Georgian president talks up new democracy forum in Ukraine

INTERVIEW: with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili
By Volodymyr Skachko, Kiyevskiy Telegraf, Kiev, Russian, 9 Dec 05, p 1,5
BBC Monitoring Service, UK, in English, Monday, Dec 12, 2005

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has said that the creation of the
Community of Democratic Choice in Kiev on 2 December is important for
countries like Georgia and Ukraine. In an interview with a Ukrainian weekly,
Saakashvili said both countries are on the path of NATO and European
integration and need one another for support.

He does not regard the Community to be anti-Russian: Russia will feel calmer
with democratic, predictable neighbours. Saakashvili said he does not plan
to take Georgia out of the CIS.

The following is an excerpt from the interview Saakashvili gave to Volodymyr
Skachko entitled “Corruption steals the future from every individual” and
published in the Ukrainian newspaper Kievskiy Telegraf on 9 December;
subheadings have been inserted editorially:

The arrival in Kiev of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili coincided with
two events: the Ukraine-EU summit and the formation of Community of
Democratic Choice. The Georgian leader is pleased with both events, because
he considers them a continuation of the “rose revolution” in his country and
the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

However, he started his meeting with Ukrainian journalists by saying what
Georgia is now proud of: annual growth rate of 7 per cent, road building, an
increase in the state budget, the high popularity rating of the authorities
and a successful struggle against corruption.

[Saakashvili] Georgia is a country where the level of corruption is one of
the lowest in Europe. I am absolutely sure of this, because the source of
the five-fold increase of our budget was not some special revenue: it was
money that was previously stolen, but is now coming into the budget.

Money that was previously being stolen is now going to the construction of
roads, hospitals and schools. To start with, we were accused of almost some
sort of authoritarian working methods. Now everyone understands that the
people who were answering for what was committed have answered according
to the law.

Not only our former opponents, but also some very significant officials whom
we took into the administration are now in not very distant places [jailed].
Because we are not standing on ceremony with corrupt people. We have only
one principle: if someone stole, he has to answer. Corruption is
unacceptable, because it steals the future from every individual.

[Skachko] Mr President, what practical result are you expecting from the
forum of the Community of Democratic Choice?

[Saakashvili] I believe that our countries are very similar to each other,
just as our problems are. Despite the fact that the Baltic countries are
already in NATO and the EU, Romania is already in NATO and is joining the
EU, while Georgia and Ukraine are still only on the path of integration. But
the challenges facing us are very similar.

We both emerged from the post-communist, post-Soviet system. This means
first of all that we should share experience with each other. Second, we
should help each other, because if we don’t, nobody else will. For example,
the Baltic countries came out with an initiative to help our states in
European integration.

This is very important, because most countries of Old Europe are still
somewhat sceptical about the accession of new states. And in a situation
like that, the voice of states that know us well and are confident that we
are just as European as they are is very important.

And the main thing is for that voice always to be heard where it is needed.
For this we have to meet each other and talk. The main thing that I am
expecting is that after the formation of the Community of Democratic Choice,
which is not an international organization, the frontier of Europe must no
longer be artificially set.

The frontier of Europe runs along the border of Ukraine and Georgia and
Moldova and all the other countries that have European ambitions. And the
creation of this community makes Europe complete. It makes the process of
European integration irreversible for everyone. After all, what is the idea
that everyone agrees on?

That the countries that are European by culture, history and ambitions
should definitely become part of all major European structures. This is the
theory. The practice is that everyone is scared of further enlargement.
[Skachko] There is an opinion that the new wave of democratization of
Europe at present stopped in Azerbaijan. It is said that you have good
relations with Ilham Aliyev. What’s going on in that country? Will Azerbaijan
join more actively in the Community of Democratic Choice?

[Saakashvili] Yes, Georgia is a great fan of the democratization of
Azerbaijan. We always help our Azerbaijani friends with advice. When it was
necessary, we even sent them ink for voting, because at that point there was
a big shortage of it there, while in Georgia there had been so many
elections in recent years that we had more than enough ink – enough for all
(laughs). And I hope that the process of democratic dialogue with Azerbaijan
will continue.

In general I’m perfectly confident that the process of democratization is
irreversible for all countries. I think that Azerbaijan is a country with a
very big future. But real prosperity will be provided by further democratic
dialogue, and I am absolutely sure that President Ilham Aliyev himself
understands this perfectly well. All my contacts with him convince me of

Of course, we can see difficulties. And of course we worry every time these
difficulties are shown on television and the whole world watches them. But I
am sure that we are talking about a country with a very educated people that
has brilliant economic prospects. It’s a fine partner for Georgia, for
Ukraine and all the others. The country has an absolutely full-scale
democratic future.

What is more, I tell you that everyone understood in their own way how they
should react to the revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. I think that most
countries have realized that there is a need to reform and open up the
political system. And this is an irreversible process. The people in the
entire post-Soviet space have now become a far more important factor than
ever before.

Some people recognize it and some don’t, but people’s opinion, the mood of
the electorate, the mood of every individual person means far more since
Kiev’s Maydan [Independence Square, heart of the Orange Revolution] and
Tbilisi’s roses than they ever meant before.
[Skachko] The Community of Democratic Choice is considered a sort of
anti-Russian association. Do you agree with that view?

[Saakashvili] No. I believe that it is very important for Russia to have
democratic neighbours. Russia will feel easier because democratic neighbours
are more predictable; they are far more peaceable, pragmatic and realistic.
This means that one can expect far fewer nasty surprises from democratic
states than even from friendly dictators. Of course, there are complex
processes now taking place in Russia.

Let me say it right out – a decision is being taken to raise the price for
gas. I believe that it is a definitely political rather than economic
decision. In this sense there are, of course, difficulties and problems, but
in the sense of long-term development, I think that Russia will only gain
from the region becoming more European, more democratic, more civilized,
predictable and friendly towards it.

[Skachko] How do you assess the fact that now the government in Ukraine
that came after the revolution is increasingly losing its ratings?

[Saakashvili] You know, I’m not a judge of Ukrainian domestic politics.
Although I suffer very much because of the problems and rejoice at
everything good. But I know one thing: a year after the revolution, the
Georgian government had a lower rating than today. Why? Because after the
revolution big expectations arose, and people wanted everything immediately.
This is a normal phenomenon. [Passage omitted: expanding this]

[Skachko] After the return of Ajaria to Georgia, it is being said that
Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia will also be returned. Both Georgian and
Ukrainian experts agree that the replacement of Russian peacekeepers by
Ukrainians is also possible. How far do you think that such a replacement is
possible? That’s the first question.

The second is more creative. Very many Ukrainian artists are advocating the
opening in Kiev of a Ukrainian-Georgian village. Actually there already is a
site, but there are also some bureaucratic obstacles. What is your attitude
to this?

[Saakashvili] If someone opens a Ukrainian-Georgian village, I’ll move in
there with pleasure (laughs). But this is the first I’ve heard of this
splendid idea. [Passage omitted: lyrical musings]
As for the territorial integrity of Georgia\ [ellipsis as published] When
the question of Ajaria was being decided, everyone thought: as usual,
militant nationalists are organizing a fight, and there’ll be a war – that’s
the sort of propaganda there was. There was nothing of the sort. Ajaria now
is the most successful part of Georgia. I welcome everyone to Batumi [Ajaria
capital], especially in summer. [Passage omitted: praising the beauty of

Abkhazia is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and it is simply
shameful that only one fifth of the pre-war population remains there. They
threw out almost all the Ukrainians, all the Estonians and Georgians, the
greater part of the Abkhaz, Russians and all the rest. And some generals and
a very small part of the population remained there.

Naturally, the world needs to pay attention to this so that those generals
don’t decide everything. I think that Ukrainians by their nature are not
only the most peace-loving nation – any Ukrainian international
participation has all the qualities of professionalism, neutrality and

As well as humanity, which is very important, because it is a question of
protecting people. Ukrainian peacekeepers have given a very good account of
themselves wherever they have been. I want to remind you that in 1993 during
the war with Abkhazia, when Sukhumi was in flames, Ukrainian helicopter
crews under fierce artillery fire carried out hundreds of flights.

They evacuated the civilian population. There were also Ukrainians there who
sacrificed their lives. We have not forgotten the feat of those pilots. We
remember it 15 years later and will still remember it in 150 years and in a
thousand years’ time.

[Skachko] So will there be a replacement of peacekeepers?
[Saakashvili] It all depends on international organizations. UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan was in Tbilisi recently, and our position was explained
to him: Georgia is in no hurry for now. Nothing happens immediately. In
order to achieve good results, intensive work is needed. And we will work.

I’m sure that there is no alternative – it’s one country. And it is so
small, how can it be divided into parts again? It was united over many, many
centuries and will be united. [Passage omitted: prospects for economic
development in Georgia]
[Skachko] Tell me, how do you see the future existence of the CIS? And
another question: what has happened to the Russian visas that have stopped
being issued?
[Saakashvili] Stopped being issued to whom?
[Skachko] To citizens of Georgia.

[Saakashvili] I haven’t yet requested a Russian visa (laughs). We have a
visa regime, a unilateral one – Georgia has abolished its visa regime with
Russia. In principle Russians can receive visas at the airport. And we, like
Ukraine, have abolished the visa regime with the EU and many other
countries. With Russia it has been going on for four years now and
everything is OK.

Yes, it got on some people’s nerves. Yes, it became harder for people to
meet. But at the end of the day everyone finds other roads. The Baltic
countries are a fine example. They were under constant pressure. And so?
Estonia, for example, is now the most successful country in the whole of
Europe, one of the most successful in the world.

It went through several years of economic pressure, bans on its exports to
traditional markets and a total visa blockade. But it survived and became
stronger. We don’t want, of course, to go through big trials. But if
obstacles are placed in our way, we will still overcome them and stand on
our feet.

[Skachko] Do plan to withdraw from the CIS?
[Saakashvili] I personally don’t have any such plans. It’s being discussed
in the Georgian parliament. I’m more inclined to take specific, pragmatic
rather than general decisions. [Passage omitted: the CIS does have
[Skachko] But if parliament votes for withdrawal from the CIS, will you
support that decision?
[Saakashvili] As far as I can judge, this is not now expected. We will
discuss these questions, but I don’t predict any hasty decisions, because we
in Georgia have also become very pragmatic. [Passage omitted: expanding
[Skachko] What do you think should be done about Belarus, which is not a
member of your Community of Democratic Choice?

[Saakashvili] I have already said that some countries correctly understood
the Ukrainian Maydan and the Georgian roses. I had, for example, very
interesting conversations with President [Nursultan] Nazarbayev [of
Kazakhstan] and other neighbours who understand that attention must be paid
to the political process that is happening in the world, open up the
political system and reform it. And many positive aspects have appeared in
Russia itself as well.

In Belarus it was understood in reverse – that you have to be even stricter,
even more resolute, and then nothing will happen. [Passage omitted: You
can’t intimidate people indefinitely.]

[Skachko] And what needs to be done with [Belarusian President Alyaksandr]
Lukashenka – pressure him or find a common language?
[Saakashvili] I believe that we need to continue contacts with the people of
Belarus at various levels and help spread ideas of freedom and democracy.
Isolation is not the way. And in this question I think that the birth in
Kiev of the Community of Democratic Choice is also sending a very strong
impulse and signal.

First and foremost to the people as a whole. Not to the president, the
government or other official representatives, but to the people of Belarus
as a whole. A signal that democracy is being consolidated and that there is
no alternative to it. That’s the main thing. [Passage omitted: Georgian
revolutionary team still united; free speech flourishing in Georgia.]

[Skachko] Whom do you support in the conflict that there is in the
revolutionary team in Ukraine between [President Viktor] Yushchenko and
[former Prime Minister Yuliya] Tymoshenko? And in general do you think that
Tymoshenko simply had her own viewpoint and that’s why she left? Have you
not tried to conciliate them?

[Saakashvili] You know, I have great respect for both leaders. I believe
that Viktor Yushchenko is truly a perfectly phenomenal hope for Ukraine on
the international level. And naturally I won’t hide the fact that it was
always painful for me to see such things happening. I have great respect for
that entire team, and the whole world has great respect.

Because they all deserve to be appreciated by people at least for what they
did in opening Ukraine to the world. Two years ago few people in the world
knew, to my great distress, what Ukraine was. Such a huge country, with such
potential, with such people, with bigger industrial potential than a
considerable part of Europe – and nobody knew about it. [Passage omitted:
importance of Orange Revolution]

[Skachko] Have you met with Yuliya Tymoshenko after the conflict? And
were there any attempts at conciliation?
[Saakashvili] You know, I don’t intend to interfere in this. It’s an
internal problem. True, it’s been hard for me to watch it. But I think that
Ukraine’s progress will not stop, and I will continue meeting with all
participants in this process with pleasure, because all Ukrainians are very
close and dear to us. Even those who during the revolution were on the other

Ukrainians are a completely unique people in the centre of Europe. And
like a magnet it attracts all the others. In its potential, Ukraine has all the
hallmarks of a big state, but in its character this nation is completely
open and has not a single bad quality of big states – arrogance, imperial
ambitions and so on.

You have to understand what Ukraine means for all the other nations.
Ukraine is the hope for our development, for our Europeanization, for
our own success. -30-

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