President Saakashvili visits Zurab Zhvania School of Public Administration in Kutaisi
First of all, I would like to welcome you all to this school, which carries the name of my friend, the great Georgian statesman [late Prime Minister] Zurab Zhvania. This school is a realization of the dreams of both of us.
This school is something entirely new for the Georgian state. This institution is to train the Georgian administrative elite, the people who form the cornerstone of the state administration. Our main principles of state administration are patriotism, continuity, the continuation of traditions; that is we must create traditions and there should be stability in these traditions; we must create our own etiquette and there must be stability in this etiquette; we must create our own working style and there must be stability in this style. At the same time, we must constantly be improving on all of this.
I am pleased that we have set up this school in Kutaisi because Kutaisi is a special town for me. By the way, my wife and I crossed paths in this town today. She is here pursuing her own humanitarian activities. This is the first town Sandra saw in Georgia, before she ever met me. And that is why she was left with a much better impression. That was Kutaisi in 1992. Therefore, I must thank Kutaisi for the fact that she even looked at me when I first sidled up next to her at university in Strasbourg.
I am happy that today all of Kutaisi is abuzz with activity. The whole town is abuzz; roads are being repaired everywhere, even in places where I never thought they would be repaired. Unfortunately, some of it was affected by the rain.
We are renovating all of Kutaisi's schools. We had two models. One model, a complete European-standard refurbishment, could have been carried out in several schools, but that would have caused a certain amount of irritation and bred suspicion and a sense of competition. The other model was to treat every school equally. This year we decided that we will install aluminium doors and windows in each of Kutaisi's schools. Heating systems will be replaced so that children no longer gather pathetically in front of small heaters, but rather there will be gas-powered central heating.
Computers and internet access will be installed everywhere. Today we saw computers with internet access at school No 32. All manner of sports equipment and playing fields will be provided. And there will be running water and facilities, which will allow our children to grow accustomed to civilized practices from an early age.
Next year, all offices and classrooms in all schools will be refurbished. From this year, in stages over the course of the next three years, new desks will be placed in classrooms throughout Georgia. And in the majority of Georgia's schools we are introducing school uniforms as a form of discipline and civilization. But this is a different kind of school uniform, not the type there was before, where you had a Tbilisi uniform and a Moscow uniform, which was a little better. Tbilisi's uniform will be one of a European standard.
This is what's being done in Kutaisi and I'm very happy about this. Of course, much remains to be done and I know very well that there is nothing to boast about, but what Georgia has achieved in this short period is a miracle compared with where we were before. It is also the case that the people have grown accustomed to miracles and demand more and more and more, but we all must realize that no country was built overnight and Georgia is no exception. But it is being built and that is the main thing.
We have begun building Georgia together, because you are the people who not just represent various ethnic groups, but you are all Georgians too - you are citizens of Georgia. For us everyone is the same, whether they are Azeri, Armenian, Ossetian, Abkhaz, Kurdish, Jewish, Russian or Ukrainian, if they live in Georgia and love Georgia, those citizens who are prepared to fight for the country. They are all valuable and dear to us.
Therefore, those in this first group of graduates will all be employed in state bodies, including several dozen Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Kurds, Ossetians and people from other regions who used to have fewer opportunities, such as the highlands of Ajaria and my dear Svaneti, although every region is dear to me.
I am delighted that some among you have done particularly well, in particular Davit Sariev, who got the highest marks. I would like to tell him that he can work in whichever state department he likes, and all of you will be employed through a selection process, because it is important for us that people with your experience and knowledge are present in every department. Studies here were difficult.
We have lagged behind other nations economically, in terms of infrastructure and development because for 14-15 years we were living in a vacuum. This was the first year since independence that the Georgian people have been fully supplied with electricity. Many other nations take this for granted. In Georgia it was practically impossible and, despite a series of promises from various parties of 12-hour, 16-hour or 18-hour electricity supplies, no-one did it and in the end people were fed up with those promises. We promised it once and we did it once and for all.
I would like everyone to know that we will provide equal opportunities for everyone living in Georgia. We will give everyone an equal opportunity to study, including the opportunity to study the Georgian language while preserving their own culture and national, ethnic customs, but you are all part of this country, our Georgia. We treat every region equally.
I am proud of the fact that this year we have built a large sports centre in Kutaisi, and this year we are building a similar one in Akhalkalaki, another one in Ninotsminda, and we are starting to build one in Marneuli, where most residents are ethnic Azerbaijanis, and throughout Georgia.
I would like every person from every region to know that they, as individuals, are components of the new Georgia. They have prospects, they have a future. This year we are building a major road in Javakheti. It will connect Javakheti not just with Tbilisi very soon but also with other regions of Georgia and will become very important for transit, allowing trade to develop, traffic to increase and people to return. We are building a gas supply network in many places. It will allow people to travel to markets to realize their potential.
We are similarly developing regions where ethnic Azerbaijanis live. We also want ethnic Greeks to return to Tsalka and we are similarly developing that area, because that is our richness, our great multifaceted, multicultural, highly cultured nature. It is very important.
At the same time, I would also like you to know what kind of state you are inheriting today, what kind of state apparatus you will be working in. You are going to work in a state apparatus which over the past two years has allowed Georgia to develop into a real state. Before we were a territory, not a state. Two years ago no-one in state service was paid enough to support their family. Two years ago I would not even have dared to offer you jobs in the state apparatus. At the time it was real thievery and people could not make a living honestly. Today we have salaries which can support families and provide opportunities, allowing people to take out bank loans to buy flats.
I remember when I threatened to cut [Education Minister] Kakha Lomaia's salary by 500 lari he said he would have to leave his job in government because he had taken out a loan to buy a flat. There is now a feeling of stability. We used to have ministers who had a salary of 20 lari but nevertheless managed to build four- or five-storey villas for themselves. We want civil servants who may not be able to build a house in a year, but can take out a loan, educate their children, continue their own education and most importantly will be guided by one thing - how to serve their own people.
Our main aim is respect among our own people. Everything else is not important, neither jobs nor salaries. We are renovating government buildings. I was always jealous of the kind of buildings French, German and English officials have. Whether you want it or not, you have to do a great job. We are building offices like that in the most far-flung regions of Georgia - prosecutor's offices, police stations, tax inspectorates and local administrations. There is much more to do, but we are doing it.
At the same time, Georgia has created institutions that took much longer to set up in far more advanced countries. We have created a very strong police force and special services. We have created armed forces we can be really proud of. The day before yesterday, we opened one of the best military bases [in Senaki] I have ever seen, and I have seen many military bases in NATO countries and elsewhere. No-one believed that it could be built in just one year, but we have done it. Its construction started in marshland, in very difficult conditions, and it was completed in a year.
We should understand that now Georgia is at a very serious crossroads. We are facing a historic battle. On the one hand, we should establish ourselves as a European state. This is not simple. It cannot be taken for granted that a country on this side of the Black Sea is automatically a European state. I think this will still require major battles in the future, despite the fact that we are a country where the Argonauts travelled, despite the fact that we are a country of Prometheus - after all, Prometheus was chained up in Georgia's mountains - and despite our ancient and unique European culture. We still have a major battle ahead of us to establish ourselves as a European state, because we were isolated for centuries and Europe managed, to a large extent, to forget our country.
In order to establish ourselves as a European country, we should be a united country. We cannot remain a dismembered country. People who fight against our European identity have been waging a daily propaganda war against Georgia around the world. They want to portray Georgia as an uncivilized and weak entity that will not survive for long anyway. These people are Georgia's main problem today.
These people are encroaching on our land every day. Here is a classic example of this. This is my mobile phone. Today I flew from Tbilisi to Kutaisi through the heart of Georgia. As you know, the Tbilisi-Kutaisi route passes through Kartli and Imereti [provinces]. Travelling on this route, you may get the following message on your phone: Welcome to Russia; the [Russian mobile] phone company Megafon welcomes you to Russia; call us on this number for information.
This is a classic example of annexation, right here on my mobile phone, no further confirmation is needed. This is an uncivilized, barbarous, medieval-style annexation of a sovereign European country, in violation of all the international norms and elementary human ethics. Very serious Russian forces have been setting up telephone networks right on Georgian territory. They have created a border department for protecting the Georgian-Ossetian border, the so-called Alania border, in which the top 25 officers are ethnic Russian employees of the Russian Border Guard Department.
You also know that almost all members of the government of the so-called autonomous republic of South Ossetia come from the Russian Federation. I mean the so-called independent republic, because we do recognize the autonomous republic. So, in broad daylight, they are violating the territorial integrity and annexing land of a European country, Georgia.
Of course, we can turn a blind eye and look the other way, but we will never get another chance of regaining our country. Until now, the Georgian authorities have been sufficiently tolerant and flexible, but I really cannot hand over or cede my country to anyone.
Also, look at their policy towards Georgia. Representatives of the Shida Kartli region are here. Last year, imports of our apples were banned in Russia. By the way, the import ban applied not only to the Georgian population, but also to ethnic Ossetians. They were also told not to export apples because Georgian apples might accidentally mix with Ossetian apples. Well, of course all these apples are grown in Georgia.
Next, imports of our citrus fruit were banned just before the New Year despite the fact that Ajarian and Gurian farmers have been sending their citrus fruit to Russia for decades. And now they have also banned imports of something we have been selling in Russia for centuries, Georgian wine, and Georgia is the birthplace of wine.
They have banned other products as well. For example, Kutaisi used to export lots of greens to Russia. This business is worth hundreds of millions of lari. Now they have shut down this business completely, and tens of thousands of people have been left unemployed and with less income.
I want all of us to understand that all these actions have a single goal - to cause a famine in Georgia. A few days ago a Russian official articulated this goal very well. He said he did not understand why, after all this, the Georgian people were still not taking to the streets to topple their government. That's their sole purpose - to change the Georgian government, which is the last chance for Georgia to regain territorial integrity by peaceful means and by strengthening the country.
I want all of us to wake up and realize what threats we are facing. One political party blaming another is not a threat, and nor is it a threat when some government decision is not completely understood or is misinterpreted. Today, all of us, regardless of our political beliefs or ethnic background, are facing the threat of losing our country, our state, our independence, our freedom and our future. It is high time everyone woke up. We should move from petty infighting, gossiping and intrigue weaving to realizing and properly assessing what the real threats are. We may lose our country and that's a real threat, but we will not lose our country, because we have already consolidated our statehood.
Our economy grew by 9.5 per cent last year, 4 per cent more, or 3.5 per cent more than Russia. According to preliminary data, our economy grew by between 12 and 13 per cent in the first three months of the current year, which is triple the rate of growth in Russia. Russia has oil and Russia has natural gas. Russia has increased the prices of gas and oil it supplies to us. Consequently, every household has to pay higher prices for electricity and heating.
We should realize, however, that we will continue developing in spite of this. We will continue attracting investment, we will continue strengthening our democracy, and we will continue transforming Georgia into a successful country. Our only response to these people is that we will build a country that, while being free, will be successful, rich, united and happy.
At the same time, we, naturally, want to have a very active dialogue with the Russian Federation. We are not afflicted by Russophobia or some kind of obsessively critical attitude towards Russia. We want to have relations and friendship with Russia, with a Russia that respects our sovereignty, Russia that will not close the only Georgian church in the centre of Moscow and will not expel worshippers from there just because Georgian is spoken there, Russia that will not close Georgian Sunday schools on Russian territory just because Georgian is spoken there, Russia that will not create problems on the border.
A few days ago my grandmother, who, despite reaching advanced age is still in good shape, was going to an international conference via Russia. She is a doctor, an allergist and immunologist. They stopped her at Moscow airport for over two hours. She was a transit passenger. She was searched very thoroughly. She must have looked like a smuggler to them. Then they kept asking questions for two hours. What is allergology, what is immunology? Why do you have to go abroad to discuss allergology and immunology, do we not know enough about it in Russia? In which field are you a professor? When did you become a professor? Where do you work? Where do you live? In short, they were mocking her.
She is the president's grandmother. There are many grandmothers and grandfathers and simply ordinary people like her being trampled on as a result of a senseless, incomprehensible, ill-considered and simply evil and vengeful policy. I want us to react to this in a calm but dignified manner.
We want to continue consultations with Russia. At the same time, I want all of us to realize that we also have to take certain decisions. Officially Georgia became independent at the end of 1991. We declared independence much earlier, but that was when our independence was recognized by most countries. Georgia, just like the Baltic countries, refused to join the Commonwealth of Independent States at the time. Then in 1993, during the Abkhaz tragedy, a ruined and humiliated Georgia, which had been brought to its knees, was forced to join the Commonwealth of Independence States.
I think that while it was a humiliating act, we have benefited a lot from being in this commonwealth. We have managed to maintain links with former Soviet republics. We have very close and very friendly relations with the majority of these countries. We have managed to conclude bilateral agreements, we have managed to set up trade networks, we have managed to facilitate travel and maintain ties between our countries. This process has become much more active in the last two years. I am happy that many Azerbaijanis, Armenians - I am speaking about Azerbaijanis from Azerbaijan and Armenians from Armenia because we have our own Azerbaijanis and Armenians - Kazakh people, Belarusians, Ukrainians and many others visit Georgia. That is very important. It is also very important that for many years we had partner-like relations with the Russian Federation and that our produce was sold in Russia. Demand for it has increased recently because Georgia has been getting back on its feet. This year Russian orders for Georgian wine have doubled compared with last year.
However, Russia has now closed everything to us. That is why we should now sit down and calculate whether or not the continuing membership of the CIS is worth it. Hasty and ill-considered decisions taken without proper analysis are the last thing we will do.
Today I instructed the Georgian government to thoroughly examine and present to me in the near future - I am talking about a few weeks, perhaps months, two months at the most - an accurate economic evaluation of whether or not it is worth Georgia remaining in the Commonwealth of Independent States. If it is still possible for us to derive some benefits, we will consider staying in it. If, as I suspect, in practice Georgia is no longer able to derive benefits from that organization and all it gets from there is humiliation and insults, then the Georgian people, together with its parliament and government, should take a decision worthy of a country which has dignity and stands firm on its own two feet.
Simultaneously we should continue consultations on this issue with all our friends and partners, including CIS member states, and elaborate a coordinated policy together with them. We should continue entering new markets.
Some people have questioned why the president had to go to China to promote Georgian wine, or why Georgian wine is being promoted in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Poland or in Ukraine where I asked [Defence Minister Irakli] Okruashvili to do it. That is because we should learn to operate on all markets.
One day we will certainly return to the Russian market, but as long as the people who are strangling us and who want to destroy Georgia have the illusion that we cannot see beyond them, they will always sap our last resources so that we are weak, humiliated and in a state of economic depression. Once they know that Georgia has access to other markets, that Georgia really makes European- and world-class products, then we will have much better opportunities to enter that market.
We will no longer be able to enter other markets through the backdoor. We must understand that, for example, Russian wine imports are merely a twentieth of the US wine market. We know very well that Georgia is currently very popular in America. We have to work on that.
The Russian authorities should be thanked a lot for advertising Georgian wine so well. The publicity Georgian wine has received in a two-week period has been greater than the publicity it received in the preceding 3,000 years, that is since winemaking began in Georgia.
I was on Brussels a few days ago where someone stopped me in the street and said that he did not know before that we produced wine. Ordinary people read this in newspapers. Newspapers around the world write about this and no-one doubts that our wine has not been banned because of pesticides or something else. Everyone knows why it has been banned. Georgian wine is now described as a freedom drink.
We have made money available for our wine to be marketed in Eastern Europe and America. We have made several million dollars available for that and we will release much more, tens of millions, if we see that it works.
Yesterday the government made a decision, which I have endorsed, to issue a state loan for the construction of a grape processing plant to produce grape concentrate, in addition to wine, which will make it possible for the entire grape harvest to be bought this year. We will buy the entire grape harvest this year. We will not abandon a single farmer. We should not. That is my categorical instruction, which I will see through to the end. We should build, rather than destroy, vineyards. But we should also learn to produce good wine. We should learn to manufacture other good products.
We should not destroy our citrus trees. We should enter new markets, we should learn to package and process our produce, we should learn to make juices and other ready products. Most important, we should learn to work better in general and promote our goods better. In general, we should learn more in many spheres. Our people are very talented and very sensible.
What is the aim of the people who assembled the facilities sending such mobile phone messages? They want Georgia to give up on itself, say that there is no hope and prostrate itself in front of them. You must realize that I know these people well. Even if we go down on our knees in front of them, kiss their feet and pledge eternal loyalty to them, they will never trust us and will never give us even a modicum of humane treatment. That is because the complexes of these people and their psychology are such that they want you as either their slave or their enemy. Georgia cannot be anyone's slave if we want our children to live in a normal country. Nor should Georgia be anyone's enemy. We will develop good relations with everyone. It is just a matter of time.
The Baltic countries - Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia - went through the same process. Tomorrow I am going to Vilnius to meet our colleagues, presidents, including the American vice-president. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary also had to go through it. Our task is doubly difficult because we have to go through this and also get to Sukhumi. We should go through this while making sure that no-one in Tskhinvali sends us messages saying Welcome to Russia. We should be able to cover the entire territory of Georgia without coming across even a tiny fragment of Russia or a telephone message, while having good-neighbourly, warm, friendly and humane relations with Russia.
We should all do this together. That is not a task for ethnic Georgians alone. It is a common task for our Armenians, our Azerbaijanis, our Ossetians, our Abkhaz, our Kurds, our Russians, our Ukrainians and our ethnic Georgians. If we just take ethnic Georgians, there are too few of us, but if we take the people of all ethnic origins who come from Georgia, there are more than 6m of us around the world, which is already a force. Together, those of us inside the country and those outside, we are a big force.
That is why I would like to greet you again. I want us to be ready for anything and I must warn everyone that there will be more difficulties ahead. There will be acts of provocation. We have accurate documentary information about the nature of such acts of provocation and who is planning them. We know all that. We are no longer the pushovers we used to be. I am very proud of that and we will prove that to everyone.
Yet, you are still our main force. You are a new, self-confident and educated generation caring about the future of your country. I would like to greet you again and express the hope that you build a much stronger Georgia which will overcome these temporary difficulties. Thank you very much.
This translation is published with permission from BBC Monitoring, Reading UK
of the President of Georgia