Officials of the ruling Georgian Dream party on Tuesday criticised the Norwegian Conservative Party for awarding the imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili with the Sjur Lindebrække Prize for Human Rights and Democracy, a move they said was “cynical” towards the Georgian state and its citizens.
Pointing to a “number of crimes” committed by Saakashvili’s United National Movement Government while in office between 2004-2012, Irakli Kobakhidze, the head of GD, drew parallels between the former President and the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, who in 2011 killed 77 in attacks in his country.
A key difference between Saakashvili and Breivik is that the latter killed 77, while the regime created by Saakashvili claimed the lives of hundreds”, Kobakhidze said.
Mamuka Mdinaradze, the head of GD in the Parliament, added “the difference between Saakashvili and Breivik is that the terrorist pulled the trigger himself, while Saakashvili created a system with many hands on the trigger”.
The remarks follow comments by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on Monday, with the Government head calling the prize a “mockery” and an “insult” to Georgia’s citizens and adding Saakashvili’s “killing of hundreds of people” while in office made granting him with the Lindebrekke Award “almost the same if some country gave Breivik an award”.
GD head Kobakhidze said "Saakashvili's regime" had claimed the lives of "hundreds". Photo: Georgian Dream press office.
In protest to the award, demonstrators on Tuesday gathered outside the Norwegian Embassy in Tbilisi and demanded a statement by Ambassador Helene Sand Andresen that would distance the award from the official position of her Government.
The rally was organised by Tornike Molashvili, the brother of the former official Sulkhan Molashvili who was illegally arrested by UNM authorities in 2004 and faced torture and inhumane treatment in detention until 2008 - acts confirmed in a 2014 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.
On Monday, Andresen reacted to comments by Garibashvili by saying she was “astonished” by the parallel with Breivik and found it “highly inappropriate”.
The rally, and the diplomat’s comments, preceded her summoning to Georgia’s foreign office on Tuesday, with Deputy Foreign Minister Lasha Darsalia meeting the Ambassador to discuss both the awarding of Saakashvili and her comments the previous day.
In comments on the meeting, the Ministry said the Norwegian party’s move “does not contribute to depolarisation in the Georgian public and is insulting to citizens and their family members who were victims of criminal acts committed during Saakashvili's rule”, while Andresen noted the award to Saakashvili did not represent the position of the Norwegian Government and was the initiative of a specific party.