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Address by President Zourabichvili at "Geocase Talks with Decision-Makers on the Georgian Experience in the Time of Coronaviru

Thank You,
Ladies and Gentlemen, It is my pleasure to be here today.
 
I would like to thank Geocase for the initiative of these talks, which I’m sure will be very useful for discussing many points that are relevant to today’s Georgia, and its internal or international affairs.
 
I want to wish you success in this new endeavor!
 
I think, in this point in time, it’s very relevant to make a pause for reflection, after what has been COVID crisis for all over the world. Whether we are in post-COVID world, or whether as some predict, we will have to live with COVID, which today is impossible to say definitively, but its is clear that we are at intermediate stage – that is the right time to draw some lessons and try to look forward to what our future will look like.
 
COVID Crisis for Georgia has been like for everybody else a difficult experience. It has tested us in some respects, and I would say that we are past that test. It has tested our trust and democracy, and we have been able to manage what I would call a trust triangle - knowledgeable epidemiologists, effective government, and responsible society. If the society had not trusted the decisions of the government, which have relied on knowledgeable advice from the health sector as a whole, it would not have worked. Georgia is a small country, and because this triangle worked, I think that’s why we received the results that we have.  But, we should all be moderate in our appreciation in what we have called a success – success, but in brackets, because nobody knows how things will evolve.
 
We have also tested democracy. I think it’s very clear that we have managed to have proportionality of measures and like many other countries, under the state of emergency we didn’t go to a full lockdown. We had a night curfew, but the lockdown and the quarantine were only imposed in specific places in order to limit the expansion of the epidemic. The state of emergency was revoked in due time. That is the whole picture that had drawn positive appreciation from the outside, international community and what is very important for Georgia – it increased self-confidence in a society and its capacity to react to such emergency situations.
 
Unfortunately, in the past, for many centuries and during past years, Georgian society has tested its resilience in war situations. But, this time we have tested our resilience in an emergency situation.
 
We fully appreciate the substantial humanitarian, economic and financial support that we’ve received from the EU, from the whole international community, and international financial organizations. The fact that the European Union has included Georgia among the 15 safe countries and has renewed this inclusion just yesterday – is very important and very valued here. It’s not only a facility for Georgians to travel and for Europeans to come to Georgia, but it’s also a sign of the solidarity, that should remain in the future when it comes to access to vaccine – that is an access that should be equally warranted for countries.
 
I want to also make clear that for that reason, we must protect ourselves against any campaign whether its foreign or domestic that aims at discrediting future vaccines and/or health recommendations. And, I think it is a common fight that we have.
 
With Minister Tikaradze present, I want to extend my gratitude and appreciation to whole health care system, which has played an incredibly important role during this period.
 
Something I also want to underline is that this success is not an exception, because it is one of many from Georgia being a pioneer in Health Care from a Universal Health Care System to the program of eradication of Hepatitis C. There are many aspects of our health system that have been very responsive. Of course, we still have parts of our health systems that need to be upgraded. Most of you know that we are very concerned about children’s oncology, and for me personally it’s one of the subjects to which I attach my personal importance.
 
I also want to underline the work of the Lugar Center - at every stage of the pandemic, it must be praised and we are determined to resist any attempt to discredit this institution through fake news or real attacks.
 
Of course, we need to maintain the results, prevent a second wave and second risk of having to take strict measures, we have to move with precautions, which means not opening all our borders at once, not opening our land borders because of the situation in the region and we have not yet taken any decision about resuming school in September. The Health Minister will certainly discuss what are the measures that are in progress to deal with upcoming challenges more in detail.
 
What is important is that besides our quite successful experience with the COVID epidemic, we have also managed despite this pandemic to move forward and that is a political success story. The process that led to the constitutional amendments, despite its quite tense and difficult start, seen by everyone as a precondition to democratic elections in the fall, has gone to its positive conclusion.
 
Like in the fight with COVID, the success in political field is a measure of the cooperation with our partners. This satisfactory conclusion owes a lot to the direct involvement of the international community, here represented, and its ability to generate a consensus, through the work of facilitators.
 
I am proud to note that the role of the Presidency was timely in preventing using this situation in any form to move towards some forms of destabilization that would have hurt the whole process of the country.
 
That - caring for domestic stability and moving towards the depolarization, which has been, as you know, one of my aims since the very beginning, will remain the main role and the main focus of the President in coming electoral period.
 
The new balance, which has been found between proportional and majority members in the Parliament, the incorporation of the very vast majority of ODIHR recommendations and the additional changes brought to the electoral code, like the lowest barrier, quotas for women, the new financing system, provide for a set up conductive to fair and free elections.
 
All in all, the political process in Georgia has not been hindered by COVID and we certainly will do everything possible, so that it doesn’t prevent or have an influence on the upcoming electoral calendar.
 
I will personally make sure that every voter is personally informed about voting conditions, about the security conditions and feel secure when going to vote. And I know that the Parliament together with the Health Sector is already working on the conditions to apply to the precincts and as well as to the voters, taking into account the experience of some countries that have gone though the experience of voting in wake of COVID.
 
These successes do not mean that everything is fine, and that next few months are going to be smooth and lineal route to the elections.
 
There are challenges. And, the challenges are still there despite the COVID, and unfortunately there are moves that could affect the general stability in the country. I already mentioned the direct attacks on the Lugar laboratory, which has been the cornerstone of the success in dealing with the epidemic.
 
The renewed tension on the administrative borderline despite COVID and contrary to calls from UN Secretary General for decreasing tensions and resolving conflicts have not been heard. Only in the past two months, we have practically every other day new hostages taken, borderization continues unaltered, and the endless closing and partial reopening of crossing points, over this period, have created extremely severe humanitarian situation for our population living in the occupied territories and of course, on our side of ABL.
 
I am personally concerned that the country’s exemplary management of COVID, its noteworthy democratic progress, its stability in its region - are maybe not liked by everyone and I will be very eager to monitor that it not be challenged neither internally nor externally. In my capacity as the guarantor of the stability of the country, I make it my personal responsibility to prevent any such attempts, and I will certainly be on the forefront of this fight and will turn to you whenever the need will be felt. And similarly, I will invite you to be extremely attentive to any such attempts – any attempts that are aimed at creating distrust or miscomprehension between Georgia and its main partners.
 
You, as representatives here, during this crucial period, more than ever before, have to pay attention to the way your remarks or your country’s reactions are presented to the Georgian public; we know the problem of the language and sometimes of the translations.
 
I would give some examples of how such miscommunications can affect our relations and the public awareness.  Lately the discussions in the US House Appropriations Committee in view of the adoption of the Foreign Operations Funding bill and some of the amendments have been unduly presented as “sanctions” adopted against Georgia. I know, and we all know, that it is a distorted presentation and that there is certainly no ground today for retortions - at a time, when on the contrary, and we are thankful for our American partners showing their appreciations, including the Embassy here, to all these developments that I’ve been talking about.
 
But, such wording and misrepresentations can only play in a way that is detrimental to our countries harmonious and close relations and can only benefit to those within or outside, who would hope to see our partnership weakened. And that is certainly something that I also will take under my personal control.
 
Another example - in the same vein, there have been attempts to try to portray the EU’s general and current limitations on travel as a possible reversal of the visa free regime. And I have no doubt that if some reason Georgia had not been on the initial and on the later list of safe countries, this would have been presented as a hostile decision in order to foster disillusionment in the population.
 
As is self-evident, the main aim of these, what I cannot call fake news, but would call distorted news, have one and only common objective: that is to try and generate in the Georgian population distrust and interrogations towards their main partners and thus weaken what has been and will remain a very strong determination, to this day unchallenged, of the Georgian society towards its Euro-Atlantic integration path as well as its peaceful relations in the region.
 
Beyond fake or distorted news, there are also real news that are aimed at disruption.
We all know how important our partnership with Ukraine is, a country with which we share a common past and a common road to Euro-Atlantic integration. Any attempt to weaken this partnership at a time when the EU is to review the Eastern Partnership, the place of the associated members and their future when designing the whole general future of EU relation with its partners will only weaken our two countries, Georgia and Ukraine’s influence in this very decisive debate at a very important time. The provocative tone towards Georgia’s Government, including characterizing the government as illegitimate, coming from a foreign citizen, serving foreign government, is adversely affecting our bilateral relations. I would like to plead with you and through you to your governments and representatives, so that they can exert a moderating and reasonable influence, and inject some rationality in the way Georgian Ukrainian relations are to be managed in the best future interest of both countries. I personally am ready as soon as possible to carry out visit that has been postponed for only too long, principally due COVID, but maybe not only, and try to restore our relations on a footing that corresponds to the traditional bond of friendship between our countries. Such a relationship is crucial to our common path towards EU and NATO, and also in view of the renewed importance of the Black Sea projects depending on a common approach of Georgia and Ukraine together with our European partners: Romania and Bulgaria, and of course our neighbor Turkey. And importance of this project, and this explains maybe that.
 
There are also long term challenges that are related to COVID and those are economic and social challenges. You have all seen and heard government approach different plans that are in place in order to address what will undoubtedly be a difficult fall in economic and social terms, and probably last long periods. We have to find new ways to revamp the Georgian economy – economy that had been extremely dependent on tourism in past few years and of course, it has not to be explained that it’s creating additional difficulties for re-launching economy in today’s world. In a world in which what we are trying to do now will not see the return of normal way of tourism. So, Georgia has to find its new waves, new sectors of development, has to try to make the best use of whatever will happen in global economy, whatever will be the redirection of some chain of production, and will have to also turn back to tradition industries and traditional sectors that have maybe for some time been neglected, because there was this easy income for tourism and that was drawing the activity in Georgian economy.
 
So, that is something that is common to our countries. It will also be important during this period to continue to benefit from the solidarity and support from our major partners.
 
Despite these very real challenges, I am quite optimistic – probably, it’s my role as a President to be optimistic and I think that we will move towards free election that are gong to mark a new stage of Georgian democracy; a stage – which will see a clear path of where Georgia is moving. Georgia will be stronger even if we have to tackle our economic issues and moving with renewed determination to its next stages – one its road to EU integration. Because I am optimistic, and because I know a little bit about EU past history, I am also convinced that a stronger and bolder European Union will emerge from the current multifold crisis and when that happens, Georgia will be ready to develop its own vision for an intensified partnership and renewed perspective, with more concrete steps - that is something I am repeating to all our EU partners; we need concrete steps - we need steps that are visible to our population. As we have already stated, and I will repeat, we will knock on every door and will not leave any stone unturned towards our ultimate goal.
 
 
We also have to move on our path to NATO - if the pandemic has postponed some of NATO’s activities including exercise Defender Europe 2020 that was a very important one, we are sure to see more trainings, exercises and activities in the coming year. It will be equally important to see how Georgia, EU and NATO can join efforts to make the Black Sea, again a Sea of Connectivity, a Sea of Cooperation and overall Sea of Stability. That’s a very common endeavor and that will be a concrete one to show to our population that we are getting closer to the alliance community and to the European Continent.
 
All implies that we have to reinforce our links, military, economic and political, with our strategic partner, with the United States, which is at the cornerstone of cooperation with NATO and with outside military missions.  
 
Beyond Georgia’s own internal and international achievements, our future is definitely linked to the stability in the region, and I can only reiterate our support and our calls for a peaceful resolution of the current tension between our two neighbors and friends, which can only affect negatively the entire region and its future prospects. Our strategic and economic links with Turkey remain essential to the regional stability.
 
For a lasting stability, Georgia’s determination to renounce the use of force by itself is not sufficient. It is also of utmost importance that we do not get accustomed to humanitarian tragedy in the occupied territories, to the closing of the crossing points, to the hostage taking on the ABL. We must not resign to such a status quo, but strive towards de-escalation with the only mean we have - which is international community support and dialogue between all the important partners.
 
A signal in that direction would be for Russia to accept the extension of the European Union Monitoring Mission’s access to a wider area. That would be a small step, but a step, towards the implementation of the 2008 cease fire and a certainly confidence-building step, without which calls for dialogue remain void of meaning.
 
Finally, COVID pandemic forced the world to look upon itself and choose between isolation and global solidarity, between conflict and global solidarity.
We know that Georgia’s choice is clear  – it’s a choice of solidarity and peace.
Thank you!
 
 
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