President of Georgia

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Mr President, Mr Secretary General and members of the Assembly, I should like to begin my remarks today by expressing special thanks to the Parliamentary Assembly for the opportunity to address this Institution.

Throughout its history, the Assembly has been instrumental in helping to promote Georgia’s democratic development and to strengthen its commitment to human rights. Even when those fundamental freedoms were under threat, the Assembly never abandoned Georgia, choosing instead to engage and to become a partner with us in the knowledge that the people of Georgia would one day embrace lasting change. I am proud that that day finally came just over one year ago. I am pleased that through our joint efforts the Assembly has helped to establish a permanent home in the European family of nations for my country.

From this unique rostrum, I wish to say that I would like the Parliamentary Assembly to become a home not just for the defence of democracy and the protection of Georgia’s human rights, but for the promotion of lasting peace in Georgia. That is why I have chosen to launch our peace initiative here in the Hemicycle, with all of you as our witnesses.

“The time has come to end divisions between peoples.”

Georgia today is a nation undergoing a profound transformation – a transformation that requires us to acknowledge who we are in order to be sure of what we want to build. It is a transformation that requires us frankly to assess our strengths and weaknesses and to confront what are sometimes painful realities. It is a transformation that is producing results.

A year ago, when the people of Georgia rose to defend their freedom, they also rose to reclaim their future – a future that would no longer be defined by false promises, wholesale decay and state disintegration of the recent past, and a future no longer dominated by the politics of division, state-sanctioned theft and visible disregard for the poorest members of society. Instead the voices that gave the peaceful Rose Revolution its unique strength are the same voices that are calling on Georgia to succeed today.

To succeed today means adopting new rules, new principles and a renewed promise of democracy. If something from the Rose Revolution continues to resonate today, it is the voice of freedom reminding us of the historic opportunity and tremendous responsibilities we bear.

We all heard that voice of freedom, not only in Georgia but also in Ukraine. Yesterday, I was happy to stand with my friend, Viktor Yushchenko, to open the exhibition of our two revolutions, which were surprisingly similar. Our revolution was the highlight of my life, but one of the happiest moments of my life was when I was standing with him in Kyiv’s Independence Square for the New Year’s celebrations, where we were celebrating freedom, liberty and the fact that despite all expectations, against all the odds, they also won. That means that we are no longer unique; it is universal – it will continue. We call it the new European way of liberation.

To create a more prosperous, a more equitable and a more peaceful Georgia is a challenge for all generations to come. My aim in coming here today, however, is not to sing the praises of my country’s successes one year after the revolution; rather it is to establish and testify that last year Georgia expressed a profound and irreversible commitment to move forward and build a stable and modern European democracy. It has made significant advances already in honouring that commitment and with the peace initiative we shall launch today we are taking further steps along that road, with which we will need your help.

The strength of that commitment is an expression of our most deeply held values. It reflects our common aspirations. Our commitment to democracy is, simply, an expression of who we are. Georgia’s character, now and forever, celebrates tolerance, embraces diversity, relishes lively and open debate and, above all, respects liberty and human dignity.

Georgia is a democracy because, above all, its national identity is rooted in the traditions of democracy. For us, the greatest thing about the Rose Revolution was that it allowed us to reclaim our dignity – the dignity that is the foundation of our commitment to democracy. Sometimes it takes a revolution to remind us of that. I believe that that is what has enabled us to achieve so much over the last year and to surprise the sceptics. As we are resolute and fair, we have made great progress in reducing corruption in the police forces, combating money laundering and putting an end to intolerance. As we are disciplined and accountable, we have tripled our state budget, doubled state pensions and paid back a decade of arrears in wages and pensions. As we are transparent and impartial, we have established the first public service broadcasting network in our region from the ashes of state control and censorship. As we are just and deliberate, we have peacefully reunited Adjaria with the rest of Georgia and dedicated new funds to building roads and infrastructure that help to integrate dislocated regions of Georgia. We are continuing that work.

Those accomplishments reflect the collective will and the collective demands of the Georgian people. Those political choices demonstrate how a united Georgian state is being built today with the participation, consideration and inclusion of all the people of Georgia. Georgia is a state that has rejected the politics of ethnicity, division and mistrust; a state that instead defines and governs itself by upholding the rule of law and the principles of impartiality; a state that derives its strength from its diversity and lasting stability by respecting its millennia-old culture and collective values. Those are the sources of my political mandate and the foundation for lasting peace.

Rebuilding a nation requires the courage to review past errors and to correct forgotten injustices. Unfortunately, the wounds of conflict are present in our world today, diminishing the human potential of many societies. My country has suffered more than its fair share of bloodshed, dislocation and destruction. The conflicts that have fragmented my country have left us with hearts that ache so much that we find it hard to speak. My heart breaks when I look at the conditions of people in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, the former communist region of South Ossetia. Sometimes people call those situations “frozen conflicts”, but what those words cannot describe are the frozen or hungry people whose lives are damaged because we are unable to resolve the conflicts.

When I assumed the office of the presidency a year ago I promised to oversee the peaceful reunification of Georgia. I said that the first step in making that vision a reality was to make Georgia a well-governed and more prosperous country. Our efforts, our attitude and our results speak more loudly than anything I could say here today.

When I made that promise, I pledged to reunite Georgia in a manner that would preserve the dignity, the culture and fundamental rights of all who have suffered and all who live in our country, because no person should be born without the right to live in peace, and no person should be denied the chance to receive an excellent education, to earn a decent living and to raise a healthy family. Violence, conflict and greed make those things impossible.

We must do better and we must work harder so that our generation will be remembered as the generation that had the courage to make and sustain peace. Today, I stand before you with the purpose of sharing our vision for a lasting peace in an area now called the Tskhinvali region, but more generally known to the outside world as South Ossetia. It is a small but important area that has for too long been forgotten by the outside world and for too long neglected at home. In speaking about the challenges and needs of South Ossetia, I speak also about the situation in Abkhazia. I speak to all the peoples of Georgia, because together we share a common land, a common history and a common future. Together, our common challenge is to rebuild and reintegrate our societies so that never again will any child grow up with the fear of war.

On behalf of the Government of Georgia, I am pleased to present the main features of the South Ossetia peace initiative. First and foremost, our vision for a united and peaceful Georgia is based on respect for the desire of, and the right to, autonomy in the Tskhinvali region – South Ossetia. If, during the Soviet period South Ossetia enjoyed the old form of Soviet autonomy, today, under this plan, it will enjoy a much fairer form – even broader than that accorded to the Republic of North Ossetia in the Russian Federation.

Specifically, our plan envisages a constitutional guarantee of autonomous status, which includes the right to freely and directly elected local self-government, including an executive branch and a parliament for South Ossetia.

The region’s parliament will be a parliament with substance, which means having control over issues such as culture, education, social policy, economic policy, public order, the organisation of local self-government and environmental protection. At the same time, the people of the Tskhinvali region – South Ossetia – must have a voice in the national structures of government and the plan establishes a constitutional guarantee to do just that. In the national government, in the judicial and constitutional-judicial branches, and in the Georgian Parliament, those voices will be present and that will be guaranteed by the constitution. To keep Georgia whole and strong, we must learn to work together in Tbilisi and in Tskhinvali, and this plan establishes the institutional basis for that.

A meaningful peace initiative is one that respects the uniqueness of Ossetian history, its rich culture, traditions and language. The plan will achieve that by granting language rights and status, by decentralising education policy and by committing funds from the Georgian budget. The differences in ethnicity and language, history and tradition are the very traits that make Georgia’s tapestry of culture so exceptional. The plan seeks to celebrate, protect and promote that richness.

Understandably, no peace can be sustained when people continue to suffer from hunger, lack of jobs, lack of basic public services and, most of all, lack of opportunity or hope. The people of South Ossetia deserve to share in the economic prosperity and stability that now characterises the rest of Georgia. They deserve to benefit from the investment taking place and the opportunities that are coming up.

The plan addresses that need by dedicating government funds to rehabilitating the economy, including the critical infrastructure; by levering in the generosity of the international community in order to pursue projects for economic revival; by creating conditions to spur the development of smalland medium-sized enterprises that will create stable and lasting jobs; by offering to discuss innovative developmental ideas such as free economic zones and the easing of border crossings into the Russian Federation and, most importantly, by allowing the authorities of South Ossetia to determine and control their economic policies, so that choices reflect local needs, interests and priorities.

As Georgia becomes more prosperous, so too will the people of South Ossetia. Building a lasting peace requires the courage to confront the crimes, suffering and misdeeds of the past, of which, unfortunately, there were many. The plan calls for the establishment of a special law on property restitution which will make possible the payment of generous compensation to the victims of the 1990-92 conflict. The government is prepared to pay pension arrears to all pensioners throughout this year that match the existing framework. In confronting the wrongs of the past, the initiative allows for the establishment of a special commission to deal with unresolved property disputes, and another commission will be empowered to deal with allegations of crimes against the population. So, while difficult to face, the past can finally be put to rest in a fair and dignified manner. For all those who were forced to flee, the initiative guarantees the right of return – a right that is backed up by state-sponsored financial assistance.

The road to peace will not be immediate; it will not be easy; and it may not always be smooth. In recognition of that reality, the initiative calls for a transitional three-year conflict-resolution period. During that time, mixed Georgian and Ossetian police forces, under the guidance and auspices of international organisations, will be established to guarantee public order and freedom of movement. The Ossetian forces will be gradually integrated into a united Georgian armed force. It will be a period when trust will replace fear, when hope will conquer suspicion. The fruits of peace and renewed prosperity will be shared and enjoyed by all.

The cause of peace is a just and noble one, but it cannot be accomplished alone. If we are to succeed, this Assembly and others around the world will have to play a more active, visible and pronounced role. Specifically, the Council of Europe should act as a facilitator for peace, the OSCE as a monitor of peace – it already has experience of such activity – the European Union as a guarantor of peace, the United States as a supporter of peace, and the Russian Federation as a welcome and constructive partner for peace. I request the mediation services of the Secretary General, who is very familiar with the organisations involved. We welcome the strong engagement of this Assembly and its President. It is time that the European Union took an active role in the region. Not only can we no longer afford to have black holes; the European Union, which is getting closer and closer to our borders, can no longer afford such a black hole. There is a problem not only for us but for every European Union member state. It is therefore time to take an active lead and show consolidated, strong European foreign policy and conflict-resolution policy.

In order for the bond of trust and institutions of governance to be rebuilt, the people of South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia will need your help. I believe that the initiative provides a refreshing platform and a new commitment that can make peace last. The components of the initiative prove that Georgia, under its democratic government, is willing to offer and guarantee a new future to the people of the Tskhinvali region and to ethnic Ossetians living in Georgia.

We have taken a decision in favour of peace. We have taken a decision that is both challenging and necessary. Today, we have committed to paper an offer that forms the basis for a lasting and just settlement. In doing so, we recognise that it will take time to work out the details. It will take flexibility, it will require compromise, and it will need lots of good will on all sides.

We also recognise the painful truth that, unfortunately, peace is not always in everyone’s interests. There are many people who do not like peace and do their best not to allow it. We must be prepared to face challenges – attempts to derail the process, and the risks that come with making difficult decisions. Georgia today is ready to take those risks. Today, we are taking the first step. Today, I declare that the time has come to leave the deadly conflicts in the past. The time has come to end the divisions between peoples. The time has come to end the cycle of poverty, hopelessness and despair. The time has come when all those affected by the conflict must become genuine advocates for peace and no longer promote instability and an unhealthy and absurd so-called status quo.

It is my hope that the inhabitants of the Tskhinvali region, and the international community of responsible nations to which we belong, will join together to lend their active support, so that the conflict and others like it can once and for all permanently become features of the past. Now is the time.


Thank you, Mr Saakashvili for your important and promising address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. A list of members wishing to ask questions in the order in which the Table Office received notification has been circulated. I remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds and no more. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. The first speaker on the list is Mr Elo, who speaks on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Mr ELO (Finland)

On behalf of the Socialist Group, I thank you, Mr Saakashvili, for your most interesting speech. You were elected after the peaceful Rose Revolution, as we all know. At the time of your election, there were great expectations of political and economic reform among the international community and certainly among the inhabitants of your country. What is your assessment of your success in implementing those political and economic reforms?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

One year ago, there were indeed high expectations among my people; international comments on what was happening in Georgia painted a doomsday scenario, and expectations were much more modest. I heard people saying that we would fail, that we were inexperienced, that Georgia would break into five pieces, and that the country was not sustainable. As always, we proved the sceptics wrong – and several times this year. The sceptics said that there would be no peaceful transition and that elections would fail, but we were the first country since the Commonwealth of Independent States was formed in which our elections were declared free and fair by every organisation including this one. That is very important. The sceptics said that the coalition of all the groups would disintegrate and that it was just a coalition in order to assume power, but among all eastern European examples it has been the most co-ordinated and co-operative. Of course, I should like to maintain that. It is a coalition, but it is a coalition that managed the transitional process very smoothly.

When we had problems in Adjaria, people said that there was going to be war. There was conflict in Abkhazia when the first independent government arrived. They said that now there is a new government, there will be conflict in Adjaria. In fact, images shown on world television were images of local militias, carrying guns such as Kalashnikovs, grenade launchers, even some surface-to-air missiles. It seemed to show that there was going to be a fight. However, the problem was solved without a single shot being fired. The point was that nobody expected that, but it worked. Then, everyone wondered how that could happen in that region, which was so corrupt with a badly mismanaged government. As I said, it worked, and it worked because democracy works. That is how it should be in this part of the world.

I can tell you that the state budget under my predecessor was less than €380 million, as has just been confirmed, and it is now more than €1.4 billion. It will increase further, and all within one year. I quote these figures because they show the diminishing corruption in the country. We started to get big investments only this year. The reserve that we have available is an indication of what government can do when it is not based on stealing money. It makes quite a difference.

Everybody said that it would not be possible to reform the police force in Georgia. However, in early June, within one month, we dismissed every policeman in Georgia. Everybody said that there would be traffic accidents, robberies and killings, but nothing like that happened. Our new police force looks very different. It is European. It looks European and it is based on European culture. The police use European radios and they are paid twelve to fifteen times the salary of their predecessors. The new force is honest and has the huge confidence of the population. In the past, the Georgian police force was trusted by only 6% of our people; now, it is trusted by 90%, according to all the polls. The prosecutor’s office used to be trusted by only 6% of our people; now, it is trusted by 70%.

I could talk about other institutions, such as the parliament and the presidency. There is now a huge increase in people’s trust. I believe that that is our greatest breakthrough: we managed to bring trust into the institutions. That has worked more than anything else. Before our independence, there was not a single day in our country when the institutions were trusted by our people. That is what a failed state is all about. A state that fails to win the trust of the people cannot function. It is a crucial precedent.

I was very glad to hear that even some members of the Russian Duma, while discussing some of the greatest political events of last year, mentioned the introduction of the new police force in Georgia as a breakthrough for all our countries. Despite all the bad propaganda voiced by some of our neighbours, the truth is spreading and success is resounding. The critics were proven wrong. There used to be beautiful images of our revolution, but now the routine is much more boring than the revolution – yet that is precisely the result that we want. The routine in Georgia now is considered to be exceptionally successful. Anyone who knows the reality on the ground recognises that. It also squares with the resolution, for which I am grateful, because I know that you also recognise it.


As the new Chairman of the Group of the European People’s Party, I want to congratulate you on your efforts to bring Georgia to prosperity, stability and democracy. We heard your plan to integrate Adjaria in a democratic and peaceful way. It is important to deal with unity and diversity. I have two specific questions. First, the plan is promising, but is it a unilateral plan or will there be negotiations? Secondly, what are the financial means to support those regions, which is so important for peace in the Caucasus? Redistributing financial means is as important as giving responsibilities. Thank you.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

I thank you, Mr Van den Brande. Of course, Georgia is a diverse country and we are proud of our diversity. It is one of our main assets. We are not only building an ethnically based society, we are promoting the integration of minorities and respect for their diversity. Now, for the first time, Georgian state television has featured minority Caucasian languages, which never happened before. During the Soviet period, it was perhaps artificially promoted, but now is the first time that a democratically elected government decided to have those broadcasts in minority languages. It used to be a taboo in our society. People said that it could not be done, but it was done and nothing dramatic happened. On the contrary, it was very good and welcomed by most in our society.

We are taking affirmative action in respect of educating representatives of the minorities. We are giving representatives of different ethnic groups the opportunity to take a one-year administrative course that is fully paid by the Georgian Government. They are getting high scholarships. The elections will be merit based and new people will be selected to be appointed in public service and different public institutions so that we can promote new elites and new people whose work will be based on their merits, irrespective of their ethnic origin.

Of course I understand that it should not be a oneway plan. Why am I proposing it for South Ossetia? In the case of Abkhazia at this moment, it is unfortunately no use because first the Abkhazians walked out of the negotiations. The other problem is that they expelled every ethnic Georgian from Abkhazia. That means that there is no interaction between those two groups. More than 325 000 people were expelled from Abkhazia. The pre-war population there was 700 000 people; now, it is fewer than 125 000 people. Most of the people who belong there are no longer living there and there is no one with whom to negotiate. That is not a situation that we can accept.

In respect of the Tskhinvali region, Georgians and Ossetians live together and respect each other, which is very important. Secondly, there is a negotiating framework where the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is also present and we hope that its presence will be widened so that we can solve the problems. There is a framework there and a history of interaction. There is a much higher level of integration of the group into the Georgian political landscape and the people’s landscape. That is why I was more realistic.

I thought it would be preferable to start with Adjaria, which is an ethnically Georgian region, and which does not have any special diversity. We should accept the historical fact that there was some sort of local separatist issue related to local bureaucracy, but we managed to solve it. South Ossetia is realistically solvable. No Georgian government has ever offered them autonomy, because we are talking about less than 1% of Georgia’s population. The Ossetians in Georgia are a minority. Georgia’s overall population is above 5 million people, yet in that area there are no more than 30 000 to 35 000 Ossetians. That means that it is a small population, but, because it is small, it needs special protection. I agreed to that, which is why we are now making these proposals for South Ossetia. I am optimistic about – I certainly hope for – a better reaction from the other side. We are appealing to the local population and to their officials. We are telling them that no one is benefiting from what is going on and that we are ready to provide everything that they have been asking for over all those years. The trouble is that, whatever we offer de facto authorities, they do not want. It is never good enough. That is exactly the official first reaction that I would expect. As for the local population, everyone speaks Georgian and watches Georgian television, and they are all part of our society, so when they see that they are getting everything they have asked for there will be strong pressure to accept the deal, seal it and turn the page of history. That is my main hope.

Mr EÖRSI (Hungary)

My question was exactly the same as the last one, so let me just ask whether you have heard that, according to the recent Gallup poll, the Georgian people are the second most optimistic in the world about the future, and number one in Europe, which I believe is a huge compliment to your efforts but must also put huge pressure on you. Would you care to comment on that?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

I thank you, Mátyás, and Mr Kirilov, for your important contribution to highlighting the successes that Georgia had last year. My greatest problem has been to manage the optimism and expectations. The most difficult day in my political career was when I heard that I had received 96% of the vote in the presidential elections. It was a bad day not only because some in the Assembly might have suspected foul play – everyone saw that the elections were free and fair, but there are always questions. My problem now is that I can only go down in terms of public love and expectations, but I would like to go up in terms of results. People voted not only for me but against what we had before, and that can never be repeated, so it is fine with me.

It is true that the Georgian people have high expectations, but that gives us a strong mandate to implement change and make this offer. Why did the previous government not make it? They thought that people would not support it. I think that what we are offering today on the Tskhinvali region and South Ossetia is likely to divide people and create many different opinions, but we have to deal with that if we want to move forward. If we try to please all the people all the time, we will end up with nothing. That is what real politics takes. We have a long way to go and there will be grumbling along the way.

People who are seeing the results want to know more. Last year, people told us that if we paid back their pension, doubled the pension and decreased the corruption, we would be the greatest people in our country’s history. They asked us to do it, and we did it, and now they are asking why those doubled pensions are so low. Of course, that is normal for every politician in the world. You do something, and it is never enough to make people happy.

What we are saying, however, is that there has been progress and the most important thing is to maintain the pace of change. There is no final bonanza that we can deliver and then rest on our laurels. You will all know from your own experience – there are many great ministers and former ministers here today – that even the greatest leaders can sometimes be ridiculed or not be loved. We are still far from that point in Georgia. We are optimistic and confident and we believe that we can achieve what needs to be done to make the country successful.

Mr ATKINSON (United Kingdom)

May I say once again what pleasure your election has given to your European Democrat colleagues in the Assembly? In seeking solutions for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, will you take account of the Assembly’s valuable work on best practices in autonomy and the proposals that we agreed yesterday, which we hope will contribute to a solution in Nagorno-Karabakh?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

I cannot speak for all the Georgian delegates, because almost half of them are from the opposition, and even those from the majority party may have a different opinion, but you know that I am a democrat and a European democrat, in terms of my views, rather than the political group. We remember what you said in the report about Abkhazia and your valuable contribution and that of other members who visited Georgia.

The situation in Abkhazia is both simple and dramatic. We cannot allow the precedent of one group throwing out another group, not by itself but through the intervention of a foreign country masquerading as its representatives and saying that that is the region’s composition – now live with it. Where does that lead? It is not only about our having the trouble of taking care of all the refugees and displaced persons. It is a matter of fundamental principles of justice, liberty and democracy. We cannot allow such a precedent in the European continent.

When we talk about autonomy, of course we look closely at the Venice Commission’s declaration on South Ossetia. I started my career as a minorities and autonomous rights specialist at the Norwegian Institute of Human Rights. I am now in a position to implement in this plan a long-standing idea about safeguarding everyone’s rights. If we had done something in this direction in the early 1990s when I was working in Oslo, some of the conflicts might have been avoided, although not all, because most of them were the direct result of foreign intervention rather than domestic problems. Still, a big part of this could have been avoided or mitigated.

Now we have a second chance, with a mandate from our people. Those on the other side know that we have not done anything bad to them and have no intention of harming them in any way, but that does not mean that they should not get into the dialogue, because that would be exactly the worst mistake. We are not saying “take it or leave it”. I am sure that they will take it. We are willing to be patient and flexible, but we are determined to pursue this agenda, because we are talking about irregular situations.

When Georgia was a mess, it did not matter too much. The whole country was a mess. There were gang murders, kidnappings, huge corruption and widespread distrust of the state; so what did we have to offer these places? Now Georgia is a stable country, getting lots of foreign investment, and firmly on the track of becoming a functional European state, but we have these two black holes. One is very small, the other bigger. They are a source of criminality, trafficking, tension and provocations that come weekly or even more frequently. We can no longer live with that. Nobody feels safe. That is what we are trying to remedy. We want to regularise the situation and put it in a secure legal framework. That is in everyone’s interests. Only fools and criminals can oppose it in pragmatic and practical terms.

Mr HERKEL (Estonia)

I send compliments and best wishes from Estonia. As we know, changes in legislation and the legal system are an inseparable part of political reform, and you have done a lot in that regard. What will be the most important further changes in the near future?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

Thank you, Mr Herkel. I would like to express my great admiration for Estonia. Now we are talking about this wonderful co-operation between Baltic states, and my first visit was to Estonia. Ukraine was previously a kind of grey zone in between, but now it is also on board, so there is great co-operation in our region for freedom and democracy, which we put in the Carpathian Declaration that Mr Yushchenko and I signed on the new wave of liberation in Europe. That is very important, but it is also challenging.

One Estonian minister told me the other day that they are aware of our territorial problems and huge economic challenges, but went on to say that Estonia has achieved almost everything it can achieve. It is a member of the United Nations and of Nato. It is more or less secure and the economy is performing well. However, the minister said: “I am depressed. What else can we do?” I would love to be depressed in that way, and no doubt most of the countries represented in this Chamber are similarly depressed.

On a more serious note, the next step is for us to develop local self-government. We are introducing a law that provides for elected officials at every level. That includes a law on the elections for the Georgian capital, which has nearly half the country’s population. Like other European countries, we need to be able to elect a mayor without interference from the president and other executive bodies. As I said, we have a new law on public television. When that is properly implemented, it will be an interesting experiment. Nothing like that has ever existed in any of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

We have the most advanced legislation on freedom of information and of the press. We removed taxes on Georgian printed media. Few countries would do that, but we did it because the market does not allow them to become genuinely independent. They might be independent of the government, but they are not independent of other special interests. That is a temporary measure and we want them to have enough income to be successful.

We also want to reform the constitutional system further. We were told that what we did last year was a step in the right direction when we moved from a presidential republic to a semi-presidential republic, but more has to be done. We are thinking of reviewing the constitutional process further so that we have better mechanisms to solve political disputes and to avoid crises. This approach is not one step at a time, but steady. The reform of the police and the prosecutor was important, and we are now submitting to different expert bodies proposals to reform the judiciary. The first thing we did to reform the judiciary was a positive development, but we did not follow it up with a reform of the police and the prosecutor in the mid-1990s, which meant that the reform failed. That is why we reformed the office of the prosecutor, and the judiciary has to catch up.

There are limitations, however, on what we can do. We cannot change the system overnight. We cannot suddenly introduce a new set of people. This is a difficult challenge, and we are doing our best to respond to it. I am grateful to the Council of Europe for its help on many of those problems.

Mr KIRILOV (Bulgaria)

We are glad that you are with us again, President Saakashvili. It was explained that two days ago the Assembly adopted a resolution on the respective commitments of Georgia, which we all believe are for the good of Georgia. Of course, the Georgian authorities were consulted in advance, including on the time span of the fulfilment of those commitments. Some statements in the press were, I believe, wrong. They said that Georgia is not bound to fulfil all the commitments and that it is up to Georgia to decide what it wants to do. I have been told that those reports are false. What is your view of that?

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

First, I want to congratulate you on your birthday, Mr Kirilov. You are 60 years old, which is an important event. I do not know why the flags have not been raised to commemorate that.

What I have said – I will say this again and again – is that the Council of Europe, or any other European institution, is not the new Kremlin. It is not the centre of an empire that sends out instructions. We are here as a result of good will. We are members of this Organisation because we feel like it. We will reform our country not just because someone tells us to, but because we share their values. We want to be part of the prosperity that is enjoyed in Europe. We have explained that to our population. This is a matter of free will.

The coverage in Georgia of the Council of Europe’s recommendations is much greater than in any other country. Six or seven Georgian television crews hounded us today for comments. I do not know whether any other country is represented in that way. We did not bring them with us. They sneaked in by themselves. We have to make it clear to our people that being European does not mean having things imposed on us. We will get something in exchange. European values are our values. We belong to this family. Our country has a European culture, identity and history and has European aspirations. We are grateful to the Council of Europe for helping us to be part of that process. I am sure that everyone from my country who is here today will support that statement.


Thank you very much. I want to conclude this debate with two speakers: first, Ms Oskina of the European Democrat Group; and, secondly, Mr Slutsky of the Socialist Group. I call Ms Oskina.

Ms OSKINA (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

asked how soon Georgia intended to fulfil its commitment, undertaken as one of the conditions of its membership of the Council of Europe, towards ethnic Turks in Georgia.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia (interpretation)

noted that Ms Oskina was from a region that had experienced difficulties with ethnic minorities. He had great sympathy with her on this issue. Georgia would do all that it could to solve this problem. There was now a presidential commission looking into the question of ethnic Turks in Georgia.

The Russian Federation had undertaken to grant any citizen of Georgia a Russian passport. The Russian Federation had violated international agreements in giving passports to everyone except ethnic Georgian Turks. He said that people should be able to return to Abkhazia. He had every sympathy for the Turkish people in South Ossetia. Although Russia had abandoned those people, Georgia would not. The Russian Federation had left those people without rights and it was necessary for parliamentarians to seek to prevent the Russian Government from its attempted annexation of a neighbouring state. Georgia wanted a strong partnership with Russia but every relationship was a two-way street.

Mr SLUTSKY (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

asked Mr Saakashvili how he would react if the South Ossetian people did not agree with the details of the road map.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia (interpretation)

replied that the population should be given a choice. As long as there was no intervention in the process a solution would be found. In Abkhazia three-quarters of the population had been driven out and the election had been conducted among the remaining quarter. The Russian candidate had lost and the Russian Federation had declared the vote invalid. A further election had therefore been held, and the Russian candidate had won. It was important that Russia played a constructive or neutral role. In South Ossetia and Abkhazia citizens were being given Russian passports, which Russia explained as a solution to the problem of those without identity papers and rights. However, the Russian Federation had been making it difficult for those with Georgian passports to travel and so Georgian citizens had been trying to acquire Russian passports. Russia’s response had been to state that those people with Russian passports were Russian citizens and therefore that Russia had the right to send in troops and to tell people how to vote. There was no problem in Georgia as far as people from South Ossetia were concerned. Members of the government and Georgian Olympic athletes came from South Ossetia. However, when Russian security services and military commanders were being moved to Ossetia there was a problem. A group of parliamentarians travelling to South Ossetia had been met by Russian soldiers who told them that South Ossetia was part of the Russian Federation. That attitude would never solve the problem. There were now signs of the dialogue being renewed after an interval of some months. Georgia hoped for an unbiased approach bearing in mind the views of all sides. Georgia was neither a backwater nor the corner of an empire, but a regular European country. Georgia wanted to join the European Union and wished to resolve its security issues and find a peaceful solution to its problems. It had had enough of war. Georgia wanted the Russian Federation to be its partner in peace and many sensible politicians in Russia agreed.


We must now conclude the questions to Mr Saakashvili. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank you very much for your address and especially for the open, frank and direct answers that you have given to the questions. We wish you much success with the peace initiative. You can count on the full support of this Assembly because we want to support, with all our means, a peaceful political solution to the conflicts in your region. Thank you very much.

Mr Saakashvili, President of Georgia

Thank you very much. I really appreciate this.