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Russians Love Georgia, But They Don’t Love Independent Georgia

Wojciech Wojtasiewicz talks to Alexander Rondeli, President of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies.

October 8, 2013 - Wojciech Wojtasiewicz - Articles and Commentary

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WOJCIECH WOJTASIEWICZ: Georgia’s next presidential elections take place on October 27th. How do you see the outcome of these elections.

ALEXANDER RONDELI: I think that this election will bring a new period and a new person to Georgian politics. I think that it will be Giorgi Margvelashvili. He is an intellectual. He is supported by the ruling party and supported personally by Bidzina Ivanishvili, who still has a very large influence on society. But I also think that it won’t be an overwhelming victory, as David Bakradze, the candidate of the United National Movement, is also a quite well-known politician, and I think he will get quite a significant number of votes, more than 20 per cent, at least. Nino Burjanadze, who has been in the shadows lately, will manage to recover and come back with some political activity. It’s too early to judge what this political activity will be, but she will also get quite a significant number of votes.

Do you see any difference between the Georgian Dream cabinet and the previous one? What has been the biggest achievements and defeats (or mistakes) of the current government so far?

I think this is a different government. The problems are the same. They have very strong figures in government, with good politicians and good professionals. I think the Speaker of the Parliament, David Usupashvili is a very serious person in Georgian politics. The Justice Minister, for example, Tea Tsulukiani, is also a very distinctive political figure and she is very popular. There are many good people in this government. Perhaps they haven’t had enough time yet to show their abilities, especially in the field of the economy and agriculture, as it is still a new government.

Do you think Ivanishvili’s future resignation from the post of prime minister is a responsible move? Who will replace him?

From a tactical point of view, it doesn’t look very responsible, but from a strategic point of view, it may be. Georgia eventually has to learn how to govern itself without strong political figures, without messiahs. Leaders of course are necessary, but no one has to dominate the political scene. If we are developing as a democratic society we have to learn how to manage without dominating figures. From this perspective, his decision is wise. I also think that he doesn’t like politics, he doesn’t feel very comfortable.

What is the political future of outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili? Is it possible that he will still remain in politics?

It’s difficult to say because he is a very distinctive political figure. He has achieved a lot for Georgia. At the same time his energy has not always been appreciated by some people. It is safe to say that his place in history will be defined and judged after some time. Saakashvili has definitely contributed to Georgia’s nation building. Yet, the authoritarian methods used in trying to force major change quickly, led to Georgians losing their patience. But he is serious political figure and very controversial figure for me.

How do you see the political future of United National Movement? Do they have a chance to return to power?

In our system it is really difficult to predict. First, they need to stay in politics as it is necessary to have an opposition. And they have to adapt to the changing political environment. If they manage to adapt, then why not? A lot depends on how their political rivals develop. If they are very successful then the United National Movement won’t be so successful. But if their rivals fail, they may make a comeback to power. What this shows is that Georgia is becoming more mature in politics, the political culture is developing. It is a different Georgia then we had 20 or even 10 years ago.

How do you see the process of the normalisation of Georgian-Russian relations which was launched last year by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili? Is it possible to have good relations with Russia and at the same time declare a willingness to integrate with NATO? Will the Georgian Dream’s government in the end change the track of Georgia’s foreign policy from pro-Western to pro-Russian?

Russia is a very special state, and Poles know them better than anyone. When we speak about normalisation, what is normal for Georgia is not normal for Russia. Russia wants Georgia to be a satellite. Georgia just wants to be a good neighbour, so we put different meanings to the term normalisation. When Ivanishvili talks about normalisation or Georgian politicians speak about it, they understand very well what they are talking about. I think they tried to use positive rhetoric, not to give Russia the possibility of accusing Georgia of arrogance. For Russia, which is a dying empire, respect is still very important; Russia wants to be respected. They want to be counted as one of the world’s super powers. And when their small neighbour behaves like Russia doesn’t exist, it is absolutely unacceptable to them.

At the same time, Georgians can’t become victims to Russian imperial paranoia. So one has to find a certain modus vivendi, but it’s very difficult with a country that looks at your independence with sarcasm and believes that you belong to them. They love their Georgia, they don’t love independent Georgia. So it is very difficult to be normal with Russia. I like that the new Georgian leadership tries to use friendly language with them, but what will the result be? I don’t think Russia is changing qualitatively too much. They are becoming weaker, but the nature of Russian politics is the same.

What is better for Georgia: integration with the European Union or Eurasian Union?

There is no doubt that integration with Europe is the future for Georgia. At least the Georgian elite understand this very well. Ivanishvili’s answer is quite good: he says if it is in Georgian interests, we will then think about it. But we know what is in Georgian interests, and it is very easy to define. So our choice is made already. Our national interest is to become a modern, democratic, inclusive nation and democratic state. This is not only a strategic imperative for Georgia; it is also our survival that is at stake. Going back under Russian control would make Georgia weak.

Do you think that Georgia will one day become the member of the European Union?

Every soldier who goes to the war wants to be a marshal. Our values and our inspiration are why we want to be part of Europe. And we will eventually get there. No doubt about it. Europe is now in trouble. But you know every political union, every system has its ups and downs. So now Europe is more internally focused; but Europe has to develop strategically, politically and militarily. Georgia is a border land; the South Caucasus is a border land. Europe is interested in having modern and democratic states. So we hope that if we behave well everything will work out well, but it takes time.

If we look beyond the region, how has the situation in Syria influenced the South Caucasus and particularly Georgia?

First of all, the situation in Syria from the point of view of human suffering is black-and-white. This has to be stopped. From the point of view of the political situation, it is not so clear cut; because no one is sure what will happen if Bashar al-Assad is removed. It’s difficult to judge. I am not an expert on Syria, but this uncertainty and this unwillingness to make decisive steps shows that the main powers of the world are not sure about the positive results of any intervention. Georgia is part of Europe and we feel that we belong to European political and economic space. But at the same time, we are the border with the Greater Middle East. If you go from Tbilisi to Syria by car, our border to the border of Syria is only 1,200 kilometres. From Tbilisi to Teheran is also 1,200 kilometres. From Tbilisi to Ankara is almost 1,000 kilometres by car. We are very sensitive to everything that is going on in our region. And what is happening in Syria also has an effect here.

Despite the frequent visits of Georgian politicians to Poland, and Polish politicians to Georgia, Polish-Georgian trade stills remain quite low. How do you see Polish-Georgian relations?

This is due to Georgia’s economic weakness. Georgia was part of the Soviet system. And Georgia is now trying to reshape and redefine its economic capabilities and specialisation, trying to find a comfortable place in the international system. It is not easy for a small country. I think that our mutual trade will grow because we make many things which you need, and we buy Polish products with sympathy as our economies and politics are interwoven. Traditionally, Georgians are very positive towards Poles. Poles also look at Georgians positively. Polish tourists come to Georgia and I feel their sympathy. I think that our relationship will develop even more; we are strategically interested in each other’s strength and stability, as the threats coming to our countries have the same sources. And historically we have had a large Polish colony in Georgia with progressive Poles who fought for their independence in the 19th century; they have contributed a lot to the development of Georgia.

Alexander Rondeli is the president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies.

Wojciech Wojtasiewicz is a PhD student at the Institute of Political Science and International Relations at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. He is a member of the Association “Bridge to Georgia” and the Institute of Eastern Initiatives.  

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