UNITED STATES COMMISSION ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE
(HELSINKI COMMISSION) HOLDS HEARING:
GEORGIA IN 2008: ELECTIONS OR STREET POLITICS?
FEBRUARY 6, 2008
REP. ALCEE L. HASTINGS, D-FLA., CHAIRMAN
REP. LOUISE M. SLAUGHTER, D-N.Y.
REP. MIKE MCINTYRE, D-N.C.
REP. HILDA L. SOLIS, D-CALIF.
REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD, D-N.C.
REP. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, R-N.J.
REP. ROBERT B. ADERHOLT, R-ALA.
REP. MIKE PENCE, R-IND.
REP. JOSEPH R. PITTS, R-PENN.
SEN. BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, D-MD., CO-CHAIRMAN
SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, D-CONN.
SEN. RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD, D-WIS.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.
SEN. JOHN F. KERRY, D-MASS.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-KAN.
SEN. GORDON H. SMITH, R-ORE.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, R-GA.
SEN. RICHARD BURR, R-N.C.
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT, D-TEXAS
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EUROPEAN
AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS MATTHEW BRYZA
H.E. VASILI SIKHURALIDZE,
GEORGIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.
FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER OF GEORGIA
The hearing was held at 2:30 p.m. in Room B-318 of the Rayburn
House Office Building, Washington, D.C., Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman,
HASTINGS: Thank you very much for being here, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome
to the hearing.
As we all know, Georgia has been very much in the news lately and may remain in
the headlines for some time, so the reason for this hearing is obvious. My
apologies for being a few minutes late. Airplanes don't always do what they
claim they're going to do.
But anyway, we hope to examine today where we all stand, after the events of
the last few months, during which Georgia has experienced, quite frankly, quite
a history. I'm sure everyone here is familiar with the chronology that led to
Georgia's snapped election last month, so I'll dispense with that portion of my
remarks and allow that all of us are informed.
I was appointed to lead the international observation mission for the OSCE by
Foreign Ministers Miguel Angel Moratinos of Spain and Ilkka Kanerva of Finland.
The OSCE observer mission comprised the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the
ODIHR, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European
In Tbilisi we met with candidates, including the opposition. We also met with
then Acting President Nino Burjanadze, who is the speaker of the parliament.
On the basis of all the information we received -- and I would add a caveat
there; not only did we, but I met with lots of Georgian citizens, just people.
As a matter of fact, I'm real proud of the fact that there were three young
people that were not going to vote, in the hotel that I was staying, and for
the whole while that I was there, I just hammered them back and forth about
voting and the importance of voting, et cetera. One had family problems and
didn't vote, but the other two did, and both of them were triggered by me, so I
even helped people go to the polls in Georgia.
On the basis of all this information we received, as well as monitoring the
balloting and vote counting in many precincts, we concluded that, while there
were significant challenges that needed to be urgently observed, Georgia's
election largely met OSCE standards. On January 6th, we announced our
conclusions to the world.
According to Georgia's central election commission, President Saakashvili was
re-elected with over 53 percent of the vote, thus avoiding a run-off. That
result has been officially ratified, and Mikheil Saakashvili was inaugurated on
Now, I'm well aware that many Georgian opposition leaders reject the official
results. They do not recognize President Saakashvili. They may well believe
that the international observation mission was wrong, did its work badly or was
pursuing even less savory goals.
But I'd like to affirm here that I stand behind the conclusions the OSCE
observers reached in Tbilisi on January 5 and 6. We had no ulterior motives or
an agenda dictated by any government. We called the election as we saw it.
And I had said repeatedly around the world in election observations, if anybody
can live through the Florida experience of the year 2000, and I can call that
election bad, I sure can call one good or bad anywhere else in the world.
But still questions have been raised by NGOs, and subsequent reports among
others by the ODIHR. This hearing will provide a venue to air some of those
concerns. Moreover, reconciliation has not been achieved in Georgia.
Opposition leaders last week put forward a list of demands, including a recount
of the ballots, equal representation on election commissions and guarantees of
media freedom. They say if these demands are not met, that they will launch a
permanent street protest starting February 15th and will boycott parliamentary
elections schedule for this spring.
So once again we face uncertainty in Georgia. Will we see any electoral
approach for the resolution of political conflict or a protracted period of
street politics? I hope that Georgians can find a way to bridge their
differences. It would be deeply regrettable if uncertainty turns into
I see the upcoming parliamentary election as an opportunity to redress some of
the grievances that have accumulated in Georgia over the last few years.
There's every reason to believe that opposition parties have a good chance to
win many seats in parliament, perhaps even a majority. For that reason I
strongly urge them not to boycott the election, but to participate and campaign
more actively than ever before.
But ultimately, it's for the Georgian people to decide how they want to pursue
the development of democracy and integration into Western institutions --
clearly important goals for Georgia's population.
Our three witnesses representing the United States government, the Georgian
government and the Georgian opposition will give us critical perspectives on
these issues. We've also asked the National Democratic Institute and the
International Republican Institute, which both fielded high-level permanent
observer delegations, are to submit statements for the record. Freedom House
has also sent us materials.
I'm not going to provide a detailed biography of our witnesses. Their
impressive resumes can be found on our Web site and the tables outside of the
And before we begin with Secretary Matthew Bryza, the deputy assistant
secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, I'm going to hear from my colleague,
who was in Georgia with me as an election observer as well, and the weather
didn't treat him well, and he wound up in Georgia for an extended period of
time. And he and I have not had an opportunity to communicate at length about
that, so if you don't mind, I'd like, please, for my distinguished colleague
from Texas, Lloyd Doggett, to make any opening statement he may wish to make.
DOGGETT: Well, thank you very much. I'm mainly here, like you, to hear from
our witnesses. But, yes, we did not have Florida or Texas weather on any of
the days that we were there.
I want to thank you, Chairman Hastings, not only for holding this hearing, but
for the outstanding leadership that you provided in Georgia, leadership of
other parliamentarians from other democracies, as we served as observers there
for these historic, really first genuinely contested elections in the history
of the Republic of Georgia.
As one of the observers, I shared the determination that Chairman Hastings,
along with the other delegations of OSCE monitors, announced that this election
in essence corresponded to OSCE standards. But at the same time, I recognize
that this very young democracy continues to face immense challenges.
As best I could determine, the process as I saw it was at least as fair as some
of the elections that I've observed in my home state of Texas, and probably
better than at least one I remember from your home state of Florida.
As an observer, one of the communities that I went to poll stations at was in
the town of Gori, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. And I must say, as many
elections as I've been through, I found it remarkable to see lines of
Georgians, some stretching into the snow that day, turning out at a polling
station on Stalin Avenue across the street from the Stalin Museum.
In that polling station and in others, the people that I talked with -- and I
sought out the observers for the opposition parties and the election commission
members who were from the opposition parties -- I did not receive one
indication of an election day irregularity at any of the polling stations in
Gori or any other towns that I visited.
This spring, as the chairman has indicated, Georgians will hold parliamentary
elections, which provide an opportunity for political reconciliation. During
this time it's critical that the government address the shortcomings that were
identified in the election process and act on the recommendations of
international observers and seek common ground with the opposition.
But I would say that the opposition also has some responsibilities. I
personally spent 12 years in the minority in the opposition of this Congress,
and finally one year in the majority. The one year was much better than the 12
years, but while I strongly prefer being in the majority, I recognize the
important role that a minority plays in a democracy.
So long as the rules permit the minority to always have a fair opportunity to
become the majority, that's what a democracy is all about. And I think that in
ensuring that democracies flourish, the opposition has a critical role to play.
In Georgia my feeling was that the concept of a valued loyal opposition --
loyal not to the majority, but loyal to the democratic process -- is not fully
appreciated. For every democracy to succeed, it needs to have an adequate and
flexible opposition, presenting alternative policies to address the needs of
And I think totally rejecting the election process is not helpful, and it's not
an alternative to the role that an opposition can play, just as the opposition,
of which I was a vigorous part, played in the last 12 years and which our
Republican colleagues play today here in the House.
I was tremendously impressed, Mr. Chairman, as I know you were, with the
important role that our ambassador plays in Georgia and his political officer,
Alan Purcell, and their entire team. Many of these polling stations I noted,
including the one on Stalin Avenue, had a poster there paid for by U.S.
taxpayers, explaining to people what these new voting processes were like and
the steps that were taken to avoid election fraud.
I believe that was a worthy investment of American taxpayer money, because it
really is an investment in a bipartisan concern about Georgia and its
importance to America and to this Congress.
As you, I believe, referenced, our former colleague, Jim Kolbe, was there on
behalf of the International Republican Institute, leading a delegation that
included one of my constituents, who is a Republican with some experience in
elections as a former secretary of state, and Ken Wollack was there with a
delegation from the National Democratic Institute.
I believe that our country should continue investing in and working with
democracy to assist the Georgian people, build on the democratic gains that
they have achieved and promoting Georgia in our dealings with them. Our
commitment is not to one person. It's not to one party. But it is a
commitment for a more secure, a more democratic, and a more prosperous Georgia.
I would particularly like to emphasize the dedication that you demonstrated,
Mr. Chairman, in the leadership of the Helsinki Commission there in Georgia and
to acknowledge the staff who accompanied us there. Fred Turner, Lale Mamaux,
and Ron McNamara assisted me personally and played an important role in our
being able to accomplish our objectives of demonstrating our commitment to
Georgia and our eagerness to assure a fair election.
Thank you for this opportunity, and I'm going to ask that you include in the
record an article that was published in the Austin paper, advising my Texas
constituents of what was happening on the opposite side of the world when it
came to democracy and why it's important to do. Thank you so much.
HASTINGS: Without objection. Thank you very much, Congressman Doggett. I can
tell you that it was a real reward for me, having participated in numerous
election observations, to have you there with us.
Before hearing from the deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia
affairs, I would say this about Matthew Bryza. I know a lot of people at the
State Department, including the secretary of state. I just was with the
secretary of state last week in Colombia, yet another place that has impending
elections and issues.
But that said, I don't know too many people that have been as dedicated and
committed, nor have as much knowledge or, from the standpoint of a legislator,
a willingness to be accessible, as Secretary Bryza has been with me and the
Helsinki Commission and my staff in my regular office.
With that, Secretary Bryza, I welcome you and ask you to make any remarks you
may wish to make. I understand that you will have to move on after Mr. Doggett
and I ask you a few questions.
BRYZA: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman and Congressman Doggett, for being
here, for those extremely warm and overly generous remarks about me, at least,
and your staff and friends of mine I've known for years and working in the same
direction, as you just described, to advance democracy in Georgia, my goal and
your entire staff. Thank you.
And thank you for your leadership, and yours, Congressman, in being there to
observe the elections. The OSCE for us is the gold standard. When it comes to
election observation, you are a key part of that process. Your credibility is
unassailable. You have so much experience observing these elections all over
the world, and so we were very fortunate to have you there, and we followed
absolutely carefully all of your words and your assessment and happen to agree
In fact, I fear that my remarks might sound repetitive, because I'm simply
going to restate what both Chairman Hastings and Congressman Doggett have said,
but I guess in a different way. And I begin from the premise and fact that the
United States government and everyone who is a citizen of the United States who
has ever heard of Georgia or been there have a very warm feeling of friendship
And, too, it's accurate to say friends of mine are here with me on this panel,
Ambassador Vasili Sikhuralidze and former foreign minister and distinguished
opposition leader Salome Zurabishvili. It's an honor just to be here with them
as well on this panel.
And I guess that's a good jumping off point. Why do we have such positive
feelings about Georgia? Well, we have common strategic interests that drove
our policy with Georgia, and we have shared values.
Just for a moment on the strategic interests. At the beginning of this
administration, and in the last administration as well, we got very focused on
Georgia for a couple of reasons that had to do with realpolitik.
What really elevated Georgia's strategic interest in the international
community was energy originally. Oil and gas pipelines have traversed Georgian
territory from the Caspian Sea and into Europe to help Europe achieve its own
goal of diversifying its supplies of oil and natural gas.
We also have a very strong record of cooperating with Georgia on hardcore
security concerns and counterterrorism. Before the Rose Revolution, we worked
hard with the government of Georgia to change the situation in the Pankisi
Gorge near Georgia's border with Russia's Republic of Chechnya, where we had
serious concerns about international terrorists and other fighters,
contributing to instability in the region. And under then President
Shevardnadze the Georgian government cleaned up that problem.
And today we have a very strong security relationship with the government of
President Saakashvili, with Georgia providing 2,000 troops in Iraq, which is
the largest contribution of any country beyond the United States and the United
Kingdom. And that's just the beginning of our security relationship with
So the point I'm making is, yes, certainly, we have hardcore realpolitik
interests on the table with Georgia, but the level of warmth and connection
that we feel with Georgia, as officials or as private citizens, go well beyond
that. And that derives from the shared values that we experience with Georgia.
It's the love of freedom, political and economic freedom, and the commitment
to democracy, democratic values and human rights.
As you, Mr. Chairman, and you, Congressman Doggett, have outlined, the
situation is not perfect in Georgia -- far from it. And this election was not
an example or a model to be followed elsewhere in the world.
I come from Chicago, where we have also a peculiar form of local democracy at
times, and all of us, all of our systems have their shortcomings. And it's not
an excuse. That's an observation that imbues all of us that care about Georgia
with energy to make sure these parliamentary elections coming up are
significantly better in terms of the procedures than this election.
That said, we share the assessment of you, Mr. Chairman, of OSCE, of the
Parliamentary Assembly, of ODIHR as well, that in essence these elections
adhered to the standards and commitments of democracy that we think of in the
OSCE community, that in essence reflected those commitments -- and in practice,
but there's more to be done to make sure the parliamentary elections provide
that opportunity that Congressman Doggett spoke about for an opposition to
flourish and to participate fully in the political life of the country.
I'd like to put the remarks I just made in very brief historical context, not
going back years, but just a couple of months. In September and October,
demonstrations began in Tbilisi that grew in size till November 2nd, when
opposition leaders, including Mr. Zurabishvili, issued a series of absolutely
understandable and legitimate demands that focused on the need for electoral
And by the way, we hailed in the State Department and the U.S. government that
demonstration as an example of the exercise of the democratic right of peaceful
and lawful assembly. The next day some of those demands were escalated, and
there were remarks about President Saakashvili, calling him a terrorist or a
criminal or a traitor and calling for his overthrow.
We didn't associate ourselves with those remarks, which are not in keeping with
the spirit of democratic political behavior, because there was a call for a
possibly extra constitutional change in power. And in Georgia, as we all know,
anybody who's followed Georgian modern history, all too often changes in
government have occurred through protests on the street -- in fact, right in
front of the parliament, where these demonstrations were happening.
So there's a high degree of emotionality and tension that is always present in
Georgian politics, particularly in the case of street demonstrations.
This led to November 7th, where there were larger demonstrations after the
Georgian government decided to disperse a protest in the same place in the
parliamentary plaza or before the parliament building, as well as in Georgia's
main thoroughfare, Rustaveli Avenue.
Our assessment of what happened is that initially there was not force used, or
excessive force, and some opposition people and participants in that
demonstration I spoke with said, "OK. Things were under control in the
beginning." But later in the day tensions escalated, emotions escalated, and
there were violent clashes between demonstrators and government police.
We condemned the use of force by the Georgian security services, by the police,
on November 7th. We assessed that excessive force was probably used and
lamented that for the first in memory that the Georgian government did use
force against its citizens. Who threw the first punch will be debated, I
guess, as long as people remember this incident. We simply, though, lament
that force ended up being used and that emotions escalated.
That was the bad news. And the bad news was also extended when the Georgian
government closed the Imedi television station and instituted a state of
emergency. That was the bad news.
The good news was that President Saakashvili tried to defuse the situation with
a rather unorthodox and democratic step at that moment of high tension, which
was to call for an election that would cut short his term by one year and would
allow the Georgian people to decide on one of the primary demands of the
opposition, which was to hold parliamentary elections earlier -- in fact, as
they were originally scheduled to be separate from the presidential election in
spring, rather than concurrent with the presidential election in November.
That part was good.
But still I was honored to be dispatched by Secretary Rice to Georgia to try to
get the state of emergency lifted and to get the Imedi TV station turned back
on. And through a lot of hard work with the OSCE, with you, Mr. Chairman, with
Acting President and Speaker Burjanadze, and with the EU, together there was a
compromise negotiated that got Imedi TV back on the air for a while and got the
state of emergency lifted. That was good.
And Georgia then was able to move toward parliamentary elections. However,
there was a lot of concern about the presidential election, first of all, as
you already outlined, and serious irregularities that many people claimed had
altered the outcome of the presidential election that then occurred on January
We listened carefully to all of those complaints. Our embassy and Ambassador
Tefft -- and thank you for mentioning him, Congressman Doggett; he is one of
the best ambassadors anywhere we have in the world -- his team and he
personally, that he personally led a very careful examination of the most
We brought our concerns to the central election commission. We received a
detailed response. We can argue over how adequate the responses were that the
central election commission offered to all of the opposition people who raised
But our honest and best judgment call, after weighting and analyzing, was that
President Saakashvili probably did receive over 50 percent of the vote -- just
squeaked by, perhaps -- as the ISFED Georgian NGO also determined through a
parallel vote tally.
And so we waited a week before anybody officially congratulated President
Saakashvili on a re-election so that we could conduct this very careful
analysis. And after a week, we came out -- in fact, a week and a day -- where
we came out, which is that the election was valid, legitimate, that President
Saakashvili won a very narrow majority. And that's when President Bush called
Again, we recognize that there is serious doubt still out in the Georgian
public about this result. It will linger out there. And to dispel any
concerns in the future about the parliamentary elections outcome, we think it's
crucial that the negotiations ongoing between the Georgian government and the
opposition continue, that the Georgian government continues to take the
opposition's demands with regard to electoral reform seriously, and that the
Georgian government implements improved procedures to make sure everybody sees
the parliamentary election as free and fair and legitimate.
And my last comment would be that we indeed call on our friends and colleagues
in the opposition to do just what you suggested, Congressman Doggett, and also
Chairman Hastings, which is participate vigorously in the parliamentary
election. Develop the campaign platforms. Fight for votes. Win a significant
number of seats, which is absolutely possible. The outcome of the presidential
election indicated that there was a near 50-50 split in the country.
We anticipate, we hope that the opposition will score a significant number of
votes or would be successful, at least, in convincing the Georgian public to
vote for it. We hope the outcome will be one in which the disposition of
political forces in the Georgian parliament reflects the will of the Georgian
voters, because it is the Georgian voters that must determine the political
future of Georgia.
If this election is free and fair, if the Georgian government restores the
sense of momentum in democratic reform that had been out there, if these
democratic reforms reflect the economic reforms that the World Bank cited as
meriting Georgia's designation as the world's leading economic reformer last
year, well then we feel that Georgia will be fully on track to realize its NATO
I realize there may be some questions about that in this question and answer
session, so I end my remarks here -- again, thanking you for your leadership
and for your assistance in helping us analyze what happened during the January
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, sir.
Is the United States government involved in discussions between the sides about
the 17 demands recently put forward by the opposition?
BRYZA: Well, these are discussions that are ensuing between the government of
Georgia, largely under the leadership of Parliamentary Speaker Burjanadze and
We encourage the parties to come together and reach compromises on very
legitimate demands and requests from the opposition. So we do all that we can
on the outside of the process, using whatever powers of suasion we have with
our friends in the opposition and in the government.
HASTINGS: What do you feel would be the consequences, if the opposition
chooses to boycott the parliamentary elections?
BRYZA: We think that would be unwise, because all Georgians have an
opportunity, in the form of these parliamentary elections, to determine their
country's political future through a democratic election process. And we see
an opportunity for the opposition again to realign the disposition of political
forces in the parliament to reflect the will of the voters.
That opportunity will materialize if these electoral reforms under discussion
are implemented and if the election truly is free and fair and marks an
improvement or a restoration of democratic reform momentum. So, assuming the
Georgian government lives up to its longstanding commitment to democratic
reform, then the only way forward to strengthen Georgian democracy is for
everybody to participate in the democratic parliamentary election.
HASTINGS: Mr. Secretary, two or three days after the election, I was
personally attacked in the Russian media -- at least one of the major news
sources in Russia. And you've been personally attacked by Georgian opposition
figures who claim, among other things, your friendship with President
Saakashvili has colored your handling of the country's political crisis.
I can handle mine. I'm sure you can handle yours. I chose not to respond to
them at all, because my friends in Russia -- and I have numerous friends there
-- know that, to the extent that I can reflect the wisdom of experience, one
thing I've learned to do is to be fair. And that's as it pertains to Russia,
as well as other countries around the world.
Toward that end, how do you respond to those allegations?
BRYZA: Mr. Chairman, I understand that it's all part of politics, part of an
emotional battle that's going on. And I take absolutely no personal offense at
all, and I say that my feelings about Georgia span the political spectrum and
span any administration.
I recall when I was working on the National Security Council staff, many people
were lamenting what would happen when President Shevardnadze's term expired,
and oh my God, what will we do, because we have such a personalized
relationship with Georgia. And I said at that time what I say today, that our
relationship with Georgia is with Georgia. It's with all the people of
I have people I deeply respect and consider lifelong friends, sitting here in
fact in the opposition, as well as in the government and in civil society in
the person of Anna Dolidze and her husband Irakli Kakabadze.
I feel very close to Georgia, regardless of political affiliation. And so our
commitment is to the democratic process in Georgia. It is precisely the
evolution of democracy in Georgia that elevates Georgia's strategic importance
to, well, a point that we're here today talking about it. If all we cared
about in Georgia was security cooperation or oil and gas pipelines, we wouldn't
be here today.
One last word on Russia, too. We welcome the tone and the substance of
President Saakashvili's inaugural address, which had a central theme being
reconciliation -- reconciliation between the government and the opposition,
reconciliation between the government and civil society, which is an urgent
need, and reconciliation between Georgia and Russia.
We welcome the talks that ensued during the inauguration weekend, led by
Foreign Minister Lavrov and then Foreign Minister Bezhuashvili, to develop a
concrete road map to improve Georgian-Russian relations.
We are completely supportive of that, as long as we understand it's in the
context of the United States' absolutely unbending support for Georgia's
sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and for, therefore, a
peaceful settlement to its separatist conflicts.
HASTINGS: Toward that end, that's a very good segue to my last question in
this round, and then I'll turn to Congressman Doggett.
But when the president spoke of reconciliation and the desire to improve
relations with Russia and then Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Moscow does
not necessarily intend to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, regardless of,
for example, what happens in Kosovo.
So are there any real grounds to hope for better relations, particularly in
light of the fact the referendum of the citizens in Georgia reflected a desire
to join NATO, and Russia has been constantly firm against those kinds of
But it's troubling to me. I've spent 15 years now in the Parliamentary
Assembly of the OSCE. And on two of the terms, including my presidency, I
participated in lengthy discussion regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
And the thing that always bothers me personally about these things is that, no
matter the politics, people get hurt. And a lot of the people that get hurt
really are not anything other than people that want to get up in the morning
and try to scrape through the day and are not going to be making these awesome
decisions that our politicians make.
So what real grounds exist for better relations? And I could go on and on. I
won't. I'll just leave it there and await your response.
BRYZA: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. Well, I think, based on my own interactions in
Tbilisi over the last couple of months, I think the goodwill is definitely
there on the part of the government of Georgia and the people of Georgia to
have a normal and friendly relationship with Russia. Georgians are not
inherently anti-Russian. My God, they've been spending their entire existence
living next to each other. And I think that Russians are not inherently
anti-Georgian at all.
HASTINGS: President Putin's mother lives in Georgia. I didn't know that, and
Lavrov is Armenian from...
BRYZA: Interesting. And former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's mother also
actually resided in the Pankisi Gorge. We could go on for a long time about
the cultural, political, all sorts of interconnections between Russia and
Georgia, which is a good thing, a positive thing. And we'd like to see that
hopefully natural state of affairs resume.
To a certain extent, the ball is in Russia's court, because, as we know, there
are existing serious economic sanctions in place against Georgia. The only
existing road connection, the Verkhny Lars border crossing, is still closed.
We hope it will soon. There are still bans on the export of Georgian water and
wine into Russia. There have been prohibitions on air connections, as well as
postal connections. We hope that will soon be a thing of the past.
We understand that to get to that point where these sanctions are gone, there
needs to be a give and take negotiation, and we hope that's under way.
But you also raised the conflicts. And we should all be sober when we think
about what could happen if people decide to define what happened in Kosovo as a
I think our friends in Russia, as well as in Georgia and everywhere in the
region, understand very well what a complex ethnic and political situation
exists in the Caucasus on both sides of the Caucasus Mountains, be that in the
South Caucasus regions or countries of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenian, or in
Russia's own North Caucasus republics.
I don't need to go into that. I think everybody knows what's happened in the
past and the tensions that are brewing now. None of us, none of us, nobody, I
think, who cares about peace and stability and freedom in the Caucasus wants to
see Kosovo become a precedent. And there's no reason why it should be.
There's absolutely no reason why a unique conflict, as every conflict is, in
one part of Europe has to be a precedent for a conflict anywhere else with a
completely different history, set of participants, international, political,
legal precedents. These are absolutely different conflicts, and it's in no one
interests for there to be a precedent.
So what I hope will happen is we'll get through this Kosovo period, and then we
will see a serious effort by our friends in Moscow and a continuing, serious
effort by our friends in Tbilisi, as well as in Sukhumi, Abkhazia, and in
Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, and those regions of Georgia, to accelerate and
deepen our efforts to resolve those separatist conflicts in the context of
Georgia's internationally recognized borders.
To do that we, of course, need to build on the confidence building measures
we've been trying to establish and the economic cooperation we try to foster in
South Ossetia and the security measures. We need to get beyond just those
confidence building measures and work on the more substantive and crucial
problems, which are political settlement that will be lasting and just and the
return and better treatment of refugees and internally displaced persons, which
is what you were talking about as well, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much.
DOGGETT: Thank you very much for your testimony and for your service, Mr.
Secretary. As you mentioned former President Shevardnadze, I was in Georgia in
2002, and it was against that background of a little over five years that I
noted such remarkable progress in so many ways in Georgia over the last five
But it is important that you noted the most unfortunate events of November. As
one who has participated in more than a few demonstrations myself, I value the
right of people in opposition to government policy to be able to express
themselves without the threat of violence.
And I think it is notable that though the United States and Georgia have a
close security and other common concerns, that our government spoke out
strongly against that unnecessary violent suppression of the opposition at that
And my question to you is I saw from a distance a large demonstration the day
after the election in Tbilisi, which was handled peacefully. There were much
larger demonstrations by the opposition and political rallies during the
election process. There have been some since then, all of which appear to have
been peaceful in nature.
Do you believe that the government has learned from the experience of November
and that a peaceful demonstration will be handled peacefully by the government?
BRYZA: Congressman, it certainly appears that way. Thank goodness that there
has not been a repeat of the November 7th incident. I can also say, from my
own conversations with senior officials and the Georgian government, including
that security side of the government, they, too, were shocked at what happened
-- pained, as well, emotionally and physically.
And they recognized that, again, as I said in my opening statement, a certain
threshold had been passed in modern independent Georgia's history, where
security services were used against peaceful demonstrators. I don't think
anybody, anybody, in Georgia is proud of that -- nobody.
I think if you talk to the security people, however, they'd say, "Well, we
found ourselves in that situation, and we did what we had to do, and we feel we
responded in as responsible a way as possible." You can argue over that. I'm
not an expert on that.
I know that force was used -- it appears in an excessive way. Serious injuries
were caused in some cases. And the Georgian government found itself in a
position it did not wish to be in. And so the key is to keep itself out of
that situation. Part of that means different types of responses to peaceful
demonstrations, which we're seeing.
But more importantly, I think what it means is to make sure the Georgian
government reconnects with civil society and with the opposition and creates
political space, through this election and the pre-election campaign, for
everybody to have their voices heard, so that we have a real democratic
And if that's what we see, then of course there'll still be peaceful protests.
That's part of Georgia's spicy form of democracy. But then it will be
incumbent upon all of the leaders of Georgia, whether they're opposition or
government, to decide Georgia's political future at the ballot box, rather than
on the street.
DOGGETT: Even as we were there monitoring the elections, there was
considerable rumor and discussion that there might be provocation or
overreaction on election day. It spoke well of all parties involved, from all
of the opposition and from the government, from the election administrators,
that with only a few minor exceptions, it appeared to have been a peaceful
election day, and these concerns were overblown and over exaggerated.
As to the improvements that you indicate need to be made in order to ensure
that these parliamentary elections are an even higher standard compatible with
democracy and OSCE standards, what are the main improvements that you would
like to see occur?
BRYZA: Number one, we hope that, if and when there are significant complaints,
that the central election commission finds a way to satisfy more clearly those
people who issued their complaints. I heard a lot of complaints...
DOGGETT: These would be complaints during the election process.
BRYZA: Yes, complaints about the election process that are raised after the
election. Many of the people that I spoke with in the NGO community and in the
opposition parties were disappointed that they felt their responses from the
central election commission were not substantive or serious. But that's what
happens after the election.
To get to a freer and fairer election, I think we just need to look at some of
the demands that the opposition has put out, warning that if the demands are
not met by the 15th of February, there will be a permanent and large-scale
Some of those demands we don't necessarily agree with, when they focus
backward. Again, we'll be adjudicating the legitimacy of President
Saakashvili's election. The election's over. He won. And he was inaugurated,
and heads of state were there, and heads of governments, and you were there,
and I was there. And so it's time to move forward and strengthen Georgian
democracy. So how -- just to answer your question.
Some of the demands make a lot of sense and have been out there for quite some
time. So one would be to increase the political balance on the election
commissions, the central election commission and all the election commissions
throughout the country, so that the opposition has a stronger voice.
Similarly, there appears to be a reasonable demand out there that the
opposition has a stronger voice and has a more balanced board of directors of
Georgian public television.
As well, there's been demand for some time on the part of the opposition that
the so-called majoritarian system of electing one-third of the parliament be
abolished. And it's not exactly a majoritarian system, but it's an interesting
system that's in place in some quarters of Europe, whereby for one-third of the
seats that are selected in the Georgian parliamentary election, in each
district where one-third of those seats are selected, there's a winner take all
situation. So whatever party scores the most votes gets all the mandates from
Why that becomes problematic would be that if one political party -- let's say
the ruling party -- had 51 percent popularity across the country, it's
conceivable, in all of those seats where the majoritarian election system would
be used, only that party's representatives would be selected, and candidates
representing 49 percent of all of the other voters in Georgia would get no
seats, according to that system. So there's an understandable demand that that
particular procedure be dropped.
And there's been a demand that the threshold for membership in the Georgian
parliament be dropped from 7 percent to 5 percent. That's in terms of
But then in terms of process, the obvious and simplistic response is that
whatever happened that raised those complaints, be it excessive voter turnout
numbers in some regions of Georgia in the Samtskhe-Javaketi region, which is
ethnically Armenian, or in the Kvemo Kartli region, which is ethnically Azeri,
that there not be concerns possibly about some sort of manipulation, whereby
the turnout was larger than could have been expected.
I'm not saying necessarily that something funny happened to drive up the
turnout so high, but I am saying there are deep suspicions on the part of the
opposition that something like that happened. So we would hope that there
would be no cause at all for those sorts of concerns in terms of procedures.
DOGGETT: Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Secretary.
I can't get this button. I don't get a light. That's why.
Mr. Secretary, I thank you again. I'm not going to go forward with additional
questions. I'll submit a few others to you in writing as we progress. And
again, I thank you for your service and for your appearance here today.
It's important to the Helsinki Commission that we have persons like yourself,
who are directly involved in these negotiations, come before us in public
hearings. That way I think it adds credibility to the substance of what it is
that we are about in trying to promote democracy. So toward that end, I thank
you very much.
And I now invite the ambassador of Georgia, who I've had an opportunity to meet
with, Ambassador Sikhuralidze. I get that name mixed up anyway. Vasili --
that much I do know -- if you would come forward, and we'll take your
BRYZA: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. It is a huge honor to be here or to
receive any inquiry from you. Thank you.
HASTINGS: Thank you.
Mr. Ambassador, again, the credentials of the ambassador are on the table
outside, and I won't go into great detail. In the interest of time, we'll go
ahead and receive your remarks. You can summarize them, and your full remarks
will be accepted into the record, or proceed as you see fit.
SIKHURALIDZE: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to thank
Helsinki Commission for organizing this event and this hearing.
First, I would like to personally thank you and Congressman Doggett for
participating and for your leadership role of election observer team, OSCE
Parliamentary Assembly observer team in Tbilisi.
First, I would like to also thank all of the international nongovernmental
organizations who took part and participated in the election monitoring process
in Georgia in this January. So I may repeat statements already made by you or
Secretary Bryza on speaking about these elections and the pre-election issues.
So I would like to begin with several points on the developments leading to the
January snap presidential elections. So as you know, Georgia has implemented
successful and much applauded economic and government supported (inaudible)
formidable growth. Nevertheless, poverty and unemployment still remain major
issues, and time is needed for tangible results to be delivered to every
This was one of the main motivating factors of the mass rallies of November
2nd. The leaders of the demonstration came up with four demands, as it was
already mentioned, and which we are negotiating in the framework of the
standing factional consultative group chaired by speaker of the Georgian
Parliament, Ms. Nino Burjanadze.
Here I would like to note that this and other fora for political dialogue
existed before November last and are used today as well for meaningful
dialogue. Going back to that November events, there were that three out of
four original demands met by government, but when the president was about to
reach the leaders of the rally led the negotiations and came up with the
summary demands, setting up the pattern of the constant opposition notification
that can be observed till now.
It has to be noted that the November demonstrations remained physical, I'm
sorry it did not result in restraining leaders, despite the fact that the
permit for the rally had expired for five days. When the police attempted to
restore traffic on the (inaudible), the protest turned violent, and so it had
to resort to restore law and order.
It was revealed later and that there was several occasions before, but it was
finally revealed later that at the peak of the mass protest a well-planned coup
by one of the head international figures was to be executed. This plan was
aiming at subversion of constitutional order by using large and unruly number
of people and at the same time paralyzing the rightful state structure.
So our Georgian government used government's adequate use that any democratic
government would use in order to uphold law and order in the country. Of
course, I would agree with Matt, and I have the personal contact with a lot of
high officials there, and nobody was happy with this development. But the
state acted in a way that it led.
President made the decision to resolve this political crisis through the most
democratic way -- elections. He has announced his determination to resign and
hold snap political elections and snap presidential elections on January 5th.
The announcement by President Saakashvili was made two weeks prior to the
actual resignation, offering additional time to the 45 days provided by the
constitution for preparatory containing in preparation for the observers and
central electoral commission and voters.
On the elections themselves, I would like to only briefly cite some of their
statements, where they are in opposite (inaudible) members. I would say it was
over 1,200 international observers and several ten thousands of local monitors
scrutinized this process in general.
An international election observer mission, including monitors from OSCE office
for democratic institutions and human rights, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly,
parliamentarians (inaudible) stated that, quoting, "The elections were
certainly in line with OSCE and council of human commitments and standards for
democratic elections and the mission legislation."
Moreover, virtually everybody agreed with the mission assessment that this
election was the first genuinely completed presidential elections, which
enabled the Georgian people to state their political choice.
To build consensus of such a move among observers, Georgia (inaudible) rather
critical of them, so it is said that despite some irregularities on election
day, the elections were held without any major violations, and that were really
reflecting the will of Georgian people.
At the same time, reports have identified some difficult challenges. And
Georgia witnesses persuaded to add response to all outstanding issues of
(inaudible) system of Georgia. Moreover, President Saakashvili has already
invited international organizations, such as the Council of Human (inaudible)
in addressing systemic shortcomings. We also have invited international
experts to arbitrate election districts to make the process even more
Meanwhile, the new Georgian government is asked to implement an ambitious
program of further economic liberalization. One of the main items of Georgian
government is improvement of social security system and the reduction of
unemployment. Greater integration, peaceful resolution of conflicts, energy
security and fighting terrorism remain Georgia's foremost security points of
The previous cycle was held with parliamentary elections, which has
demonstrated all of the support in Georgia for (inaudible) integration.
Georgia's leaders will continue dialogue with all political forces for
achieving contracted compromise on all important issues and hope to achieve
Some of opposition leaders have taken, and so it is our demonstrated contracted
accord to their demands for constitutional and administrative enactments.
There are strict and intense negotiations are under way to reach mutually
acceptable agreements. I have more good news today about reaching agreement on
several outstanding issues, and I think that this trend will continue.
Unfortunately, recent developments demonstrated that some political forces do
point to zero sum game, though this phenomenon certainly is not unique to
Georgia, but rather it is characteristic to all young democracies. Some of the
political groups have been flirting with the idea of non-recognition of
official election results. (inaudible).
Increasingly, only a handful of claims have been submitted to by approximately
35,000 opposition observers. Those claims have been scrutinized not only by
Georgian institutions, but also by foreign and international observers, who
concluded that the shortcomings have not affected the outcome of the election.
Nevertheless, the leadership of Georgia stands ready to cooperate with the
entire political spectrum to engage in more actively democratic institutions.
The president has specifically invited some political parties and individuals
who goes into the cabinet.
The upcoming parliamentary elections, which will be held this June 2008, will
be an important benchmark for politics in Georgia. Campaign promises could be
very interesting and vibrant. And Georgia's leadership is fully committed to
holding free and fair parliamentary elections.
So after all, generally, we re-assert that the general presidential elections
have importantly performed and progressed something with Georgian democracy.
The government of Georgia has demonstrated ability to solve a political crisis
through a political democratic means. The process has been found from the
street politics back to the political fora, enhancing democratic institutions
and ultimately serving the best interests of the Georgian nation.
And I am sure that the new parliament will be reflecting the will of the
Georgian people as well, and it will be more vibrant and more politically to be
a very important political benchmark for Georgia's internal politics.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Ambassador.
Ambassador, the co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission is Senator Ben Cardin.
And while he is not with us today, I have accepted into the record his
statement. I'm going to read one paragraph from it and ask for your reaction
to that paragraph and have you to know before reading it that fundamentally I
thoroughly agree with what my co-chairman has reflected.
It's not anything that I feel that is solely directed at Georgia as much as all
countries where we assist in development or try to help or need to be mindful
of a component that goes with freedom, and that is the rule of law.
"Now, I'm confident," the senator says, "that Georgians will indeed get through
this difficult period and continue their democratic development. In that
connection I'd like to stress the importance going forward of an independent
judiciary. President Saakashvili has spoken of the need to address poverty and
strengthen the role of parliament. But it is critical to create courts that
citizens will trust and see as the appropriate forum to redress grievances.
With all due respect for freedom of peaceful assembly, when people have faith
in the impartial administration of justice, they may not feel to demonstrate in
And he goes on to say that he's sure the U.S. government, including Congress,
stands ready to assist Georgia in this regard. To lay our bona fides on the
table, even though Congressman Doggett didn't know I was going to read from
that, both of us in our former professions before coming to Congress were
judges. And so I know I'm speaking for him, and I'm speaking for Ben Cardin,
who wrote those comments. What's your reaction?
SIKHURALIDZE: I certainly agree. A judiciary and the general reform of the
judiciary is one of the priorities of Georgia recent leadership. Of course, it
takes time. It takes a lot of efforts, and it takes a lot of resources to
establish this and to conduct important reforms in this sphere, but Georgian
leadership is fully committed to these reforms, and they fully understand the
need for the independent judiciary.
So last year there were important and very big package of the legislation
introduced in order to assure the independence of judiciary. There are some
more step-by-step programs how to improve the independence of judiciary, how to
better select the judges, how to include the training for the judges and for
the court personnel. So it's a huge package, which should be pursued step by
step, and we're fully committed to this judiciary reform.
HASTINGS: All right. When in Georgia, I heard complaints from different
individuals, both publicly and privately, in discussions. And they were
complaining about the use of state resources for politically related activities
by state employees. I heard that often, Ambassador, and the question, I guess,
for you is has the government initiated any kind of investigation to look into
the possible abuse of state resources of politically related activity?
SIKHURALIDZE: I also heard that on several occasions, and I know that was a
problem. Here we are several issues investigating, but no evidence was found
that there was the use of state or the govern resources to force government
employees to work in one way or another. Or there were no evidence showing any
abuse on the ground of the political membership or of the political parties.
So I have not heard any proven case. In any case, there was no...
HASTINGS: With all due respect, my question is is there any ongoing
investigation being done to make that determination?
SIKHURALIDZE: There'll be one, no. Yes.
HASTINGS: All right. President Saakashvili has said, and I quote him, "that
no one can ignore the opinion of the people who did not vote for us." But
given the polarization of the political environment, what are the prospects,
Ambassador, of developing any kind of meaningful consensus prior to the
And although I know the demands that are on the table are for February 15th,
the parliamentary elections are in the spring. So I heard you say that there
was some good news that you received today. I'm not asking you to relate that
good news, but what are the prospects that a consensus can be formed prior to
the parliamentary elections?
SIKHURALIDZE: There are several very important compromises that have been
achieved. First of all, I would like to mention that the threshold for the
(inaudible), the parliamentary (inaudible) has downsized from 7 percent to 5
percent. There were the demands from the opposition to combat the election
force majoritarian, both regional and nationwide elections, according to
proportional system, which means that we had the two (inaudible) system.
There was a proportional system and majoritarian system where winner takes all.
So therefore, the important compromise was achieved according to the demands
of the opposition that would have changed this, the majoritarian system to the
There were also negotiations about the composition of the central electoral
commission. So the strong belief of the government was that the central
electoral commission should be the civil service type of organization without
any popular representation within.
But as far as they will have some other problems and the demands from the
opposition parties, so now the composition is that the six people are elected
by parliament, and they are considered to be civil servants. Other six people
are representatives of both parties who are represented in the parliament, and
one person is nominated by the government. This also is the important
There are some other issues now under discussion, and maybe one of the most
important issues is that our constitution provides that after presidential
elections, it is not necessary to introduce the new government for approval to
the parliament, but to (inaudible) after the parliamentary elections.
Therefore, now the discussion is going on and there is the idea to have not
only the introducing the new government after presidential elections, but also
to seek for the support for the cabinet after new parliamentary elections.
So there are some bunch of other issues. We distributed here the recent
article by the (inaudible) Monitor, who carefully describes the ongoing
process. And we hope that this process will be fruitful, and it will bring the
real results, and we look forward that the parliamentary elections will be held
in full accordance with...
HASTINGS: One more question before turning my colleague. Before you left for
the inaugural ceremony, you and I met, and I raised the issue with you of the
case of Iea Tkuria (ph), and I'm curious. Has there been anything that you can
say to me about that?
As you well know, a lot of questions have been raised about that particular
trial, and I'm going to continue to ask you about it, and I'm hopeful that at
some time I will get responses. I'm not suggesting at all that you're not
unwilling. I'm curious. Is there anything new to report on?
SIKHURALIDZE: Mr. Chairman, I have the court proceedings with me -- not here,
but at work (inaudible), and I'll be able to send in some examples in this and
give you more information on this case.
HASTINGS: I would appreciate that, because we continuously hear at the
Helsinki Commission concerns, and in that regard I will continue to raise them
With that in mind, Congressman Doggett?
DOGGETT: I think I would just follow up on the chairman's question. I gather
what you're telling us is that you're mindful of this February 15th deadline,
and the government is involved in serious discussion and attempt to respond to
any of the requests of the opposition that it feels are reasonable. And we can
expect additional news in the short term about further government efforts to
SIKHURALIDZE: Absolutely. Absolutely. The government is fully committed to
the political dialogue, and we strongly believe that the entire political
process should become within democratic institutions, and the government will
do its best to keep it in this way.
DOGGETT: Thank you very much.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much.
Ambassador, what's the status of Imedi TV? And will the station be back on the
air in advance of the parliamentary elections?
SIKHURALIDZE: It's a more internal issue of Imedi, because after Minister
(inaudible) reviewed some tapes about this plot, most of Imedi journalists
refused to continue their work with the current owners.
HASTINGS: That happened while we were there. A lot of them...
SIKHURALIDZE: There was there with the current owner of this TV station. And
they declared very clearly that if the ownership issue was solved and they
would have different owner and different worker, they will be able to continue.
Otherwise, they are choosing to continue. Therefore, from our side we would
facilitate the process, but it's mostly internal material issue, should this
HASTINGS: I'm not certain if you spoke to the issue, or if you did speak of
it, I didn't understand you, regarding the subject of regional governors in
Georgia. My understanding is they are still appointed by the president. Are
there any plans, or can you tell us whether or not there are plans to make the
governors elected positions?
SIKHURALIDZE: Most of governors are elected. I mean not. Executive branch,
yes. There also important issue was how to elect the mayor of these, example.
So the electoral system now in the cities are honest and in the regional they
are honest. The people elect the city council, and city council elects mayor.
This is not the (inaudible) elections now for now.
But the original values from this are still under way, and it should be also
discussed within this parliament and the next parliament. So this issue is
still one that's...
HASTINGS: It's a very important issue, Ambassador. The closer you get to the
people with people that they elect, the more likely you are to have less
friction. I've been in this Congress long enough and observed the region long
enough to see Russia retreat from advancement to retrogression. And let me
suggest what I'm talking about.
When I first -- not the first time I went to Russia, but at some time during my
many visits there, what I saw was the developing electoral system at the local
level. And then, under the aegis of the president, a lot of that changed.
All I'm saying is even though you may be adversaries, if you want to look at
something that shows how they went from good to centralizing power ostensibly
in the hands of one person, name him president or name her president or
anything you want to name them, there's still power in the hands of one person.
And somewhere along the line if there is a lesson to be learned, I can say to
you unequivocally -- as I have said, I consider a lot of Russian politicians
and people that I've gotten to know to be friends, but at the same time, I say
to them very firmly, and that's whether I'm speaking to Prime Minister Lavrov
or anyone else -- that it doesn't make good sense to have taken away the power
from the people and then say that you are providing for a democratic system.
I just offer that as an observation. I don't need a reaction. But I do thank
you. And if you would stay and have any additional comments after our next
witness, you are welcome to do so. And thank you again, Ambassador, very much
for your appearance.
SIKHURALIDZE: Thank you.
HASTINGS: I'd like to ask the former foreign minister, who I'm sure you know,
to come up with us -- Salome Zurabishvili. Ms. Zurabishvili is now opposition
leader and head of Georgia's Way party. And you are free, ma'am, to go forward
with any observations you would like at this time.
ZURABISHVILI: Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the commission, ladies
and gentlemen, first of all thank you very much for inviting me to testify in
front of this committee and to testify on the situation of Georgia at the
juncture of time which is indeed crucial for Georgia.
I also have a written statement that I will submit to you for the record.
I think it is a time that is crucial for Georgia, because indeed what we have
listened was a little bit the benign presentation of the situation in Georgia.
And I can understand that for some looking from across the Atlantic to the
Georgian situation, it might look, and we will all want to look at the
situation that way, that there was a big social crisis that came out of
economic reforms, led to a reaction from the Georgian president that led to
Those were not perfect, but democracy is never perfect, and next parliamentary
elections will certainly be better and counterbalance all of that. More than
anybody else, I would like to believe that that is the situation in Georgia and
that our road is leading us towards democracy. But there are some hard
questions to which I will try to answer and a number of facts that we have to
First of all, what explains that between September 28th and today the Georgian
population had to come out more than 11 times to make its voice heard and that
those demonstrations were all between 100,000 and 200,000 -- and we don't want
to quarrel with numbers, because everybody has its own numbers -- but there
were significant protests for a small country like Georgia.
What explains that all of these demonstrations were absolutely peaceful? Not a
single car was burned at any of those demonstrations. Not a single evidence
was brought of any weapons carried by any demonstrator. All of those
demonstrations were fully authorized and within the legal framework.
What explains 7th of November, if it was so easy to call for parliamentary
elections after all? We were told at that time that it was impossible to have
parliamentary elections, that the country was almost at war. Those were the
words of Ms. Burjanadze, leader of the majority party in the parliament.
What explains the five repressions, crackdowns that we had on that day on
November 7th? What explains the crackdown on Imedi television and that was
part of the five repressions and that was there on the morning of the 7th of
November, together with a dozen of people that were hunger strikers, and there
as no evidence of violence or of things getting out of hand?
At Imedi the channel was closed down by Spetznaz during the first operation,
and there was a second operation with about 2,000 soldiers that came to invade
the television for no reason that I can understand.
No threat was ever documented, whether the Russian spy, supposedly, plot or the
overthrow plots. If any called for overthrow of the government, those were the
people that were standing in front of the parliament in November 2003, not the
opposition that were standing in front of the parliament in November 2007.
A number of facts. First of all, it's not the social crisis that got the
people of Georgia out on the streets, but rather injustice, deception,
rejection -- rejection of the regime that has failed to deliver on the promises
of the Rose Revolution that was made by the Georgian population and which
carried a lot of hopes. And all the people that are today in the opposition
were part of the Rose Revolution. I was a latecomer, as you know, but I was
also part of this host.
None of these demonstrators that were doing this mass protest had expressed
social requests or economic requests. It's clear that in the background of
this protest there is this very difficult social and economic situation that is
today's Georgia. But basically, those were anti-Saakashvili protests on the
background of the multi-fold and very deep crisis that we had been signaling to
the international community for some time, saying that Georgia was not as rosy
as it looked.
And this crisis is a crisis of democracy, of the lack of an independent
judiciary system. And that may be the crux of the matter, and that is over
everything else -- economy, the lack of guarantee for private property. If you
cannot go to tribunal and have your private property that is being confiscated
or destroyed and you cannot be defended in front of the tribunal, then where
else will you go but on the streets?
What happens to that judiciary system when reforms were mentioned by the
ambassador? And I don't want to engage in polemics, but just to mention that
among these reforms there is a school of justice and that it's headed today by
the brother of President Saakashvili. So maybe it's not the very core
independence for the next judiciary and the next judges that will be brought up
in this school.
Local elections failed us, because they were in the system that was mentioned.
The winner takes all. It was first applied in the local elections, and as a
result, the opposition is not represented at the local level, and there is no
more self-government in Georgia today.
And the governors are designated by the president, and the governors played a
very heavy-handed role during the last election, especially in a province like
Mingrelia, where the governor is known as being quite heavy-handed and is in
that supported by the local police and local police efficiency.
So the crisis was also a crisis of (inaudible), of not finding that the
government was responding to those demands from the population for more justice
and more democracy. And there was no dialogue.
And there was even a policy established by the government to say, "Well, we're
not going to debate with the opposition for a year and a half." That was the
official policy, and they were followed, because "We are the matter. We know
what we're doing, and we do not need to debate with the opposition." That's
the way the opposition was treated and that part of the crisis that we got.
Now, the opposition and the streets. It must be clear that it's not the
opposition that has thrown people on the streets. It is a crisis that has
thrown people on the streets. And if anything, it is the streets and the
people on the streets that have pushed the opposition to unite itself and to
express its demands in a very clear form.
And those demands were and remain and have been all the time nothing but get
parliamentary elections, because that's the only way we know, and I think
that's the only way any democratic country knows, for getting out of a crisis.
It was not a request for the sake of the request. It was to have those
parliamentary elections when time was due.
It's to be regretted that at the time nobody supported the opposition in its
request to hold those parliamentary elections when they were due and to say
that no parliament should ever extend its mandate, whatever the form of the
extension and whatever the form of the vote.
So today the opposition is very much linked to the population and is the way of
expression of the demands of the population, but it's in fact holding back the
population that is today, after the elections, much more polarized, much more
radical than it was before the presidential elections.
And the reason for that is that in fact Georgian leadership did not accede to
the demand for elections. It's that the president flatly refused on the
evening of November 2nd the call for parliamentary elections and refused any
discussion on that matter.
And when he accepted finally to hold elections, he turned around the elections
and offered a very different type of election -- presidential elections to an
opposition that was united on the call for moving to a more parliamentary
regime, because presidential system has not made it very clear to the Georgian
people that it's the best system for Georgia.
So he called the role of elections. He called it at the wrong time, not giving
the opposition much time to prepare, within the wrong context, because that
followed a state of emergency and political questions that lasted much longer
after November 7th than the state of emergency. And we are even today striving
to get people out of jail that have been arrested on the wake of November 7th.
But clearly, the opposition could not refuse those presidential elections,
because it would not be possible to explain to the people why calling for
elections, then you suddenly refuse another type of election.
So we went into this electoral campaign in a very unbalanced fashion, where
there was a lot of manipulation, lots of use of administrative resources, of
financial resources overboard. So much money was spent in a poor Georgia,
because that's the slogan of the president to get Georgia out of poverty. Then
how come he spends about $500 million for his campaign?
And, of course, we had frauds. There is discussion on the extent of the
frauds, on the number of votes that were fraudulent. But it's the inner
conviction of the Georgian population that a second round was due and that the
second round was taken away from them. And in fact true parliamentary
elections -- they are now eager to get a different way, the second tour. And
that's what the opposition is clearly about to try to get and try to get for
Finally, fair and democratic elections, transparent elections. That can in
this country provide what we have been wanting from the very beginning to do,
which is to offer the possibility to get utterance through elections and not
through revolutions or streets, like it was the case in the 90s or it was the
case in 2003.
For that, we need to restore confidence of the public in elections, and that is
the major challenge that we face. We're together for that with the government,
and we're conscious of the fact that we have to get to that through dialogue
and to get the demands that we have presented that are all very legitimate and
all very democratic.
And they all aim to one thing: to convince not only us, because we're not the
major part in that, but to convince the public opinion of Georgia, the voters,
to go back to elections, those voters that went to take the major risks, not
us, because we are the political leaders and figures, and we, after all, do not
take very, very big risks.
But the people in the regions, those that are under direct pressure from the
local authorities, those are the ones that are once again to go and take the
same risks for elections, where they are not sure whether we can defend their
votes, whether we can defend their physical integrity, whether we can defend
them in front of tribunals, who have not considered any of the complaints that
we have presented to them after the elections.
So we want to restore confidence in elections, in justice and in democracy
through those very clear and concrete requests.
Central electoral commission -- we have to have parity, and parity is not only
six to six. That's not enough. We have to have a chairman that is either
completely independent and acceptable by both sides, or we have to have a
sharing of the chairmen of the different local commissions and district
And we have to agree on the person of the chairman of the central electoral
commission. That was at the center of the things that were contested by the
population and by the opposition. And that, if we can agree, has to be an
independent person in Georgia. If we cannot agree, it could be somebody from a
foreign country, a friendly country that would accept to be that independent
person. But it's clear that we need to have as the head of the central
electoral commission somebody that is trusted by the whole Georgian population.
Media -- we need some access to media. Nobody, I think, in the world could
pretend that elections were free and fair when they were prepared in a
situation where there was no free media in Georgia, no free access to
television. There were six programmatic channels in different forms, the
public channel and the private, but owned by members of the government of
Georgia, no Imedi, except for 15 days.
HASTINGS: If I could just stop you on that point. While I was there, I saw a
person in the opposition on television...
ZURABISHVILI: On television.
HASTINGS: ... claiming that he had no access. I found that strange.
ZURABISHVILI: We had access to the television, and even in time counts it was
sometimes balanced, but the comments and the context in which we were presented
on television is what makes partiality and objectivity doubtful. And we need a
public channel that is controlled by an advisory board that is also filled in
terms of parity. That's all we are asking. It's that public channel.
And we know we cannot control the others, except if the Niznik (ph) Commission
is reactivated and becomes more active. But the public channel that is paid by
taxpayers' money should be a mother of objectivity, which it has not been able
And by the way, no compromat films showing leaders of the opposition being
Russian spies should be shown on television during the electoral campaign,
especially when the government after that comes and says to us that after all
that was a mistake on their part, and there is nothing much to complain.
The third and major problem that we'll have to deal for these next elections is
how to end political intimidation and how to install freedom from here,
especially again in the regions which are the most sensitive places in Georgia.
How do we prevent arrest atrocities presents us a special operation police
forces operations, and that was myself testimony to that in the district of
Sanghori (ph) (inaudible). Six (inaudible) officers were at the entrance of
the precinct, and when I asked them to leave, they told me that they were in
charge of the public order on the streets and the state.
So we need reorganization of special police forces, and more than that
humanitarian council to investigate and to report eventual new violations. And
no investigation has been carried out on either 7th of November repressions,
excessive use of force, or on any of the complaints towards police forces
during the pre-electoral campaign or the election date.
We need to show that through the dialogue with the authority, but that means
that we have a fair dialogue there, not dialogue for dialogue. The dialogue
should not be an occasion for the authorities the next day to come out and say
that they were discussing with leaders of the opposition the eventual jobs in
the cabinet ministers forum, because that's a way to discredit the opposition
in front of its own public opinion.
We were not talking about that. We are talking only about the next elections
and how to make them credible for the Georgian public opinion.
And the concessions have to be real concessions, not the 5 percent barrier that
for a long time has not been one of the requests of the opposition, especially
if that opposition is going to go as a bloc, and not the winner takes all,
which is a request of the opposition, but is not a major request, because today
that system turns to the disadvantage of the old majority, and the majority
knows it. So it's something that we all consider as to the more democratic
proportional system, and not a concession to the opposition.
What we really need is serious concessions on the three major points I just
mentioned -- the electoral administration, the media and the political
intimidation. And the opposition and the leadership have no other alternative,
because we all have to convince people to go to these elections and that those
elections are going to be the solution to the crisis.
For that, we need the support of Georgia's partners and friends, because at
stake are not just better elections or a step forward in democracy. At stake
is Georgia's stability and Georgia's democracy.
Those three months will be crucial. The opposition will have to use all the
instruments it has, and it doesn't have much. It has basically its own voice
in the dialogue, if that is efficient. And it has the streets. And it will
use the streets, if it's needed, in a peaceful way, in a legal way, as it has
done so up till now, because that's all we are left to.
The opposition, as you know, is represented in the parliament, but for the past
four years no amendment of the opposition has ever been considered and adopted
in the parliament. So that doesn't leave much for us in the parliament.
We also need, and I will finish with that, a new policy toward Georgia from our
friends, one that is more clearly not personal and to the Georgian people,
because democracy in Georgia is to be put to the credit not of its leadership,
not of a group of people, but of the Georgian population.
It has been a long quest for Georgia that started in 1918, a quest for
democracy, for freedom and for independence, for which Georgian population has
come out on the streets, has taken risks over and over again during the Soviet
period, and again at the end of the Soviet regime. So it's really the Georgian
population that deserves credit and support for continuing of the democratic
We need effective and constant and public pressure on the authorities to
deliver whatever is needed to make those elections credible for the population.
We need NATO, and we need a map, and we need a very conditional map, and I
would argue in favor of Bucharest, if that is still possible, despite November
7th. And Georgian opposition is ready to support that together with me today.
We should go towards a map for Georgia, but that map should be made conditional
to democratic achievement, to the profit of privatization that is going on in
Georgia and that should be made transparent, and not only to the benefit of
Russia. And that is a very major concern for the Georgian opposition.
And finally and to conclude, I want to say that I'm not an anti-Saakashvili
radical. As you know, I paid a very high price to my belief, if not in
Saakashvili, at least a belief that we were going to create and to build
democracy in Georgia when I came to join his government.
But having been raised and lived for 50 years in a European democracy, I can
recognize democracy when I see it. And I can tell you that today Georgia not
only is not a democracy, but is not any longer moving in that direction. And
the last chance that we have are the next parliamentary elections.
And I think that we all have a stake -- we inside the democratic opposition,
because we are a democratic opposition. Nobody should be able to disregard
this opposition and talk about it with terms like Russian agents or people that
want to overthrow or to start plotting against any regime. We do not deserve
And this democratic opposition knows very well that what is at stake for
Georgia is its stability, its future, and we are responsible for that in front
of our population.
Thank you very much.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much. On January 29th, the opposition put forward
their 17 demands that the government must need to avoid a new round of
protests. Where does that process stand now? And an even more pertinent
question, I guess, is how many of these demands have been met to your
ZURABISHVILI: For the time being, none. The dialogue is going on. The only
concessions were those mentioned by the ambassador that do not exactly
represent any of the demands that were presented, except the winner takes all
system changed for a proportional. But that is not directly the conditions
that we need to convince the population that those elections are going to be
free and fair.
We still do not have a date for the election, which is again not among the 17
demands, but it's part of what is needed to prepare for those elections.
We on our side were going, I think, today to present a prioritized view of
those 17 demands, so it's clear what is more important and what is really
essential to guarantee for the next parliamentary elections to be credible to
Again, we are the ones that have to go to our voters and to the population and
tell us, "Come with us for the next elections." And we are to be convincing,
so we have to be convinced that it's going to be a fair election. So we are
really deep in that matter.
The fact that the dialogue has not yet given results doesn't mean that we're
giving up on the dialogue. We're continuing. We know that NDI is also going
to organize a more concrete dialogue of the issues of the electoral code, and
that's very much appreciated. And we'll be in all of these dialogues, as long
as we have a hope for getting results.
HASTINGS: Well, when President Saakashvili included some well-known NGO
figures in his new government, he also offered some opposition members some
positions. Do you discount that -- don't consider it serious gestures at all?
ZURABISHVILI: Not at all. It's impossible to accept something that would have
been a compromise for the whole opposition, when the population considers that
the elections were fraudulent.
And we are dependent on our population to get elected at the next parliamentary
election and that what matters is we are not going for a three-month job to
take the proposals that are made, because that would have been immediately
interpreted, and it was already interpreted, by the population as we doing our
own business with the government and trying to get seats and jobs for
ourselves, not caring about delivering to the population whatever they were
HASTINGS: So then on January 5th, the opposition feels that the elections were
fraudulent. Some members of the opposition seem to have concluded that no
matter the results of that election, that they weren't going to accept it. I
was personal witness to that. I'm not talking about something I'm thinking
about or that I read about.
I saw people come before the whole of the mission that I led that said that
they didn't care -- and not their exact words; let me make that very clear --
but their position was that this election could not be a good election, and
therefore, they were not going to accept it.
I'm having trouble coming to an understanding of that kind of reaction. And I
understand, being in the opposition -- I've been in the opposition pretty much
all of my life, so I certainly understand that -- but how is it that, for
example. This isn't about me, but just as a for example.
I was a lead observer in Ukraine, in Azerbaijan, in Belarus and other places as
either the lead observer or one of the key players in election observation,
including Russia. And in that regard, I met with oh so many election observers
as I did in Georgia.
In all of my election observation, I've not seen that many, and I'm not talking
about on one occasion. If you were thinking Ukraine, if you just take the size
of it alone, there would have been the thousands of election observers. Well,
there were not. There were a lot, but nothing by comparison.
So at least on election day -- I might add we had an election here yesterday --
and one of the complaints I heard in Georgia from the opposition was that the
polling places didn't open on time, and I said, "Hello? Have you been to my
country lately?" Yesterday here in this great democracy there were polling
places that didn't open as many as four hours.
I heard from the opposition, for example, that there were long lines. Well, I
think long lines are meaning that there is a lot of interest, and not so much
whether the process. I didn't hear from the people that were in the long lines
that they didn't get to vote. And therein lies part of the problem.
Now, I understand the process argument about the electoral commission, and
those are arguments. But how do you put to rest the fact that a lot of people
that really don't -- nothing that I gain me from calling an election good or
bad. It does nothing for me. I'm not in business. I'm older and don't
anticipate being in business. I don't want to be no ambassador or nothing. Do
you understand? So why would I come to Georgia to say in the face of the
people that this was -- at least on that day it met the standards that are set
forth in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe?
ZURABISHVILI: Well, that's exactly what we do not discuss. On that day the
elections were pretty much in line with basic standards, although there was an
activity (inaudible) that could be seen by the fact that all the buses and
minibuses were hired by the national party and were outside of the precinct.
But that cannot be proven, and there is no way a foreign observer, or a
Georgian observer, for that matter, nothing that it can do to prove it, unless
you find a person and you can prove that he's holding an ID that is not his
personal ID, which is very difficult.
But what we were contesting were the pre-electoral conditions and what happened
after 8 o'clock that night, exactly because in fact Saakashvili didn't win the
first round, and they discovered that at 8 o'clock because of the turnout of
the population. And there we had to prove that we're not planned, because
especially of Georgian elections -- and I wrote a small booklet on the local
elections, which were very close to what should have happened for the
presidential elections, which is legal manipulation of the pre-election
campaign and fairly quiet election day.
But then it was not enough, and it didn't pay off, and the president didn't get
his majority, and that's why they had to start the massive probes of that
night, which caused delays. And that was not observed, because it's not the
process. And I think that we should review that when we are talking about next
observations and probably try to adapt it and to adjust to the situation.
Many problems that we had were during that night. I called myself the head of
the OSCE mission, Ambassador Boden. At 3 o'clock I woke him up, because we
were called by commission members from regions, telling us we have finished
counting for a long time, and we are not allowed to sign. We are awaiting
instructions from the central electoral commission.
In other places people were forced to sign under police forces that got into
the precinct. For instance, in Mingrelia I mentioned the governor there and
the police forces that are very effective.
So we won't be able to change all of that. We know that. But what we have to
know also that there were 4,500 precincts in which there were many Georgian
observers as well and Georgian members of the commission, and it is the
conviction of the Georgian population today that Saakashvili was not elected.
And that is not something that we can change or that any international
observation will be able to change. We have to deal with that reality.
And it's our task as an opposition to take that reality, but at the same time
to prepare the Georgian population for the next election and convince them that
it's not going to be the same next time.
HASTINGS: I just want to correct one thing for you. Ambassador Boden was the
head of the mission for ODIHR observers. I was head of the mission, and that's
not an important pride, but I just wanted to tell you you didn't wake me up at
ZURABISHVILI: I hope next time I will be able to wake you up.
HASTINGS: I hope there is a next time.
ZURABISHVILI: I hope there is a next time, too, and I think that whole of
Georgia hopes there is a next time.
HASTINGS: Exactly. And one way to get there is for people to sit down and
talk. And it takes time. You know I was asked once by a reporter did I think
that it was fair that districts were drawn so that black people could be
elected in the State of Florida.
When I was elected in 1992, there had been 123 years that had taken place
before any black person had had an opportunity to be elected. That's a long
time. And so I said, "Yes." And he said, "You mean it was fair for them to
draw districts that would include you." And I said, "Yes, just like they drew
them to exclude me for 123 years."
So it would be my hope that the opposition and the government understand that
in dialogue and in time that you find agreement, rather than to put yourself in
the position of in every instance deciding that you will not participate.
I personally feel that the opposition benefits more by participating in the
parliamentary elections than by boycotting them. I'm not talking about street
demonstrations, and let me tell you why. That gives me, when I am talking with
the ambassador or when I'm talking with Matt Bryza or anybody else from the
perspective of American dollars being utilized to try to promote democracy in
Georgia or anywhere else in the world, that gives me a greater hook, Madam
Minister, to be able to say to them point blank. And I would say to the
ambassador, and I would say it to him,
I read, while I was in Georgia, some of the formation of Georgia, stuff that I
didn't know about. I had time to do that. And there was a time in Georgia
when pretty much every segment of Georgian society was in the legislature. You
know something? That time ought to resume. And I don't care. You can tell
President Saakashvili and you can tell the opposition that some of us feel that
everybody has a right to participate.
And I guess that's basically what it boils down to. And toward that end, I
think you're getting there, and I would hope that it's done in a completely
My time is spent, and I appreciate you so very much. And I'm constrained to
give up the room in a few minutes, so I'm going to stop right there.
ZURABISHVILI: Thank you very much for the very long time you gave me.
HASTINGS: Thank you.
ZURABISHVILI: Thank you.
HASTINGS: OK. Thank you all.
Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our hearing.
[Whereupon the hearing ended at 4:25 p.m.]