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Address of the President of Georgia to the Participants of Fifth Annual Tbilisi International Conference

President of Georgia hosted participants of Annual Tbilisi International Conference organized by McCain Institute and the Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC) and addressed the audience:
Distinguished Guests,
Distinguished Parliamentarians,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, to all of our foreign guests welcome to Georgia. And, I want first to congratulate the McCain Institute and the Economic Policy Research Center for keeping this tradition and holding what is the fifth anniversary of the Tbilisi International Conference.

I am very honored and pleased to host here you all, the Institute representatives, and the distinguished participants to this conference, this evening.
John McCain’s legacy extends far outside the United States. His life, his work were proof of John McCain’s patriotism, integrity, and commitment to truth. I am proud, and thankful as are all the Georgians that John McCain chose Georgia to vigorously advocate for our country at all political levels at difficult times, and that within and outside the United States.

If not for his efforts, commitments, and support we would not have the chance to advance rapidly in some of our reforms. Holding the International Conference in Tbilisi was and continues to be the powerful expression of his legacy. We all remember how in 2008 John McCain, then running for President, paused for a moment to express his solidarity with that brave little nation defending itself against mightier, nuclear-armed neighbor. His expression,  “Today, we are all Georgians,” resounds to this day.

He, again and again over the years, reiterated his support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. John McCain understood, and shared our pain. For that, I want to thank him where is, and thank you all for being here, as a testimony for this lasting solidarity.

It was a pain, it is a pain, and a tragedy that is endured by the Georgian population for now 11 years; 11 years of occupation that sometimes we forget followed sixteen years of first open, and then frozen conflicts.
Not much has changed at this time, except that now 20% of our territories is still occupied. The administrative line is being shifted continuously, and crossing points closed for mundane reasons obstructing freedom of movement for the population living in Abkhazia, and Tskhinvali region.
All our citizens there, suffer human rights deprivation, lack of adequate health services, prohibition for some of education in native Georgian language, as well as for others - restrictions to teaching in Abkhazian or Ossetian languages.
We also are witnessed to intensified ethnically-targeted violations against what is now the very small Georgian minority in the enclave of Gali.
Citizens living on our side of the Administrative Border Line, in villages that have been partitioned are kidnapped, ransomed, and in some case tortured, or even killed, for not having respected a border that has no legal existence.
The Geneva International Discussions are stalled. The Incident Prevention Mechanisms are rarely successful in solving technical issues. Both instruments are marked with constant walkouts, as soon as important issues are raised.

This summer has somewhat showed limits of the status quo, with June 20, and what was a spontaneous reaction of the Georgian society, and an expression of its deeper, and wider frustration. I think that no society, especially its youth can remain placid in front of a situation that is frozen, a dividing line between our citizens, and what is an open wound that cannot cicatrize.
We see that the situation is getting more volatile. More provocations, more hostage-takings, more incidents which could at any time escalate.

Our responsibility is first and foremost to avoid escalation, and not to give in to provocations.
Georgia’s answer to occupation has been twofold. First was to keep open all the alleys to future reconciliation and reunification. We need to continue to find ways to look for peaceful solution. We need to find ways to alleviate our citizens’ plight. All the about being a part of the stability of our region.
Our policy is one of peace steps towards our citizens living in the occupied territories. Through education, health programs, business opportunities, we are trying to maintain communication lines, and our linkage with those population.

Our policy is one of restraint on the occupation line, where according to and in conformity with the 2008 ceasefire agreement, we do not have any military force stationed, only police posts, designed for the safety of our citizens. We have voluntarily renounced the use of force, but we are the only ones to have done that.   
Resilience has been our answer, in other words not to let the conflict, and the occupation effect our free determination of our own destiny.
The European and NATO integration paths have been our answer.
Economic development, and an almost 5% growth has been our answer.
Democratic development, from election to election, has been our answer.
Stability has been our answer.
Tolerance has been our answer.
We have maintained the island of stability in a troubled region. And, we cannot allow anything to divert us from this path. Such is our resilience, and in our resilience is our victory, and we cannot let destabilization attempts triumph over our patience.  

But, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is not enough. That we have to do more. We need to focus on effective diplomacy. Force is not an option. Georgia is a small country dealing with a giant, a member of the Security Council, one of the world’s biggest militaries, a country that has demonstrated that it can use force to achieve its aims. There is no alternative to a peaceful solution for us. There is no other option than diplomacy.
2008 demonstrates one thing, we cannot and never will be able to win a military confrontation. But being small does not mean to surrender to fate. I know that Georgia can found solutions that conviction comes partly from my past, among the Georgia emigration, who never stopped believing for seventy years in Georgian independence.
As a Foreign Minister, who managed the successful negotiations with Russia to get the Russian military bases out of the country in 2005, I know that there are two conditions for success, and for Georgian diplomacy to succeed: international support and national unity.
Therefore, we need to work in two directions. One is to revitalize our road to integration, to Euro-Atlantic integration, and not to let the political conjectural difficulties lead to any form of disillusionment. Realism, and ambition is our policy in this transition time in Brussels, Brussels-EU, as Brussels-NATO.

We understand the objective, difficulties, or reasons for lack of major decisions, both in the Alliance, and in EU. But we know that this visions are not linked to Georgia’s deficiencies or lack of progress. So, while we can accept this reality for some time, we are nonetheless ambitious, and have to see concrete, pragmatic rapprochement, concrete support, both financial, and political in order to keep alive our drive, and to keep our population hoping.
We also have, and that’s what effectively this premise is about, to engage actively our partners in the conflict resolution issue. Since my election, I have been actively working through my contacts, and visits in order to put back Georgia on the map, and in the minds of all our partners in order to go beyond mere declarations recognizing our territorial integrity, this is not enough. Effective diplomacy is more.

Hence the call to reinvigorate the Geneva format and restore the political dimension that it had, and has since been lacking. In order to enter the discussion on substance, it should become a political discussion at the level of ministers, at least, and not an experts’ discussion. We have to make it a format for solving a conflict, not for managing it. Hence, the call of our partners to restore the Georgian issue in all there bilateral or multilateral discussions with Russia. Formal or informal. Reminding Russia of its commitments, and the ceasefire agreement, in particular de-escalation on the ABL, allowing the EUMM to monitor the whole region. We should start with that.
Additional formats can also be imagined. For example why could the United States or the EU not appoint the special representatives for Georgia, and for the Georgian conflict, in addition to their envoys in Ukraine. And, many other things that all of us can imagine, and we have to let the imagination work. We have to find ways that offer less formal platform for discussion, and maybe to try to recreate some form of confidence, and a space necessary to progress. The main thing is not to let any stone unturned to get movement, and to reopen perspectives.

Not let the newest conflict –Ukraine- make the older one –Georgia- less actual, less visible, and in a way forgotten, or taken out of the agenda.   
But effective diplomacy has also to be based on a sound basis. That means that at last but not least, we have to do more in strengthening our country from within. Representatives of ruling and opposition parties certainly talked about future of Georgian democracy earlier today, I am sure you’ve heard distinct opinions on the current developments in the country, and that’s very healthy.

So, the sides fundamentally probably disagree on many things, and criticism is a Georgian favorite. I believe we all want one thing, which is to build better future for our children. This better future should be built on democratic values, on economic prosperity, on social security. For that we also need to remain true to our oldest values. Tolerance remains very strong value of the Georgian culture, and society. A testimony to that are the crowds of mixed religious origin that meddle on Tbilisi and other Georgian city streets, and that you probably have seen. Also, testimony is the faith of ethnic minorities in this country that are benefiting of absolute cultural, and language rights. Or the unequalled 27 centuries of Hebrew and Georgian friendship. Or the very fact that Georgian hospitality for the 1,500,000 Russian tourists that have come last year has not been unaltered by the war, and the occupation, and no incident has been reported which puts to rest the Russian so-called security preoccupation, used to justify recent restrictions on air travel.

But we need to extend this virtue of tolerance, not only to the others but to practice it between ourselves, and in politics. And that’s not easy.
For the major challenge today is domestic: It’s internal division, polarization, we are not the only ones to have that issue. Issues that are difficult to deal with for older democracies but are destructive, at the stage we are in, in our democratic development.

We have thus to focus not on what divides, but on what unites. The aim of restoring Georgian sovereignty on its territory through a peaceful settlement, the goals of Euro-Atlantic integration, and the pragmatic steps to be taken in those directions are the things that should unite us, today.
Change is difficult. Change takes time. I consider it one of my personal challenges, or aims, to lead and drive the Georgian society out of the remnants of the Soviet mentality.
Consolidation, and often respect for our institutions is one way forward in that direction, that will increase stability and confidence in the state as a whole. One day, Georgia will have to go through a truth and justice process in order to regain control over its past and history, and give future generations a solid historical ground on which to build the future. But that time has not come, since such a process today could be more divisive than favoring unity.

So, we should now concentrate on the immediate future, trying to make this coming electoral year one of competing political platforms, and not of mutual assaults.
The society is tired, needs to see future perspectives, and not be dragged in internal, endless confrontations. The media scene is witnessing transformation, and not reduction, as it sometimes is unduly presented.
It is important that this transformation, this apparition of new channels, gives a possibility to agree on a decency code, seize self-restriction against hate speech, fake news, and concentrate on a common fight. Since no society can enter elections without been given the possibility to be informed, and not disinformed.
As the President of Georgia, I have called for reconciliation from my very first day in office, and from my inauguration speech, and I have continued since, and will continue.
I have made a point not to answer any personal attacks from any side, to refrain from any interference in political battles, and I am ready to provide a neutral platform for all parties, and the society at large whenever needed, where to openly discuss through our differences and jointly move towards solving our existential bigger problems.
I am also ready to associate our foreign partners –you- in these processes if need be, since you can give sometimes the guarantee of impartiality that we still need unfortunately, in order to trust each other.
We have challenging road forward both inside, and outside. But, I am convinced in one thing that at the end of that road lies the Georgia that we all Georgians have dreamt about, and are dreaming about.
We will live to see a strong and prosperous Georgia. And, you will live to see that Georgia, too. 
Thank you very much.


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