Euro-Atlantic integration or non-aligned status, what is the main challenge of Georgia today and whether deoligarchisation is possible - Nino Burjanadze, a chairwoman of the United Georgia - Democratic Movement opposition party, former parliament speaker, has discussed with Front News.
The major challenge for the country now is informal governance. When a country that claims to be a democracy and aspires to join the European Union is being run from the backstage, on the background of the absence of an independent judiciary, law enforcement structures, fair elections, and an effective parliament, this is certainly a very serious problem, which become more obvious in a crisis situation. I believe these are the source of all remaining problems in the country.
Front News: One of the EU conditions for Georgia's membership candidate status refers to deoligarchisation. How is it possible to meet it?
Nino Burjanadze: The adoption of a law has no importance, as the legislation which the current Georgian authorities plan to use for it has been used in Ukraine in a completely different situation, which does not correspond to the Georgian reality. Deoligarchisation should be done by the public and the opposition parties through changing the situation via elections. If the Georgian Dream continues to preserve office, no deoligarchisation is possible. The government representatives are deceiving us [that it is possible without elections], while the opposition is deceiving itself. Amid the presence of a political force in power that is being fed by Bidzina Ivanishvili's [the founder of the GD, former PM] hand and pocket, no real deoligarchisation will take place.
Front News: the EU is calling on Georgian political parties to cooperate to meet its recommendations for candidacy. How productive is the process?
Nino Burjanadze: The process is not productive at all. If the Europeans introduce themselves to the specifics of Georgia and write their recommendations considering this, it will be good. If there was cooperation, coordination and mutual respect and listening to each other's arguments, then we would be Switzerland and not Georgia. Whatever the Europeans have to write, this cooperation [between the Georgian Dream and the opposition] will not happen. So, I think that this process is absolutely unproductive. This cooperation sounds like a slogan, it is correct, it is good, but it does not work in Georgia.
Front News: You often meet with Western partners, are you telling them about this issue?
Nino Burjanadze: I have always tried and am still trying to explain to our Western partners what is the specificity of Georgia. It was a key problem during the  elections that our foreign friends simply could not understand the mechanisms for rigging the vote. An ordinary Austrian, Swiss, or French will never understand that you can sell your vote for 20 GEL or 20 EUR. That is why we have to explain to our Western partners that it was a very big mistake made by them to encourage the domestic opposition to take up their mandates.They should not have invited the opposition [following the rigged votes] to enter the parliament, they should not have accepted that elections, where people are beaten, individuals with criminal mentality come out and control the voting process, where bribes are made with 20 GEL and potatoes, where the intelligence agencies and many others are involved.
Front News: You are quite critical of your opposition colleagues, what should they do now and what are they doing?
Nino Burjanadze: The opposition should be coordinated with each other, we should sit together and look for a solution. Some people perceive sitting together as creating a single electoral bloc. I am not talking about this. It is disrespectful to other parties that three or four opposition groups unite first and then call on others to join them. We should sit together and discuss our positions on how to achieve the appointment of early parliamentary elections or, if it is unlikely, on the steps on how to prevent the developments, which took place during the 2020 polls.
Responding to my calls to sit together, some [opposition groups] responded that they had empowered their parties, which means they will receive three percent in the next race, maximum five percent if Ivanishvili is in a high mood. That is what I say - without a united struggle to change the reality, Ivanishvili will gain constitutional majority in the 11th convocation of the state legislature and this will be deserved due to the feebleness of the opposition.
Front News: Why is it problematic that the unity offered by Vashadze-Japaridze-Khostaria to work?
Nino Burjanadze: I wish them success in what they had initiated, but I did not understand what they started. If this is their union, it is their business, such a union cannot lead to a change of the government. The majority of such unions may lead to overcoming the electoral threshold. I do not know what the purpose of this union is, what is the task. How should everyone unite, should they hear on TV that Vashadze is calling on everyone?
Front News: The part of the domestic opposition is calling for leaving the parliament in protest and taking to the street. What is your position about such calls?
Nino Burjanadze: There is no point in these appeals now. The opposition has lost the public's respect with its incoherence. First they said that they would not enter the state legislature [after the 2020 elections] and later changed their minds, then promised to leave and did not quit their mandates. At the time of the beginning of the work within the Charles Michel group [to resolve a several-month political standoff in the county], the division into non-parliamentary and parliamentary opposition also destroyed the opposition’s image in the public. Now is the right time to restore the reputation.
Front News: what is your party doing for these purposes?
Nino Burjanadze: The current authorities have put us in the most difficult situation over the past 10 years. The party and Ivanishvili have fought against me and my party even more than the United National Movement. The GD had rigged our votes twice and had done everything to prevent me from being in the parliament. We are trying to continue our actions and work, but I look at the situation very realistically and I understand very well that practically, it will be impossible for us to overcome the five percent threshold [in the next elections] separately in this situation. For me, actually, the threshold does not matter, even in the presence of the four percent threshold, the GD would write down the figures they wish. I can also tell other parties that almost no party except the UNM will be able to overcome the five percent threshold. Even if they overcome it, the election administration and Ivanishvili will write the results they want. Of course we should all work and activate our parties, but without unity and coordination, nothing will come out.
Front News: There is an opinion that the Popular Force, composed of former MPs of the ruling party, will overtake other pro-Russian parties, and now a bet will be placed on it.
Nino Burjanadze: Yes, it may be so. This is Bidzina Ivanishvili's attempt to create a satellite party. Introducing Alt Info into the parliament would be too much, so the [new] party is expected to work on pro-Russian sentiments, but we all know that it is a game and an insult to society.
Front News: You were collecting signatures in 2016 with the request to write non-aligned status in the constitution. You were going to constitutionally prohibit the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia. Now what do you think about this topic now?
Nino Burjanadze: What was relevant and, in my opinion, correct in 2016, naturally looks completely different today. Today, the whole world has changed, everything has changed, and naturally, completely new approaches are needed. Then I thought that this was a chance for Georgia. Everyone talks about the non-aligned status, including some of my staunch opponents, and they never say what it means. The non-aligned status meant not only that Georgia should not join another bloc, but also the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Abkhazia and Samachablo. Today is a completely different reality.
I do not think it is right to talk about non-aligned status today, because a completely new European architecture is being created. The worst thing is that at such a time we have such a government that we have, which can cause us very serious problems. Naturally, it is very important how the crisis in Ukraine and this tragedy will end, how Europe and the world will be sorted out, and therefore, the position of me and all those people whose hearts are hurt by our country should be adjusted.