Official web site of the President of Georgia

06.03.2019 

President Salome Zourabichvili's annual address to the Parliament 

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Mr. Chairman of the Parliament,
Mr. Prime Minister,
Patriarchal locum tenens,
Ministers and Deputies,
Mr. Chairman of the Constitutional Court,
Mr. Acting Chairman of the Supreme Court,
Messrs. Chairmen of the Autonomous Republics of Adjara and Abkhazia,
Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps,
Fellow Citizens inside and outside the Country’s Borders,
Today, I have the honor to be to address you and the Georgian people in the annual report format for the first time.
100 days have not yet passed since I took the office. At the very beginning of this important path, let me bring to your attention my first steps as President and share with you my position regarding a number of important issues.
I will start by reviewing my first visits abroad - what has attracted most public attention.
The order in which those visits were conducted was not selected randomly: As announced before, I paid my first visit to the European Union and NATO Headquarters, then to the two leading countries of Europe, Georgia’s friends and partners – France and Germany; in my capacity as Commander-in-Chief, I visited our soldiers in Afghanistan, whose bravery and devotion to duty continue to bring prominence to our country; in Kabul I met with the President of Afghanistan.  As for our region, I visited Azerbaijan, Georgia’s friend and neighbor… I will never forget the welcome extended to me in Qakh by the population of the historical province of Hereti.
High-level receptions, warmth, openness, and commitment to cooperation were clearly evident everywhere, and this is due to Georgia’s achievements, to the degree of confidence in the country and real prospects ahead, and not – or not only - to personal attitudes.
Sometimes we are under follow illusions and false perceptions, sometimes we find it difficult to believe our real achievements. I want to assure you that the road went through is seen much clearer from afar and, despite many difficulties, Georgia today is looked upon as a reliable and trustworthy partner!
This filled me with great pride and now I want to share it with you as it is our joint, our nation’s achievement!
With the support of our European partners we have come through the path that would have been unthinkable 15 years ago – a path encompasses Neighborhood Policy, Eastern Partnership, Association Agreement, free trade and visa liberalization. 
Perceiving Georgia on the European and world map is also hard to imagine. However, the path we have chosen makes it evident that our greatest asset is Georgia itself and the best way to use it is by promoting Georgia’s potential, culture, and identity. 
Unprecedented prospect is opening up ahead of Georgia, against the background of ongoing EU challenges and transformations. The future face of Europe is taking its shape today. In his special address to the 27 countries, French President Macron recently brought forward a new vision of Europe – an open Europe to all, - which calls for a revision of the existing enlargement and integration models. It opens up new ways for us to directly engage with Europe moving ahead at a “varying pace”. To a certain extent, we are already on this path – we participate in a range of programs and formats and aspire to join other formats as well.  We have the experience of such step-by-step “entrance” into education, security, transportation, and other sectors. Georgia is a full member of EuroPol, and we seek to ensure that Georgia is fully integrated with the cultural space of Europe. Our partners are highly committed to give due consideration to the particular position of Georgia as the most successful member among the associated countries.
This high commitment is further evidenced by the European partners’ embracing our key message – “More Georgia in Europe and More Europe in Georgia”. Another sign of positive attitude is their high-level participation in the upcoming Batumi Conference, where Georgia will have the chance to timely present its positions – timely, because the large-scale Conference for Europe where the new Concept of Europe will take shape is scheduled to be held in France, already by the end of the year.
Furthermore, Europe’s increasing interest in the Black Sea and Caucasus Freight and Logistical Corridor opens up new possibilities by establishing physical connection between the two coasts of the Black Sea. Azerbaijan also expressed close interest in the joint use of the Trans-Caspian and Black Sea transport potential.  
NATO maintains a highly positive attitude towards Georgia. During my visit I only heard high assessments of Georgia’s achievements, and its compliance with standards and requirements by NATO members, the Secretary-General, and high-ranking military officials.

High appraisal was given to military and political reforms conducted in Georgia. The clear proof of this is a great number of events scheduled for 2019, including the upcoming visits of the NATO Secretary General, Military Committee, North-Atlantic Council, as well as large-scale military exercises to be held in Georgia; rising interest in and cooperation on the issues relating to Black Sea security and cyber security. 
In this light, I would like to highlight that our aspirations to NATO and the European Union are not directed against anyone, nor do they imply aggressive aims. It is the sovereign right of a sovereign nation to choose the alliances they want to join in order to strengthen its own security and defense. This choice cannot be used as a ground for threat and will not lead to our intimidation and a change of our course. Is not it clear that despite the threats, aggression, pressure, war, and occupation of Georgian territories by Russia, Georgia has not strayed from the path of building statehood, consolidating democracy, boosting economy and strengthening independence. It is the victory of peaceful policy over the policy of threats and violence! 
We do not and will never tolerate occupation of our territories, kidnappings and moving borderlines that are parts of a policy of violence and blackmail. Nor do we tolerate the fact that negotiations today are only conducted at a technical level. With my partners, I highlighted the necessity of renewing high-level political discussions. They must make Russia understand that zero-sum games are in no one’s interests in the 21st century and that the policy of aggression is a way back to the past.

I used my visit to France to express my gratitude to France on behalf of Georgia for giving shelter to Georgian political emigrants in 1921, for facilitating the return of the Georgian treasures and for assisting in the ceasefire process of 2008. 
Signing the launch of the Dimitri Amilakhvari Structured Dialogue by Presidents was symbolically important. Within the framework of the Dialogue, Georgia and France agreed to strengthen cooperation in political, cultural, economic, security, and defense areas.
It is noteworthy that along with the United States, France has become one of Georgia’s key partners in enhancing its defense capabilities. France supplies air defense equipment to Georgia.
In the area of culture, we received an offer to host the Paris Book Fair 2020.
Germany has always supported Georgia in the political, economic and cultural areas.  Chancellor Merkel expressed her full readiness to support the intensification of bilateral economic relations and the promotion of Georgian culture in Germany. German companies show an increasing level of interest in the infrastructure projects scheduled to be implemented in Georgia.
France and Germany support the allocation of job quotas to our citizens that will reduce illegal immigration. Moreover, it will help out citizens receive vocational education.
Special note should be taken of the productive meeting held at UNESCO where positive appraisal was given to the idea of launching UNESCO regional center in Georgia. This initiative will impact Georgia’s geopolitical role in the region.
We also discussed the possibility of enlisting tolerance on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Tolerance is a value that serves as a pillar, on which Georgia, and the Caucasus as a whole, has historically been based. Tolerance today is shaken everywhere, and sometimes in Georgia as well. Declaring tolerance as cultural heritage serves the purpose of its protection worldwide.
 
Along with foreign relations, the role the President plays in upgrading societal standards is no less important. In this regard, I identified a number of priorities: regions, culture, diaspora, vulnerable population.
Regional development is an important cornerstone of the future of the country. I believe that the President’s visits to regions should not be less frequent and productive than visits abroad. My swearing-in ceremony was held in Telavi to highlight this point. I already visited Zugdidi and Kutaisi and plan to go to Kvemo Kartli, Samtskhe-Javakheti and Guria next.
Unemployment and severe social problems place a heavy burden on our citizens, which is felt more acutely in the regions.
During my visits to regions, I saw that there is a specific key to the development of each region. Along with the growing potential of wine-making, other sectors of agriculture are being developed.  Small and medium enterprises set examples of success. By using state programs and various funding sources, they manage to settle on domestic markets and even gain access to foreign markets already open to us. Free trade agreements with various countries and the development of transportation networks will create huge opportunities if the quality and marketing of Georgian products are duly upgraded. I’d like to single out the activities of women farmers who have already found their place in the Georgian economy and need further support. 
Along with the large-scale infrastructure projects ongoing in the regions, the use of new potential, such as developing health, wellness, balneo, mountain, archeological, religious and other types of tourism, is also crucial. We welcome the inclusion of new sites in the list of protected areas.  One of the effective ways of regional development lies through the high-level protection of these areas and serves the goal of environmental protection.
Culture is my constant priority both in Georgia and beyond its borders. It is an essential prerequisite for the regional development as there can be no economic development without culture; besides, nor keeping young people in the regions without involving them in cultural activities.
Access to cultural life is a main measure for the assessment of the quality of life. In this regard, we already started to work on a new concept, which will be presented to the wider public and cultural communities in the near future. 
By reviving local theatres, restoring museums, retaining and developing music education centers and, in general, by showing care to various fields of modern art, we will make a significant breakthrough in the cultural life of regions and the State as a whole. As President, I remain committed to back every initiative wherever needed.
Diaspora, along with regions and culture is yet another priority on my list. Let me emphasize several aspects.
During my visits abroad, I met with our students and emigrants. The status of citizen of Georgia is essentially important for our emigrants, especially, for the generation born abroad, in terms of maintaining their links to Georgia. It needs to be underlined that the constitutional amendment with respect to dual citizenship in practice was not followed by simplified procedures to the expected extent. We currently work with the Ministry of Justice to achieve further simplification of procedures for restoring or retaining Georgian citizenship
Georgian students abroad make up a huge human capital. I meet them during each visit abroad. We must create conditions for their dignified return to Georgia, on the one hand, and on the other, provide information on the most demanded professions in the future before they leave, so they could adapt their professional plans to the existing market.

 
My initiatives:
  1. For years, we had the main Center for Kartvelian and Caucasian Studies. It accepted applicants wishing to pursue the profession of Kartvelology. Our greatest scientists were brought up here. Our country is unique in this field. We should get this institution back.
With linguistics and Kartvelology, this center should conduct interdisciplinary research about Georgia, and the Caucasus. This will enable us to provide complete information about Georgia and the region to the international community.
It is vitally important for Georgia to establish such a Center. It can’t be restored without strong will and support from the State. Support from the Patriarch is also crucial.
  1. Strengthening the field of archeology. Under my patronage, I have supported the Georgian-Polish archeological expedition that aims to research the ancient Colchis culture in Kutaisi. I proposed to the German side to establish a branch of the German Archeology Institute in Georgia, which could assist the research of the ancient “Colchis Cultural Landscape of Kutaisi” and then – its nomination in UNESCO. Colcheti, as the region connecting us with Europe since ancient times, may become our country’s trademark in Europe.
In the country of such rich archeological heritage, archeology should be better developed and the profession should become more attractive. At a time when many archeological sites of the world are inaccessible because of wars and destructions, Georgia has a chance to establish its unique role in this field.
  1. Support to conference tourism. Considering the high interest toward our country and thanks to its location, the conference tourism represents a very reliable and rapidly developing field.
In this respect, we already have a conference center of an international level in Kutaisi - the former building of Parliament. It doesn’t need any radical transformation to start holding conferences. At the same time, this will boost local employment. The infrastructure in Kutaisi – airport, railway, and highway - satisfies all the requirements for such center. The network of Tskaltubo hotels will naturally join this new complex and attract investments in the area.
  1. Enhancing diaspora involvement. I definitely think the diaspora should have its representative in Parliament, defender of its interests. A similar practice exists in all European countries with a large diaspora. We should talk about adopting this experience.
It is also desirable to establish an “Emigrant’s House” based on the one-window principle, as to enable all the necessary information for visiting compatriots.
  1. Support to reconciliation process in the society and restore public consent.
Polarization reached an extreme character in our country, and not only here. A violent environment affects each individual.
Society is waiting for the situation to stabilize. It needs to calm down and reconcile. This will be impossible without reaching a civilized form of delivering information and social networking. We should stop the flow of disinformation, slander, hatred, violations of private life.
 
When the media is full of false and distorted news, all the information becomes unreliable. As a result, the society remains uninformed and loses the ability to analyze. This paves the way for conspiracy theories and establishes a violent environment. Without protected and objective information, it is impossible to retain a democratic system and state stability.
The Khorava Street tragedy was the result of accumulated hatred toward each other and unreliability. In reality, when there is a poor political culture, society, and especially the youth, is expecting examples from us. Public consent is the only answer to this expectation.
I have proposed an initiative that triggered a fear that it was directed at restricting free speech. I must underline that freedom of expression is the core principle for a modern, democratic state. On the other hand, we cannot underestimate the danger of slander and false information for individuals and society at large.
Intervening in the election processes or provoking instability has become a new method used by hostile forces. This is mentioned in the OSCE report’s recommendations. In response to this problem, new ideas include the establishment of an EU Center for the Protection of Democracy and new regulations in several countries. (For example, the announcement by Great Britain’s Royal Family)
My initiative was already discussed with NGOs and this process will continue. I hope we can present joint recommendations in near future.
 

 
Social and Health Care Fields are also key challenges for the President, where my active involvement is necessary, despite the fact that the President has no separate resources to resolve these problems.
In our country, despite certain economic improvements, a large part of the population is not engaged in such advancements.
Unemployment, homelessness, frequent diseases, economic insecurity, non-inclusive approaches to persons with disabilities - all these are our strategic challenges of the day.
One of the main priorities for me is availability of modern diagnostic and therapeutic tools for the children with oncologic diseases in our country. Children with cancer and their parents must not be forced to travel abroad operations like bone marrow transplants. A project for a non-profit Center of Pediatric Oncology has been developed and we, together with Mariam Jashi, intend to present this project before the Parliament and society.
Building of public housing is also a priority. In this, we can learn from the practices of many countries.

Many questions are asked by the media and society with regards to the current political processes. They ask for the President’s comments practically all the time. There is a false idea that the President must express her positions on all political events. Such an obligation is not within the new Constitution’s powers granted to the President. The President must be separated from political parties and must be far from these tensions. The President is the symbol of the State’s stability and sustainability. The President is a state figure and not a partisan official. Expression of the President’s positions would be interference in the competences of other branches of government.
However, it is something completely different when the position is expressed toward principles of state importance and not toward ongoing political developments.
The pardon power, the court system and related challenges, and the creation of a National Security Council are issues that are of great interest to society.
The use of the pardon power by former presidents looked more like amnesty than the concept on which the discretionary right of the President was built on.
Amnesty is an absolutely different form of legal mechanism involving a large number of people relieved of sentence. The President’s discretionary right is neither a substitution for conditional release nor a mechanism to improve judicial shortcomings. 
Discretionary right to pardon implies the selection of specific and special individual cases by the President, in which human principles are prioritized. Strict adherence to these principles implies significant reduction of pardoning acts. This also diminishes the risks to society, risks that always accompany mass pardons.
Changes in the pardon system envisages moving the Pardon Commission under the Ministry of Justice. Representatives of various administrative bodies are also to be included in the Commission. The Commission will review applications meeting the new criteria and prepare respective recommendations. The final decisions will be the President’s prerogative.
While taking decisions, personal, social, religious, or political interferences shall not be taken into account. The process will also exclude any justification for granting or refusing such a pardon, either to particular people or to society.
As for the lifetime appointment of judges, the key goal is strengthening the trust in courts. I hope that the legislative body, which works on defining essential criteria for judicial appointments, will be guided only by this standard. 
Expression of the President’s personal viewpoints in judicial selections is unacceptable, as it would be interference in the responsibilities of legislative and judicial bodies. The only thing the President can do is to remind all judges that they are liable to show the restraint relevant to their profession. Political statements from them are not permissible and this adversely affects the trust in courts. 
As you are aware, lifetime appointment of judges is supported by the Venice Commission and that practice is used in number of countries; however, requirements and criteria for judicial selections are considerably strict.
Due to the sensitivity of the issue, quick decisions in this process will not be positive. Finally, the legislative body is responsible to take such decision, which, on the one hand, meets international standards and, on the other, complies with Georgian reality in the best way. As a result, the trust in courts will increase. Consolidation of our society and economic development of the country depends on strengthening judicial system.
It is worth noticing that during all my meetings abroad, our partners always underline the importance of the continuation of court reform and sustainability of our court system. I observe this process with great attention.
Debates in Parliament on the creation of a National Security Council led to a necessity to define the scope of information to be provided to the President within the frame of her competences. The principle agreement has been reached.
And finally, on the ongoing political processes in Parliament: in this case, I will also refrain from expressing my personal viewpoints on the developments within political parties. I can only express my opinion about the new situation in Parliament – while a constitutional majority no longer exists and while a rearrangement of factions within the minority may take place.
These processes, in my opinion, are natural within the new parliamentary system. In such systems, it is sometimes necessary to create coalitions to ensure a parliamentary majority or to approve a new government. 
Such developments should neither be a surprise nor a destructive or dangerous factor, as long as they do not threaten the country’s stability and main directions. 
Disintegration, unification or rearrangements within parties are not as important as political discourse, sharp statements, and cases of insults that may hinder future cooperation.
Considering the location of our country and the great importance of our stability and aspirations, we have no right to do so. All of us who dream of tomorrow’s Georgia as a strengthened state need to show high responsibility and political culture.