Every time Georgia is mentioned in Egypt, everybody talks about your experience with the interior ministry and the police restructuring. How did you do it?
We just started from the police, because the police is essential and we fired all them one day. For 3 or 4 months we were without police and we recruited young people, we retrained them very fast, we gave them new equipment, new cars. I mean they did not even have cars in the past, new uniforms, new guns, but the main thing is the respect of the society. Previous the police were respected by 6% of society and trusted, this has increased to more than 85-86%.
Let’s to more into the international scene. I just saw on your desk The Economist with a cover of Russian President Putin and the cover reads the “Beginning of end of Putin.” How do you see the Georgian-Russian relationship, especially with Putin coming back?
Look, Putin first of all, never left and we had no illusions about it. This situation is even better for us because for those people who wanted to believe in illusions, they are believing their own illusions. Fine, at last we know now that the game is open. But this is not the only thing. For the society no matter what needs to be modernized, and this is the guy, who comes to scene and tells them “I’ll bring you back to the Soviet Union.” There is no Soviet Union. It’s over. It’s finished, it’s dead. You cannot dig it up and bring it to life. So that’s why there is no future for this kind of politics.
They are speaking about great Russia not the Soviet Union
Yes but, because they came here in 2008. They were always present on the ground but they tried to seize more of Georgia, but the reality is that Russian society will modernize. That’s why we have two separate approaches. One towards this government in Russia, which we perceive as a danger, it’s obvious, but on the other hand towards the Russian society. So we just established a total visa free regime for Russian citizens. I mean, before we had it for southern regions of Russia. You can imagine, we had terrorist attacks from Russia, dozens of them; it’s officially proven not only from us, but validated also by foreign intelligence. We have 20% of our territory occupied; every tenth Georgian is a refugee or internally displaced person from his or her own country because of the Russian presence. But we say we are more than happy to see Russians come as tourists. This year we might even get 1 million Russians as tourists. And you know, for us it’s also a matter of national security. First of all, it’s nice for the economy to have additional money but also we think that if Russians come in and see what another kind of system results in; suddenly they come in – nice roads, nice smiling people…
How can you keep the balance between what you are talking about and the other side?
If they want to undermine us, they can do it anyway, they don’t have to have tourists do it. We have changed our system in many ways, people don’t even have to take out their passport, you use an electronic chip, and you just go through the gates. Russians can see it. So they come in, they go around and you just need to have society that at it’s core is not afraid to accept this guest, talk to them, be open-hearted. Because in the long run these people should know that Georgia is a friendly country, that’s our strategic interest. Of course, the fact that we have places in my country where we cannot go physically; I can’t see my ancestor’s house or graves, because Russians, Putin, decided it’s no longer my house, because I am talking not as the President, I’m talking as one of the citizens. Five million of my compatriots have the same problem. It’s a huge disaster and of course I think about it. On the other hand, just trying to reciprocate for that on ordinary Russian citizens makes no sense.
Let’s move away from Russia and I am talking to you not as to President but someone who has led a revolution. How do you look on the Arab Spring revolution? There is an argument that is quite strong nowadays back where I come from that it didn’t meet the success that was expected.
I think it was a huge success. The main thing is that everything has opened up; it’s a wide opened gate.
Even, when the violence is spreading?
Look, the problem is that all of this has been accumulating, and this was unavoidable. Suddenly, you have an open political game, when you have an open political game you have a set of problems that were out there – ethnic, religious, just internal society striving, lots of family things, lots of other things, there was no venue for them to be solved. There was one strong hand to hold everything together and even that was very artificial. So once it’s released then you get everything coming out. How do you sort it out? There’s a little time of chaos, now it’s up to these nations, to make it as short as it’s possible.
How do you look on what’s happing in Syria now, we know that there is a different move, different international stance toward Syria.
It’s very simple,every nation aspires to freedom; every nation. We are living in the 21st century. Nobody, I mean something would happen in the 17th or 18th century and nobody would care. You could do anything and people would just gossip. There wouldn’t even be a photo. Now it’s life on television. Of course, it also makes people cynical. It also provides limited interests; the human brain is limited. It has not expanded dramatically. So it can just digest this kind of information and everyone has this kind of information, in the end it gets saturated. We know it from our own example.
How do you look on Egypt? Especially post revolution?
I think Egypt is a great hope. I mean first of all, Georgia understands this region very well. Traditionally and historically they have been closely linked. Lots of Georgians have gone to Egypt or to other places around Egypt. We have made very much of this historical elite. So we understand mentality, we understand family relations and human relations.
President Mikheil Saakashvili, we thank you very much for the time and honor
It’s a great honor. We have great sympathy for the Egyptian nation, huge and not only us. I think right now Egypt is leading the world as an example and I think Egyptians sometimes don’t think about it because they have their own issues. But from our point of view, whatever happens there will in large terms apply to what will be happening in the world.