Prime Minister Bakhtadze Takes the Floor at PACE

Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze visited Strasburg this week. On April 9-10, Bakhtadze made an appearance at the Council of Europe, accompanied by David Zalkaliani, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tamar Chugoshvili, Deputy Speaker of the Parliament and Archil Talakvadze, Leader of the parliamentary majority. He held a number of bilateral meetings during the visit, including with Liliane Maury-Pasquier, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), and Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe. On Wednesday April 10, Bakhtadze gave a speech to the Assembly, addressing the Council of Europe’s Parliamentarians on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Georgia’s membership in PACE.

The speech opened, dramatically, with a live rendition of the classic Georgian folk song Chakrulo, sung by the men’s polyphonic choral ensemble ‘Rustavi,’ which Bakhtadze explained is “a marker of Georgian identity” through its diversity of tones.

Bakhtadze began his speech recognizing the support of PACE and other allies, which has led Georgian to achieve “unimaginable goals over the past 20 years.” “Georgia has managed to make a dramatic transformation, and today we are a country on the rise,” he added.

The Prime Minister dedicated his speech to “those killed for freedom,” nodding to the April 9, 1989 massacre when Soviet troops descended on peacefully protesting Georgians in the center of Tbilisi with tanks and riot gear. “Their fight was not fruitless,” said Bakhtadze, “as, after two years, we gained independence.”

“Peaceful demonstrations are no longer dispersed by the government in the country. Human rights protection is the top priority,” the Prime Minister stressed.

Most of the speech was dedicated to the theme of democracy, and Georgia’s “irreversible” democratic advancements. “Georgia has an ambition to become the role model of democracy in the region,” said Bakhtadze. He continued, saying that “Both PACE and Georgia can be proud of our democratic achievements,” and affirming the country’s commitments to the values of the Council of Europe – combating corruption, ensuring human rights and freedom of expression, and defending minority groups.

He also noted last autumn’s election of the first female president in the country’s history, Salome Zurabishvili, and the fact that at the end of last year Georgia adopted major reforms to the Constitution, which, he said, now provides for better, more democratic governance.

Georgia’s two main challenges, according to the Prime Minster, are territorial occupation and poverty. To addresses these challenges, the government is starting with systematic education reforms – likely to have a stronger impact on reducing poverty than freeing the occupied territories.

On the subject of the occupation, Bakhtadze told PACE, “20% of our territory is occupied by Russia. We have 300,000 IDPs who are deprived of their rights to return to their homes. The erection of barbed-wire fences, and the suppression of the local population are daily issues. The situation on the Georgian occupied territories is nothing other than a humanitarian catastrophe.”

He spoke aloud the names of Georgian citizens killed by occupying troops, warning that “we still deal with threats of abduction, torture and murder of Georgian citizens today.” He also thanked the Council for their support of the Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili sanctions list, which identifies individual human rights violators on the occupied territories of Georgia.

“The Russian Federation tries to undermine our peaceful initiatives, with...diversions they try to block all our efforts, with ethnic discrimination they try to fully eradicate the Georgian identity, but this won’t happen: we will never give up,” Bakhtadze pledged.

In the midst of the anger and hurt caused by the occupation, however, Bakhtadze emphasized that the only solution to the conflicts is a peaceful one. “Our joint victory will come only when our IDPs are able to return to their homes, bridges between people are fully restored, the rule of law and human rights is ensured throughout the whole territory of Georgia,” he said, going on to note the Georgian government’s policies to improve the quality of life for people in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, offering economic and social benefits, such as the new Step2BetterFuture program, although such programs are rarely taken advantage of.

“Today, from this stage, I would like to send a message to all our Ossetian and Abkhaz citizens - our every success is your success! And the only future that we see together is with you – united in peace and prosperity,” Bakhtadze proclaimed.

Another topic the Prime Minister breached is that of Russia’s non-payment of its PACE membership fee. To highlight the issue, the Government of Georgia donated 500,000 EUR to the PACE budget voluntarily “as a sign of gratitude” for the Council’s support over the last 20 years.

Bakhtadze closed his well-received speech with the famous quote from former Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, which he spoke before PACE in 1991: “I am Georgian and therefore I am European.” On the same day, Zhvania’s name and his famous quote were inscribed on a star outside the Palace of the Council of Europe in Strasburg, France.

By Samantha Guthrie

Image source: Government of Georgia

11 April 2019 15:48