President Eduard Shevardnadze
Speech at the Institute of Central Asia and Caucasus of the Johns Hopkins University
School of International Studies
October 5, 2001
Let me say thank you to the Institute of Central Asia and Caucasus of the Johns
Hopkins University School of International Studies for giving me this wonderful
opportunity to address the students and faculty of this esteemed institution.
In the course of my career, I have been a guest at many American universities.
Despite my desire to do so, I have not thus far been able to visit Johns Hopkins
University. So I am very happy to be with you today. I also want to thank the
American-Georgian Business Council for co-hosting this gathering. I welcome
its members, and I am happy to see so many familiar faces here today. I always
look forward to meeting with the Council when I visit the United States. Let
me assure you that every time such meetings occur, they contribute to the deepening
of our relations.
Many Georgians have studied and grown professionally within the walls of Johns
Hopkins University, and the Business Council has been indispensable to the development
of business relations between Georgia and America. Therefore, I think it is
safe to say that Georgia is not a terra incognita to this audience. And since
we have such a distinguished gathering here today, I will happily take this
opportunity to personally share my thoughts with you on Georgia's present situation,
its achievements, the challenges we face, and our future prospects.
Before I continue, though, on behalf of the Georgian people I want to again
express our profound sorrow over the tragic events of September 11. Several
days after these barbaric acts I made an appeal to the Secretary-General of
the United Nations and the leaders of the UN Member States. In this appeal,
I called for an international summit on terrorism, and a full-scale response
to the war that terrorists wage against civilisation. Yesterday, I visited New
York to pay tribute to those who fell victim to the assault, and those heroes
who died trying to rescue them.
We regarded this attack tantamount to an attack against our own country. After
regaining our independence, Georgia firmly chose to adhere to the values that
were confirmed so long ago on this soil by your founding fathers, and so many
others. This was an assault against humanism and democracy, against the loftiest
ideals of the humanity, against the sacred right of our children to enjoy the
liberty to choose. Once again, I confirm Georgia's support for the global anti-terrorist
coalition proposed by President Bush. Georgia is prepared to make a full contribution
to this endeavour. I say this not just because I have personally survived several
terrorists attacks, and not just because extreme nationalism, extreme separatism,
xenophobia, and a number of other ominous diseases that feed terrorism seriously
threaten the Georgian State. Without any of these, Georgia would still fight
side by side with America and her allies for our cause, it is just.
And because Georgia sees her future as standing shoulder to shoulder with these
nations, and aspires to deserve the right to stand among them. Lastly - and
if for no other reason - as an expression of our immense gratitude. We want
to be at your side in these trying times. In doing so, we hope to repay at least
a small measure of our debt to the United States.
These horrendous crimes once again demonstrate that democracy itself does not
guarantee security. That those who claim to be defenders of democratic principles
must clearly demonstrate their unwavering conviction that there is no alternative
to the road leading to democracy and freedom. My lifes goal is to see
that Georgia never departs from it.
Like almost all of the countries in the post-totalitarian space, Georgia is
having its share of difficulties. Among them are the violation of territorial
integrity; poverty; unemployment; hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced
people, and the conflict raging at our borders, posing a permanent threat. Georgia's
location on the map renders it especially sensitive to the subtleties involved
in relations between civilisations and confessions. Against the backdrop of
the tragedy that took place in the US, this acquires even more relevance. For
centuries, different traditional confessions have peacefully coexisted in Georgia.
The people have naturally worked out for themselves the norms for their coexistence.
Yet life does not stand still, and non-traditional religious groups have emerged.
For example the Wahabi beliefs are on the upsurge in the North Caucasus, and
are not altogether alien to Georgia either. There are other denominations and
sects as well that are active in Georgia. There are also some aggressive people,
ostracised several years ago from the Georgian Orthodox Church, who have gathered
followers. The process of forming new relationships is a painful one, and I
believe the State must play a special role in averting confrontation. I assure
you that we will be attentive to these concerns.
Recently, fighting corruption has become our most urgent task. The country's
survival hinges on defeating corruption, which undermines the very foundations
of our society. It imperils our prospects for democracy in Georgia. Corruption
deals its harshest blows on our budget. Revenue collections are intolerably
low. As a result, police, power ministries and other law enforcement bodies
are under-financed. If not for our foreign friends and, particularly America
and her allies within NATO, the World Bank, EBRD and the EU, these vital areas
would have inevitably collapsed long ago. There is at least one group of the
population who I cannot bear to look in the eye - our senior citizens. Despite
the generous assistance of the international humanitarian organisations and
foreign governments, they completely depend on the state. I will be able to
say that the fight against corruption, and more generally fight for the country's
well-being, has produced tangible results only when it begins to reflect on
the well being of the elderly.
We are lucky that we dont have to spend our own much needed budgetary
resources on fighting corruption. With the help of our friends, the Anti-Corruption
Council has been established, whose work I co-ordinate. Their first report was
made several days ago in a public forum. Its effect was chilling. It was necessary
for the government, Parliament, and the people to fully understand the deplorable
situation we are in, and the barriers we must overcome.
The work of the Anti-Corruption Council has already created a backbone on which
further actions must be based. On the 15th of March of this year, I decreed
a list of specific anti-corruption measures, thus launching the implementation
of the National Anti-Corruption Program. Under the Program, civil monitoring
of the work of the Customs department is already underway; a modern system is
being created for declaring individual income and revenue collection; needed
changes are being made in the criminal code; a long-term program of anti-corruption
education is being developed; steps to insure transparency in government agencies
are being taken. Significant progress has been made in the following important
areas: compiling accurate data base of addresses, value/price/assets and identities
of those who have been issued construction permits on the Georgian territory
starting from January 1, 1997; publication of detailed information on expenditures
of public legal entities in the year 2000; streamlining the mechanism for checking
the accuracy of information contained in the property declarations of public
officials; strengthening accountability; promoting the formation of citizen
groups conducting civil monitoring of the implementation of anti-corruption
measures, and others. Today, it is already safe to say that a massive campaign
against corruption has begun in Georgia. Among other laws, the Law on Confiscation
of Unexcised Goods should be mentioned. These goods include tobacco. Tens of
thousands of cases of such goods lacking the necessary excise stamps have been
destroyed. Counterfeit alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages have been confiscated.
Work on the draft law on Confiscation of Illegally Acquired Property - which
includes houses - is being completed. In short, everything is in place for Georgia
to become a model corruption fighting country.
The most difficult battle, however, will be in overcoming the psychological
barrier that took root during the years of past governance. We must understand
this very carefully. When I say this, I do not only mean the Soviet period.
Generations were ruled by a state which they knew was based on injustice, and
had annexed their homeland, abusing and insulting all that was distinctively
Georgian. It gobbled up the new-born democratic Republic in 1921. It slaughtered
the intellectual elite and declared free initiative and the desire to improve
ones own life to be unlawful, effectively killing off any remaining sense of
statehood the Georgians might have fostered. Generations were raised on the
conviction that the state is not a partner - it is an enemy; that to deceive
it is not a crime, but rather a badge of honour. This is something which Western
societies have scarcely ever known. We simply cannot beat corruption without
removing the barrier which requires a new breed of people, although I would
add that experience has demonstrated that the so-called new breed of people
are hardly immune to excessive materialism. Yet radical reshuffling of personnel
is inevitable. Not that I am saying that we will just sit on our hands and let
corruption devour the country until the reigns are fully relinquished to the
young. I only ask you to consider the singular problems we face and what a difficult
fight is ahead of us.
I am full of hope, though. I was hopeful several years ago when civil war and
lawlessness seemed to be the rule and well-organised bandits were on the rampage.
We won that battle and we will win this battle, too. We will win because the
push to change far exceeds the pull to yield to the status quo.
In the final analysis, the key indicator of the strength of a nation is not
the presence or absence of corruption. Some countries that enjoy a longer history
of statehood, or started under far better conditions do face similar situations,
perhaps even worse ones. The strength of the Georgian State and our society
lies in the very fact that we have not succumbed to this malaise. Neither do
we accept it. We fight it openly.
We ourselves have set very high standards - standards commensurate with developed
countries. Standards that are difficult to achieve in a short period. We strive
to attain these standards through the democratic process which is often noisy,
vocal, controversial - sometimes spiteful and often unpredictable. And in this
respect, Georgia is pretty much normal. As in any new democracy, people that
were long deprived of the freedom to express their ideas have accumulated a
lot to say. If you know Georgia and Georgians at all, you will understand exactly
what I mean. Perhaps our citizens have more to say than others do. In this regard,
democracy provides the perfect instrument for us to give in to our boisterous
Natures. With the help of a dynamic free press, people share ideas. The press
brings the voice of the rest of the world to Georgia. I place a high premium
on this. The Georgian media offers the public different visions and different
political positions - though often distorted and biased. It shows different
versions of Georgian reality and exposes us to a wide spectrum of issues and
personalities. There are times when the media lob some stinging criticisms at
me, and I can barely keep myself from reciprocating. But it's all right, I tell
myself, this is just a sign that all is well, and that we have indeed come a
long way and there is more transparency and liberty.
The Western media have been favouring us with their attentions recently. This
perhaps echoes the thoughts and vision of those who care for the unity of the
Euro-Atlantic space, its future, security, and its place in the world order.
Even as recently as ten years ago, it was still necessary to try and prove with
serious argument and convincing tone that without the South Caucasus and specifically
Georgia, the future Euro-Atlantic security structure would not be complete.
We strove for many years for this. Today these ideas have materialized, thanks
to the tireless and consistent efforts of the US and EU have, finally yielded
Today, Georgia is a hub of the new dynamic processes that will shortly change
the very face of Eurasia. There are several factors that determine this. Let
me highlight them briefly.
First, the north-south linkages that once defined the Caucasus and Central Asia
as separate regional entities are rapidly giving way to east-west linkages,
uniting countries that share a wide range of economic interests into a wide
belt stretching from the Chinese border to the Black Sea. This belt is known
as the New Silk Road.
Thanks to Senator Brownbeck and his Silk Road Strategy Support Act, this concept
is no longer alien to you. Trade will drive the New Silk Road. These new interests
will be embodied in the east-west Eurasian Transport Corridor that will eventually
link Central Asia to Europe via the Caucasus. The TRASECA program, spearheaded
by the European Commission, is to establish an alternative transport outlet
to Europe and it is clear in its objectives. It seeks to support the political
and economic independence of the newly independent states and to enhance their
access to European and world markets and to enhance regional co-operation among
the participating states. The New Silk Road will contain energy pipelines that
carry the Caspians wealth to world markets. It will rehabilitate and expand
highways, railroads, airports and ports from Tashkent to Poti and Batumi. And
it will link the states along the New Silk Road with each other and the outer
world via the most modern and sophisticated communications and information technologies,
Secondly, relations with the Euro-Atlantic space increasingly determine the
future of the South Caucasus, or to be more precise, Southeast Europe, and Georgia
in particular. In this respect, our relationship with Turkey has a special significance.
It was not by accident that I used the term south-east Europe. The development
of this region, especially development of the energy-security system, makes
Europe truly a unified continent. It is a fact that the development of south-eastern
Europe is considerably behind the rest of the continent. This poses a serious
threat. There are resources in the Balkans, in the Ukraine, and the South Caucasus
that can help Southeast Europe to eventually catch up with the rest of the Continent.
Turkey is now Georgias largest trading partner, the largest neighbour
with whom Georgia shares a land border.
Assessing Georgia through one countrys filter alone has unfortunately
become a rule. It would be remiss to ignore Turkey's role in Georgias
success and stability as well as Russias. Georgia is not the southern
flank of Russias strategic space, but rather the northern flank of a horizontal
band of Turkish and NATO strategic interests, running from Turkey and Israel
to Central Asia. Geography, history and culture locate Georgia comfortably within
My personal objective is for the three South Caucasian states - Georgia, Armenia,
and Azerbaijan - become a tightly integrated and mutually interdependent economic
unit, the vital hub of the New Silk Road. Unfortunately this vision is impeded
by contentious relations between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. To debate old
history here would be futile. So I will say simply that the rewards of coming
to terms with ones neighbours are huge, and the consequences for Georgias
security and prosperity of this happening cannot be overstated. Therefore, it
is my sincere hope that one of the key objectives of the Bush administration
in this part of the world, in co-operation with others, will be to find a settlement
to the Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhaz, and other conflicts. We stand ready to help
from Georgias unique position. Alone among the three states, Georgia has
strong relations with all of them, and thus possesses the freedom to manoeuvre
and the means to assist in this effort. In summing it up, I would say the following:
remove the conceptual blinders that have reduced US policy toward Georgia to
merely an extension of US policy toward Russia. Russias position on the
Georgian reality must be taken into account. It is a fact that I have reiterated
more than once. We can no longer continue to pigeonhole Georgias interests
within the old conceptual paradigms of other states As long as we remain locked
in old conceptual paradigms, it will be hard to see Georgias place in
the strategies of other nations, as well as the part others play from Georgias
Energy development is yet a third important dynamic of Georgias new story.
While we have little energy of our own, Georgia will be one of the main transit
routes for Caspian energy from land-locked Central Asia to world markets. New
discoveries in the northern Caspian, specifically Kazakhstan, suggest that we
are talking about considerably more energy being transported than was imagined
only a few years ago. Georgia is an integral link in this energy network. This
energy, perhaps 4-5 percent of world total reserves, will be critical in the
future especially if supplies established sources are interrupted. The West's
interests lie in helping to create stable environments for the exploration,
extraction, transport and marketing of energy. It is impossible to think strategically
about the Caucasus without acknowledging that its stability is central to safeguarding
both the supply and transport of energy from the Caspian and Central Asia to
world markets. And more so, since the three most important hydrocarbon routes
go through the South Caucasus. These are the Baku-Supsa route, the Tbilisi-Ceyhan
Route, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erserum natural gas pipeline. In realising these
projects, the decisions on the choice of those routes can be largely attributed
to the Azeri President, Heidar Aliyev.
You will agree with me that an independent country presupposes the ability to
choose the road of its development, its allies and partners. Thus, we can take
independent decisions guided by our own interests and those of our friends.
Of course, we are fully aware that we ought to exercise our independence in
such away that it does not infringe on others or conflict with their vital interests.
I regret to say that some states regard as their failure what we and other countries
of the region regard as their victory. That is the case with regard to TRACECA,
INOGATE, the New Silk Road, and it's constituent parts - the Caspian energy
transportation projects, the fight against aggressive separatism and maters
pertaining to territorial integrity.
Think of how inconsiderate among other things is Russia's desire to conduct
military operations against Chechnya from the territory of Georgia. Allowing
Russia to do so would inevitably drag Georgia into a large-scale Caucasus war.
This issue is central to Georgia's security. At the same time infinitely protracted
hostilities at Georgia's border are our constant headache. First, it prevents
thousands of Chechen refugees sheltered in Georgia from returning home. Secondly,
it prompted Russians to impose a discriminatory visa regime on Georgia whereby
the separatist regions are exempted. Thirdly, it feeds Russia's absurd propaganda
campaign blaming Georgia for supporting separatists thus justifying an ever
increasing pressure on Georgia. If Russia is to be believed this segment of
the border is securely sealed from its side. From our side the OSCE conducts
a monitoring operation together with the Georgian Border Guards. Despite this,
under the pretext of fighting separatists, Russia has several times bombed adjacent
Georgian territory. We are co-operating with Russian law enforcement authorities
in the area of extraditing the criminals, although this co-operation still resembles
a one way street. Yet, by conducting a military operation Russia would drag
Georgia into a greater Caucasus war.
And let me mention one thing about double standards. In the Russian way of thinking
separatists in Chechnya are terrorists and military actions against them until
their full extermination must be supported by the entire world. But in Abkhazia,
where their illegal formations committed against a crime against humanity and
conducted ethnic cleansing - a fact, which has been recognised thrice by the
OSCE - Georgia is obliged to conduct negotiations under UN Aegis. Moreover,
we are expected to dance to the tune of the separatists. How else can we explain
that for a year now Russia has blocked that document developed by the United
Nations regarding Abkhaz status, which recognises Georgia's territorial integrity?
After the attack against the United States, however, Russia was among the first
to declare that together with the rest of the civilised world they would firmly
support an all out war against terrorism. This desire of unity is very encouraging.
We hope that it will persist and will led to a closer rapprochement with the
West. Georgia welcomes this step. As for us, Russia's integration with the West
is a prerequisite for a more predictable, stable, and peaceful world. Russia's
isolation from the global processes is virtually unthinkable, unless Russia
is willing to isolate itself. I believe in the strong intellectual potential
of Russia. This is the guarantee that Russia will itself stand side-by-side
with progressive nations. I believe that the American-Russian relations will
play a key role in this, and I strongly feel that if these relations are based
on humanistic values, the problem will be resolved. Any other approach will
be counter productive. .
Now, let me say a couple words about my vision of American-Georgian business
relations. I have said on many occasions that attracting foreign investment
is our country's priority. This is critical to Georgia's economic growth and
development. Only this way will advance technologies and know-how come to Georgia.
Only then will new jobs will be created which will strengthen the financial
well being of our citizens, and provide our children with a better quality education
and healthcare. State of the art technologies, and the internet is already part
of our life. Before long the use of the Internet will become a common practice
all across Georgia. Internet and the new technologies represent a qualitatively
new way of living. Digital revolution is pushing Georgia along the road of globalism.
Co-operating with American companies, on top of direct investment is an enormous
education for us. As never before, Georgia is committed to the free conduct
of business. It was freedom that brought America to its present heights. I closely
follow your economy and it is indeed an environment of which every entrepreneurs
dreams are made. And I must confess, of which any president's dreams are made
as well. I am closely following the development of an entirely novel business
philosophy. The main traits of this are focusing on the small things not the
gigantic, on the dynamic things not the static, on things natural not mechanical,
on knowledge and not machines. On preserving tradition and on its development,
not severing it breaking them down. On partnership not hierarchy.
These principles perfectly suit Georgia today. So does the new ethical principle
in business that implies maximum considerations of the local environment. -
a principle which will be in the long term interest of American business in
Georgia, and foster an atmosphere of good will toward each project, each new
initiative. Focusing only on profit cannot bring real success in the future,
we believe it is necessary to consider local specificity, training and educating
local people, establishing a modern management culture which is fact is already
being done in Georgia by American business with their government's support.
This will pave the way to success, and ultimately greater profit for both sides.
I have concentrated mostly on our problems, and for this reason I did not have
any time to say anything about the positive developments. Our macro-economic
indicators are fairly good. The GDP growth rate this year is 5.2%, and inflation
fluctuates between 4-5%. The exchange rate of the Georgian Lari is strong against
world currencies. We hope that next year we can achieve a higher GDP growth
Ladies and gentlemen, I have spoken for too long perhaps. I will no longer tax
your attention. Simply, let me say that we feel your support at every turn.
Without it, the Georgian State would not have survived to this day. On the other
hand, we know that that the most developed countries and most loyal friends
can help only those who are themselves ready to make the necessary sacrifices
for freedom and democracy. In the ten years of independence, Georgia has proven
its commitment. Neither temporary loss of territory, or terrorist acts, or hundreds
of thousands of internally displaced, or winters spent in cold and darkness,
or extreme hardship of the greater part of our population. None of these have
compelled Georgia to change its course. And I assure you that nothing will ever
deter us from it.