President - my answer is that of the Georgian population – We do not want this law, we want to fulfill the 12 recommendations, we want the European Union,


Interview with France 24 English

Welcome back! For a second straight day thousands of people have taken the streets of the Georgian capital Tbilisi today. They are expressing their opposition to proposed legislation which critics say signals a shift towards authoritarianism. Which also damages Georgia’s chances of closer ties with Europe. Well, yesterday the Parliament in Tbilisi passed a first reading of what’s being dabbed the ‘Foreign Agents’ Law and that sparked violent protests.

Well, the President of Georgia has voiced her support for the protesters. She says - “this is reminiscent of laws used by the Kremlin to crack down on descent.

If Georgia goes ahead with this Foreign Agents Law, your country is going to join the club of the nations which includes Belarus and Tajikistan which have adopted the similar laws. How does that make you feel as the country’s President?           

Well, Georgia is certainly not going to adopt this law. If anything, it might be the members of the parliament, but certainly not Georgia, certainly not Georgian population, certainly not the Georgian President. I have expressed the very day when this law came forward, was initiated that I was going to veto this law, which clearly will be overthrown by the majority of the parliament if they so decide. But that is the expression of the will of the people that want to be closer to the European Union and we know that at a time when we are at this very important juncture when the decision will have to be taken in a few months by the European Union to grant us the candidate status, that law like that is the direct obstacle to this granting of the candidate status. And that’s why the people are coming out in the streets. Because they know that just today the fact of the law and not necessarily the content, but the fact is distancing us from the European Union and from our ambitions, our aspirations. And we will not let that happen.

And supposing it did happen. I mean, what will be the implications for civil society?

Well, it’s an attempt to control even more civil society, because it’s clearly aimed at registering more of the non-governmental organizations or anyone in this country that is receiving foreign grants in different occasions. And whoever knows this country, we know that for the past 30 years our democratic construction has been supported by our European partners, American partners and different aid organizations. So, it could involve anyone in that. So, it’s really a law that resembles very much to that, that has been adopted in Russia and in other countries. It’s not a law for democratic country, it’s not a law for European country.

I think that the government has a last chance to really reconsider. The Venice Commission is clearly going to say that it’s not acceptable, that the population has said it is not acceptable, our constitution says it’s not acceptable because our constitution imposes to all Georgian institutions – Government, Parliament, of course myself, to do everything that we can to make the European Integration happen. So, in that sense this law is anti-constitutional and that’s what I have said, that’s what I will repeat and that’s what the Georgian population is saying by demonstrating on the streets.

So why is it then, Madame President, that the ruling party, the Georgian Dream Party deems this law to be necessary?

That’s a question you have to ask to them. Clearly, we do not see, I do not see any reason and I have said so, it comes out from nowhere. Georgian population does not seem to understand why there is such a law and the only explanation is that it’s a law that comes at the worst moment for our European ambitions. So, does that mean that its only objective is to district us from this ambition? I am asking the question, I do not want to answer, because my answer is that of the Georgian population – we do not want this law, we want the European Union, we want to fulfill the 12 recommendations and I want to tell the Georgian government or the authorities that there is no use to use lip service to talk about the European Union, integration and their wish to join  the European Union if in act they are adopting such a law that will contradict all the declarations that they have made. So, they have to take into account the will of the people, the mandate they have received because this government as myself and the majority, we’ve been elected on this program, to join the European Union, to facilitate Euro-Atlantic integration. There has never been another mandate given by the Georgian population and we are due to obey to the Georgian population.

I can’t help thinking, listening to you and doing my research, I mean all of this really smacks of Russian interference. Do you think that’s a bridge too far?

Well, Russia is never too far. It’s occupying 20% of our territory, it has been attacking and aggressing Georgia on and on through our two and a half centuries of our close history. And so that’s a temptation of Russia all the time, to try, to impose its will. Maybe this temptation is reinforced because they are losing the war in Ukraine and they want to see success somewhere else. But I don’t think that we should be trying to see through what Russia wants or does not want to do because Russia now is getting weaker. I think that the whole Europe and America has understood really, what we knew beforehand what is the real nature of Russia. And what we have to do is just to reinforce our past, to accelerate our path together with our Ukrainian and Moldovan friends toward European Union. That’s the only answer to whatever Russia would like to do.

One of the stories we covered last year on this channel was the crossing by many Russian men over the border into your country in order to avoid the draft in Russia. At the time there were questions - was it a wise move to accept them because not many things happen by chance in President Putin’s Russia. So, I want to ask you is there a chance of this influx of Russians could perhaps pose some sort of threat to national security?

We have many threats. Again, the main threat is that we have two military bases on the two occupied territories that Russia is holding. SO, we do not need really to be looking for other threats. For the time being this Russian that are coming in country, there have not been any major incident. So, I think that that’s a very wise attitude of the Georgian population to be tolerant unless proven otherwise. And to continue on our paths. That’s what we have done for all this decades – is not to try to second guess what Russia is trying to do but ourselves to continue on our paths. And that is Europe and that’s where we have to be fully supported by our European partners. We need them today more than ever. Their strategic decision to give, to grant candidate status to Georgia is really a strategic decision that will have to be taken for the Georgian populations including, if necessary, against their government.

Okay. We are nearly out of time. Just one last question if you will. For the record, going back to ‘Foreign Agent’ Law that’s been dabbed, you are going to stop this and you can stop this law.

I can put my veto. I cannot stop it if my majority in the parliament overthrows my veto which they are probably going to do. But that’s counting without voice of the people, without the support of the international community. I am sure that in the end we will overcome.

Okay. Well, thank you very much indeed for taking time to speak to us here on France 24. President Salome Zourabichvili. Thank you very much indeed!  


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