Address by the President of Georgia at the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly
Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,
It is always a great honor for me to address the annual general assembly of the United Nations.
This Assembly gives us a unique opportunity to debate the key challenges of our world and our time, to identify and confront the problems that our nations are facing.
It is a moment of collective reflexion and it should be a moment of truth.
20 months after the act of despair of a young Tunisian citizen that shook the world so strongly and generated so many hopes all around the globe, many people have doubts.
Some are telling us that the images of liberation and joy seen around the world have been replaced by broken promises, despair and chaos – and that the world was better off when less people were free, that the international system was more stable when less societies were open.
I came here today to tell the opposite. I came here today to make the case for open societies.
After the horrible attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, and the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, I spoke with the US ambassador in my country. I wanted to present my condoleances, to share my sorrow and my support for this unique nation.
And I was struck by what he told me. I was struck by the fact that American diploamts, beyong their pain and their anger, still believed so clearly that the liberation of Libya was fundamentally a good thing.
And just few days ago, the US Ambassador in my country was proven right by the demonstrations of the citizens of Benghazi who went out to protest against intolerance, and to show their support for peace and prosperity of their own country.
I was struck by the bravery and the love of freedom of the people of Benghazi.
I was also struck by the visit last week to the US of Aung San Suu Kyi—the joyous reception America gave her, and her desire to come here to tell her story with sincerety and determination—a story of progress toward freedom, in the face of seemingly impossible odds.
Twenty months after the act of despair and the tragic death of Mohammed Bouazizi, there are many who doubt the cause to which Ambassador Stevens gave his life— who doubt the vision of Aung San Suu Kyi, who doubt freedom.
I’ m totally sure that the skeptics are wrong.
A free society has never meant a society without problems.
On the contrary, an open society has problems, exposes them, showes them, deals with them, gives arguments to all and gives government a chance to be accountable.
An open society is a place where improvement is often reached through noisy, painful, and chaotic processes.
Montesquieu wrote it a long time ago that in a country, if everybody agrees with the government and with each other, that is not a country, you are in a cemetery.
I came here to tell the skeptics that they are wrong..
A free society does not mean a society without problems.
On the contrary, an open society is one where problems are more visible, where arguments are open for all to see, and where government is held accountable.
An open society is a place where improvement is often reached through noisy, painful, and chaotic processes.
Montesquieu wrote a long time ago that in a country if everybody agrees with the government and with each other, that is not a country, you are in a cemetery.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I know what I am speaking about.
My own country confronted democracy’s challenges anew this past week, when evidence emerged of terrible abuses in our prison system.
The facts were sickening and our responsibility was clear. Our reaction was swift and we did what democracies must do.
We identified and arrested those who were responsible – two government ministers have resigned, and we put in charge of the prison system a former Georgian human rights defender, former Ombudsman, the most vocal criticizer of of the system that failed us.
Those in charge of the penitentiary system were fired and ministers have resigned.
This is how democracies learn, this is how we improve.
And this is how my own government has overcome errors and challenges in the past to emerge stronger, more effective, and ever more committed to building and institutionalizing an open society.
It is clear: there are no shortcuts to accountability, and no fast-track lines to freedom.
Building and maintaining an open society entails painful learning and significant risk taking.
But the message we must take – from Georgia to the events in Myanmar is this: these risks are worth taking.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am speaking to you on the eve of a crucial election in my country.
I know the amount of huge challenges that lie before this body and this troubled world—from the menace of nuclear proliferation, to global warming and poverty. But today I ask for your attention towards the events unfolding in Georgia, because I believe they are part of the broader, global question facing us today - whether the quest for democracy and freedom can and will endure.
I came here to tell you that Georgia will remain an open society. This is the choice of our citizens and there is no other choice than this one.
On October 1st, my nation will vote in parliamentary elections.
We look forward to this day – and to the opportunity to renew and strengthen the fundamental social contract that allows citizens to freely judge and choose their leaders.
Georgia has conducted several elections in recent years—— all of which were observed by international observers, all of which were free and fair.
We live in a world where yesterday’s accomplishements are never enough – and I have committed that this year’s vote will be even more free and fair than previous ones.
And we have taken numerous steps to pursue that goal.
We have increased public funding and free air time on all national channels for ads for all political parties, in addition to what they can buy with their own money.
We have adopted a “must carry / must offer” requirement, to make sure that all private cable networks broadcast all news-based televison.
We have welcomed the first televised debate between Prime-ministerial candidates and heads of candidate-lists in our country’s history.
We initiated a code of conduct to ban political intimidation, the use of administrative resources, vote buying, campaign-related violence, or any of the hate speech that for so many years was used to promote hatred against ethnic and religious minorities.
Regrettably, not all actors in the Georgian political landscape share these principles and are purposefully working to undermine the legitimacy of Georgia’s democratic institutions—how they are perceived at home and in the international community.
Our response to deliberate attempts to short-circuit our democracy is straightforward – democratic, transparent, rule of law based processes will not be compromised.
Not only is this my demand – it is the demand of the people of Georgia.
Georgia is a young democracy and we know the value that comes from partnerships and engagement with the international community.
As in the past, we have once again opened our doors – and invited credible international election monitors to visit to our country—from the OSCE, the European Parliament, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the United States Congress, and respected international NGOs.
To date, the interim reports of almost every election observation mission has consistently underscored that these are the most competitive elections in Georgia’s history.
On October 1st , nothwithstanding significant attempts to undermine this dynamic, the Georgian people will decide.
And I am confident that Georgian democracy will prevail – and reject those who seek to close Georgia’s doors.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Georgian democracy will prevail if, and only if, Georgian elections remain a Georgian process.
Today, at this distinguised forum, I am obligated to draw your attention to externally generated security threats in my country.
The European Union monitoring mission has just announced that Russian forces are presently conducting an outstanding illegal military build up in an occupied territory. As we speak, they are bringing offensive weapons and troops inside our international borders.
The Russian military has made the extraordinary decision to hold large scale military exercises in the North and the South Caucasus on the eve and around the time of our elections.
One cannot imagine a more provocative and irresponsible approach than to mobilize military forces during this crucial moment of one’s nation democratic life.
First, at the moment the Russians have …. First billions of dollars of Russian money came into the Georgian election campaign. Lots of other resources were alocated. Now these are Russian troops, trying to be some kind of background players in this proces.
That is why today, I call on all our allies and friends in the international community not to ignore or dismiss these worrisome developments.
And I would like to use this opportunity to ask the world to pay attention, to speak in a unified voice against these threats and support of our sovereignty and democratic institutions.
o In short, your vigilance and engagement is required to make sure that history does not repeat itself - that 2012 does not become a repeat of 2008 or especially 1921, when our independence was violently terminated for the last time by Russia, and we emerged as a place that was dominated by violence and oppression for 70 plus years. We should look at what happened in the recent years .We had massive scale invasion by Russia, a successor of the Soviet Union in 2008. If you look at history and we are the country with 4.7 million people, less than 5 million people. This is a hundred times bigger country, well
o armed, and they’ve invaded many countries in the world in the 20th century. The Soviet Union had invaded Baltic countries, had invaded big parts of Poland and ended their independence. The Soviet Union invaded Hungry in 1956 and killed its President and ended Hungary’s independence. In 1968 they invaded Czechoslovakia and overturned the government and ended Czechoslovakia’s independence. In 1979 they invaded a much bigger country than Georgia, Afghanistan, and killed its president within one hour. And in 2008 they invaded our country, which is a smaller country than all the previous ones I mentioned. They occupied parts of it territories, but none of the strategic goals of the Russian invasion were achieved. They had three proclaimed goals when they invaded Georgia. First, to depose the Georgian government and Georgian democracy, physically destroy the Georgian leadership. These are not my words and conspiracy theory; it is what they openly proclaimed in every opened and closed international forum. The second goal was to shut off energy supplies and monopolize them in that part of the world, where Russia lies. It has all totally failed and this energy corridor is developing. The third goal was to stop enlargement of NATO, and to stop any kind of inclusion of the region into the international organization, this goal has also failed. So now there is this period in which, after they failed to physically destroy Georgian leadership, failed to deliver any of the intensions of their invasion, they basically have to stay where they are within occupied territories; which most of the world, most of the international organizations called illegally occupied territories, meaning that they will have to withdraw. Now they are trying to undermine us around this time, because they have a feeling of very much unfinished business. And you know it’s not the fate of just a small country, it’s the fate of the whole post soviet space playing out, four to five hundred million people. Because Russia failed to destroy Georgian democracy in 2008, countries in Central Asia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova as well as people in Eastern Europe think - “well, after all, freedom is the right choice” and after all, even the smallest free country cannot be undermined and destroyed if it’s strong, united and the international community is there to help. So trying to undermine Georgia is a very bad example from the Russian point of view. Because of Georgia’s reforms, and because of our openness towards the great nation of Russia, we introduced VISA free travel for tourists from Russia. 1 Million Russian tourists will come to visit Georgia this year, and they will take back 1 million stories of successful development. It’s a country with new hospitals, new cities, sharply reduced poverty, a country that is going towards universal health coverage, a country that has enjoyed double digit growth, and enjoying this year, 8% growth, a country that is looking much better without oil and gas than most of Russia’s regions. Indeed, Russia’s President Medvedev had to say twice during one week in open forum, to journalists and his parliament that Georgia’s reforms are so successful that Russia has to study and copy them, even if they hate the Georgian leadership. That’s the issue, that’s why they want us out, that’s why they want Georgia off the map, because if Georgia survives and continues then that’s a bad example for all the others, including the Russian people themselves, from the point of view of the present Russian government. Even the way in which we reacted to the prison scandal we had recently, and in Russia such things happen almost every day and nobody gives a damn about it there. And in Georgia, in the first case we had, Georgia fired two ministers, arrested people; this is also a bad example for the people who want to suppress freedom. That’s why it’s so important that Georgian democracy is backed and safe, and then the whole post soviet space and that part of the world will move in the right direction.
We appeal to you today because this very institution – the United Nations - was created to protect and defend the integrity of all nations against dangers like this one. To make sure that the world would never again be a lawless ocean where big sharks can eat smaller fish without the world to react.
With your engagement, we can defeat any and all attempts to turn the clock back. The main challenge for us is that if Georgia survives and goes forward and advances, then the whole post soviet space advances and our people will never go back.
I am calling on the world to pay attention and send the right signals.
I make this call, knowing what our responsibilities are.
In the face of these threats, our commitment to democracy and transparency is more important than ever.
This is not just our response, this is the best response.
Our transformation, and the hostility it has generated among those who feel threatened by freedom, has continued to make Georgia a test case for the entire region.
What’s at stake in Georgia today is the very idea that democracy can thrive in our part of the world.
Powerful voices continue to send the message that democracy, transparency and accountability are not possible– they see freedom, meritocracy and respect for human rights as fundamentally alien.
Georgia has proven them wrong – just as many of you have in the past.
Our efforts have shown that corruption, intolerance, intimidation, fear and violence are neither cultural nor inevitable.
Dissent, pluralism , and vibrant debate: what are threats to others are strengths to us.
Our view is clear: you cannot gain enduring stability at the expense of liberty and you cannot ensure lasting prosperity by sacrificing individual rights.
These short cuts never succeed in the long-run.
In every culture, in every society, in every corner of the world, people will ultimately demand the right to choose their own future.
Only governments who meet this demand will achieve true stability.
This fundamental contract is not always smooth.
Governments that commit themselves to this process must be prepared for turbulence and disagreement.
What is often difficult for elected leaders is beneficial for citizens.
What is challenging for ruling parties is often necessary for the state.
In pursuing these goals of freedom and accountability, our common efforts must be governed by the rule of law and a commitment to respect these fundamental principles.
Violence and intimidation can never be legitimized - and a minority can never forcibly impose its views on the will of the majority.
Guns, money, threats, hatred, blackmail and fear cannot be allowed to hijack the process.
We respond to these threats by protecting the right to dissent, we respond by promoting pluralism, we respond by allowing every voice to be heard. And we respond by the law.
I can tell you how difficult this process is, but I can also tell you that no lasting alternative exists.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I want to share with you my hope and my trust.
A few days from now, Georgians from all walks of life, from all social, religious and ethnic backgrounds will collectively decide their future in an unnocupied part of our teritory.
They will express diverse opinions and wishes, and a new future for our nation will emerge.
Openness will be further enshrined, transparency will be strengthened, and public accountability confirmed. The main thing that will be confirmed is that Georgia will never go back, it will not be dragged back under any pressure, under any dirty money from the North, under any type of military exercise or invasion. It’s not going to work. According to the EU we are the safest country in Europe, we are the least corrupt country in Europe, with strong government institutions, that cannot be bribed and cannot be undermined.
By constantly renewing the social contract that is at the heart of every democratic nation, my fellow citizens, we will prove that democratic principles and practices are here for good.
I trust my people. I trust the international community; they will not allow destruction of my small nation’s choice.
I stated earlier that democracy is a difficult, sometimes noisy system. It presents challenges to those in and outside government.
And it forces leaders to place their trust in society.
Personally, I see no credible alternative – and see no better reason to take risks.
Fear is the paramount charactestic of autocrats while trust the definition of democrats.
Let us all trust our citizens. Even if autocratic forces much bigger than us are menacing us, the best defence for my country is openness, democracy, transparancy, work of institutions against all the international mafias and against international pressures that are going against international law.
Let us defend the instutions that support, strengthen and preserve our choice to be open and free.
Thank you so much for your attention.