Open letter to fellow citizens

  • In his open letter to citizens ex-PM of Georgia speaks about past, present and future of the country.

By Bidzina Ivanishvili

Former Prime Minister of Georgia

Agenda.ge, 30 May 2016, Tbilisi,Georgia

Today former Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili published open letter to the citizens of the country to summarize the years passed from the October Parliamentary elections 2012, when the ruling party Georgian Dream came into the power. 

Recently, Georgian Dream held a political convention to elect its new chair and announce the party’s plans for the future. This marked the end of the phase launched in October 2011 and the beginning of preparations for the upcoming parliamentary election.

The extent of my engagement and personal participation in the election season is an issue I will discuss later in this letter. At this point, however, I will summarize and analyze the past four and a half years, that is, the distance we have covered, where we stand today, and where we are headed.

I would like to report to our citizens because in 2011 I assumed responsibility before the Georgian people. Although I am not serving in a public capacity, still I feel this responsibility.

I doubt that anyone has forgotten the recent past. Nonetheless, I must recall at the beginning what made me enter politics.

Where We Were

A few excerpts from my open letter published on October 7, 2011 and addressed to the government, political parties, media, and Georgia’s citizens:

  •  The total monopolization of government by Mikheil Saakashvili, along with the constitutional amendments, demonstrates Saakashvili’s aim to retain authority and remain in power, in defiance of his expiring term as defined in the constitution.
  • Using the Revenue Service, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, and the judiciary, violence of unprecedented proportions was used against Georgian business, virtually wiping out free business in the country.
  • Violence against rallies and brutal force, merciless beating, and persecution against their participants have become a norm. The brutal attack on the May 26 peaceful demonstration resulted in a number of people dead or missing.
  • Detaining people and releasing them only after they pay money and strike a bogus plea bargain has become extremely easy. Many Georgians have been intimidated using this method of detention and pushed to the verge of poverty.
  • It is demoralizing to listen to all the barefaced lies disseminated by the media. Endless bragging and a pack of outright lies about Saakashvili’s achievements are extremely insulting.
  • This full-time machinery of deception seeks to brainwash and pass off virtual, artificial pseudo reality as reality. It is hard to tell who is lying and who is telling the truth!
  • Pseudo-opposition politicians, parties, and media outlets that have plunged into this network of lies, create an environment that instills distrust toward politics even among the most politically active members of our society, ultimately dashing their hopes to make a difference through elections.
  • Through the efforts of authorities, a sizeable and mobile group of wannabe experts, political experts, analysts, and sociologists was put together to dance to the government’s tune and palm off black as white and vice versa.

"The country was nothing but one big prison." Photo by N.Alavidze/Agenda.ge.

Every true patriot would agree that these assessments were not exaggerated, and there was much more we were unaware of at that time. The truth turned out to be much worse than we could ever imagine!

The country was nothing but one big prison. Having over hundreds of thousands inmates and probationers meant that almost everyone in the country had someone behind bars, waiting in anticipation at the prison gates. Endemic eavesdropping, covert surveillance, secret recordings, false reporting and blackmail were taken as a common occurrence. The government enjoyed full control over the media, and the media said and covered only what they were told to say and cover. The country was plagued by elite corruption. 

A small group of people was entitled to everything it pleased, while the rest had no rights whatsoever. Even at home, people would disassemble their cell phones, stashing the parts under the pillow and whisper. Everyone suspected of being critical of the government was fired, deprived of property, beaten, arrested, tortured in prison mercilessly, or, if considered necessary, even murdered!

Double standards guided the country’s governance—they pretended to be a beacon of democracy while, in reality, they skinned people alive.

As frosting on the cake of this injustice and lawlessness, panegyrists on payroll blistered the palms of their hands applauding and shouting "Misha! Misha!”

Drunk with power, Saakashvili’s clan planned to stay in power infinitely. They openly preached about a need to transform the Georgian people altogether and to forge them into some sort of new human being, which in reality stood for brainwashing and training zombie ruffians. They spared no one whose good reputation and personal influence stood in their way, which is why they waged fierce war even against the Patriarch and the Church as a whole.

Despair, to the largest extent, took hold as elections were stolen right and left, and authorities unabashedly shed all responsibility before their citizens and no longer played hide and seek.

The ruling clan used large amounts of illegally obtained finances in its disposal to win over or mislead certain politicians or lobby groups.

"We all remember in the recent past how detached from reality these surveys were."  Election day of 2011. Photo by N.Alavidze/Agenda.ge. 

Some local representatives of international organizations grew so carried away by this machinery of deception that even their headquarters had a hard time keeping them under control. Things got so out of hand that the leaders of the National Movement, not foreigners, would write reports on the situation in the country. Unfortunately, relapses of this type persist.

NDI and IRI have implemented many important projects for our country, for which all we can do is say thank you. It is also true, however, that in their public opinion surveys these organizations, rather suspiciously, employ local specialists closely associated with the National Movement.

We all remember in the recent past how detached from reality these surveys were. For instance, the difference between the surveys prior to the 2012 election and the results thereof was drastic. Such bloopers should be on the National Movement activists’ conscience, who, while working for research institutes, have succeeded in imposing their lies even on international organizations.

Saakashvili’s team would not stop talking ad nauseam about Western integration, but their goal has never been to Europeanize the country, which primarily involves mature democracy and a civil society of free individuals.

In reality, Saakashvili’s style of governance was totally anti-European, aiming to intimidate and subjugate people. This very pseudo-Europeanism and façade democracy imbued a part of our society with the anti-Western and anti-liberal spirit, which poses a serious threat to our country.

We must explain to our brokenhearted fellow citizens that what Saakashvili did has nothing in common with the West, democracy, or liberalism.

In late 2011, we ended up with a divided and neutralized Opposition in our hands, which had been intimidated, smeared, bribed, or recruited by the government, while our people, left without leadership, succumbed to fear and confusion and switched to whispering in the kitchen—the wave of protest waned. Obviously, our society had no resources left to break the vicious cycle on its own, and I found myself facing a tough decision: Either I would accept the prospects of my homeland and my people stuck in that nightmare for decades—in which case I would have to abandon all hope and find refuge abroad—or I would stay and put up a fight.

I have to admit it was a very hard decision to make, because I never took interest in politics, yet, given the character of the then regime, staying would pose a threat to me personally and, more importantly, to my family. Ultimately, however, it was my family, my loved ones, who made me stay in the country and fight. To illustrate my attitude at that time, I will quote a few more passages from the 2011 letter:

  • Many question and wonder how I, a successful businessman, well-off in every way, put everything at stake by entering politics? The answer is very simple. I realize that I am losing my homeland. And when you are losing your homeland, nothing matters anymore, be it money, wealth, or privileges.
  • Considering leaving Georgia was a mistake. Leaving is one thing, but how, after abandoning your homeland in distress and need, will you face your country afterward? And will it be still there when you return?
  • My loved ones convinced me that I was mistaken, though I have to admit that, similar to the rest of Georgia, for two years my family members whispered to communicate. One way or another, we stood by one another, and together we overcame fear.

This was the situation and the atmosphere in the country at that time. Needless to say, many of my compatriots had it worse than I did.

Analyzing the situation, I became convinced that no result would be achieved without personal engagement, so I decided personally to coordinate political processes for a while, and I promised my fellow citizens to defeat injustice.

I call to mind the promises I made when putting up a fight, and I can state that I have fulfilled most of them.

In 2011, I promised my compatriots:

  • By uniting the new political force established by me and existing healthy political forces, to achieve a sweeping victory in the 2012 parliamentary election.
  • To participate in the formation of a new cabinet in the capacity of Prime Minister or Speaker of the Parliament, and to put an end to elite corruption.
  •  To start forming an independent judiciary and ensure the irreversibility of this process.
  • To ensure prospects of restoring Georgia’s state jurisdiction in the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
  •  To create an appealing investment environment and to lay the foundation for free business activities in place of the business sector monopolized by a single group.
  •  To complete the project of restoration of Georgian agriculture.
  • To finalize an important project involving the establishment of a technological university and the creation of high-tech workplaces.
  •  To start normalizing relations with Russia.
  • To deepen our friendship and integration with the US and the European Union.
  • I expected the listed objectives to be reached in two or three years, after which I was planning to leave politics in order to take actively engage in the country’s public life.

This was the main portion of the promises I made as I entered politics, and exactly their fulfillment was expected to lay the foundation for the country’s further development.

Another task, a very important one to me both back then and today, involves diffusing public tensions and achieving a nationwide consensus on strategic issues facing the country.

Although this stance has been criticized harshly, I have never swayed from this path, and I never will, because it is a nationwide consensus that leads to a worthy future. I said at the very outset, and I repeat, that Georgia cannot losing or alienating anyone. What matters is that one must timely realize he has made a mistake, repent, and take a step toward good.

Where We Stand

Although Saakashvili used every illegal method available to him, he could not throw us off balance, failing to provoke us even once. Consequently, the pre-election process followed our scenario. An unprecedented large-scale rally was in held in Tbilisi before Election Day, with over half a million people taking to the streets. We forced the miscreant regime, willing to commit every wrongdoing and evil deed, to yield power without shedding blood.

In place of an irresponsible and violent government, we formed a cabinet transparent in its actions and accountable to the people. We have put an end to elite corruption, which even the most radical opponents cannot deny; they dare not accuse us of fostering corruption.

Over the past four years, we held exemplary presidential and municipal elections in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and uprooted the criminal practice of stealing out citizens’ votes. I am convinced that the upcoming parliamentary election will also meet the highest standards.

Despite critical attitudes, the government made the only right decision to free the judiciary of governmental influence. We may not like some of the court decisions, or one judge or another, but what matters today is that our judiciary is genuinely independent. Our citizens now have legal ways and opportunities to prove their points, and today, efforts of defense lawyers make sense.

We depoliticized our police forces that will never again be used to settle a score with political opponents. We abolished the Special Operations Department and the Constitutional Security Department, which used to blackmail our citizens and take away their businesses. The State Security Service was separated from the Interior Ministry.

The media is completely free from government control. Notably, today more TV stations operate in Georgia than ever before. By the way, no one can remember the government criticized so openly and harshly as today. In addition, for the first time in the history of independent Georgia, the government does not run a TV station.

Business is genuinely free from governmental pressure. Even the most antagonistic media outlets cannot so much as put their finger on a single case of a business under intimidation.

The government prioritizes ensuring economic growth with its results available to all social strata.

Practically everyone who wants to run a farm, and has a realistic project to this end, can receive from the state long-term zero-interest loans. In addition, the state provides assistance in selecting and buying beef and dairy cattle, also supplying free seeds, saplings, fuel, and fertilizers. Under these programs, more than 26,000 projects have been financed. The aggregate acreage of irrigated lands has grown by 133 percent. The amount of investments in agriculture exceeds one billion Georgian Lari.

Under the previous government, medical services were available only to wealthy patients. To save their loved ones, our citizens were forced to sell their homes or take loans. In contrast, we introduced a state universal healthcare program and an affordable health system for all. Insufficient financial resources no longer equal living in neglect, without urgent surgery or treatment. We are implementing a unique, one-of-a-kind hepatitis C program, and thousands of our citizens have been cured free of charge. One can state, without exaggeration, that our healthcare efforts have saved many lives. Besides its social significance, this project is vital for sustainable economic development. So far, the universal healthcare program has supported 1,600,000 people.

From a Debt-Based Economy to an Investment-Driven Economy

One of the greatest achievements of our government involves transition from the country’s debt-based economy to an investment-driven economy.

In 2013-2016 (including a forecast for 2016), the amount of FDI in Georgia grew by 62 percent compared to 2009-2012.

The smallest growth in Georgia’s total debt was recorded in 2013-2015. In 2007-2009, Georgia’s overall foreign debt grew by 5,034,000,000 dollars, also by 4,453,000,000 dollars in 2010-2012, and only by 1,686,000,000 dollars in 2013-2015, that is, 2.5 times less compared to the previous three years. 2013 saw the end of a practice when the country used sizeable loans to balance its deficit of currency. Instead, we started to actively cover our debts.

Since 2013, instead of imitating economic growth by increasing our foreign debt, we established investment-based competitive environment, as evidenced by our rating in the Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum. While rated 87th in 2006-2007, we were downgraded to 88th place in 2011-2012, but improved our positions and reached 66th place in 2015-2016, surpassing several EU member states. This rating reflects best the country’s economic competitiveness in its entirety and complexity.

According to the IMF World Economic Outlook published in April, in 2016 GDP per capita will exceed 10,000 international dollars (GDP purchasing-power-parity) for the first time, that is, 25 percent more than in 2012.

According to the same survey, in 2017-2021 Georgia’s economy per capita will grow by 46.4 percent and make up 14,663 international dollars in 2021, while the growth rate will constitute 11.9 percent. If this growth rate is maintained, which is quite realistic, then GDP will quadruple by 2030 and exceed 40,000 international dollars per capita. These numbers, which are quite close to the current statistics in successful European countries, guarantee sustainable prosperity of our citizens.

In October 2015, the World Bank published its Global Governance Report (putting together surveys by 17 think tanks) highlighting 2014 as the year when Georgia’s ratings reached their highest in the past 18 years. Of the 200 countries rated in the report in six aggregate indicators, Georgia significantly improved its positions. These indicators are: government effectiveness, rule of law, control of corruption, voice and accountability, regulatory quality, and political stability and absence of violence/terrorism.

Georgia is the regional torchbearer in the government effectiveness category, also surpassing in many categories such EU member states as Spain, Poland, Italy, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, and others.

We succeeded in opening the Russian market to Georgian products without making any political concessions to this end. At the same time, our export to the European Union in 2015 was twice the size recorded in 2012.

In 2013-2015, the total number of employees in business sector grew by 55,000, while decreasing by 23,000 in 2006-2012.

In 2013-2015, real wages grew by 175 GEL, while growing only by 78 GEL in 2010-2012, and the actual growth of pensions (based on PPP) reached 24.1 percent.

Net revenues from international tourism in 2013-2015 made up 4,520,000,000 dollars, which is twice the amount received in 2010-2012. Equally impressive is the growth recorded this year. It is estimated that, from January through April, our revenues from tourism grew by 17 percent to make up 505 million USD.

In 2013-2015 compared to 2010-2012, the scope of nationwide construction grew by 56 percent, including by 63 percent in Tbilisi and 76 percent in Adjara (based in issued construction permits).

The scope of energy projects has grown tremendously:

  •  2,506,000,000 USD were invested in the energy sector in 2013-2015, and 14 hydroelectric and one thermoelectric power plants (total value: 523 million dollars) are already operating.
  •  Six more hydroelectric power plants will be put into operation in the nearest future, including the 416 million USD Shuakhevi plant. The construction of the Nenskra Hydroelectric Power Plant (investment value: one billion dollars) has already been launched.
  •  A memorandum was signed to implement 104 renewable energy projects, with their aggregate capacity exceeding 2,800 megawatts, while investment value constituting six billion dollars.

The speed and scope of road and other infrastructure construction has grown significantly, and, on average, 2.5 times more highways are built per year compared to the period under the previous government.

These positive trends are especially noteworthy given the economic crisis affecting almost all countries in the region, which naturally challenged Georgia as well. Otherwise, we would be able to achieve much more, of course. In 2004-2012, however, Georgia was not the regional leader in economic growth, taking a back seat to Armenia, Belarus, and Azerbaijan. On the other hand, in 2013-2015, Georgia’s economic growth surpassed all our neighbors.

The technological university launching project is about to enter its final phase. A few days ago, the world’s leading scientists visited Georgia to attend the inauguration of construction work on the High-Tech Scientific Center. In September, the construction of a university complex will be launched in Kutaisi.

Special care continues to be provided to those whom Russian aggression and imprudent counteractive policies have turned into refugees in their own land. The government has been constructing homes, purchasing houses, and legalizing living spaces for refugees.

Our citizens are growing accustomed to political freedoms, no longer fearing to express their critical opinions or grievances. People even go on strikes demanding protection of their labor rights, which—you would probably agree—was virtually impossible before.

The government has taken tangible steps toward European integration, signing the Association Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement, which enables Georgian entrepreneurs to enter a market of 500 million. The inaugural NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center was opened in Georgia. A relevant political decision was made to grant our citizens visa-free travel in Europe in the foreseeable future.

Today our relations with partner countries and international organizations are more solid and stem from strategic interests.

All ratings and indicators confirm that we have achieved significant progress and improvements, and the situation is much better practically in every field compared to what we had under the National Movement.

In a short period of time, we have succeeded in transforming an authoritarian country into a progressing democracy—we have laid the foundation for further reforms poised to result in even greater achievements.

We never stop looking for ways to boost our economy and spur the effectiveness of the government’s performance. To this end, we have already held seven economic forums with the participation of visiting experts associated with our political opponents. However, they failed to propose any new initiatives in addition to what the government had already done.

The performance of any government is assessed by effective use of concrete opportunities. In this regard, the Georgian Government has achieved maximum effectiveness. Needless to say, it could not achieve in three or four years what takes fifteen years, but surely it has succeeded in laying a solid foundation for sustainable development.

These are not just our own assessments; this is how some of the most reputable international organizations rate the Georgian Government’s performance.

Where We Are Headed

Georgia is facing a major challenge as we are learning anew how to live in an independent state, becoming accustomed to democracy and market economy, as well as freedom in general.

We have been vested with much responsibility before our posterity, and today, more than ever, we must be vigilant to ensure against any error that may drag us back into the tyranny we have paid dearly to overthrow. This is why we are obligated to keep up with the times, correctly evaluate events, and make adequate decisions, lest our achievements and prospects of a better tomorrow go to waste.

And the only right decision is one that draws us closer to our main strategic goal, that of freedom, security, uniqueness, prosperity, and engagement in global progress!

Given the tough demands of time and life, we cannot afford being behind the times. This is a task facing our citizens today, who, despite their numerous problems, spare no effort to provide for their families and work for the future and the wellbeing of their country. They need support and assistance.

We witness tensions rising throughout the world, including our region, our immediate and not too distant neighborhood. Brutal terrorist attacks, endless military activities, economic crises, religious conflicts, and clashes of civilizations are dangerous icebergs drifting around us and threaten to crush. One of our greatest achievements is that we succeeded in navigating our country between these icebergs and to maintain peace and stability.

How successful we will be in achieving our goals depends on two factors: What kind of state we will build and what foreign policy orientation our country will take.

The State We Are Building

Every nation has its own unique characteristic, special ability, which it uses to succeed. It may be an advantageous geographic location, or natural resources, or human capital, hard work, technological achievements, or others. In Georgia, such a foundation takes the form of our centuries-old continuous culture and a unique experience of living on the crossroads of Europe and Asia between large empires, thanks to which the skills of preservation of our unique identity and the ability to move forward is built in our DNA.

Many may remember memorizing in school excerpts from the Life of Abo of Tbilisi (the 8th century A.D.), the patron saint of Tbilisi glorified by the Georgians. We, the Georgians, are dealing with numerous difficulties, bent with the wind, but, instead of changing our way of life, we "allow homeland to take its course.”

Thanks to the ingenuity, which we have acquired living in our most challenging region, the wind bends us but never breaks us. The ability to compromise and even yield, if necessary, and yet steadfastness when needed have become our way of life as the most reliable guides through the maze of geopolitics.

As a vivid testimony, four religious buildings tower in Tbilisi’s historical center, symbolizing Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, four of the classical world religions. And far from opposing one another, they empower the country.

We have schools in Georgia where Christian and Muslim children study and pray together, and differences in religious beliefs make their relations even more interesting.

Exemplary is the brotherhood and coexistence between the Georgian and the Jews, which started 26 centuries ago, and we are not the only ones to advertise this. It is known for a fact that, at the 1913 World Jewish Congress in Frankfurt-am-Main, speakers from different countries pointed out that there was not a single antisemitism-free country in the world. 

In reply, Rabbi Davit Baazov, a delegate from Georgia, an extraordinary person and a prominent public figure, stated, "Friends, there is such a country, and it is called Christian Georgia. We, the Jews, have lived among the Georgian for 2,500 years, and we have never been belittled or deprived of our rights. Georgia has never seen ghettos, pogroms, or discrimination, and the Georgian language does not even recognize the word pogrom.” The audience, rising to their feet, welcomed these words with a thundering round of applause.

Our character rejects sacrilege, religious intolerance, and ethnically motivated abuse. In this context, Georgia is a role model when it comes to coexistence in friendship and love with different ethnic or religious groups.

We must fathom that every attempt to push us toward political or religious radicalism, and aggression against a different opinion or way of life, threatens with destruction the fundamentals of our very existence. Therefore, we must exercise special caution and steadfastness when dealing with these issues.

Genuine tolerance is the solution to many pressing problems facing the world today and the new Golden Fleece that will put the global spotlight on our country.

And this is the direction our country has pursued over the past four years. We succeeded in steering away from geopolitical threats, in deepening relations with our neighbors and strategic partners. Because of our balanced and relaxed policy, tourism and economy in general are growing in Georgia, despite the crisis persisting in the region.

When discussing the Georgian phenomenon, we absolutely must mention our viticulture, a unique culture in its own right and one of the core characteristics of our way of life and mentality. It is no coincidence, then, that a cross made of vine branches led the conversion of Georgia to Christianity, which is one of the main determinants of our identity.

My next words are meant to be taken half-jokingly, yet we all know that there is a grain of truth in every joke. Wherever people learned how to carve a boat, they immediately embarked on a journey to foreign lands. The Georgia, on the contrary, grew even more attached to their land precisely because of the invention of a boat. Why? A boat served our ancestors as a winepress, which is why ancient Georgians preferred to wait for guests at home instead of visiting others.

The world recognizes us as the land of the Golden Fleece and the cradle of wine making. Ghvino is a Georgian word that has entered many languages of the world. Georgian character and the Georgian people’s attitude toward life were forged by the culture of wine making.

The unmatched phenomenon of the supra Georgian festive table is inseparable from the vineyard. For its part, the supra reflects with amazing precision Georgian philosophy on the essence of life, in which the meaning of life stems from the very love of life and its supreme embodiment, that is, an urge to make other people happy, also reflecting polyphony, dance, poetry, traditions and customs that have stood the test of time, everything what makes us what we are, everything that makes our individuality and unique culture come alive, and everything invaluable that undoubtedly belongs to all of mankind.

By definition, the culture of wine making and the philosophy of the Georgian supra naturally stem from the spirit of tolerance of all.

This is exactly why tolerance to the Georgians has been a way of life and thinking, a philosophy taken in throughout the centuries. And today it makes us an integral part of the civilization that enshrines human dignity and freedom as the ultimate values. European values, grounded in respect of the human being, are the same as Vazha-Pshavela’s values, and they are in full harmony with our mentality.

It is certainly possible to rapidly transform Georgia, a country on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, into a hub where cultures and civilizations meet and coexist in peace and harmony. All this is exemplified by Old Tbilisi, and relevant experience has been developed by us through millennia.

Today our economy is six times weaker than an average European economy, which gives rise to many everyday problems that dwarf and tower over the main feature of centuries-old Georgian character, to be happy making others happy. I am convinced that, in 10-15 years, our economy will be aligned with European. This is what I had in mind when I chose the year 2030 to establish Society 2030—international organizations and we expect Georgian economy to be able finally to stand on its own two feet and Georgia, as a state, to take its among developed countries by 2030. 

Besides economic outlooks, I certainly my hope on our people’s talent, assiduousness, pioneering spirit, and, of course, the intelligence, commitment, exceptional self-organization, and patriotism of our young people, who exhibited these qualities, for example, during the natural disaster in Tbilisi last year.

Volunteers cleaning debris after the flood in central Tbilisi on June 13, 2015. Photo by Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge. 

After we succeed and eliminate hardship, the Georgian phenomenon will thrive and enter its golden age, and our country, with its gorgeous and talented citizens, will become universally attractive.

At the same time, the prospect of uniting our country will come true only with a strong economy based on supreme values in place in the state that, firstly, must attract our Abkhazian and Ossetian brothers and sisters.

Our geopolitical location and experience of cultures meeting and peacefully coexisting in one destination make up our strategic capital.

Regress to authoritarianism will equal a political, as well as cultural and mental, disaster, because authoritarianism is based on violence, it rejects political, religious, and social diversity, and embraces zero tolerance.

Reverting to zero tolerance and authoritarianism will turn our country into a divide separating civilizations and a battlefield for conflict of interests, instead of promoting it as a peaceful crossroads where cultures meet, which will consequently dash all our hopes for development.

The only foundation of Georgia’s development and prosperity rests upon freedom, democracy, and tolerance, and all our decisions must stem from this axiom!

The Country’s Foreign Policy and Priority Directions

Because democracy and free environment make up the only foundation of our prosperity, it is also clear that integration in the European Union and Euro-Atlantic institutions, accession to NATO, is a strategic priority of Georgia’s foreign policy, and there are no questions whatsoever in this direction.

Our country’s foreign policy reflects the free choice of the Georgian people, which rests upon our historical ties to and common values with the West, which has been confirmed more than once by numerous surveys, including a referendum.

Accordingly, the Georgian Government is actively working on materializing this choice, implementing reforms to draw closer to Europe and transform Georgia into a state with a genuine European economy and structure.

Georgia is a regional torchbearer of democratic development and alignment with the European Union. Georgia’s business environment is the best in the region, and we meet the requirements of the Free Trade Area better than anyone else.

As for the priority directions of our foreign policy, Georgia especially cherishes its relations with the United States of America, our strategic partner, the most valuable guarantor and firm supporter of Georgia’s independence. America has seen us through some trials and tribulations, being the largest provider of financial, military, political, and moral support.

Our relations have grown even closer over the past four years, and we must realize that security and political or economic success largely depends on further deepening our relations and cooperation with our main partner.

We must understand well that Georgia’s accession to the European Union is not around the corner, nor is our NATO membership on the table yet, because it is part of a long geopolitical process that does not depend only on our commitment or readiness. On the other hand, we should not allow this to become a subject of manipulation for political gain and, more importantly, a reason to despair.

Georgia’s foreign policy and priority directions unequivocally lie within the Euro-Atlantic direction! We are patiently anticipating a fitting time. We will be ready to enter Euro-Atlantic institutions as soon as our friends and partners are able open their door for us.

Western trajectory does not mean that we disrespect our neighbors and ignore their interests. On the contrary, our strategy involves establishing friendly relations with all of our neighbor and non-neighbor countries.

We will spare no effort to normalize our relations with Russia without compromising Georgia’s interests, to strengthen cooperation with important partners and friends, namely Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. We are inaugurating interesting relations with Iran. Georgia is engaged in the Silk Road project, an initiative with enormous economic and political potential. A few days ago, a contract was signed to connect German railways to China via Georgia. This will further highlight our country’s geopolitical and economic role as a transport corridor connecting the West and the East.

A Threat of Reverting to the Past

Admittedly, an important source of many political problems in Georgia today is the high level of our democracy, while our economy significantly lags behind. Such a striking gap rarely happens, being an exception rather than the rule. Usually, the level of democracy equals economic development. The current state of economic affairs provides fertile ground for reverting to authoritarianism, while our country’s future requires robust democratic development. Of course, we must act in the best interests of our future.

The ideologists of Saakashvili’s government openly insisted that an authoritarian regime and iron fist were necessary to ensure Georgia’s rapid economic progress and modernization, and that politically backward people had to be ruled by a small elite group. They tried to convince foreigners and never shied away from staging outright provocations and shows to make an impression. Consequently, these acts, as if designed to ensure the country’s prosperity, ended with one group usurping power and elite corruption gaining a foothold.

Our society must understand the threat arising from the difference between the levels of democracy and economy. Under authoritarianism, authorities manipulated public opinion, artificially instilling optimism and portraying life as nothing short of peaches and cream, on one hand, and violently suppressing every expression of discontent, on the other. Under democracy, however, attitudes arising from economic need become visible.

And this is why we should be reasonable in our understanding that we have no right whatsoever to revert back, back to tyranny. We must maintain the high level of democracy and step up our economic development to match our democracy in excellence. This is the only way to ensure peace and prosperity!

Today we are genuinely free in our choices. No one can intimidate us or steal our vote. Yet this is not enough. Only informed voters can make the right decision, and we are facing some serious problems in this direction.

The time of physical violence is over in our country. Violence in the form of propaganda and deceit, however, persist, which may irritate our society even worse.

A political force, which used terror to rule the country not long ago, trampling down human rights and crushed freedom of speech, takes advantage of the free environment in the country today to operate the same machinery of deceit, to make false accusations left and right, while many media outlets follow suit because badmouthing the government is in fashion today.

Our citizens are constantly and intentionally offered distorted pictures of the actual state of affairs in the country, imbuing many with disappointment and despair. All this has revenge as its goal, so that Saakashvili’s clan may send the country back to the abyss of violence, a bitter experience that took so much from us to leave behind.

The media must scrutinize the government, and, of course, I second this notion, but criticism cannot reflect the views and serve the interests of a political group that caused its people so much suffering and pain in the past and thirsts for revenge today.

The leadership of this party, allegedly replenished today, cannot help praising its political past on end, only occasionally mentioning some mistakes supposedly occurring unbeknownst to the National Movement.

Of course, we will maintain free media environment in which every media outlet has a right to be biased, prejudicial, and politically dependent and to disseminate lies and false allegations, as we can see for ourselves on a daily basis, unfortunately.

Notably, however, the freedom the media enjoys today has not been won by the media alone. We all remember reporters prostrate on the floor, with guns held to their heads, and TV stations announcing the same texts composed in the Chancellery of the Government and insisting in chorus that life was beautiful in a country with hundreds of thousands of convicts and the remaining population expecting to share their fate.

The media were freed in Georgia after the defeat of tyranny. However merciless and harsh the media may be in their criticism of the government, which has made a significant contribution to today’s free environment, the rights of the media are still inviolable.

In the past, the media only said what the government wanted to hear, which is why authorities had no problem manipulating public opinion. In reality, all that the much praised UNM PR did was have Saakashvili on every channel 24/7, addressing us from rooftops, or caves, or elsewhere. All other types of information were silenced.

Today our media are open, and people can draw conclusions on their own, and this requires adequate experience which our society has yet to gain. Still, we will counter Saakashvili’s propaganda and slander with analysis and showing the true face of things, not with violence and banning.

As long as the media themselves are free, the public and the government are also entitled to criticize them, to engage in dispute and even expose them for possible wrongdoings.

My Goal

When I entered politics, I harbored the hope that, given our historical background, we would be able to stay focused, to make the right choice, and respond duly to the violent government by making the right choice. This is exactly what happened when Georgian Dream emerged victorious.

We removed from power the very group which, in the course of nine years, spared no effort to destroy and obliterate said Georgian phenomenon which took thousands of years to forge.

They tried to convince the whole world that we, the Georgians, were savages obsessed with Orthodox Christian fanaticism, hostile toward everyone and everything, so it was only useful to crack the whip. Yet, Orthodox Christianity, which largely defines our mentality, teaches humanism and tolerance, and this is what the Georgian Orthodox Christian Church has been preaching for centuries as the country’s irreplaceable spiritual defender in the struggle for the preservation of our identity.

This year, the political maturity of our society as a whole is about to be put to the test. In the past, it all boiled down to choosing between black and white. Today we have many new colors, and we enjoy freedom of choice—everyone strives to prove his/her point and serve his/her own agenda, which is why it is much harder today to make the right choice.

The machinery of deceit disseminates all kinds of slander about ongoing processes in the country and me personally. My significant contribution to the defeat of UNM is not the only reason for that. I increasingly irritate Saakashvili’s team because they see me as a serious obstacle in their way to power, and they are right about that. I will surely use all my resources to ensure against them reversing time and reverting the country to being a lab for their sadistic experiments.

I never boast of my charity projects or initiatives, but, given the amount of slander against me, and to provide my fellow citizens with truthful information so that they may make the right decision, I take full responsibility and reiterate that I do not have any business interests in Georgia, and every project I implement serves the sole purpose of making Georgia more attractive to investors and more interesting to tourists. All my endeavors are transparent and open and easily verifiable.

Everyone who knows a thing or two about business understands that foreign investors make decisions faster and step up their activities when the local partner welcomes them with open arms and offers financial participation. Exactly for the additional stimulation of the investors, through my initiative the Co-Investment Fund has been established. The fund has already made use of the large chunk of the declared five billion dollars, in doing which it has played a vital role in attracting investments, partnering with investors in different branches of economy, from agriculture to constructing hydroelectric power plants.

In addition, the fund independently, without participating partners, is building eight hotels, which is so important for developing tourism in the country. Although these projects meet all architectural and environmental standards, and also involve maintenance of the adjacent territories and even planting greenery, our opponents, given their selfish political goals, intentionally distort information and disseminate it in order to mislead a certain segment of our society. They twist the truth and claim that I entered politics for financial gain. This is exactly why I reiterate what I have said many times before. If someone ready, willing and able takes interests in continuing and completing these projects, the Co-Investment Fund is ready to delegate the projects at a significant discount and even provide support in every way.

Today we are in a very important phase of our development, when each citizen should make a choice independently, without any external pressure, and this vests even greater responsibility in us.

This letter, as well as my TV appearances throughout the election season, seeks to offer our compatriots, before they make their final decision, my assessment of ongoing processes, explain why they should support Georgian Dream and its leader, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who is remarkable for his erudition, integrity, diligence and is a truly European style balanced leader that Georgia needs today.

A legitimate question arises: Why would anyone take interest in my vision or advice? My answer is: Everyone loves his/her homeland, and I am no exception. I serve my country to the best of my ability, and I believe that my lifelong experience, which enables me to analyze things properly, and has helped me succeed in both business and political struggle to free the country of tyranny, will benefit my people in the future.

My vision, as described in this letter—and I plan to offer its detailed and in-depth description in September—only seeks to see our country succeed. I have no other motivation; I have no intention to claim power, which I have already proved, and I am not into serving in high office or benefitting financially in any way. I have no personal agenda or goals related to the upcoming election. My only concern is to make sure that, in 10-15 years, we successfully accomplish what our ancestors have been building for centuries, so that together with you my family and I may also rejoice and prosper in Georgia.

The right choice in 2012 bestowed freedom on us! The right choice remains crucial today! Today I set my hopes on our historical experience and ingenuity! This is why I decided to write this letter, and this is why I plan to visit all regions and participate in TV shows throughout the election season. I will meet people, discuss particular tasks facing the country, answer questions from reporters and Facebook users about our government’s performance, our economic state of affairs, about political parties and the media, and all core issues that should define our political choice.

I am convinced that we will win again!

P.S. Thursday, on June 2, at 8:00 pm, as a guest on Public Broadcaster’s show "The Interview”, I will provide detailed answers to any questions concerning all these issues.

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