President Saakashvili gave a harsh rebuttal on September 29 to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin's remarks about democracy in Georgia and listed some of the points, which he thought, makes Georgia positively different from Russia. In the statement, Saakashvili referred to Putin as “my Russian friend” and never mentioned his name.
Saakashvili also said that he planned a meeting with Putin soon. He did not elaborate further; however, the meeting apparently will take place on the sidelines of a CIS summit in Tajikistan late next week.
Below are President Saakashvili’s remarks:
“Yesterday my Russian friend spoke on Russian TV, and complained about and expressed regret over the existing level of democracy in Georgia. At the same time, he spoke about possible civil confrontation in Georgia and expressed hope that bloodshed among the Georgians would be avoided. This man knows very well that in the early nineties our civil confrontation was the main reason for losing what we cannot control now [referring to Abkhazia and South Ossetia].
Our traitors within [the country], their ambitions and culpability have led us to where we are [referring to losing control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia]. They think that it is a chronic disease for the Georgians. They think that it is very easy to manipulate Georgians.
I want to tell this friend of mine and other Russian friends, that the difference between Russia and Georgia is huge.
When we are talking about democracy - there is supremacy of law in Georgia, there is a free press in Georgia; any person is free to criticize anyone – including the President of Georgia – all day long. I have not heard such criticism on any Russian TV channel for a long time towards their leaders. This is a huge difference between them and us.
Anna Politkovskaya [a Russian journalist assassinated in Moscow last year] was a friend of mine. Not a single journalist has ever died in Georgia, except in the Gali district and Abkhazia, which are controlled by the Russian peacekeeping forces. Tens of journalists have been liquidated in Russia and many Russian journalists have found shelter in Georgia and gained Georgian citizenship. And we are proud of this.
The difference between Russia and Georgia is very specific and simple. In Russia when one hundred citizens rally, 20,000 special purpose troops control them. In Georgia any number of citizens can peacefully express their opinions, without any danger of being harassed. This is our strength.
There is one more difference: in Russia, where there is a problem with the freedom of press, there is a problem with democracy and security; officials regularly take bribes and are totally corrupt. In Georgia, nobody can take a bribe, but if it still happens, all [corrupt officials] are held responsible regardless of their influence, the amount of stolen money or the strength of foreign or other sponsors. This is the reason why Russia, with its oil resources, has 2.5 times less economic growth than Georgia.
So, my dear friends, you are a big country and take care of the big problems of your big country. We are a relatively small country and our people will settle by themselves the problems of our small country through democracy, transparency, supremacy of law, through the involvement of the international community, the continuation of democratic reforms, strengthening of our anti-corruption drive. [In Georgia] nobody will ever be able to provoke civil confrontation because we have already taken medicines prescribed by you [referring to Russia] and it was poison. Now, we know how to recover and improve our health.
I also want to say that this is the very man [again referring to Putin], who a year and a half ago expressed regret over the fate of Georgian citizens and the very next day they [the Russians] banned the import of Georgian wines to Russia. The grape harvest was underway in the Kakheti region. The calculation was very simple: to trigger the revolt of people against the authorities with the use of the poor social conditions of the population and traitors.
Even now, political parties are roaming around Kakheti [referring to the opposition Conservative Party’s campaign in Kakheti to capitalise on winegrowers’ anger at not being able to sell their harvest]; and unlike in Russia, they are free to do so. They are holding rallies with five, 10 or sometimes 15 people. Do you think that the peasants are not in need? Do you think that the winegrowers from Kakheti are not in need? Of course, they are…
But he [a winegrower] knows very well that whatever these traitors say, giving vent to his grievances will ten-fold strengthen the position of those, who have imposed this embargo. The grape harvest is successful in Kakheti, not because we managed to settle all the economic problems with the grape harvest, but because of the way the Georgian population has responded to those people, who are weeping about the fate of the Georgian people, about the ‘extinction of the Georgian people.’
They [referring to the Russians] love Georgia, but without Tskhinvali and Sokhumi and without four or five other parts of our territory. They love Georgians at the table, with a drinking-horn, singing Suliko [a Georgian song] and offering toasts in broken Russian. But they regard Georgians, who are masters of their land, who create strong security structures, who build a strong state, as unnatural phenomena.”