Giorgi Gakharia: “This law Serves Russian Interests”

Giorgi Gakharia, a former Prime Minister of Georgia, explains in this interview why he founded his own political party, For Georgia, and what the stakes are regarding the foreign agents law that has caused a real uproar within Georgian society. He says this law could notably impact the presence of local and foreign observers in Georgia during the upcoming parliamentary elections (Georgia is a parliamentary republic), scheduled for October 26, 2024, and thus facilitate fraud. Indeed, the European future of Georgia is at stake.

Interview by Galia Ackerman.

Mr. Gakharia, you created your party, For Georgia, three years ago. What are your main goals? How successful are you in gaining influence in Georgia? 

We established our political party in May 2021, soon after I resigned from the Prime Minister’s office in February. Till now we’ve participated in municipal elections in 2021 and became the second largest opposition political party in terms of number of supporters.

The main political difference between our party and other political organizations is that we are distant from both the ruling party, Georgian Dream (GD), and the former ruling party, now the opposition, United National Movement (UNM). And the reason is very simple: we believe that both these parties do not represent the future and progress. Therefore, the number of citizens who do not wish to see any of them in the future government is growing fast.

All the other smaller political parties somehow affiliate with either GD or UNM and I believe it is their loss. 

What prompted your departure from the GD for the opposition? 

My relationship with Bidzina Ivanishvili became complicated shortly before I resigned, but I had his word that he was leaving politics. He said the very same thing to the public at the beginning of January 2021. 

However, soon after his official resignation as party chairman, I realized that he tried to intervene in the decision-making process of the government behind my back.

I realized that for him democratic principles had no value and that he would even risk pushing for the pro-Russian orientation of Georgia just to stay in power from the shadows. This was a pivotal moment for me.

As for why I decided to set up an opposition political party, it’s quite simple: I was the most effective tool in Ivanishvili’s hand to concentrate such enormous power. I realize that. So this is my duty to pay back my people. 

You are also opposed to UNM, founded by former President Saakashvili. What are the main roots of your disagreement with the party?

From the second half of Saakashvili’s ruling his regime became very brutal. Infringement of human rights became so systemic that it is simply unspeakable. Society has not recovered from this brutal past to this day. Even after 12 years, it still has a huge influence on a large part of our society.

UNM and GD, simultaneously, are trying their best to somehow eliminate any chances for any other political force. GD is trying to stay in power. And UNM is simply waiting for GD’s legitimacy to fade away in order to come back to power this way.

In fact, most people are sick and tired of both. They need something new, something positive. 

Guiorgui Gakharia // His Facebook page

How do all three main political forces, GD, UNM, and For Georgia position themselves in relation to the controversial law about “foreign agents”? Will Russian agents of influence be concerned by this law if it is adopted after the presidential veto? 

Georgian Dream is trying to sell to the public that their goal is to ensure transparency. But it has not worked well. During the first introduction of this law in March last year, the law was dubbed Russian, but since the second re-initiation, people have started to label Georgian Dream as a Russian political force. 

To show the public that GD’s goal is not transparency, we have submitted two bills to parliament: the first was aimed at protecting Georgia from Russian influence and the second – to increase transparency by amending the law on grants: to set obligations for NGOs to publish even more information than they do now. Of course, the ruling party refused to support our bills. Because obviously their goal is to label everyone as a foreign force agent. 

Our team uses every platform to protest against this law whether it is in parliament or on the streets. As for Russian agents, they are not financed openly in Georgia. Their finances are not declared. The foreign agents law concerns those NGOs who declare their income.

Who pushed for the adoption of this law? Can Russian influence be clearly detected?

It is not that important who pushed for the law. Whether it was only Ivanisvhili or he was encouraged to do so by our Northern neighbor. What matters is the outcome, and the outcome of this law serves Russia’s interests. Quite understandably, this law was praised and supported by high officials in Russia.

Is there a link between the introduction of this law and the October elections? 

This law is directly linked with the upcoming elections. It aims to discredit and eliminate the presence of foreign observers. It aims to label any political opponent as traitor, enemy, or agent.  

You propose to prepare groups of foreign observers for these elections. Are any intending to come from various European countries and institutions? 

We continue this process and ask our international partners for the unprecedented observers’ presence to detect fraud, but of course this new law will have a negative influence on foreign observation as well. 

People in Europe know little about Georgia. How deep are Georgians’ European aspirations? 

No matter the political line of the ruling party, the level of support among ordinary citizens for this country’s European future remains very high. According to the latest public polls, around 85% of Georgians support Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic future. So, the European aspirations of citizens are very deep and strong, and they have historical reasons.

Can the current demonstrations undermine Bidzina Ivanishvili credibility? And could Russia send troops to “secure” the political situation? 

Of course, while tens of thousands of Georgians protest on the streets, and activists are threatened and beaten by mob groups in Tbilisi, even Ivanishvili’s supporters do not understand why he is doing such horrible things. That’s exactly how Saakashvili used to behave during his last period in power.

As for whether Russia would send troops or not – there is no need for them to do so because the current government serves Russia’s interests perfectly. 

Born in Moscow, she has been living in France since 1984. After 25 years of working at RFI, she now devotes herself to writing. Her latest works include: Le Régiment immortel. La Guerre sacrée de Poutine, Premier Parallèle 2019; Traverser Tchernobyl Premier Parallèle, 2016.

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