Toomas Hendrik Ilves - Georgia and Georgians choose their own way and goals
 Tbilisi 16:30 - 16.09.13 «GHN»
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Mr. President, thank you for agreeing to this interview. We recorded our first interview in 2006, so it's been a long time. Estonia remains a loyal friend to Georgia, supporting it on its path towards European structures. Quite a few of your statements concerning Georgia refer to this. Nevertheless, what is the main reason you support Georgia, its independence and territorial integrity?

The reason is simple: Estonia firmly supports Europe and European values. Estonia also considers it important that democracy, human rights and freedom of speech are ensured in the neighbouring countries of the European Union, because successful neighbours form part of its security.

A few days ago Estonia celebrated the 22nd anniversary of the restoration of its independence. These years have not been problem-free for your country. I remember the events that were occurring at the time of our first interview involving the ‘Bronze Soldier' memorial. These, like many other issues, were in essence provoked by the ‘older brother'. Still, what was the main thing that helped Estonia overcome all the obstacles and overtake not only the former Soviet republics, but also countries of the former Socialist block?

Without Soviet occupation, Estonia would have become a member of the EU and NATO sooner. Following the restoration of our independence 22 years ago we firmly chose our foreign and security policy goals and we were steadfast and successful in reaching Europe and the transatlantic community. This is an experience that we remain happy to share with our Georgian friends. But Georgia and Georgians choose their own way and goals: that is something only you can do.

Our experience means we can assure you that the recipe for the establishment of a successful democratic country is an ability to listen, an ability to maintain dialogue and an ability to justify dissenting opinions to others.

This is part of civil society. Civil society is the free will of the citizens to make us all better people and to make our country more successful without trying to take the role of the government or the parliament. Free action to that end is just as important a point of support for any democratic country as, for instance, free journalism. The government's duty in this regard is not to interfere, but, on the contrary, to encourage it all.

Not long ago, in a conversation with a correspondent from the Kommersant FM radio station, you made remarks addressed to the new powers in Georgia, noting that arrests of representatives of the former government "did not sound alright". You said: "The new Georgian government is arresting the opposition's presidential candidate, but what that tells us is that he was no candidate, because he failed to register himself. They must think we are stupid. But we are not." Are you still of the same opinion?

Yes, even now I am certain that the European Union, including Estonia, is not stupid. Friends of Georgia follow events in the country carefully and wisely.

What's important in this context is that the Georgian parliamentary elections on the 1st of October last year demonstrated that yours is a democratic country where people decide freely who gets into Parliament and with what level of support, and thus who forms the government.

I still believe that ‘dialogue' is the word that characterises the relationships between the governing majority and the opposition, because the current majority-holding political party could become the opposition party tomorrow, and vice versa.

Ahead lies the Vilnius Summit, at which the former government wanted to enter into an association agreement with the European Union. Now we are merely talking about initialling it. Is this a failure of Georgian diplomacy or is it Europe's reaction to Georgian domestic policy processes?

The association agreement with the European Union is an objective process, which means that everything has been agreed on and all the technical issues have been resolved. Reaching this point can be compared to a road. Some roads are straight and even, others are winding and bumpy. But both can lead to the same place, provided you do not lose sight of it. The Eastern Partnership summit of the European Union in Vilnius where, hopefully, the association agreement with Georgia will be initialled, is another important turning point on your road to Europe.

Mr. President, you also said that the actions of the new government of Georgia are being carefully observed in many European countries and that conclusions are being drawn. What are your personal conclusions?

I believe the assurances of your leaders that Georgia's goal is Europe in the broadest sense of the word, including democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech and the necessary economic reforms. I still believe that Georgians want to get closer to the European Union and NATO.

You and the late Polish President Lech Kaczyński were the initiators of an act of support for Georgia during the August War when six European leaders stood in Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi as an important guarantee for the protection of Georgia. The world saw the unity and resistance of Georgia against the aggressor. What made you, a head of state, quite literally risk your life in order to protect another state?

Estonia's historic experience shows that solidarity is necessary. Friends - and Georgia is certainly our friend - are not abandoned in their hour of need. None of us thought of personal risk at the time. We thought about how we could help Georgia, which was in a very complicated situation with Russian forces in Gori and Pot and it being unclear how far they actually wanted to invade. The flight to Georgia that August was a self-evident decision of the friends of democratic Georgia.

In your opinion, what was the main mistake of the former Georgian government? What was it that cost them the elections?

I don't like situations where politicians in one country take the slippery path of criticising the democratically elected powers of another country.

I should add that you enjoyed good personal relations with Mikheil Saakashvili, but you must have noticed problems with Georgian democracy. Were you ever tempted to give him some friendly advice?

A friend advises a friend privately, not via the media. It would not be fair.
But the message that I conveyed five years ago in Tbilisi when I met with the former government and opposition still stands: Estonia's support, as well as that of the European Union and NATO, is for Georgia's reform efforts, not specific individuals; the relationships between the governing majority and the opposition must be characterised by cooperation, mutual respect and refraining from steps that would split society and see it cross the line of peaceful political competition.

As a president of a European country and as an ordinary person, you know only too well what Russia is like; you know its history and so on. What do you think - does the key to establishing the territorial integrity of Georgia indeed lie in the Kremlin, as some representatives of the current government of Georgia have said?

Firstly, Estonia continues to support the territorial integrity of Georgia. Secondly, the key to a solution in this complicated matter is a democratic, politically stable and economically prospering Georgia that is successful in foreign relations.

Many experts and politicians have noted that Russia, encouraged by NATO's refusal to allow Georgia to join the MAP at the Bucharest Summit, took military action against our country. Is this true? If so, why did NATO fail to take that into account? As we know, you and many of your colleagues actively supported Georgia being included in the MAP.

NATO's internal discussions remain the internal discussions of our organisation. In international organisations where decisions are made based on consensus, different opinions are inevitable. Estonia is certain that assessment of Georgia's readiness to join these organisations must be based on the achievements of Georgia itself and no one else. Attitudes outside of the European Union and NATO cannot be of influence in this regard. Estonia continues to pursue an open doors policy and follow the principle that each country itself has the sovereign right to decide which organisations it belongs to.

From the current point of view, where is Georgia heading?

To put it briefly, there is only one Georgia and the people of Georgia alone have the right to decide over their future.

In your estimation, what are Georgia's chances of becoming a member of the European family?

Do you realise just how much self-doubt and hesitation your questions contain? I wish you would believe in yourself more, because the people of Georgia are smart and capable.

I sincerely hope that Georgia will continue to pursue the political and economic reforms that were sparked by the Rose Revolution in 2003. This calls for perseverance and dedication. This all is part of Georgia's future, and now is the time to start building it. A successful country that looks to the future must contribute to democracy as well as to the economic well-being of the state and its people, because both are closely intertwined in the European understanding. Here it is important to anchor Georgia's economy to the economic space of the European Union and, more broadly, the West, as well as to promote dialogue between those in power and those in opposition, a respectful attitude between them, and strong civil society.

What is the main thing that every citizen of Georgia should bear in mind in the context of becoming part of Europe?

Well, I've tried to answer this question already. But let us look at the broader picture. The ‘Georgian way' is not a matter of a mere democratic choice of the country, but also its belonging to Europe. Integration into Europe means shared values that have nothing to do with geography. Europe does not begin or end with the borders of any country. Europe and European mean principles like democracy, freedom of speech, rule of law, separation of power, human rights, equality, social justice and an open economy. Europe also means protecting freedom of speech, rule of law and democracy even if it proves inconvenient for those in power. States that follow these principles can be certain of the support and trust of other democratic states.

GHN, Temur Chumburidze

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