The recent Tbilisi international conference dedicated to Ukraine, declaring its participants as “enemies” by the Georgian Dream Government, the implementation process of the 12-point conditions of the European Union for Georgia’s membership candidate status, and two most controversial conditions on de-polarisation and de-oligarchisation were the key topics discussed by the head of a domestic electoral watchdog, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Nino Dolidze, in an exclusive interview with Front News.
This conference, which was held in Georgia for the sixth time, was very important and related to such a topic as the ongoing war in Ukraine. Georgia should not be polarised over the topic as the Russian aggression and occupation is also a painful issue for our country. Ukraine is our friendly nation, and we ourselves have experienced Russian aggression. That is why, I believe, it was important and even necessary for Government representatives to participate in the event, regardless of whether they like the conference participants or not.
The second topic discussed at the conference was issues related to democracy, including the current situation in Georgia. Since there were no Government officials there, the attendees had received the information from one side. The opposition spoke mainly about the current situation in Georgia, while it was an opportunity for the authorities to speak from their point of view. This decision of the Government to be absent at the international conference, harmed its interests first of all. It was a missed opportunity for them to speak in front of media representatives, international organizations, and diplomats. This once again showed that the Government might not want to listen to the critical opinions expressed by our Western allies. These views are related to democratic issues and Georgia's European integration prospects. The Government, instead of considering the comments, calls everyone enemies who express a different viewpoint.
- What are the conditions the most difficult to meet in the 12-point EU recommendations for Georgia’s candidacy?
It was also said at the conference that polarisation is in the first place. The fact is that it has not been possible so far by the domestic political actors to reach consensus. The EU's main recommendation was to depolarise the political environment and work together on a number of issues. This, actually, is hard to achieve, as we see that both the Government and opposition representatives are working separately. Also, we can not see the actual steps being taken [to meet the EU conditions]. There are various working groups, the process is in progress, but we do not see that the country is taking joint steps and doing its utmost to get the EU candidacy status. Attention is diverted to irrelevant topics, it does not really help to reduce polarisation, nor to fulfill the recommendation with the involvement of the civil sector. The main thing for them [for the Government] is not the result of this work, but who is there [in the working groups] and whether they like them or dislike. In this situation it is hard to achieve desirable results.
I emphasize that all political parties are obliged to somehow find a consensus. This is what the European Union tells us to have unity, which has not been achieved and this is the most serious problem. Once this is achieved, the remaining 11 conditions are more likely to be implemented.
- The part of the opposition says that it is hard to speak with the “pro-Russian” Government. How do you think, orientations can be the cause for polarisation?
I can not say for sure what orientation the ruling party has, although questions really arose after we submitted an application to the European Union for membership.Instead of seeing the leaders of the ruling party in the capitals of the European Union, they did nothing at all in this direction. In fact, when Ukraine and Moldova received the status of a candidate country and we were unable to do so, our reaction was that it was the result of the inaction of the Georgian Government.
Herewith, regarding the issue of Ukraine, we have repeatedly held the position that despite the solidarity of the Georgian people towards Ukraine, the Government and the ruling party have not taken sufficient steps in this direction. The leaders of the EU countries stood up to the President of Ukraine, who had addressed various foreign state legislatures, but this did not happen in the Georgian Parliament. All the issues, of course, have raised questions about the commitment of the ruling party to the country's pro-Western course. Obviously, when you want something, you take all the appropriate steps to get it, which we have not seen. Therefore, questions arise, including regarding Bidzina Ivanishvili, who was included in the resolution of the European Parliament, as an obstacle to the country’s European integration process.
I would like to point out that the main thing is the aspiration of the Georgian people, which they once again confirmed by participating in large-scale rallies dedicated to Georgia’s European future.
- The activities of the Home to Europe public movement, raising demands to the authorities for Georgia’s European integration, have slowed down since June. What are your expectations in this regard?
As you know, there were two processes. The first process was an information campaign - "Take a step towards Europe", aimed at raising awareness about the European Union. ISFED was actively involved in it. We have held a different regional meeting as part of the campaign. Then there was "Home to Europe", a campaign organised by a public movement Shame (Sirtskhvilia), which were connected with each other. We stood there at the rallies for our European future, but what the "Home to Europe '' campaign will do in the future, you have to ask its organisers.
As for us, we intend to work with the public on the importance of the EU and fight against the anti-Western, disinformation narrative.
- the Home to Europe rally organisers were demanding the resignation of the current Government and the formation of a new "consensus-based Cabinet" instead. For this, the Government representatives have accused the ISFED of being biased and excluded it from the working group on electoral issues. What do you say about this?
The demand that was made there was agreed with organisers. We, civil organisations, were obviously standing at the rallies for Georgia’s European future. As for this demand [on resignation], there were talks about the fact that the Government, which had failed to get the status of a candidate country, should have taken responsibility. As for our non-admission in the working group with the reason that we “wished to take part in the formation of the new Government” is wrong. We are not interested in that. As for someone taking responsibility when they fail to do something, of course we always act on that.
This attitude towards our organisation was discriminatory and selective, because there were all civil organizations there. The authorities did not have the same problem with others.
- The issue of de-oligarchisation is being actively discussed, as well as the topic of sanctions. The anti-corruption agency of Ukraine has presented a list of “candidates for sanctions'', which includes the founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Bidzina Ivanshvili. What is your opinion about these topics?
When we talk about de-oligarchisation, it is clear that we are talking about the fact that the country should not be ruled by someone informally. When questions were raised about who it concerns, the resolution of the European Parliament had answered it unequivocally. Bidzina Ivanishvili was written directly by name and surname. It is about preventing Ivanishvili's influence on the ruling party and, accordingly, on the state institutions. As for sanctions, this topic has been raised several times. If it is proven that someone in Georgia is aiding Russia's war against Ukraine, it is clear that they should be punished. The West will decide on this. Kelly Degnan, the US ambassador to Georgia, said that it is important that the issue is not discussed in advance.
- From time to time the ruling party is making certain concessions like the rules of electing the country’s Public Defender, while other, no less important issues remain undiscussed. What is your assessment of this process?
when the Government is taking positive steps, we have no problem to praise. We are happy with such things. A high quorum for the election of the Prosecutor General would be a great step forward. With regard to the Public Defender, we think it would be good for a large civic group to nominate candidates and then let the politicians discuss them. The most important thing for us is to select a professional, independent and impartial person. The EU 12-point considerations stated that the process should be transparent and inclusive. The process offered by civil society organizations is just that. Georgia has such diverse civil groups that there will be no agreement in anyone's favor. The main thing is to nominate an independent candidate who defends human rights, and then, of course, it will be up to the politicians. We will monitor and evaluate the process. The election of the Public Defender needs quite a high level of support, which one party does not have.
- What about judiciary and electoral reforms, which are also among the EU conditions?
The court is probably, actually, the No.1 problem. If the court was free and independent, then other problems would be solved. The judiciary is a major problem, even for good elections. So far, we do not see any forward steps in the direction of justice reform. As for the issue of reforming the electoral system, as you know, we do not participate in it, and I cannot tell you what decisions are being made in this direction. However, the fact that the process is not inclusive is a problem. It is not only about not allowing ISFED, in general, the limitation of working groups was the same problem.
And finally, whatever decision is made, if there is no consensus between the ruling party and the opposition, it will obviously have a negative impact on the outcome. The European Union expects a consensus from us regarding various issues.