Georgians furious over the Prime Minister’s remark on the sanctions against Russia

Irakli Garibashvili. thecalipost.com

First and foremost, it should be underlined that Russia’s barbarian aggression against Ukraine in order to undermine statehood and Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Ukraine is a very sensitive issue for Georgians, who regard Ukrainians as brothers and sisters. It is heartbreaking for Georgians to see one of the country’s closest allies, which has always backed Georgia, especially during the country’s darkest periods, such as the Abkhazian and August Wars, suffer in the most heinous way possible as a result of a common enemy’s aggression. This aggression has also revived war memories and traumas in Georgian public and increased the sense of vulnerability in the face of a possible new way of Russian aggression. To condemn this heinous aggression, a large demonstration took place in the capital city of Tbilisi on February 24, as well as relatively small demonstrations in other cities throughout the country. It should also be noted that Georgians are extremely active in providing accommodation, food, and, most importantly, moral support to Ukrainians who have become stranded in Georgia as a result of flight cancellations. There is also a group of people who are willing to donate blood for Ukrainian soldiers.

Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, shocked and morally damaged Georgians with his completely inadequate remark on the West’s sanctions against Russia on February 25. To say it in a broad way, Georgians assume that this government is undermining the Euro-Atlantic future, but in this case, they presume that the Prime Minister has ruined everything that Georgians have done in recent days to show solidarity to Ukraine and damaged the international reputation of the country. Generally speaking, this event only added fuel to the already existing allegations that this government is pro-Russian.

To explain the Prime Minister’s remark, he specifically stated that he has no intention of joining the united Western sanctions against Russia for its violation of international law. The head of government tried to justify his decision by claiming that he is protecting the country’s national interests:

“I will not do anything or make any decision that harms our national interests or the interests of our people in any way. Following the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, we learned about the actions of our partners. I want to state unequivocally that Georgia will not participate in financial and economic sanctions in order to protect our national interests. It will only worsen the situation for our country”.

It should also be underscored that the opposition parties demanded a meeting of the parliament to discuss the tragic events in Ukraine, the president of Georgia agreed, but the ruling party stated that it does not intend to participate. Moreover, the members of the ruling party accused the opposition of making “ineffective noise”, calling such behavior “irresponsible” and “dangerous”, which is intended to destabilize the country.

After the Prime Minister said that he does not plan to join the sanctions, he added several other things about this matter that enraged Georgians even more. The Prime Minister indicated that the ruling party has been pursuing pragmatic politics since 2012, and Georgians now enjoy peace and stability as a result of this pragmatic politics. He commented regarding this:

“With no losses and no destabilization, we were able to sign the Association Agreement with the EU on a visa-free regime and free trade.” Simultaneously, we managed to stabilize the situation as much as possible, including de-escalating relations with Russia, which was, of course, in our country’s national interest.”

When journalists repeatedly asked Irakli Garibashvili why he hadn’t gone to Kyiv to express his solidarity with Ukraine (Georgians will never forget that during the Georgian-Russian war in August 2008, the President of Ukraine, along with other leaders of Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Estonia, put themselves in danger and visited Tbilisi), he replied that he could not because the country’s airspace was closed. It should be highlighted that Georgian public has consistently pressed Irakli Garibashvili to visit Kyiv, the civil society-led Shame Movement even purchased a plane ticket for Georgian Prime Minister to fly from Kutaisi to Kyiv a few weeks ago.

Another embarrassing moment for Georgians occurred when Rada member Alexey Goncharenko, who is currently very popular and beloved in Georgia after his Rada speech went viral in the country, reacted harshly to the Prime Minister’s speech and underlined that the Ukrainian president visited Georgia to show solidarity during the August war. He wrote on Facebook: “nothing, Irakli ! When the war is over and passenger planes will fly over us instead of military ones, you can no longer go anywhere”. In Addition, he also stated that Irakli Garibashvili is like a “persona non grata” in Ukraine right now unless he changes his positions, he also encouraged Georgians to gather on Rustaveli Street to express their feelings about the Prime Minister’s statement.

After Alexey Goncharenko’s statements, Georgians are positing “Sorry for our government, Georgia stands with Ukraine… I am ashamed of my government” on social media accounts. Beyond social media, some protests have already been organized to condemn the Prime Minister’s remark and show solidarity to Ukraine instead, with some even calling for his resignation.

After a few hours, a crowd of thousands of Georgians gathered in front of the parliament (more than the previous day) to show Ukraine that Georgians, not politicians, represent Georgia. Alexey Goncharenko responded to the protest by posting a photo of a large crowd. In addition, President Zelenskyy reacted to the protest by posting a photo on Twitter with the caption:

“Incredible Georgian people who understand that friends need to be supported! Thank you to everyone in Tbilisi and other cities that came out in support of Ukraine and against the war. In fact, there are times when citizens are better than the government”

Lasha Gamjashvili

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