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Press Office   Interviews   Le Figaro - Interview with President Salome Zourabichvili

Le Figaro - Interview with President Salome Zourabichvili

INTERVIEW – The Georgian President, a former French diplomat freshly elected, met President Macron on Tuesday morning to ask for “more Europe in Georgia.”
LE FIGARO- Your story resembles that of a fairy tale, from your birth in a Georgian emigrant family expelled by the communists, to your return to the country of your ancestors as French ambassador, then as minister, and finally as President… Is that not an enormous task?
SALOME ZOURABICHVILI- It’s as well luck as it is an obstacle and a destiny. As a believer, I think things don’t happen randomly, but there is a part that we all must accomplish, and I’ve always had the idea that I had the duty to serve both countries. I served France for several years, before I wanted to serve the country that my parents and grandparents had left and which, having recently regained its independence, needed all the help it could get.
L.F.- When you were minister, you felt like an “imported” element. You had discovered a tribal, post-communist culture filled with caltrops. Is that still the case?
SZ- Things have changed in Georgia, but there still remains a lot to do. The last revolution to do is that of mentalities. A big problem in Georgian bureaucracy is the lack of initiative, the fear in front of responsibilities. But this a lot less true in the private sector, a dynamic and quasi-European sector, while the administrative sector remains difficult, including because of certain laws to protect public employees that we put into place and that even France wants to get rid of! For instance, I am practically forced to keep most of the people in the presidential administration, even though I need my own team!
LF- Does this reduce your capacities, already limited by the reduction in presidential powers?
SZ- It’s true that the President has lost a lot of prerogatives. We are in a parliamentary regime. But the presidency remains elected universally and has a term of 6 years and, thus, comes with a great independence and a field of approaches not covered by governmental politics: societal evolution, cultural fields, the environment, the protection of liberties, the question of “fake news”, our Georgian diaspora. Among my prerogatives is also the protection of the Abkhaz language which, in the context of Russia’s increasingly oppressive occupation of Abkhazia, is a subject.
LF- Speaking of Russia, you’ve been accused of being the candidate of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the most powerful oligarch in the country and very close to Moscow, and to have made a Faustian deal with him.
SZ- I have made no such deal! I announced my candidacy alone and the majoritarian party held an epic internal discussion for nearly a month to decide whether or not it would support me… I had no previous agreement, neither with Ivanishvili or anyone else. Moreover, to say that Ivanishvili is a conduit to the Russians is false. He is undeniably important. He was the one who financed former President Saakashvili’s grand reforms, notably on the army and the police, before he involved himself in politics. But since 2012, he has given no evidence of preference toward Russia, unlike Saakashvili, who had sold to Russia the great strategic tools of the country, such as our electricity, water, and gas. Instead, Europe has become Georgia’s principal partner, ahead of the Turks and Russians.
LF- Where are the relations with the Russia that you know so well?
Frozen! Following the Rose Revolution, we had a window of opportunity that I managed to seize to negotiate the departure of Russian bases. Today, there is no moment to seize as today’s Russia and today’s Putin are not the same anymore. We are facing constant provocations on the occupation lines. Sometimes, residents are abducted, sometimes, Russian soldiers advance into our territory with new barbed wires and modified boundaries. These create a permanent insecurity.

Russia, as all large empires, doesn’t have a set goal on this subject. She is molted by the strength of her imperialism’s inertia. She cannot accept what she considers a drawback of her territory, even on fractionally small parcels. Just look at the Kuril Islands question in front of the Russian immensity. Russia still hasn’t managed to accept us as a neighbor within a defined territory, which means that we have a dominating and very complicated neighbor with whom it is impossible to know why it attempts to destabilize us. Everything remains blurry and it is this blurriness that handicaps us.
LF- Georgia’s attachment to Europe is her line of strength when faced with this situation.
We are a little bit like the last of the Mohicans of European enthusiasts! 80% of us thinks that the only possible route is Europe. But we have to be vigilant because this subjects us to Russian propaganda which, along with the “fake news” on social media, lead an insidiously anti-European campaign. George resists as she is partially immunized against propaganda and because we’ve witnessed concrete progress. To maintain this infatuation without the prospect of immediate integration, we have to enter the EU step by step: the Europe of education, culture, transportation, etc.: everywhere where we are ready.