Anti-government rallies in Georgia earlier this month highlighted the strength of the opposition to Mikhail Saakashvili. But the pro-western president remains popular across much of the country.
Nino Burdjanadze, the ex-speaker of parliament, feels there is a need for change, however. The one-time interim president has not thrown her lot in with the street protestors, but she has distanced herself from the Georgian leader. In an interview with euronews she explained why.
NB: “Of course our administration and the President himself and our team made a lot of good things, without any doubt and in these four years we made many positive reforms and we implemented a lot of things which was impossible to imagine four years ago. Without any doubt, but at the same time we made some mistakes, quite serious mistakes: it was necessary to end the revolution and I was absolutely sure that we should change our style of ruling, we should strengthen democracy, we should strengthen the democratic development of this country because it is very important. How? You need to support independence of media, you need to support independence of courts, you need to strengthen decentralization of the country, you need to strengthen self-governance.”
Five years ago Burdjanadze stood shoulder to shoulder with Saakashvili in the so-called Rose Revolution that brought him to power. But she now feels the revolution and its leadership has run its course, and that Georgia needs to take the next on the step on the road to democracy.
NB: “The level of democracy in our country is not satisfactory, let’s say, of course Georgia is more democratic then other former Soviet countries, but it is not the best example for me personally and for many Georgians. I don’t want to compare Georgia and the level of democracy in Georgia with some former Soviet countries, I want to compare the level of democracy in my country with the Baltic countries, with Poland, with the Czech Republic and with other countries where democracy is quite strong. This is very important and we need stronger institutions, we don’t need only leaders in this country.”
Saakashvili’s political allies emerged triumphant in legislative elections in May, reinforcing his claims of widespread support across the nation. Burdjanadze believes his tough stance on Russia is a big factor in his continued popularity.
NB: “People are united in Georgia right now against Russian aggression and of course people united around the president when Russia has tried to change regime, because it’s not up to Russia to decide who should be the president of our country, it’s only up to the Georgians to decide who should speak on behalf of the Georgian population. It’s not up to Russia, it’s not up to anybody.”
In April Moscow signed agreements with Abhkazia and South Ossetia, strengthening ties between Russia and the two breakaway Georgia regions. It served as a prelude to this summer’s conflict and Burdjanadze feels Tiblisi fell into Russia’s trap.
NB: “Russia really created all the circumstances of provocation and it was quite visible that Russia is trying to provoke Georgia. And this was visible in April when Russia created, and President Putin signed at that time president, a special statement concerning the direct relations between Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were an absolutely illegal document of course. And it was sure that at that time Russia wanted to create some kind of crisis in Abkhazia and fortunately we were able to prevent a crisis at that time. And it was absolutely sure in August when Kokoity was shooting to Georgian villages that they were trying to involve Georgia in provocation, they created a trap and they wanted to bring Georgia in that trap. My concerns and my criticism are based on these issues. And one of the questions that I’ve sent to the president and to the government was: “was it possible to avoid this trap…” when we all knew that it was a trap “…or not?” But I didn’t receive any answer.”
While remaining critical of the government’s response, Burdjanadze is at pains not to be seen to minimise what Georgians regard as Russian aggression.
NB: “Russia sent its army in a sovereign country, violating the borders of a sovereign country. Violating the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of a country which is the member of the United Nations. And even if Russia wanted to protect the Ossetians, even if Russia wanted to respect its obligations as a peacekeeper, they would had called the UN, they had not the right to act.”
Only two countries have supported Abhkazia and South Ossetia in their claims to be sovereign states — Russia and Nicaragua. So where does Burdjanadze stand on how to respond to Russia’s recognition of the two as new countries.
NB: “I don’t think that a total isolation of Russia will bring some positive results and I’m not for building a new iron curtain, between Russia and the rest of the world, of course frankly to say yes, we were waiting that the reaction of many countries would be more tough and more strong, because it was quite clear that Russia was guilty, creating an aggression against Georgia, but from another side I understand that a total isolation of Russia wouldn’t be helpful, I think that it is very important to press Russia to implement agreement which was signed, I mean the Sarkozy agreement, it was very important to press Russia to participate in international negotiations and not to block negotiations like they did in Geneva right now. It will be very important that maybe, maybe… I want to be more optimistic, may be countries who aren’t very tough against Russia will try to use their positive position to bring Russia to the negotiation table and to press them with soft hands, maybe.”
After biding her time Burdjanadze is now making her move, founding a centre-right political party and signalling she may run for president in 2012.