Georgia’s foreign policy priorities have not changed since last year’s election which brought to power Georgian Dream party of Bidzina Ivanishvili, but relations with Russia are improving, writes Tedo Japaridze.
Tedo Japaridze is a member of Parliament from the Georgian Dream party, founded by the tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is now Prime Minister. Japaridze is a former foreign minister (2003-2004) who now chairs the Foreign Relations Committee in the Parliament of Georgia.
“Five years ago on 08 August, Georgia engaged itself in a bloody and self-defeating conflict with Russia. In a bid to demonstrate our country’s choice of a Euro-Atlantic path, we lost 20% of our territory to Russian occupation in just five days. Today, roughly 60,000 ethnic Georgians remain alienated from their homeland.
In October 2012, a new government came to power in Georgia, elected on a promise to learn from the mistakes of the past, and bring democracy, the rule of law, security and prosperity to the country. This is no easy task, but, with the support of our European friends, we are making progress.
Georgia’s foreign policy priorities have not changed since last year’s election. Euro-Atlantic integration remains our overarching objective. We understand that this is the only means for us to reach the goals enumerated above. On the other hand, the new government realises that reducing regional tensions and ending the occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are fundamental to NATO and European Union membership. Ironically, while Cold War rhetoric continues to abound in commentary about the region, Georgia’s independence, territorial integrity and long-term security depend on our escaping its vicious circle.
Over the last nine months, Georgia has embarked on a path of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, underpinned by a comprehensive reform programme.
Relations with Russia are improving thanks to our constructive engagement in the international Geneva Discussions and other conflict resolution and confidence-building measures, such as the reopening of limited trade.
This progress, along with internal democratic reforms and Georgia’s substantial contribution to international security, notably in Afghanistan, led NATO Secretary General Rasmussen to declare in June that Georgia is “closer than ever” to membership of the Alliance. We are also on track to sign an Association Agreement with the EU at the November Eastern Partnership summit.
Internally, we have prioritised entrenching democracy and the rule of law, with reforms to increase the balance of powers between the various branches of the executive, strengthen the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the press, and end impunity. The European Commission, Council of Europe, US Justice and State Departments, OSCE and numerous international NGOs have overseen this process and recognised its positive results.
Over the last nine months, much has changed in Georgia. On 01 August, the Tbilisi city court delivered its verdict in a test-case trial for the newly independent judiciary mandated to restore justice following years of impunity for government officials. In a country where, prior to the change in government, 99% of prosecutions ended in convictions, the acquittal on some charges of the highly controversial former interior and defence minister Bacho Akhalaia represented a historic moment. On 26 October, Georgia will hold its first truly free and fair presidential elections, with the government deploying hundreds of police to ensure the safety of opposition members during their primary meetings, instead of using the authorities to interfere with the campaign.
Five years ago, we learnt the hard way that there is no shortcut to realising the aspirations of the Georgian people of a Euro-Atlantic future. It took another four years for this lesson to sink in, but now, we are finally on the right track. The Georgia-EU Association Agreement will provide a solid framework for completing this task.”