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Georgia: Speaker Says Tbilisi 'Ready For Normal Relations' With Russia

PRAGUE, May 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Nino Burjanadze is one of Georgia's leading political figures. Parliament speaker since 2001, she was one of the three leaders of the 2003 Rose Revolution. She is an outspoken supporter of Western integration, and is widely regarded as a key diplomatic force in Georgia's complex relations with Russia. Burjanadze spoke to correspondent Salome Asatiani at RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague.

RFE/RL: So far, the political situation in Georgia is far more stable than in either of the other two "colored revolution" countries, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine. How do you account for this?

Nino Burjanadze: I'd like to start with a correction. I don't know why these revolutions came to be known as "colored" ones. The Georgian revolution had nothing to do with color -- it was related to a flower, to the rose in particular. It was the "Rose Revolution," not a "pink revolution."

RFE/RL: People were probably just looking for a joint title.

Reforms 'Painful But Necessary'

Burjanadze: Perhaps. But again, it's not correct. As for the reasons why Georgia has turned out to be more stable... You know, I think it's because the team which came to power knew what the country needed, and what had to be done to achieve these aims.

That vision -- what had to be done, and in what order -- was clear, despite the fact that the reforms [following the Rose Revolution] were tough and painful, at times even unpopular. It's not easy to downsize the bureaucratic apparatus and leave thousands of people jobless. But these things have to be done, because otherwise you'll end up in a closed circle in which reforms won't be possible -- and the people who might end up unemployed couldn't be helped in any case.

Apart from this, I think one important factor behind Georgia's success was the fact that the unity of the revolutionary group has remained intact. Despite the differences that we had, despite the visions that at time diverged -- our main vision, on what our main task is, is certainly unified. We have had different positions regarding certain tactical issues, but we succeeded in keeping this unity. This, unfortunately, hasn't been the case in Ukraine, and this has caused serious problems.

RFE/RL: Some skeptics might say that Georgia's stability could be due in part to a weak political system. There is no functioning network of different political parties in Georgia like there is elsewhere in Europe.

Burjanadze: That's the case in Ukraine as well!

RFE/RL: But some might say that there, there are at least two forces in opposition to each other. Isn't that a sign of democracy?

Burjanadze: I can't agree with you on this. Democracy and anarchy are not the same thing. There's no democracy in that kind of conflict [that took place in Ukraine]. We all know very well how people were being moved from one faction to another in Ukraine. This has nothing to do with democracy. Ukrainian politicians themselves were citing incredibly high amounts of money that was offered to individuals in order to get them to change sides.

Nor is the party system any better developed in Ukraine. Let me remind you -- in Georgia, prior to the Rose Revolution, there was the National Movement, which was very strong and had a lot of supporters. But there was also a very strong team in the Burjanadze-Democrats, which also had many supporters.

RFE/RL: That situation has changed, however.

Burjanadze: Yes. These two parties, these two forces, have united -- precisely because, if things had developed differently, I can assure you that we could also be having problems in Georgia. Perhaps not on the scale of Ukraine, but still. Had the National Movement and Burjanadze-Democrats began to act separately, I think this could have had serious consequences for Georgia. Especially back when these processes had just begun.

Hopes For Ukraine

RFE/RL: One last question about Ukraine. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has been a very solid supporter of Ukrainian leader Viktor Yushchenko. But Saakashvili, and in fact the entire spectrum of Georgia's political establishment, has been fairly quiet regarding the latest crisis in Ukraine. Should Georgia be using its own political stability to support and lead other countries that share its pro-democratic goals?

Burjanadze: You know, Georgia has no ambition of being someone's leader, instructing someone on how to act. We have an ambition of being friendly toward our friends and supporting those individuals who fight for causes similar to ours. Ukraine and its president certain have our full support. Although as soon as the conflict developed between the Ukrainian president and Yulia Tymoshenko, I made a point of saying how sorry I was about it all, because I was friends with both of them. I knew this conflict was going to cause bigger political problems in Ukraine -- and this has proved the case.

We hope very much that it will be possible for Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to reunite, and that the democratic process will get stronger. Sometimes our statements may be louder -- at other times, less so. But our Ukrainian friends always have our support.

Russia's 'Harmful' Influence In Caucasus

RFE/RL: Let's talk about the South Caucasus region. Does it have a political future as a regional bloc, or are the political attitudes between the three countries too different?

Burjanadze: It's of course very premature, and practically impossible, to speak about a unified South Caucasus policy. However, cooperation is going very well in a number of different aspects, and Georgia is lucky to have very kind and warm relations with both our Armenian and Azerbaijani neighbors. If we succeed in resolving the conflicts that exist in the South Caucasus, I can assure you that this will be an extremely successful, powerful, and attractive region, in every respect.

However, this is exactly what our northern neighbor does not want to see -- because, in this case, they won't be able to exercise political influence. I don't know why Russia refuses to understand that political influence can be maintained through positive actions – and that such influence is much kinder, better, and stronger.

RFE/RL: So you think it is Russia who precludes cooperation between these countries.

Burjanadze: Naturally, of course. Because if this becomes a united region, Russia's political influence will be minimized.

RFE/RL: In Georgia, you are known as one of the most effective and diplomatic politicians when dealing with Russian officials. That doesn't mean that you attempt to soften your rhetoric. You have often stated, including recently, that Russia is trying to bring Georgia back under its "negative influence," and is attempting to disrupt Georgia's integration with North Atlantic structures. Do you see Putin’s Russia as a direct threat to Georgia? And if so, can we say that Georgia is doing the right things to neutralize this threat? What has Georgia gained from arresting last autumn's spy scandal, for example?

Burjanadze: It's not a matter of gaining or losing. Before this scandal, Georgia actively collaborated several times with Russian authorities. For example, there was a very serious figure representing Russian secret services whom Georgia extradited to Russia in a way that meant neither you or anyone else in the world found out about it.

However, at that time the condition was that Russia would terminate its spy activities on Georgian territory. If we're talking collaboration, it should be a genuine one. And when there are people openly working in Georgia who try to undermine Georgia's national interest... naturally, Georgia detained those spies, and acted just like any other normal state would have acted. Russia's reaction was complete unreasonable. You probably know about a lot of spy scandals, including other ones involving Russia, but Russia has never imposed an economic blockade against Britain, for example. It didn't summon its ambassador and didn't begin to expel British citizens with carrier planes.

Russia's 'Uncivilized' Behavior

RFE/RL: So Russia's reaction was surprising to you?

Burjanadze: Of course it was. Personally, I was very surprised. I never would have thought that it was possible, in the 21st century, to keep children from going to school just because they were Georgian. That country, unfortunately, behaves in an uncivilized manner. And precisely because of these uncivilized ways and unpredictability, they of course represent a threat.

RFE/RL: So how should Georgia deal with this "uncivilized" neighbor?

Burjanadze: Dialogue should continue, regardless -- and we all support this dialogue. On May 31, I will be in St. Petersburg; President Saakashvili is planning to meet President Putin on June 10. We are ready for dialogue and for normal relations. But these normal relations should be based on mutual respect and positions of equality. For Russia to patronize Georgia -- to dictate whether Georgia should be neutral, whether or not it should join NATO, or whether it should talk to [pro-Tbilisi alternative South Ossetian leader Dmitry] Sanakoev or [de factor South Ossetian leader Eduard] Kokoity on its own territory -- no one has the right to decide that for another country. And Georgia isn't in such a feeble condition that it is going to allow any other state to address it with that attitude.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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