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Salome Zourabichvili: Georgia's hope for the EU and NATO has not disappeared

Salome Zourabichvili: Georgia's hope for the EU and NATO has not disappeared
Postimees interview with Georgian President. 

Ainar Ruunarspecial correspondent
May 20, 2019, 0:01
*Georgia sees Brexitis as an opportunity to move faster towards the EU
*80% of Georgia's population support the country's accession to NATO and the EU
*Georgia is asking partners to ask Russia questions and remember what happened.
*Georgians have visited the EU 750,000 times since the visa waiver.

Last week, Georgian President Salomé Zurabišvili went on a state visit to Estonia. In an interview with the Postimees, the President spoke about Georgia's desire to reach NATO and the European Union (EU), as well as the obstacles that Russia, a great neighbor, has thrown into their way.
Are the Georgians tired of waiting for an invitation to NATO and the EU?
No. Support for NATO and EU accession has not changed and is still supported by 80 percent of Georgians. We have not experimented with some embarrassing ways of thinking and we are convinced of our past and values. We also have no alternatives in geopolitical terms. Whether or not to move to NATO and the EU is not a question at all.
What mistakes has the West made in Georgian politics?
It is very difficult to say because history cannot be rewritten.
Perhaps the enlargement of the EU should have begun earlier, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it would have provided a variety of opportunities.
Whether it would have yielded a better result, nobody knows it. Europe has not failed and we remember the French President Nicolas Sarkozy's action in 2008 to stop the war, and then he represented Europe. We were not alone in the situation where we were put.
What mistakes has Georgia made in its path to NATO and the EU?
Georgia has not made any mistakes. We know that our way is longer, and we know that one of the reasons for this is our geographical position. As one of the oldest Christian countries, we have also historically been part of Europe.
But we also know that we have one very powerful neighbor who has tried to prevent and slow down our movement towards Europe, but has failed to destroy our goals.
After Brexit, the EU needs change. Which?
I think the EU needs us. We could bring to Europe fresh enthusiasm that Europe could need, especially after the United Kingdom left.
I myself had been in Europe for a long time, I know Europe very well and I can say that I am the first European president in Georgia.
I have taught the EU's foreign policy and seen how the EU works during various crises. Every crisis has given Europe a new impetus. I am sure Brexit is good in this sense, because it brings about change and new capabilities, including for us.
 
After Russia's aggression in Georgia and Ukraine, the Black Sea has become increasingly important for Western countries. What does that mean for Georgia?
For us, the Black Sea has always been very important, it is our way to Europe.
Now the security of the Black Sea is also important for NATO and we are seeing more and more NATO ships in our ports. As a Black Sea country, we are increasingly focusing on EU attention through various investment, logistics and transport projects. We are involved in all these projects, because security and engagement must go hand in hand.
Georgia has been tolerant of occupied territories. How long will this tolerance be shared?
First, Georgia is a very tolerant country. Tolerance and resilience have been our values, and Georgia has not been conquered for 27 centuries. Our capital has been attempted to burn 26 times, but it could not be overthrown.
We are being provocated to prevent our movement towards NATO and the EU, but we are not subject to them. We also know that we do not have a great deal of opportunity to resolve these conflicts, and that is why we are trying to encourage people-to-people contacts and avoid contradictions.
“We have one very powerful neighbor who has been trying to prevent and slow down our movement towards Europe, but has failed to destroy our goals.”
 
Recently, the President of Estonia and Russia met. You called after the Estonian Head of State and thanked him for raising Georgia's topic.
Yes, yes. We must remind Russia all the time, even if it does not change their attitude. It must always be remembered that they are not acting in accordance with international law, they are in breach of their obligations, they do not respect the territorial integrity of their neighbors.
We need to be consistent and Russia must know that, alongside the occupation of new sites, old things are not forgotten. This is very important.
Are high-level contacts between Moscow and Tbilisi impossible in the current situation?
Everything is always possible. There is no diplomatic relationship between our countries because of the occupied territories. Until there are signs from the Russian side that they have something to talk about or think about something, why?
But we ask our partners to do the work they can't do themselves. We ask them to remember what happened and ask questions.
What is your message to Estonian entrepreneurs who are looking at Georgia, but have not dared to invest in it for any reason so far?
There is no risk-free business. It is quite clear that Georgia is a free enterprise where many young people are successful in the tourism sector, start-up companies and develop new industries.
This shows that we are very open and it is easy to start a business in Georgia. Estonian entrepreneurs could come and see for themselves.
We move on, though not as fast as everyone would like. But we have a lot of people who want rapid development, and this is also reflected in the number of EU visits since the introduction of the visa waiver - in a year and a half, Georgian citizens have used this opportunity 750,000 times. People see the development of Europe and want us to do it the same way.
The Eastern Partnership marks ten years. Does Georgia have special expectations for a partner country in Estonia?
Certainly. All the more so, despite the geographical distance and some of the peculiarities of the countries, our experiences were very similar during the Soviet regime.
Estonia has been our strong supporter in the EU. We are not surrounded by countries like the Baltic States, Finland or Sweden, and Estonia's role in the Eastern Partnership has been inspiring and innovative for Georgia in many areas.
Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze recently said that the Eastern Partnership needs new great ideas and new tasks to move forward. What new ideas and new goals does Georgia expect?
We know what it is. The idea is to take advantage of the situation created by Brexit. Someone goes out and someone comes in. We want to be the ones who come in. We push all the doors and even though one big door is not yet fully open, we try through smaller doors. Our idea is to move towards the EU through a variety of areas and programs, and one day find yourself in the EU.
Salome Zourabichvili
Born 18.03.1952 in Paris. 
Former French diplomat of Georgian origin. 
In the autumn of 2003, Zurabishvili became the French Ambassador to Georgia, and in 2004 she became Georgia's first female foreign minister. At the same time, she continued to represent France. 
In 2016 she escaped to the Georgian Parliament, and in November 2018 he won the Georgian presidential election as the first woman. 
Zurabishwili has dual nationality in France and Georgia.