In an interview with the Russian daily, Kommersant, published on April 7, a powerful Georgian interior minister Vano Merabishvili spoke about upcoming local elections and opposition, calling Alliance for Georgia’s leader Irakli Alasania “a revanchist”.
While speaking about Russia he said “the war is not yet over”; he also said that during the August war Georgia tried to bribe Russian militaries in order to convince them to destroy a monument of Stalin in the town of Gori.
On Ukraine he said that it was “a cliché” to call this country a democracy and suggested that President Yanukovych “will quarrel with Moscow in six months.”
In the context of Russia’s North Caucasus he said in the interview that Georgia was “a symbol of resistance for those, who do not feel secured in Russia.”
He was also quoted as saying that it was “almost never” worth of listening to recommendations from Europe.
The Georgian Interior Ministry said in a brief statement on April 7, that in general the published interview “accurately reflects Minister’s ideas, but some parts of it, particularly those concerning EU-Georgia relations and North Caucasus, are cut out of the context.”
Below is a translation of the Q&A with Merabishvili, which was posted on the Kommersant website.
Question: Can upcoming local elections become a surprise?
Answer: Don’t think so. Because we have high rating – [support of] more than half [of voters]. Even in Tbilisi now we have 64%. It is not only because we are good ones, but because the opposition has demonstrated what it represents. And this high rating is not very good for us.
A.: We will have to reduce it during the elections [laughs]. I’m joking.
Q.: Do you know what the reason of such rating is?
A.: Successful reforms first of all.
Q.: If one of the opposition leaders, for example Irakli Alasania, becomes the next President, will the course of reforms be maintained?
A.: Alasania will not become the President. He has no chances. Alasania – he is Shevardnadze’s revanchist.
Q.: Who will become the next President?
A.: We will see.
Q.: Will not opposition win the Tbilisi mayoral race?
A.: Gigi Ugulava [an incumbent Tbilisi mayor] has 64% rating. Alasania follows with 9%; third is [Gogi] Topadze [leader of Industrialist Party] – 6%. [Levan] Gachechiladze [leader of public movement Defend Georgia, who has not named himself as a candidate] – 2.6%.
Q.: But the opposition has different figures.
A.: Yes of course.
Q.: But Gachechiladze defeated Saakashvili in Tbilisi during the January, 2008 presidential elections.
A.: Everything happens. [Ukraine’s former president Viktor] Yushchenko garnered only 5% of votes [in January, 2010] elections, five years after a landslide victory.
Q.: Nino Burjanadze [ex-parliamentary speaker and leader of Democratic Movement-United Georgia] traveled to Moscow after reopening Verkhny Lars [Zemo Larsi] border crossing checkpoint [between Russia and Georgia] and during meeting with her, Vladimir Putin named this reopening of border crossing point as an example of possible development of Russia-Georgia relations. Many in Georgia did not like it, people thought that you have compromised to the Russian authorities, which still do not let Georgian citizens in [Russia].
A.: Why should not we have reopened this border crossing point? We are open. We do not issue visas there either (to be precise we issue visas only to drivers), but because Russia itself does not give visas to our citizens. Moreover, Russia does not let citizens from CIS countries to pass through this border crossing point.
Q.: Then what’s your benefit [from reopening the border]? Only Armenians benefit from this reopening.
A.: We are simply good neighbors.
Q.: What’s your attitude towards Nino Burjanadze’s visit to Moscow?
A.: What kind of attitude should it be? At first there was [Igor] Giorgadze, then [Alexander] Ebralidze and now Burjanadze. In Moscow [Yevgeny] Primakov has been made in charge of Georgia. Immediately after that a project of a Georgian King from Bagrationi dynasty has emerged; and what? The project has failed together with [royal] marriage. A successor is being permanently looked for in Moscow for Georgia. But it’s hopeless search. Just look at the ratings of these people in Georgia and everything becomes clear.
Q.: There are no contacts between Moscow and Tbilisi, except of through the channels of the [Orthodox] Church. I’ve heard that the Georgian authorities do not like this direct link between Russian and Georgian churches very much.
A.: No comments.
Q.: But are these only church-based ties?
A.: “Only” does not exist.
Q.: Many think the First Caucasian Channel is your project. Why do the Georgian authorities need this TV channel?
A.: We should defend ourselves. One Chechen, a Moscow-based oligarch, once in conversation with my acquaintance started to swear at the Chechen authorities and when asked: ‘When will all these be over in Chechnya?’ he responded: ‘How will it be over, if even Georgians help us?’ Georgians became a symbol of resistance for those, who do not feel secured in Russia.
Q.: Do you avenge Russia for Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
A.: Simply the war is not yet over.
Q.: From the military or political point of view?
A.: From any point of view. But we are winning on the very front where we are strong. Until they say in Russia, that there are good reforms in Georgia, we will be winning. Because reforms and democracy – this is the same thing and because it is something which is not in Russia. And also because we have different values.
One more thing: you know, in August, 2008 Givi Targamadze [a ruling party lawmaker who chairs parliamentary committee for defense and security] offered Russian militaries USD 50 thousand in exchange for destroying monument of Stalin in Gori. There were informal contacts and it was possible to buy some things for money from Russians. So we have decided to exchange possibility of getting rid of Stalin on money. They [the Russian military] have bombed Gori, but they did not touch monument of Stalin.
Q.: And what answer did Givi Targamadze receive?
A.: They [Russian militaries] felt insulted. They were ready to take money for everything else, but not for that [destruction of Stalin monument].
Q.: Do you want to say that we [Russians] have Soviet values and you [Georgians] have European ones?
A.: You said so. I will say otherwise. There are only two ways in the world – either to move towards western culture or to move nowhere. We have chosen the first one. And you? Has anything good happened in your country during these years? You have quarreled with your neighbors. They are afraid of you. You are afraid of each other. The society and police are in the state of war in your country. What have you built during past ten years? Therefore, you will never win the war with Georgia.
Q.: There is no need to know how to build in order to win the war.
A.: It is essential. During last ten years the only project that emerged [in Russia] is Sochi [where 2014 Winter Olympics are planned]. We have built entire cities anew.
There is another reason as well. Your officials are afraid of the West, because when they were growing up, they were thinking that CIA is stronger than KGB. And it is worth being afraid of the West if you keep your money in western banks.
Q.: You say that you are building. But in Abkhazia Russian investors are building, and not you. Russian militaries are building in South Ossetia, and you are not building there either. So, how can you win there?
A.: The fate of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is being solved not in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but in minds of people – Georgians, Russians. The more successful reforms we have in the Interior Ministry, healthcare, education, the closer Tskhinvali will be to Tbilisi, because there is no precedent throughout the world, where something is built on the occupied territory. It is similar as to build a house on sand. It is possible to build barracks there but no investments will go there.
Q.: But the situation is different in Abkhazia. Sochi Olympics attracts attention to Abkhazia.
A.: Dreaming is not harmful. There is no society there [in Abkhazia]. Bagapsh was re-elected not because he won, but because he made a deal with the Kremlin. Now tell me, why Bagapsh is not implementing reforms? There is no freedom of decision making there. They depend on the Kremlin. There is no democracy there.
Q.: And is there democracy in Georgia?
A.: Do you think that there is not?
Q.: I think that there is democracy in Ukraine, but not in Georgia.
Q.: You do not have free television stations.
A.: Switch on TV and you will see any opposition politician there.
Q.: But these are channels, which are controlled by the authorities. In Ukraine there are a lot of channels, which do not belong to the authorities.
A.: And is that why there is democracy in Ukraine? Is it democracy when a candidate wins elections by a 3% margin wherein this 3% is gained because 97% of voters came to the polling stations in one region? In the western part of the country only those came who wanted to come, while in the eastern regions all have come. Real democracy is when the authorities hold fair elections. Have you seen any region in Georgia with a 97% voter turnout?
There is a law in Ukraine, according to which if a traffic policeman takes a bribe less than 200 hryvnia, he will have to pay USD 500 fine to the traffic police and then continue his service. Such a thing is hardly imaginable for me. Is it democracy? Nothing similar happens in our country. Even mobile phones are no more stolen in our country, because there is five-year prison term for stealing a mobile phone.
Q.: You want to impose law and democracy with tough methods. It happens other way in Ukraine.
A.: The law is not enforced in Ukraine; that’s way they have problems with rule of law. Democratic Ukraine – it is a cliché. Simply excellent pupils are disliked… Therefore, when Yushchenko lost the elections – everyone said that it was good, it was democracy. And when Saakashvili won in Georgia everybody said that there was no democracy.
Q.: Does the West have such cliché?
A.: Everybody has.
Q.: Maybe the West is partially glad of Yushchenko’s defeat because the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is now settled? And between Georgia and Russia – it is not.
A.: Yanukovych will quarrel with Moscow in six months – as soon as they start talking about distribution of money and positions. When Putin asks him to appoint one of his acquaintances or promote somebody’s interest, the entire friendship will be over. The same happened in our case too.
Q.: You seem to be disappointed in your western partners?
A.: Why so? The clever West likes us. Simply we are making decisions ourselves. We are not listening to anyone. Have you visited our [Interior Ministry’s] special troops base in Karaleti [in Shida Kartli region]? Our special troops stand face-to-face with your [Russian] militaries. We have purchased Cobra armored vehicles for our special troops, though the Europeans were against it, saying ‘why are you provoking the Russians.’ But we did not listen to the Europeans and as a result we have no dead [policemen] in this area since then.
Q.: So there is no need to always listen to Europeans?
A.: I would say, almost never.