisation and the speed with which information is transmitted around the whole world. In fact, I sometimes think that even our revolution would hardly have been possible without those trends. What would have happened, for instance, without the mobile phone or live pictures on television? In that regard, I am thinking not only of our television – we have a very vibrant media; indeed, I have been accompanied today by five or six crews from Georgian independent television stations – but of CNN and others. In that respect, the Davos experience provides a truly global look and a global perspective.

I believe that small nations such as Georgia can truly benefit if they are smart enough to take the right steps in respect of globalisation processes. And yet, globalisation is a thorny issue that can create challenges to our cultural identity. So it is not a question only of looking at local issues with global eyes; it is also a question of looking at global issues from a local perspective, and feeling that you are part of the outside world. Of course, we must not lose sight of our identity, because the first human right is identity.

Taking identity as a point of departure, it is clear to me and to all Georgians that our identity is fundamentally European. Today, Georgia is finally on the road home, once again integrating itself into a Europe with which it shares common values and a common history. Indeed, just three days ago at my inauguration, after raising the new Georgian flag – it is the ancient Christian flag – we raised the flag of the European Union and played its anthem. This was no public relations stunt, as one might think; rather, it was an expression of what all Georgians understand to be true: that Georgia and Europe share a common identity. To strengthen that connection, however, Europe needs to do more: to ensure the prosperity and stability of future generations. For just as Georgia can play a key role as a net contributor to European stability, it is also part of a region that is a potential major generator of instability – unless Europe gets actively involved, does not close its eyes, acknowledges the problems and confronts them bravely, as it did at the height of its history.

My vision for Georgia focuses on how Georgia can contribute to Europe as a partner, as an ally and as a member. Our single ambition today is nothing less than becoming a full member of the European Union. In my opinion, our rose revolution showed not only who Georgians are but that we were willing to take the first brave step. Today, I am asking that we take the next step together by recognising Georgia’s membership in a wider European neighbourhood. I had conversations with Mr Solana in Tbilisi as well as with Mr Prodi a few days ago. I shall also go to Brussels to talk about these issues.

Under my leadership, the Georgian nation will be transformed. It will be transformed into a nation known for its investments in people through education. It will become competitive. You should understand that we are engaged in a continuous process of worldwide competition and we will be in a position to compete. We will be a participant in, and the benefactor of, globalisation. At the same time, we will celebrate our unique culture. We are European and have a special place in Europe.

Strengthening Georgia’s democracy is a model at home and in the region. We should be home to an efficient and responsive government in which all Georgian voices are heard and represented. The government should not be protected from the people; instead, it should protect its people. Human rights will be protected and Georgia will be a stable contributor to the international community. It will be a united nation that capitalises on all the benefits of its geostrategic location. We are restarting regional economic development, and we benefit from our position at a cultural crossroads not only of our region but of many world civilisations. The Georgian nation will be an ally to all its friends and neighbours.

People often tell us that we have to choose and they speculate on what we will do. They reach superficial conclusions that we have to be pro-American or pro-Russian. I studied in the United States, so the first conclusion that the world media – and especially the Russian media – rushed to was, “Look you have a new leader. He is decidedly pro-American because he spent several years of his legal studies in the United States.” When further information from my biography came up, people said, “Well, look he has a Dutch wife. She is a citizen of the European Union. They met in Strasbourg. She should be a little more pro-European. He is not hopeless.”

I also like the Russian people and I love Russian culture. I like Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy and I love St Petersburg. So what about reaching the conclusion that I might lack for good relations in Russia? Indeed, I am not lost for good relations with all our neighbours. I do not need to choose. I do not want to be pro-American or pro-Russian. I am pro-Georgian; I am Georgian, and I am European by being Georgian. That is fundamental to our identity and values.

It is clear that we must not only make foreign policy declarations. We must really combat corruption, and we have changed the way in which the government operates. After many years of impunity and absolute guarantees given by my predecessor to every corrupt individual that they would never be touched unless they were disloyal to the government, we had a number of very highly placed officials arrested. There is a certain sense of historic justice here. It was not done to take vengeance on anyone, such as former government officials. Within two months, however, some current government officials were prosecuted and arrested once they started again the old practices.

It is one thing to arrest people, but it is another to change the system that nourishes such corruption. That is at the roots of corruption. We are uprooting special interest groups and vested interests that discredit and make fun of the whole idea of democracy because the law does not matter. We have very good laws and many of them were written thanks to the efforts of the Council of Europe, but they were never applied because one had to go through a layer of special interest groups. Uprooting those groups, cutting the number of people on the government payroll, curtailing their abuses, increasing their salaries and trying to pull the country out of the mud in which it found itself is the fundamental reform that we are in the process of instituting right now.

We have the support of our people. The people whom we are confronting are powerful. They have lots of money and international connections. Money speaks for them and they have many resources, but we are determined. We know that every compromise that reformers make at this moment will hit us again in the near future. That is the experience of other transition nations. We are not in the position to make compromises, because the window of opportunity for reformers is very narrow. Unless we benefit from that, we will regret it later knowing that we missed a fundamental opportunity to change the country when we had the support of our people.

We cherish our fundamental institutions for the rule of law. We have an interesting process of judicial reform in Georgia, which has been implemented thanks to international assistance, but primarily because of the will of the Georgian people. We need to apply all the laws that we have. We are creating a much more flexible tax system to invite more investment because that will benefit individual citizens. We can also use the benefits that result from our geography.

We shall try to establish lasting stability at home through the peaceful resolution of conflicts that have for too long divided the nation. I refer to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Another challenge is the elimination of poverty, which is an insult to our nation. It is artificial and the result of many years of mismanagement, corruption, government cynicism and oligarchic rules whereby elections were bought and sold and no one had the right to change anything. The revolution taught us that we do not have to take money from the corrupt groups and that we do not have to engage in shadowy dealings. The people told us that we do not need to make back-room deals. They said, “We are liberating you from the old obligations. Just come and clean up the country because we know that most of the money made in the country is corrupt and dirty. We know that much back-door international business is taking place and that it is not so clean. We are determined to give you all the powers to throw out all the vested interests.” That will help us to liberalise the economy. We are also reforming government structures including real local self-government and practices.

Let me return to our relations with other countries. Georgia cherishes its long-term partnership with the United States. The United States helped us in the way that it helped western Europe after the second world war, and we will never forget that. We also want a long-term partnership and friendship with the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation has played a negative role in Georgia, especially in the first post-independence years. What we had in Abkhazia was not a separatist war; it was primarily a Russian-Georgian war, with the Russian army interfering by punishing Georgia for wanting to be independent. What we got afterwards was Russian peacekeeping, and we got that only because the rest of the world did not want to intervene. However, it was not genuine peacekeeping; it was “piece-keeping” – keeping pieces of the former empire. It was not a genuine desire to re-establish peace in the region.

I hope that is changing now. We see more common sense on the part of the present Russian leadership and a more sane approach. I have just had a conversation with Mr Margelov, and I understand that there are many different voices in Russia. We have to talk to all of them. We do not need Russia as an enemy. We are a small country in a very complicated geopolitical environment. We need to survive. We have a common history and cultural ties and we want to improve relations. Indeed, I give my hand in friendship to Russia and I hope that President Putin will take it when I next visit Moscow.

The strategy is still very complicated. Russia still refuses to abide by its international agreement to remove its military bases from Georgia. I understand that Russia has legitimate security interests, which are connected with terrorism. We are ready to accommodate some of those legitimate interests. At the same time, however, there is the problem of the humanitarian disaster that has taken place. We must be kinder to every country in the region, including all the neighbouring nations. We know that Russia must protect its borders, and we are ready to go a long way in co-operating with that, so that Russia can feel safe and understand that Georgia is a friend.

I once again declare my profound commitment to rebuilding relations with Russia, and I think that we can do that.

We have many other problems, and they are very difficult. Sometimes I think that I need to be a magician to tackle them. However, the people of Georgia have proved that they can work miracles. No one expected the revolution in Georgia to be so bloodless and free of violence. The live pictures were shown on television screens all over the world and no one could believe it. That lack of violence stemmed from the fact that we were working with soldiers and policemen. We reached out to everyone and explained that it is the fundamental right of all people and families who abide by the rule of law not to obey any government that abuses those rules. That is what happened and that is why the revolution worked.

The main task now is to conserve our society. We managed the transition period very well, even though no one expected us to be so successful. The main problem in many post-Soviet and transitional countries is exactly that question of the succession of power. No one has learned yet how to manage that succession so that conflict is avoided. That is why there is so much fear in relation to change of power. Georgia demonstrated that that could be done peacefully and in an organised way. That can happen if people co-operate in a disciplined way and if all actors in the political process can unite over the common interests of peace, stability and democracy.

Two days ago, at my inauguration, I dedicated my presidency to the Georgian people, to all those who have suffered and even given their lives to preserve our freedom, to the children of Georgia, whose future we must rebuild, and to the re-establishment of complete and total territorial integrity throughout Georgia.

I stand before you today, presenting a firm and unwavering commitment to lead Georgia back to the European fold. We want to use our best resources and my call goes out not only to Georgians who live in Georgia but to those who live abroad, some of whom greeted me at the entrance to the Assembly building. To every Georgian who fled the country because of the catastrophe that happened there, I say, “Please come back and use your experience of Europe to help us rebuild our country.”

I repeat that we must rebuild Georgia side by side with our European brothers and sisters so that we can build a more stable and prosperous nation.

By working together, I am confident not only that our partnership will deepen but – and this is the main thing – that it will succeed. Thank you very much for your attention.


Thank you very much, Mr Saakashvili, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you.

I remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds and no more. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. I will allow supplementary questions only at the end, and only if time permits.

Mr Saakashvili, you may answer the questions from your seat in the Assembly. The first question is from Mr Davis, Chairman of the Socialist Group.

The Rt. Hon. Terry DAVIS (United Kingdom)

Mr Saakashvili, may I congratulate you on your announcement that top priority will be given to the campaign against corruption. What can Georgia’s friends in the Council of Europe do to help you in that campaign?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

We really appreciate the help that you gave us elaborating legislation. Also, the Council of Europe regulations on money laundering were of great assistance. The point is that we are very determined. For us it is a matter of survival, but there are several aspects to that. It is not only a matter of arresting people; we must change the system that gave birth to corruption. We must remove the assets secured through corruption because former corrupt officials who have the right connections and who retain their assets even though they are in prison can easily undermine people who dare to raise their voice against them. It is a question not so much of prosecuting and arresting such people as of removing their assets and their means to influence society.

We want to stay within the framework of democratic norms, as democracy means the rule of law. The whole notion of corruption makes fun of the rule of law. The oligarchy system introduced into the former Soviet states discredits the idea that people mean anything at all.

Until now, I have not been able to convince many people outside Georgia that what happened there was not some kind of coup led by the United States or Europe. It was not even a local coup: it was the result of the genuine will of the people. In the former Soviet states, they do not believe that people matter and that is because their whole attitude is corrupt.

The drive against corruption is not only a matter of concrete law enforcement. It is a fundamental approach to running a country and reshaping geopolitics. If we are successful, the geopolitics of the region will be reshaped. That is why it is a high-priority political issue. I am therefore grateful to the Secretary General, who openly supported me. He said that supporting my presidency was not merely a way of making a statement: he said that it was a way of supporting the fight against corruption. I hope that that support will be ongoing and that it will not cease.

Mr VAN DER LINDEN (Netherlands)

I do not wish to ask a question, but I do want to take this opportunity to thank our former colleague. He is not only the Georgian leader; he is also one of our own. I am very proud to have heard his speech, which was very encouraging and promising. I believe that the international community needs to support him in overcoming the tremendous problems that he faces. We hope that our support will help his country to become a model for the whole region. I give him my congratulations and wish him all the best.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

I appreciate that.

Mr COX (United Kingdom)

It has been a great pleasure, Mr Saakashvili, to hear of the vision that you have for your country. I hope that one of your top priorities will be the reform of Georgia’s police forces. Sadly, they are not held in high regard by the people of your country, and they should be.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

Thank you very much. We are going to downsize our police to make the system more transparent. We are also going to pay policemen higher salaries. We created an elite to look into the investigative sector of the police department and prosecutor’s office. Our Minister of the Interior and our general prosecutor are young and energetic. They are very committed to reform and – this is essential – they are clean. For that reason, they are running into a lot of trouble. I hope that they will bring in a bunch of young prosecutors who are idealists and who feel and operate in the same way. I ask members of the Assembly to urge the relevant agencies in their countries to become involved in the screening programmes for our police department, our prosecutor’s office and our investigatory services in order to reinforce their capabilities and teach them things.

We are establishing a gendarmerie section to perform specific tasks in Georgia, and it will need to be taught how to operate within a democratic environment, with checks and balances to eliminate corruption. I know that that task will not be achieved overnight, but we have already achieved success with our traffic police, who are now performing much better. We sacked some of their members, and they now refuse to take bribes, which has not happened since my childhood. We shall soon increase their salaries and introduce other measures to make them more efficient, which will ensure the long-term future and not merely that of my term of office. I am sure that you can help us in that respect.

Mr HERKEL (Estonia)

I thank you, Mr President, for your excellent speech. Will you elaborate on the content of your constitutional reform, and will Georgia use the opinions of international experts? Will you explain the procedure and schedule for this reform?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

We submitted our draft to the Venice Commission. We want to establish a cabinet so that I may delegate my duties to ministers and move more towards the European way of running the government. It should be borne in mind that Georgia’s state system has disintegrated over many years, so it is not a simple matter of delegation; we must make the whole thing more efficient. We will consider all the opinions but we need strong, efficient and small government with well-defined functions and efficient day-to-day ruling mechanisms. We are ready to listen to opinions, but we do not have too much time. We must move faster – we have many problems.

Mr SHARANDIN (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

said that the 2003 elections in Georgia had been void due to irregularities. In the January 2004 presidential election, observers had a feeling that such irregularities could have influenced the result of the election. He asked whether Georgia was prepared to correct the situation in time for the parliamentary election in March 2004.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

Many people were not allowed to vote in the presidential election that my predecessor, Mr Eduard Shevardnadze, organised in November 2003. People were turned away from polling stations. During the recent elections, which were observed, not a single person was turned away, and that was a major achievement.

We do not have accurate census figures, and lots of people have left the country. We allowed people to have preliminary registration, for which we used a minimum threshold. Ten years ago, when the population of Georgia was higher, the overwhelming majority of the people voted and nobody could contest that. Some 97% of the voters voted for me in the recent presidential election – a frighteningly high figure that can only go down, and I am not rejoicing about that. There are no doubts about the legitimacy of the election, as your rapporteurs acknowledged, and I am very grateful to them for their excellent work.

We need to know the precise number of voters. Some regions of Georgia told us that they have 300 000 voters whereas in the old Soviet times they had 200 000. We shall improve the figures and I should be grateful to the monitoring group for any advice.

Ms DURRIEU (France) (translation)

Mr President, may I say how delighted I am to see you again here as President of the Republic of Georgia. It is a pleasure indeed. I must admit that this fantastic, extraordinary change that has taken place, this rose revolution, was not a surprise to me. We had already experienced and recognised that generosity of spirit which you and your country have always shown. I wish you much courage for the future.

As Chair of the Monitoring Committee, I know that your country has agreed to certain undertakings. I am sure that you will be keen to honour them quickly. What practical steps do you plan to take? We will give you as much time as you need.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia (translation)

I am also very pleased to see you again here, Ms Durrieu. It is very important that all friends of Georgia see the real changes taking place in our country. I have already had the opportunity to explain this, but Georgia has to take the fight against corruption very seriously. Defending democratic values is essential for us. In a country where corruption is rife, where the law carries no weight as far as the people are concerned, and where an ineffective government is unable to function, the system needs to be changed.

It is important first of all to give the Georgian people a feeling that things are changing, a feeling which must be ongoing. For example, we have helped the people, but that is not all: we have also changed the law and the system. We have started to pay the pensions that had not been paid for six or seven months. The people are now asking why salaries are so low. In short, it is dialectical: we have to change things for the better. We are considering anti-corruption laws quite similar to those in the United States, giving greater powers to investigating judges and providing better supervision of the judicial system, for we need to prevent abuses of every kind.

The United Nations Development Programme has undertaken to pay the wages of our civil servants throughout this transitional period. We are also preparing laws concerning mayors of large towns and cities and local governors, who should be elected rather than appointed.

We have much to do in the area of decentralisation as we seek to follow the subsidiarity principle. However, we must also strengthen the role of the state, including the customs authorities and the army.

All of these measures are already helping to bring about change in our country. It is very important that, in a period such as this, we have the confidence of our people. We must maintain that confidence. The people took part in the election process. For two days after I was elected, we were able to enjoy a kind of national holiday. It is thanks to the people that these changes have taken place in Georgia. It is vital that they realise that the future depends on their behaviour, their actions and their work. This is a task I am committed to pursue.

Ms TEVDORADZE (Georgia) (interpretation)

said that she was pleased to welcome the President to the Council of Europe. She had no questions for him.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

I am so pleased that Ms Tevdoradze, my good friend, is not so critical here; she is usually much more vicious back home. We should see more of each other in Strasbourg. If you could keep her here for longer, it would be better for us.


First, let me congratulate you, Mr President, on your personal victory and on our country’s victory. The fact that you are visiting the Council of Europe after your inauguration ceremony is not simply symbolic. I would like also to ask you what kind of support the Council of Europe may give us to help solve the problems of the territorial integrity of Georgia and of democracy in the regions of Georgia.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

The Council of Europe can have a much bigger role in conflict settlement than it has today. That is the case because it is one of the primary democratic bodies of Europe. What will help us to solve the conflict will be more popular engagement in the decision-making process, including in the territories controlled by separatists. On the eve of the presidential elections in Georgia, I went to South Ossetia, a small territory of which 60% is controlled by central government. There is a small town in the territory, Tskhinvali, which has 15 000 or maybe 20 000 inhabitants who are still not under our control, but under the control of a self-proclaimed local government. I stopped my cars there and met the people. I never expected how warm and sweet they would be, and how much they would support me. They were supportive and welcoming. The only reaction of the local government was that it immediately called its police forces to protect its building, as if I was going to attack it and get those involved arrested. What the experience showed me is that, if those people had a say

I met them in downtown Tskhinvali, where everyone gathers – there would be no problem at an official level, as well as at a local level. The official problems would disappear overnight.

What the Council of Europe has to do is break through to the mentality of besieged castles in which people feel that they are being threatened from every side and that visitors are coming to seize them and kill them. That is exactly the reason why NGO involvement and participation by individual citizens in the decision-making process are important. The only thing on which such conflicts stand is myths invented by people who have an economic stake in separatism or some sort of personal dream or backroom view, or even act on the basis of foreign interests. Without such factors, and if people could participate in the political process, the problems would disappear. There is still a lot of potential for the Council of Europe’s role in dealing with such situations.

Mr SLUTSKY (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

congratulated Mr Saakashvili on his election and asked whether he was intending to deal with the problem of transit traffic between Russia and Armenia.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

It all depends on the good-will of the Russian leadership. If Russia really changes its role in Abkhazia – I hope that it will do so, and some of Mr Putin’s statements give us some hope that the position will be modified – and makes progress in repatriating internally displaced persons, the situation will improve. Some 300 000 people were thrown out from that region – more than half the population. The pre-war population was more than 600 000; now, no more than 60 000 or 70 000 people live there. It is a deserted, destitute place. It could be one of the most beautiful resort areas not only in the former Soviet Union, but in Europe.

If Russia becomes more constructive, and if progress is made in repatriating IDPs, giving them more humane conditions, the situation will have moved forward. Of course, Georgia wants transport and communications, and we want to provide our neighbours with all the help that we can, but it all depends on more humane solutions. We cannot ignore people who are living in miserable conditions in shelters, and say, “You have no chance in the future; we are simply going to continue our lives as if nothing is happening, so please get used to that idea.” We need some sort of settlement or to start to get such a settlement in order to achieve progress. I am open to that and I hope that the Russian leadership will be open to it. If the two of us decide to come together and to solve those issues, nothing can stand in our way. I am committed to a peaceful and quick resolution of those issues.

Mr AKÇAM (Turkey)

I congratulate you, Mr President, on the occasion of your victory, and thank you for your excellent speech.

We have heard that, a week ago, the Parliament of Georgia approved a resolution with regard to the replacement of your national flag. We have also been informed that this new flag dates back to Georgia’s medieval glory days, but some people think that it is very similar to your own party flag. Will you please make some comments about that?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

Well, the flag was used by my party, but it was also used by the whole Georgian nation, 97% of which voted for me. Basically, the flag was embraced by everybody, including our Muslim population. I was very careful to check the reaction of the Muslim community before we adopted the flag, because it has some Christian symbolism. However, we did not use it as a Christian symbol; we used it as a national symbol that comes from our national history. Such religious symbolism is used in other countries’ flags, and that is OK as long as those countries observe everybody’s rights.

I believe that Georgia is a multi-ethnic society and that that multiplicity and diversity are our strength. We need to use those things in a very positive way. Indeed, when we raised the flag, and the European flag, we had children from all ethnic minorities dressed in their national clothes to demonstrate to the whole world – it was broadcast live on CNN, the BBC and other channels – that we are supportive of diversity and think that it is our strength. I believe that that should be accepted as a part of normal life. Furthermore, the flag can leave no doubt as to our European identity, as colleagues can see when they look at it outside the Council of Europe. Along with Turkey, we aspire and strive to get closer to Europe and to be a part of Europe, where both of us belong.

Mr ATEŞ (Turkey)

I congratulate you, Mr President, on your new responsibilities, and I wish you and our neighbour, Georgia, every success.

In Turkey, we believe that the rose revolution and your election as the President of Georgia prove that the Georgian people are committed to the principle of democratic values. I should like to ask you a question in that context, although you have already answered most of it. Can you comment on your future plans to fulfil Georgia’s obligations stemming from her membership of the Council of Europe? I know that you have made many points, but are there any additional ones?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

We are totally committed to fulfilling our obligations. As we know, the Monitoring Committee and the rapporteurs have done an excellent job. We are asking for some rescheduling but purely for technical reasons. We are committed to the obligations, as am I personally. This is not only a matter of imposing something on us; it is a matter of our choice, and our desires and wishes. Obviously, we are willing to comply with our own desires and wishes very quickly.

Mr ILAŞCU (Romania) (interpretation)

asked whether a court like The Hague should be established to deal with Russian forces who had committed crimes in Georgia and other former Soviet countries.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

This is a very touchy question. I guess an international court of criminal justice will one day be able to prosecute every criminal who has violated international law. It should not be applied just to certain countries. International law is getting there. Of course war crimes were committed in our territory. Many people are still suffering from that. Somebody should be held accountable. Nationhood does not count here. Such criminals have no nation-hood or ethnic origin. They should be held accountable. I am sure we will get there when such an international court is strong enough to get those criminals, wherever they are, even fifty years after the crime, as happened with the Holocaust. That should be applied to everyone.

Mr SYSAS (Lithuania)

Your Excellency, what are your plans or ideas in the capacity of president to promote co-operation with Armenia and Azerbaijan?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

We are very committed to co-operation. We have very good relations and we want to make them even stronger. In addition, the wider partnership with Turkey is also very important for Georgia. We would like of course to include Russia and Ukraine, which is becoming a regional super-power. We welcome that, but Armenia and Azerbaijan are our closest and friendliest neighbours. We have diasporas of Armenians and Azeris who are fully fledged Georgian citizens, and we are very proud of that. We are going to deepen those relations. There is no question about that.


Mr President, I thank you for an interesting, indeed a great, speech. My question is about Ajaria. On 22 January, during an interview on Georgian television, you said that you were going to restore order in Ajaria as well. That should be done as quickly as possible. What steps will you take to achieve that goal? Is it true that Tbilisi is preparing a military invasion of Ajaria, as was suggested by the Ajarian leader?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

Thank you for watching one of our television stations. Thank you for your advice on re-establishing order there. I am doing that. The main thing is there is a local government there and that is elected by local people. I got 90% of the vote in that territory so all the talk about Ajaria as a separate problem is nonsense. It is a matter of establishing control over customs. There have been some problems on the Turkish border. They have already started to pay taxes. All the problems in connection with the control of the local military have been solved.

In terms of local elections, it is up to the people to decide. I am not going to intervene in that. Of course we will not tolerate any challenge to our national sovereignty in any part of our territory. In Ajaria, we are quite successful and I do not anticipate any problems in the future.

Mr ZHIRINOVSKY (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

asked whether the President would be prepared to use force in unsettled areas. He also asked for an answer in Russian and wondered whether Mr Saakashvili would be speaking to Mr Putin in Russian.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

Long time no see, Mr Zhirinovsky.

(The speaker continued in Russian) (Interpretation) He said he would answer in Russian and recognised that, in the past, control had been lost in parts of Georgia. It was necessary to have a dialogue with the Russian Federation in whatever common language was necessary to establish stability. The Georgian people had demonstrated their desire for democratic independence and he hoped that the peaceful progress that they had experienced would be mirrored elsewhere.

Mr PRISACARU (Romania)

I congratulate you on your election as President of Georgia, Mr Saakashvili. My country is a future external border of the European Union. The aim should be to include Georgia in the wider Europe. What support could the Georgian authorities provide in respect of that political approach?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

Thank you for that question. We watch with great interest what is happening in Romania. We want to learn a lot from you. In terms of European integration, Georgia is recovering from what has happened in the past few years. I have had conversations with Mr Prodi. I have been invited to Brussels where we will discuss the inclusion of Georgia in the wider European initiative.

Europe cannot pretend that we do not exist. One should acknowledge that and see that Georgia is a profoundly European nation, with European values, with European behaviour, although poor now because of the shortcomings of the previous leadership. However, we will restore our country. We do not want to be a burden to Europe. We do not want to be helped forever, but we need help now. We are net contributors to European stability, European development and European civilisation. That is essentially how we see the role of Georgia.

We are ready to follow Bulgaria and Romania and other eastern European countries. I have had good conversations with President Kwasniewski. Your Foreign Minister was in Tbilisi. I was impressed by his advice and I am going to consider it. Basically the geography is there. The realities are there. It is a matter of acting quickly to avoid problems in future. What is happening in Georgia is a window of opportunity for everyone.

I read a beautiful article written by a former Prime Minister saying that if Georgia fails now it will be a failure for the whole region. If we are successful, we will shape geopolitics and government in the region. It will change everything for everyone. That is why we are closely watched by our friends in Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, in central Asia and other neighbouring countries. We are old friends. We do not believe you can copy models but it is important to wish your neighbours success and to share experiences. We do not claim that we can change anything in those countries, but it is a matter of the successful development of democracy. That will make the region a European region, or a region friendly to Europe. It will make Georgia a fully-fledged European nation. We do not want anything more than that.

Mr TOSHEV (Bulgaria)

I join those who welcomed you back to our European family, Mr President. My question relates to your policy on the Caucasus region. How do you view future co-operation between the three Caucasian states, and which policy are you are committed to pursuing in this respect?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

In the long term, we see the region as a single united market, and a visa-free region in which there is freedom of movement. We also see it as, in many respects, a single political space that constitutes a continuation of the European space. Of course, there is a long way to go, and there are different paths to be taken in respect of the Council of Europe. Georgia was ahead of our dear friends and neighbours in its acceding to the Council of Europe; we were very happy when they joined, too. We have a common destiny, and ours is an interesting and diverse region, with great potential in terms of world civilisation. I am sure that it can be successful, but Georgia is the bridge to that success.

As part of the Black Sea region, Georgia, like Romania and Bulgaria, is helping in terms of integration into the European Union. We need to proceed step by step. Every nation has to decide how far it wants to go. We want to go as far as possible, but the other nations might want to take their own decisions. However, they will all want to get closer, and to enjoy the benefits of this interdependent European space. In that regard, I am sure that our neighbours will be no exception.

Mr BERISHA (Albania)

May I congratulate you, Mr President, on your double victory. You won the election, but, much more importantly, you defeated one of the most kleptocratic regimes that ruled former communist countries such as mine. Those kleptocrats resemble two low-flying birds with nests far from their countries. Will you ask for an international investigation of their secret accounts and assets?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

Thank you for that valuable question. Of course, we share many of the same experiences. It is true that these people have taken most of their money out of their countries, because they never had any faith in my country, or in any of the countries that they looted. More than that, they virtually flew out of the country. Some of them went to Russia and others went to certain undisclosed locations. Ours is a small country with borders that are easily crossed; it is possible simply to flee and to stay in some other, very comfortable place.

We asked the Swiss Government to freeze the accounts of these people, but it asked for more information. My fear is that these people will move their assets elsewhere, because they already know that we are asking for details of their bank accounts. However, we will pursue them. We are demanding that Russia extradite the corrupt officials who looted the Georgian people. Those people and their funds will do no good for Russia.

Of course, countries such as Georgia, and many other nations that have been looted, are potentially rich. They are home to very resourceful people. The mafia is not part of our mentality. It originates from the upper echelons, and once we have addressed those echelons people will demonstrate their eagerness to live normally.

International justice should be respected, and in that regard I count on the help of other countries. In particular, I want to ask the delegation of the Russian Federation for its help. We have many common interests, and there is no alternative to partnership between Georgia and Russia. However, there is one precondition to that partnership. We do not want to keep in our territory any criminals wanted by Russia; nor do we want those of our officials who are corrupt to build nice villas in, and to live well in, Russia’s territory, and to wait for the time when they can put their money into Georgia’s various resources. The point is that any government would want to root out such people’s influence, and to deal with their corrupt way of doing business. Nobody benefits from actions such as theirs.

Let us once and for all agree that this issue is not only about government corruption. Corruption in Georgia also benefits from the illicit drugs and arms trades; in addition, there are nuclear proliferation issues and some other completely unacceptable practices. Every country suffers from those problems, and there is also the question of terrorism.

We need co-operation, and nobody should have an incentive to flee his or her own country. The rule of law should be respected, and such people should be held accountable. I am sure that we will deal with such regimes very soon.


That brings to an end the questions to Mr Saakashvili. I thank you most warmly, Mr President, on behalf of the Assembly, for your address and for the remarks that you have made in response to the questions. I would be pleased if you could stay to listen to the opening of the debate relating to your country. In the name of the Assembly, I wish all the best to you and to Georgia.