“Last wake-up call” for Georgia

The future European path of Georgia will be decided at the end of June, despite the fact that Georgia has always been the leader among Eastern Partnership countries and a bastion of democracy in the Caucasus region, unfortunately, it is obscure right now whether Georgia will receive candidate status, while Ukraine and even Moldova may have more optimistic expectations. During the plenary sessions, members of the European Parliament were so critical of the Georgian government, on June 9, they even passed a resolution titled “Violations of media freedom and journalist safety in Georgia,” which is particularly harsh. Members of the European parliament frequently made critical comments about the Georgian government in the past, in response to the criticism  the Georgian government frequently portrayed them as UNM allies (the largest opposition party), even claiming that the critical remarks were the result of UNM’s anti-state propaganda. The ruling party has had a particularly difficult week, as European parliament members have clearly  stated that this resolution can be interpreted as the last wake-up call, the last warning for the Oligarch’s party   to stop making controversial statements and actions and focus on what is vital for the development of the Georgian state. It is important to highlight some key points of the resolution. First and foremost, the resolution demonstrates that the Georgian people have strong European aspirations; it is well known that the vast majority of Georgians support Georgia’s membership in the European Union, according to various polls. The resolution demonstrates that the European Parliament is deeply concerned about the state of the media in Georgia. There are several reasons for this concern, including the recent arrest of Nika Gvaramia, the director of one of the country’s major media outlets. Most importantly, in the resolution , it is underscored that the government failed to protect media representatives during the peaceful demonstration on July 5, 2021, when over 50 journalists, media representatives, and peaceful demonstrators were violently attacked by mainly far-right activists while covering Tbilisi Pride’s March for Dignity, which was eventually forcibly cancelled; and Alexander Lashkarava, a cameraman for TV Pirveli, died soon after this assault due to the injuries he sustained. It is also clear that media freedom in general has deteriorated. Georgia’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has been significantly reduced (from 71.36 and 60 out of 180 in 2021 to 59.9 and 89 out of 180 in 2022). Furthermore, the resolution indicates that the judicial system is facing multifaceted challenges, and that the treatment of former President Mikheil Saakashvili is also not satisfactory. In addition, the resolution states that Russian propaganda is on the rise in Georgia, while anti-EU sentiments are also on the rise. The European Parliament strongly condemns the current media situation, as well as the wiretapping scandal involving foreign diplomats, and urges Georgian authorities to improve the situation. Furthermore, the European Parliament calls on the Georgian government to release Mikheil Saakashvili and Nika Gvaramia. The European Parliament urges Georgian authorities to uphold the highest standards of democracy, the rule of law, and judicial independence. Most importantly, European Parliament calls for sanctions to be considered on Ivanishvil, which is the informal leader of Georgian Dream Party and one of the wealthiest Georgians, who has ties to Russia and these links appear to be suspicious to the European Parliament. The positive thing regarding the resolution is that despite of all these challenges, the European Parliament supports granting Georgia the status of an EU candidate member, but only after the country fulfills certain conditions.

Any normal government would respond to this criticism by taking proper steps to improve the situation, given that Georgia’s future will be decided in the coming weeks, or even by responding to the critical remarks with valid arguments. Instead, representatives of the Georgian Dream Party made a number of controversial and even irrational statements; among these public figures, prime minister Irakli Garibashvili’s statements were particularly “noteworthy”, as is customary. It is important to highlight some of “distinguished” remarks, Georgian Dream MP Dimitri Khundadze stated :

“If Georgia receives the status of an EU candidate with unjust commitments like the unjust allegations reflected in the resolution, then the country should give a fair refusal in response,”

According to Khundadze, this resolution  was an insult to the Georgian people and he has never seen such an unjust Europe during the period of Georgia’s independence. The MP also added that “no status is worth giving up the dignity of the country”. Another MP Sozar Subari made  particularly inadequate statement, which is worth highlighting:

“If we are not granted the status, the Georgian people may really ask a question – what should we do, should we join the CIS in order to get EU candidate status as they promise to Moldova?”

However, it is clear that when it comes to controversial statements, Georgia’s prime minister is unquestionably a champion. He called the European Parliament’s criticism “unfair,” “shameful,” and “anti-Georgian.” He stated unequivocally that he believes the European Parliament’s criticism is based on UNM’s propaganda and refers to the major opposition party as a destructive force seeking to overthrow the government. According to the prime minister, opposition party members travel to Europe solely to spread anti-Georgian propaganda and lies.

The prime minister also defended his decision not joining the sanctions against Russia and said that he saved the citizens of Georgia from negative impacts and in response, he said that “the European Union pays Russia a billion dollars every day”. The Prime Minister said that Georgia deserves a candidate status, because “Georgia is ten times ahead of Ukraine and Moldova in all areas, and in many respects even ahead of the EU member states”.

Georgia’s president condemned these remarks during the briefing on June 14 and called for unity ahead of the EU’s important decision. The president slammed the following remarks: the criticism of the EU and anti-EU rhetoric in general, the government’s misinformation about whether the West wants Georgia to be the second front against Russia, and the criticism of Georgia’s international allies. The president warned the government that such statements would lead to Georgia’s political isolation. The president lamented that many opportunities were lost (thanks to the government), and she stated:

“In Brussels, I found that many of our chances were missed. An important milestone last year was the declaration of the Batumi Associated Trio, which was signed on our initiative. Then it was clear that Georgia was in the lead. It’s bad that a year later Georgia moved from an advanced country to the last place in the queue for EU membership”

The president emphasized that this resolution is the result of the government’s ineffective actions, or inaction; she also added that the government chose to insult members of the European Parliament rather than do something meaningful. Salome Zourabichvili also emphasized that the key points of the EU resolution are clearly serious challenges for Georgia. At the end of briefing, the president also announced her future actions and decisions: requesting that the European Commission’s head, Ursula von der Leyen, take into account the will of the Georgian people. She also publicly announced that she will send official letters to all of the leaders of EU member states to demonstrate all of the moral, political, and strategic arguments that Georgia deserves this historic decision, and she also highlighted that failing to grant Georgia candidate status could be a fatal mistake.

Finally, the President invited the public, the government, the opposition, European Union ambassadors, and EU member states to gather on Europe Square on June 16 to demonstrate unity toward European aspirations. This initiative has already sparked controversy; the opposition parties have already scheduled a rally on June 20, which was called by Georgia’s prime minister as a provocation; some opposition parties do want to participate in the gathering planned by the president, while the ruling party, which did everything possible to ensure Salome Zourabichvili’s victory in the presidential elections, does not want to participate.

Lasha Gamjashvili

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