The historic process of impeaching the incumbent president has been the talk of the town for nearly a month now, but this is just one of the many issues GEORGIA TODAY discussed with Anna Dolidze, a professor and politician who devoted her career to defending those who were oppressed by the people in power. The Former Deputy Minister of Defense founded her political party “For the People” two years ago, and is preparing to fight for seats in Parliament next year. She may even run for President in 2024.
Let’s begin with the impeachment process of President Zurabishvili. What do you think about it?
Well, for us, for our party, this decision or this move from the ruling party is unjustified, both from the perspective of content, as well as the timing. From the perspective of content, compared to the number of issues that Georgian Dream has at hand and amount of governance decisions they have to make, from climate change to the collection and export of walnuts from Georgia and relevant assistance to Georgian farmers, to the plethora of other questions and obligations that Georgian Dream has, instead of this, they are chasing an issue where the results are not at all as significant. As such, I believe the objective of GD is to divert the attention of the public from pressing issues to this.
Further, the timing of it is very wrong, because right now Georgia is awaiting the decision from the European Union in relation to its candidacy status and we need to be fulfilling those recommendations which were given us. Instead of a very serious business discussion on fulfilment of the recommendations, where we stand and what we need to do to receive candidacy status, Georgian Dream is trying to impeach the president. Naturally, this is not going to impact the reputation of Georgia abroad at all well. The move is all-round unjustifiable.
You can watch the video version of the interview here:
Only a few months remain before we hear whether Georgia is to be granted EU candidacy status. EU High Representative Josep Borrell says only three of the 12 recommendations were fulfilled. Tell us about your expectations.
Yes, unfortunately, it is indeed the case that Georgian Dream did not put enough effort into drafting the reforms, to meeting the recommendations and I have to say, knowing very well Georgian public service, they are very much capable of delivering on these recommendations and drafting these reforms. There have been a myriad of ideas and proposals in relation to the area that I know best- judicial reform. They could have been written and delivered to the EU in a fortnight, yet GD chose not to do so.
I can speak specifically of a couple of areas: One is judicial reform, where the reform has not been as robust, as serious, as impactful as necessary to get rid of the informal group that is running the courts right now, and to ensure the independence of the court. The same concerns, for example, the measures to be taken in relation to violence against women. We are in a really dire situation on this issue and I haven’t seen any reforms in this regard. The same could be said about fighting organized crime – a specific recommendation, or deoligarchization, where we have a specific proposal in relation to the people who have been working for the businesses and for the family of Bidzina Ivanishvili. So, unfortunately, it’s true and it makes me very sad that GD did not invest enough in delivering on those recommendations.
Out of nowhere, the United States sanctioned Mr. Partskhaladze. What was your reaction when you heard it and did you see it coming?
The US first sanctioned the group of justice that I would say really deserved this kind of pressure, in fact, this sanction came a little late, if you ask me, because the campaign against the organized, informal group that runs the court’s so-called clan or quasi mafia group, was in its heyday, maybe, in 2018-2019. I was its leader among others, and that is when we needed it- when there was a serious grassroots movement and it would have been nice to receive a serious response from abroad not only the various reports from international organizations and partner states.
The sanctions against Mr. Partskhaladze- I personally didn’t see it coming. Mr Partskhaladze is an informal actor of the system right now, a person who has accumulated credible wealth, who has served at high levels of government, and who continues to exercise this power as a mediator between various echelons, various levels of government. To my mind Mr Partskhaladze deserved this sanction as a response. If he and actors like him are removed from the scene, the power of informal governance will diminish, and I expect that these sanctions will not stop at Mr Partskhaladze alone.
And yet, unlike Mr. Ivanishvili, you’ve never called Mr. Partskhaladze out as an oligarch. I wonder, how did you not know about him?
No, we raised his name many times a couple of years ago, publicly, not requesting a sanction but raising the issue of him as an actor, because he was allegedly engaged in this large-scale fraud scheme, which amounts to seven hundred million Lari, related to AT taxation. He was implicated in various shady deals, however, you are right in the sense that we didn’t identify him specifically as an informal interlocuter and it’s good that the US with its intelligence sources could identify him as an interlocutor with Russia.
We know how the informal government structure is run. I know personally, because I’ve observed the judges in the high council of justice. The formal government structures need an interlocutor, a go-between person, who will take back and forth the messages between the informal governor and the established structure, and we identified other people, among them Mr. Chinchaladze, one of the judges, Mr. Murusidze, another of the judges, and other people in the judicial system. However, we never pointed to Mr Partskhaladze per se. I guess, he was too skillful at staying out of the public eye.
Who else do you expect to be on that list?
There are a number of people who serve very important roles below Bidzina Ivanishvili. For example, small oligarch Vano Chkhartishvili, who isn’t small in terms of what ordinary people could afford, but in terms of the wealth above him. He is quite influential. A very nice Russian scholar who lives in the UK notes how hard it is to identify these forms of influence and power because all of it is secret and remains non-transparent and informal, but it refers to anybody who exercises a lot of influence and power over economic, as well as political processes.
Another general election is ahead of us. Are you prepared for it, and if so, who do you consider a possible ally? Which parties will be on your blacklist?
2024 will not be an ordinary election. Georgian Dream has been in power for more than 10 years and has overstepped the usual democratic cycle of two terms, and I think there is a lot of discontent among the public. There is an impetus for change. These are going to be transformative elections, just like the 2003 elections and 2012 elections. We have to prepare for it very well. I wouldn’t say we’re already in campaign mode, we’re in the preface to that intense period. We are preparing for the election messaging specifically. A lot will depend on what the EU decides – That’s a very serious variable.
The peculiarity of Georgian politics is that we have two dominant parties right now: the ruling party and the United National Movement. The problem is not the polarization per say, but the recent past of Georgian history, meaning a lot of undecided voters will not vote for UNM due to its human rights record. So, when we speak of alliances, it’s really important for my constituency to delineate who our potential allies are, because an alliance with UNM then has to be clarified in terms of type of alliance and vision for the judiciary, because UNM’s record with judges, with human rights, with prisons, has been abysmal.
As such, for us, an alliance is not a consideration with either GD and UNM, and we will instead develop relations with parties that are beyond these two poles. These relationships could be just collegial, could be a real alliance, could be a partnership, could be an issue-based partnership. What form they will take, the future will show.
Would you work with the Lelo, Girchi, Girchi More Freedom, Citizens, Droa or For Georgia parties?
I would first say that we are a very European party in terms of the European tradition of governance, in the sense that we collaborate with the various parties on an issue basis. So, above all, we are a party which has a very strong issue-based agenda, which will be close to the Social-Democratic agenda worldwide, and we collaborate with other parties in other countries who share the same agenda. Domestically, we have an issue-based collaboration with everybody you mentioned. So, for instance, on gender issues in Tbilisi Council, we collaborate both with Lelo and the For Georgia parties. On other issues, we collaborate with Lelo without a problem, and we had the same position in relation to conscription and recruitment in the military with Girchi.
We will continue working in that vein. Right now we don’t know what cards are on the table in the sense that we don’t know what kind of support each of us has. It’s too far ahead of the elections. I would not like to delineate a specific partner. One thing is true though, it will not be UNM among the opposition parties and definitely not GD.
In 2024, for the first time in our history, 90% of the population of Georgia will vote via electronic devices. Tell us your opinion about this major change.
So, as I understand, it’s currently being tested in two election districts. We come from a specific dramatic Soviet past, where people lived with the idea that the government was watching them, that they were being wire-tapped, that there was no division between private and public life and no privacy. So, we first have to see what the people think about the new mechanisms, what mechanisms there are to ensure the privacy and secrecy of choice. It’s been a serious problem, cellphones with cameras being used as a pressure instrument on the public to monitor how they vote, seeing them asked to take a screenshot of their ballot and show it to their bosses at their workplaces. I initiated a proposal to ban cellphones in voting booths, but it was never heard by GD. My point here is that people here are under a lot of pressure during the elections, and they are used to being threatened with surveillance, monitoring, their votes being shown. The secrecy of ballots is very often violated. So, I see danger in the electronic voting, but I also see very big benefits from it. In many countries, including the United States, people still vote via old-fashioned ballots. Let’s see what the reports will be from these two districts, what the feelings are among the population and what both technical and political experts say. Then we will arrive at a judgment, on whether or not this is a step forward.
Your political profile is full of stories of defending those who were oppressed by the political leaders. Sandro Girgvliani is a good example. With such a reputation, will you be running for the presidential office in 2024.
Oh, what a question! I haven’t thought about it, though I’ve been told to do so by the public on social media. I certainly don’t exclude it. First, we have parliamentary elections and then the indirect election of the president. There are no more direct elections, and I fought a lot against this change. So, first, we have to work on the political transformation in the parliament, where the power and policy-making lie. I want to devote and will devote all the best of my resources to making sure we succeed in this realm. Then we’ll speak about the rest.
Two months have passed since the Shovi landslide. One of the worst days of the year and of the century for us. What do you think about the measures taken by the government?
That’s one of the most serious challenges for this government right now. Not only Shovi but climate change and sustainable development overall. The government here is failing miserably. It is a reality that sustainable development and climate change are the issues that are at the top of the agendas of all governments. Unfortunately, we’re not doing our homework. What happens, and how are we affected?
We live next to the Caucasus mountains and we know a lot from experts that ice on the Caucasus mountains is melting. We demand the government be vocal, internationally and domestically, about the environment and climate change. If this had been the case, we wouldn’t have had the Shovi disaster, and relative measures in terms of an early warning system and civil defense system – everything would have been in place. When I was growing up in the Soviet Union, we used to have regular training for civil defense, for environmental issues and for sudden problems that could happen, like explosions or earthquakes. This system was abolished with no replacement, so the government wasn’t ready for Shovi, they weren’t paying attention to climate change at all. Even now, we don’t know what happened, even now, we don’t know the truth, and the biggest question people from Racha have is will it happen again? We need a government vision and strategy to tackle climate change, and while it doesn’t exist, we remain unprotected and questions in relation to Shovi remain unanswered. I think one of the reasons we need to change the government is that we need to put in place those people who understand what sustainable development is, not just development and economic development, but sustainable development.
Would you say the government is responsible for the death of more than 30 people?
I would really like to have an honest discussion with the ruling party about Shovi. That would be very important, an honest discussion means something like, abroad it would be a public inquiry, journalistic investigation or anything that the government would not consider as an attack on it, but as an invitation for discussion. So, I would say that serious questions remain. We haven’t heard what steps the government was capable of taking and took in relation to averting this environmental disaster. We don’t know. Everything that we’ve heard from the government in relation to, for instance, rescue helicopters is gossip and self-contradictory. So, this issue, if we want to avert similar cases in the future. We live in a very beautiful environment but in a highly volatile region geographically and geologically. So, as much as we enjoy what we have around us, the Caucasus, we have to know and we have to have a grip on it and we have to feel what’s going on with it, with nature. Right now, I don’t see anything in this regard, no movement.
Femicide is a problem our society faces even today. Women are beaten and killed by those who should love them most. What is the way out of this problem?
It’s a very sensitive issue and if anybody is watching the news, they can see that, at least once a week we hear a horrible story of femicide. Last week there was a woman who was killed in front of her kids and parents. I would say, in general, family violence, broadly violence against kids and violence against women is a serious problem, and I’m very thankful that the EU mentioned this in its agenda because it let us highlight that this is a serious issue. Yet, so far, we don’t have a single measure taken by the government to avert this, and we will be paying price for this for many years to come. Everybody impacted by this is deeply traumatized, and they will need rehabilitation, healthcare services, to become members of society and all of these stories will keep working, unfortunately, in a negative way. We know this from trauma scholarship and, unfortunately, awareness of this government on relation to this is very limited. So, we have to keep up the pressure. Thankfully, there are lots of NGOs, there is foreign aid, and there is a great demand from the public for measures to be taken.