Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili visited Upper Abkhazia today to attend the opening of a road connecting Chuberi, a village in the Svaneti region, and Sakeni, in Upper Abkhazia. The president first took interest in the road works and instructed Roads Department chief Roman Dalakishvili to purchase the modern equipment necessary for building the road and providing other services. Saakashvili also decided to award all people who worked on the road with the Order of Merit and allot monetary prizes for them.
The president also spoke to the chair of the government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, Malkhaz Akishbaia, and promised to allot additional funds to ensure that the road can be used throughout the year. "Even if we need 10m or 20m lari we must spend it so that this road is always usable and so that equipment is mobilized in the area which can clear away the snow in case of avalanche as soon as possible," he said. Saakashvili added that the cost of travel on the road should not exceed 10 lari.
In a speech at the event, Saakashvili also rebuffed recent remarks by Russian President Vladimir Putin questioning the quality of democracy in Georgia and reiterated his vow that Georgia's territorial integrity would be restored during his presidency. The following is an excerpt from the speech:
I have seen for myself that work on building this road did not stop even in winter. The workers warmed themselves with wood burning stoves and lived in tents. But they kept working day and night. I want to thank each and every worker for this. The people of Georgia understand that it is not only a job for them. With this road we are building a new Georgia.
I want to point out that this is the first ever live feed from Upper Abkhazia, which is very important for me.
I want to address you, the people displaced from Abkhazia, the people of Abkhazia and the people of Georgia as a whole. I promised all of you exactly one year ago, when we first raised our flag in Upper Abkhazia, when we first relocated our administration [government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia] here and officially set up our administration in Upper Abkhazia, that in one year we would lay a road that would make it possible for the rest of the population to access the Chkhalta Gorge, the Kodori Gorge, the Marukhi Pass and all of Chuberi. Let me emphasize this list of settled areas, because many in the word still refer to Upper Abkhazia as the Kodori Gorge. This is not just the Kodori Gorge. This is several gorges and two mountain passes. It is a very significant part of Abkhaz territory. That is why we call it Upper Abkhazia. This is an official term which precisely reflects the reality here.
The opening of this road was very important for us. I often think that had this road been here 14 years ago, thousands of our children, women and elderly people would not have frozen on their way from the Chkhalta and Kodori Gorges to Chuberi [village in the Svaneti region adjacent to Kodori] and we would not have lost so many people.
Until now the separatists had been waiting like hyenas for the onset of winter. They have stated very publicly on numerous occasions that they intend to invade Upper Abkhazia and restore control over Upper Abkhazia in the coming months. As soon as the main road was to be closed they were to have had a clear path to attack the gorges for a period of six months. How wrong they were. Those people will no longer be able to do anything.
A few days ago, right near this place, Sukhumi's most elite special purpose unit came down from above. It was headed by the most elite Russian officer who two days ago official Russian representatives said was an anti-terrorist instructor [at the Abkhaz anti-terrorism centre]. As if it were not sufficient to look for terrorists in Russia, they had to look for terrorists in these beautiful Georgian forests. He was looking for terrorists here and he found his death. We are not glad when anyone dies, but our small regional police unit destroyed their best special purpose troops. This is no longer the Georgia [of the past]. We repelled a well-planned attack, we averted provocation and this is what will happen whenever our citizens, our civilians and peace are in danger in Georgia. This is what will happen whenever they attempt to organize acts of provocation or disrupt peace in Georgia.
The people who worked on building this road are real heroes of the new Georgia. Some television commentators are angered by the use of the world heroes, but these people are indeed heroes. They worked day and night in the freezing cold and did not leave this place even last winter. They did this so that this road would be finished by the onset of winter this year. They left their own homes and their families and on top of that, they were not paid all that well. These people comprehended the historic, strategic, political and economic importance of their mission. I want to say that nothing can stop this road on which we are standing.
I know that Georgia's ill-wishers, the hyenas ensconced in the government buildings in Sukhumi, are looking up at us and thinking: let us see when they will falter and when they will fall down so that we can devour them. Georgia's ill-wishers are well aware that Georgia is impossible to defeat when it is united and when it has world support. They also know that there is always a certain percentage of people who are traitors. They try to work on weakening the organism from within so that these traitors, like an immune system disease, come out and once again render Georgia bed-ridden and once again make it a sick nation. How wrong they are.
We want to tell both our friends, who are the majority in the world, and our ill-wishers that this is a different Georgia, a different people and that there is different experience, a different strength and a different resolve today in Georgia.
Yesterday, my Russian friend appeared on Russian television and expressed his great sadness and regret over the quality of democracy and Georgia and found fault with democracy in Georgia. At the same time, he spoke about a civil confrontation to be expected in Georgia and expressed his hope that bloodshed among Georgians would be averted.
This man is well aware that indeed, our civil conflict in the early 1990s made us lose that which we cannot control [separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia]. Our traitors at home, their ambitions, their spitefulness and their greed brought us to the place where we found ourselves. They think that this is a chronic sickness that the Georgians have. They think that it is very easy to manipulate the Georgians. I want to tell this friend of mine and other Russian friends that there is a very big difference between Georgia and Russia. What can I say? There is indeed a very big difference between these two countries. When speaking about democracy, in Georgia there is the supremacy of justice [as heard] and in Georgia there is a free press. Anyone can appear on television and criticize everyone all day and night, first and foremost Georgia's president.
But it has been a long time since I have heard such criticism on any Russian channels against their own - though against me there has been plenty. This is a very big difference between us and them. [Slain Russian journalist] Ana Politkovskaya was my personal friend. In Georgia not a single journalist has been killed, except in Gali [ethnic Georgian-populated district in Abkhazia] and in Abkhazia, which are controlled by Russian peacekeepers. Dozens of journalists have been eliminated in Russia and many Russian journalists and representatives of the press have sought shelter in Georgia, taken Georgian citizenship and found shelter in Georgia. We are proud of this.
The difference between Russia and Georgia is very concrete and very simple. In Russia, when 100 people demonstrate, they are dispersed by 20,000 special purpose troops. In Georgia, any citizen who wants to can peacefully express his ideas without the danger of any intimidation, dispersal or use of violence. This is our strength. This is our power.
There is one more difference. In Russia, where there is a problem with the press, a problem with democracy, a problem with security, officials take bribes day and night. They are completely buried in corruption. In Georgia no-one can take bribes and if they do take them, they will be called into account before the law irrespective of their influence, the amount of money they stole or the strength of foreign or other sponsors. This is the result of the fact that, even at a time when oil costs 80 dollars, Russia's economic growth is two and a half times less than that of Georgia. A Georgia with the problems it has, a Georgia with its economic difficulties, a Georgia, with its uncontrolled territories, has twice as much economic growth than our Russian friends.
So, my dear friends, you are a big country, so you should take care of your big country's own big problems. We are a relatively small country and our people will resolve our small country's problems through democracy, through transparency, through involving the international community, through continuing forward with democratic reforms, through pursuing the battle against corruption 10 times stronger and through ensuring that no-one will be able to impose civil confrontation upon us and no-one will be able to force us to go after each other. We have already drunk the medicine you prescribed for us and it turned out to be poison. We have learned a different way to strengthen and cleanse our body and we have found a different way to achieve the level of health that we have now.
This is my message for my friend from here in the heart of Abkhazia. I will meet him in the coming days and communicate it to him personally.
I want to say one more thing: this man, our friend, is the same friend who a year and a half ago expressed his sorrow over the fate of the Georgian people. But the next day, they banned the import of Georgian wines to Russia. The grape harvest has been under way in Kakheti [main wine-producing region] for several days. Their calculations were very simple: to use people's social hardships and traitors at home to stir up the people and make them turn on the government. At this moment political parties are prowling around in Kakheti - unlike Russia we do not remove political parties from elections, everyone is totally free in their actions. Sometimes they hold five-man rallies, sometimes 15-man rallies, sometimes 20-man rallies. What? Are Kakhetian farmers not having trouble? Are Kakhetian winegrowers not having a hard time? Of course Kakhetian winegrowers are having a hard time. But farmer is not the right word. That Kakhetian winegrower is an intellectual and educated person and not some little screw, like they think. He knows perfectly well that no matter what these internal - I do not even want to say traitor - no matter what these little traitorlettes [Georgian: "moghalatukebi"] tell them in an effort to score points, he knows that today any expression of grumbling or concern on his part would strengthen tenfold the interests of those who imposed this embargo. This is the reason why the grape harvest is going so well in Kakheti, not because we have resolved all economic problems concerning grapes. This is the Georgian people's response. This is the Georgian people's response to those who mourn and weep about the fate of the Georgian people, the dying out of the Georgian people, the further existence of the Georgian people.
They love Georgia very much, but without Tskhinvali [South Ossetia], Abkhazia and another four or five territories. They like Georgians at feasts with qantsis [drinking vessel] in their hands, singing Suliko [Georgian song] and pronouncing toasts in broken Russian. But they consider Georgians who have stood tall, who have realized that they are masters of their country, who have created strong security structures, who have created a strong state, who are developing their economy at a rate two and a half times faster [than them] to be some kind of incorrect and unnatural phenomenon. But we know where the truth is. We know where our future is.
Some of you gathered here today are displaced persons. I will never forget the championship held here in Chkhalta between exiled football teams from Abkhazia, where teams from Tqvarcheli, Gagra, Ochamchire, Bichvinta and Sukhumi competed against each other. I will never forget the 50-year-old men who used the old path and travelled through the mountain pass for eight hours, put their uniforms on and joined in. They looked like 20-year-old boys, they looked like they did when they were expelled from Sukhumi. Just a few years ago, these people had lost all hope and would not have come up here. You should have seen the enthusiasm on their faces when they did come.
They know that Chkhalta is not the last stop, it is only the beginning of our return. I want to tell you that no-one will be able to stop the process of Georgia becoming whole. No-one will be able to stop political dialogue with Dmitriy Sanakoyev in South Ossetia. No matter how much fuss they raise, the people know full well about the wisdom and truth of what we are doing.
Making Georgia whole is not a simple process. King Davit the Builder, Georgia's greatest ever ruler, needed 30 years to unite the country. Now we are living in a different epoch. We do not compare to Davit the Builder - the term of the president in office is much shorter, though patience is not boundless.
I promise you that together we will unite Georgia during my presidency. But not through the emergence of new Kitovanis [former Defence Minister Tengiz Kitovani, who led the invasion of Abkhazia in 1992]. We have already seen where an impetuous, poorly thought through, dim-witted, susceptible-to-provocation and overly ambitious policy has brought us and where we have to start from.
Through patience and endurance, through standing together, thorough economic successes, through implementing more reforms, through more international support, through transparency, through democracy and through giving our people more opportunities, we will achieve anything.
I often dream of Sukhumi. I love going to Tamarasheni and looking upon Tskhinvali from 50 metres away.
Some of my ancestors were from here, from this land. We must return to everywhere where we were expelled from.
I want to tell you that we have come here today to fulfil one of our promises - to finish this road.
But this is just a small promise, this is just one level on the great path which we have set out upon. We are fulfilling this promise today and are making progress. But our main dream, our main promise and the force that drives us - making Georgia whole - is an arm's reach away.
I promise you all that this hand will not tremble and that we will see this endeavour we have begun through to the end.
I am ready to lay the last few kilometres, metres and centimetres of this road together with you as a regular worker. If necessary I will drive a bulldozer so that we achieve a breakthrough and see this endeavour through to the end.
May God protect us as we reach the end of this great road!
Includes BBC Monitoring material
of the President of Georgia