16 May 2024

‘Russian aggressions have never pushed Georgia to deviate from its own path’, says Georgian President


According to its critics, Moscow’s destabilising influence has been laid bare this week in neighbouring Georgia, with the passing of the “foreign influence” bill by parliament.

But why is the ruling party there so intent on pushing this law through? After all, hundreds of thousands are protesting against it and it could put the brakes on EU membership, which most Georgians say they want. Other recent, less noticed legislative changes, may perhaps hold the key.

We spoke to the Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili. We started by asking her what happens next if the government overrules her veto of their “foreign influence” bill.

Salome Zourabichvili: What happens next is that we move to the next stage, which is the preparation of the elections that are going to happen in October, 26th of October, and that should be the place where, beyond the streets and beyond the protests, the Georgian population will express its will and determination whether they want this European future. With the reforms that we expected to push forward, according to the recommendations of the European Union, or whether they want something else and are ready to go along with these type of laws that are obstacles to our path towards the European Union.

Cathy Newman: Do you have any confidence that those elections that you’re laying such store by will be fair?

Salome Zourabichvili: I cannot assure that there will be no use of administrative resources. This country is very used to governments using those resources. But the other experience of this country is that when there is mobilisation of the population, high participation and clear choice, then it’s very difficult to rig the elections to a point of changing the outcome. And that’s what is in the process of happening because we see, and now for 37 days, the mobilisation of the population in very high numbers, including the younger segment of the population, and that’s half a million. And that’s very important because this is a very three part segment of our population.

Cathy Newman: Do you expect those protests to continue now? You know, especially the young people you talk about, they’re going to redouble their efforts to oppose the government, do you think?

Salome Zourabichvili: When and how these protests will continue and how long is not for me to decide, but clearly we have to re-orient the energies and the mobilisation for an electoral campaign that will be completely focused on preserving our European choice and our European chance.

Cathy Newman: We’ve focused on this particular bill, but there is also changes to the tax code that have been made, and I wonder if you think that the government’s ulterior motive is to make Georgia a sort of haven for the Russian oligarchs. Do you think that’s the game here?

‘Offshore for the offshores’

Salome Zourabichvili: There is this law on the tax reform that makes Georgia kind of offshore for the offshores, but it’s not very clear exactly what it means, because it’s not transparent at all. Because all its details and implementation are given to the ministry of finance to decide, in forms and delays that we do not know anything about. And nobody has even studied what would be the consequences of this law on the Georgian economy or budget. So it’s very non-transparent.

Cathy Newman: The protests that we’ve been talking about have been compared to the Maidan protests in Ukraine, when the then president of Ukraine wanted to forge closer ties with the Kremlin. Is that how it strikes you? Do the echoes resound in your head?

Salome Zourabichvili: No, I don’t think that there is anything similar to Maidan. Each country has its own paths. We have had our Maidans earlier when we had the different revolutions in the country. There has been in this country always very massive demonstrations. Each time there was a feeling that something essential was at stake. We have seen Russian aggressions, Russian wars, Russian occupation of our territories, and that has never pushed Georgia to deviate from its own paths, which it steadily is pursuing, and that will be the case now.

Cathy Newman: But nevertheless, do you not fear where this ends? I mean, you can veto this law. The government overrules you. Your own protest is rather symbolic. So do you fear that you’re powerless to protect your country from Russian aggression?

Salome Zourabichvili: That is not the Russian law, is not Russian aggression. What we are talking about is preserving the European future through what is the normal way and the peaceful way through elections.

Cathy Newman: But my point is, if you don’t have a European future, then are you not forced back into the sort of clutches of an aggressive Russia?

Salome Zourabichvili: That’s why we are going to protect our European future, that we are going to protect it through the elections, as it’s the normal case and with the support of our European partners.