GD-Supported Presidential Candidate Accuses Media of "Stirring Ethnic Hatred"

Independent presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili, who is supported by the ruling party Georgian Dream (GD), accused media of “stirring ethnic hatred” during her debates with the other presidential candidates on Wednesday night.

Zurabishvili stated that the media quoted “false statements” regarding her comment on ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili’s granting Georgian citizenship to Turkish people.

“The ones who disseminate false information stir ethnic hatred. This is like playing with fire. Such actions are anti-Georgian,” she stressed.

Zurabishvili made a statement of xenophobic content when she was meeting her supporters from Akhaltsikhe, Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda on October 2 and in the negative context mentioned ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s action of granting Georgian citizenship to Turks.

"One president whose representative is my opponent granted citizenship to many Turks but not to you,” she addressed the local ethnic Armenian citizens in Ninotsminda.

However, now she denies making such statements, adding she only compared procedures of granting citizenship now and in Saakashvili’s times.

“I made such a comparison to underline that now we have different procedures which allow everyone to enjoy the same rights in terms of getting citizenship,” she explained.

Zurabishvili says she was brought up in Europe and tolerance is a key priority for her.

“All the remarks that were made by me in the densely populated regions or in Tbilisi mentioned this tolerance as one of the values we need to take to Europe because sometimes Europe itself can forget this value,” she added.

After Zurabishvili’s comments made on October 2 in Ninotsminda, 15 NGOs released a statement claiming that state officials, election candidates and leaders of various political parties often use hate speech and disseminate intentional xenophobic statements.

They added that the statement of the ruling party-supported presidential candidate “proves to be extremely alarming, undermining state interests. The statement also contains the signs of illegal canvassing.”

According to the organizations, the Electoral Code of Georgia reads the candidates have the right to present a program for their further activity, however the election program shall not contain propaganda for war or violence, appeal for change or overthrow of the existing state and social order by violence, for violation of the territorial integrity of Georgia, for national strife and enmity, or for religious or ethnic confrontation.

“We consider that the above-mentioned statement of the presidential candidate incites hatred, contradicts the principles of liberal democracy and equality, invokes historic conflict in the modern Georgian political reality and employs all of it against political opponents,” the NGOs claimed.

The non-governmental sector noted that in order to ensure a healthy pre-election environment, campaigns should be based on the protection of human rights, equality, and principles of integrity.

By Thea Morrison

25 October 2018 20:37