On June 30, 2005, The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a meeting on the current situation in Georgia. The speaker was the Honorable Nino Burjanadze, acting Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia. Kenneth Wollack, President of the National Democratic Institute, gave introductory remarks. Rose Gottemoeller, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment, moderated the session.

Nino Burjanadze began her presentation by stating that a country that eighteen months ago was known as a failed state is now a performing one, and even a model of democratic success in the region. The visit of President Bush to Georgia has reinforced the bond of Georgia-U.S. relations, as well as generated an atmosphere of support and friendship. Georgia is proud to have such a supportive friend who believes in Georgia’s struggle to advance freedom.

Since the Rose Revolution in November 2003, Georgia has achieved many successes. The key in these successes was a decision to act swiftly and decisively with reforms that would change the nature of the state itself, as well as to explain these reforms in detail to the public, so that they too would become integrated actors in the process. Some of these domestic reforms were a complete transformation of the Georgian police and security forces, as well as a number of anti-corruption reforms.

Other anti-corruption efforts addressed the structure of the government from the inside. In some cases, the government has been downsized by fifty percent, in order to protect the integrity and salaries of the government officials. To prevent financial corruption, salaries have been increased up to ten times for state representatives. This effective anti-corruption agenda has quadrupled the state budget, and has allowed pensions and wages of Georgian citizens to be paid on time. Since the revolution, not a single wage has been paid late and pensions have been doubled. This is the result of an effective anti-corruption agenda.

Political reforms have also been underway in Georgia. The new government of Georgia has supported freedom of the press, civil society, tolerance of minority rights, and a multi-party political system. The parliament has expressed its commitment to a system of checks and balances. The upcoming series of meetings between the parliament representatives and a number of foreign high dignitaries is a testament to this commitment. At these meetings, ideas will be exchanged and strategies developed for further democratic consolidation in Georgia.

Georgia has also been recently declared eligible for assistance under the New Millennium Change Account. Under this program, the new administration of Georgia has spent time developing its proposal to reduce poverty through economic growth. By participating in the Millennium Challenge Corporation Program Georgia is finalizing a series of programs that will improve the lives of its citizens.  A core part of this program is the full integration of the remote Javakheti Region, populated by ethnic Armenians, through road construction and local development projects. This project testifies to Georgia’s commitment to the inclusion of ethnic minorities. 

In the realm of security and defense reform, very important progress has also been made. Defense spending has been increased, the officer corps has been reformed, and the planning and personal system has been modernized. Georgia is committed to join the NATO alliance by 2006, a development that is a natural progression after the past ten years of cooperation on the Partnership for Peace programs. NATO membership for Georgia is a cornerstone in its devotion to the idea of Euro-Atlantic integration. 

In the realm of security, further progress has been made. Georgia is no longer just a consumer, but is also a provider of security in regions such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo. Georgia has recently tripled the number of soldiers deployed in Iraq in the Coalition Forces, and thus, has achieved one of the highest participations per capita. Despite recent debates in Washington about U.S. deployment in Iraq, no such debates have occurred in Georgia, due to the convictions of Georgians that stability in that region is essential.

The past eighteen months have also brought about some challenges, one of which is the end of the OSCE’s border monitoring operations, which was cut short due to Russia’s expressed concern of terrorist activity. The Russian veto, however, does little to explain the logic between international and transparent monitoring and terrorist activity. Georgia continues to support the involvement of the international community in monitoring its borders.

The lack of progress in the conflict zones of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is another major concern. The current government of Georgia is committed to peaceful and lasting resolution of these conflicts and rejects the use of force. The international community can become instrumental in this process, similar to the way it encouraged Russia to withdraw its bases from Georgia. It is the international community and the United States that can be successful in encouraging Russia to comply with international standards and respect territorial integrity to promote a peaceful outcome of this conflict. Georgia is ready for negotiations and wants to promote its peace plan.  Although some members of the international community are ignoring this peace plan, it is important to change this dynamic and do more for the sake of peace.

Georgia is proud of what it has achieved so far, but more must be done to consolidate and institutionalize its own democracy. Georgia still needs greater judicial reform, greater self-government reform, stronger investment climate, protection of human rights, and the availability of economic opportunity for all who seek it. With Georgia’s leadership and the help of the international community these goals are a prospect for the future.

During the question and answer session, Nino Burjanadze was asked about the future changes in the Georgia-Russia relations as an outcome of the recent agreement on withdrawal of Russian troops. Nino Burjanadze replied that it is a very positive point in the relationship, but there needs to be monitoring present to ensure implementation. She also stated that the Georgian government hopes that Russia can play an objective and fair role in the conflict resolution, while respecting the territorial integrity of Georgia.  To a question regarding the recent opening of the CTB pipeline, Nino Burjanadze stated that it is a very positive development, one that will secure greater independence for Georgia from Russia in the energy sector.

When asked about integrating the South African model of a peace plan for the South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Nino Burjanadze replied that the Georgian government supports any form of international involvement. She also stated that Georgia is ready to cooperate and is willing to provide the highest level of autonomy to these conflict zones, including linguistic autonomy, self-governance, and protection of civil rights. Nino Burjanadze also stressed that a peaceful resolution must be found to the Chechnya conflict, one that would respect and protect human rights of Chechnya’s citizens.

Summary prepared by Alina Tourkova, Junior Fellow with the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.