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Georgia
President Eduard Shevardnadze
Speech at the Institute of Central Asia and Caucasus of the Johns Hopkins University School of International Studies
October 5, 2001

Senator Hegal,

Distinguished guests,

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 life’s 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 don’t 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 results.

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 Caspian’s 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, including satellites.

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 Georgia’s largest trading partner, the largest neighbour with whom Georgia shares a land border.

Assessing Georgia through one country’s filter alone has unfortunately become a rule. It would be remiss to ignore Turkey's role in Georgia’s success and stability as well as Russia’s. Georgia is not the southern flank of Russia’s 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 this band.

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 Georgia’s 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 Georgia’s 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. Russia’s 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 Georgia’s 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 Georgia’s place in the strategies of other nations, as well as the part others play from Georgia’s perspective.

Energy development is yet a third important dynamic of Georgia’s 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 entrepreneur’s 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 rate.

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.

END