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Interview: Giorgi Targamadze

By Messenger Staff
Friday, February 22
Has Giorgi Targamadze come full circle?

Once an MP and parliamentary leader for exiled Adjaran dictator Aslan Abashidze’s party, Targamadze joined Badri Patarkatsishvili’s Imedi TV in 2003. As host of the popular “Droeba” program, Targamadze was one of the most well-known faces on television, garnering praise and respect for his reporting.

When Imedi TV’s studios were raided by special forces on November 7 as riot police battled anti-government protestors, it was Targamadze who rushed to the anchor’s desk to tell viewers the channel being forced off-air.

As other prominent journalists left, he stayed with the network. But when the government released secretly recorded tapes seeming to implicate Patarkatsishvili in plotting a violent coup, Imedi TV staff went on strike until the station’s founder sold his shares. Targamadze quit the station in January.

A month later, flanked by ex-colleagues and young men in traditional Georgian dress, he announced his new opposition political party, the Christian Democratic Party.

Calling his party a “patriotic and democratic alternative” which would “defend national identity and help preserve ethnic and cultural uniqueness,” Targamadze said the Patriarch himself would bless the party’s emblems.

Later, he would emphasize that his party is political, not religious.

The Messenger interviewed Targamadze in his new party headquarters, an expansive Vake home converted into office space. It was February 13, and the country was just learning that Badri Patarkatsishvili had died. Targamadze, somber but composed, spoke about the loss of his former boss, the divide between politics and religion and the need for a Georgian middle class.

How will the death of Badri Patarkatsishvili change the situation in Georgia?

I think this tragic incident has an important effect on political developments in the country. The government’s traditional method was to find a scapegoat, a main opposition force, like Igor Giorgadze, [Aslan] Abashidze and Badri Patarkatsishvili. His death will bring serious change to the government’s plans. [Before] the government could blame any political or media activity against the government on Patarkatsishvili.

Will Patarkatsishvili’s death affect your party and your personal political plans?

First of all, it’s a big personal loss for me, because I have known him for the last four years and I think he was an extremely kind person who did a lot for Georgia.

As for a direct influence on our party, there is no reason for changes in our party’s work, because he was not involved in the foundation of our party.

We had a close partnership while I was working in Imedi TV. He was the founder of our TV station, and during these four and a half years he supported our independence, as independent journalists. Imedi TV was the island of TV democracy in Georgia.

He contributed a lot to the democratization of this country. He was the only person who created balance.

Fortunately, at this stage the opposition has strengthened, as well as our party. There is a basis for thinking in the parliamentary elections will be competitive.

When you left Imedi in January, you said, ‘It’s not clear for me why the owner is inattentive toward the problems at Imedi.’ Why did Patarkatsishvili’s attention move away from Imedi?

We should divide Imedi’s history between 7 November and after 7 November. Before 7 November, everything was absolutely right, there was no mistake in the founder’s attitude towards Imedi and Imedi’s work. But after November 7, we had to work in extreme situations, including journalists and the founder.

So, evaluating his work and our work [by normal criteria] is wrong.

Imedi’s future is now in doubt. Are you still involved in negotiations over Imedi?

No, I have less information then I had before, but as I know negotiations between News Corporation and Imedi’s founder, Mr. Badri Patarkatsishvili continued [until his death]. As I know, a concrete agreement was not signed

The future of Imedi is even more unclear now than it was before.

Did you request that the Patriarch bless your party’s emblems?

When a Christian starts a new business, it’s important to receive a blessing from a church, especially starting such an important thing [as a political party].

No other parties did this.

This is not my problem [laughs]. I’m a Christian Democrat, and I think it’s absolutely normal and understandable when a political movement, which has political ideas of the Christian Democratic political philosophy, should try to be very close with the Georgian Orthodox Church.

…[The Patriarch’s blessing] is very important for us, but it’s a political neutral event, because our Patriarch is not an opposition leader or the government leader. He is the leader of Georgian Christian Orthodox Church. For him, all of us who are involved in different political movements and political parties are absolutely equal.

So, you’re not the Patriarch’s man?

If it means I’m the Patriarch’s man as a political activist, no... But as man for whom the Patriarch’s words are very important, you can say I’m his man.

The Georgian Orthodox Church…should not be something for speculation. [The Christian Democratic Party] is a political movement in the European Christian Democratic political tradition, and of course for us the Church and all other traditional institutes in our society are very important. But at the same time, it’s very important to separate the Church’s function in the society and the state’s function.

Many voters, seeing that the Patriarch blessed your party’s emblems, thought this was an implicit endorsement. You’re telling me this is not true?

For me and for my movement, the Patriarch’s blessing is very important. But it doesn’t mean this blessing is a ticket [to success] in Georgian politics.

…I think the Georgian Patriarch’s position towards Georgian policy is absolutely correct and right. The last six months demonstrated well how important the Georgian Church and Patriarch’s position is in our nation’s life. We had a very serious and very tense crisis in the country, and always [the Patriarch] played a crucial role in defusing the situation.

So why does the country need your party?

For the last four years, the Georgian government has had a policy which tries to demolish and weaken all traditional and democratic institutions in our society: Church, court, elections, media.

I think our country needs political movements for whom tradition and democratic institutions are the most important issue… [The Christian tradition is] very old and the basis for Georgian national identity.

At the same time, the democratic tradition is a new fruit for Georgians—but if we say that democracy is based on two important issues, freedom and responsibility, both stem from Christian belief.

[The Christian Democratic Party] is not a religious movement; this is a political movement with a very clear political philosophy. And this is a philosophy which respects national minorities and other religious confessions.

What minorities are in your party?

A lot of Muslims. Gregorian Christians, Armenians. Azerbaijanis.

In describing your party at its public presentation, you used the phrase ‘moral majority.’ Are you taking cues from Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the US?

I know about this, but when I mentioned this phrase I meant that Georgian society was always based on traditional values. In politics and social life, the moral aspect of a person was very important for us in this country.

A demoralization during the last few years in Georgia has seriously affected the political, economic and social spheres. Improving the moral face of society is an important target, not only for Christian Democratic movements in Georgia but around the world.

How do you do that? What policies make society more moral?

First of all, the attitude of state officials and political leaders towards citizens and their country, which will be fully cleansed of cynicism and irresponsible attitudes towards the people.

Every person’s rights are very important for us: basic human rights, and citizens’ protection from state pressure.

…Without a middle class, Georgian democracy won’t have serious prospects for development. We mostly reflect the interests of the Georgian middle class… I think Georgian businesses should start investments in Georgian policy, in the political area, to create a political class with more qualification.

Georgian business should invest in Georgian politics?

Yes, transparently invest in Georgian policy, in Georgian political movements, political parties [in line with their interests].

It sounds like you’re having trouble finding business supporters.

Not only I do, other political parties have serious problems with financial support from Georgian business. It happens not because businesses do not want to [contribute], but because they are threatened.

How are you paying for your campaign?

Our supporters from business helped us [start operations], but they refrain from publicizing themselves.

They think supporting a new Georgian political class is very pragmatic and rational for them… For business, the most important thing is the sustainable development of society, and stability in the country. Without a middle class, without a serious strong opposition, without an independent court, their business stability is illusory.

If you win majority in parliament, what’s the first law you pass? How do you go about building a middle class?

There would political actions bringing order to the country. But at the same time, decentralization of power in Georgia. In Georgia, everything happens in two or three rooms in central Tbilisi.

The Christian Democratic political philosophy [includes principles] where power is decentralized, and the people and their representatives make decisions at the local level, which is more effective in solving problems.

We will create a very strong legal space to defend private property rights and basic human rights. At the same time, we will [take] very strong steps towards [independence of the judiciary]. It must become a real independent branch in the Georgian power system.


We will support bringing new people to the court system, specifically new leadership for the courts, who will be free from any political influence, and aren’t associated with the current government.

It’s a small country. How do you find them?

Even in such a small society as ours, we have enough people who have the political will to do their job.

I’m from an independent profession. I was independent journalist, and I know if you want, if you have the will, you can always achieve professional targets.

…Also very important for us is an independent media.

Do you support the current government’s foreign policy of NATO integration and Western orientation?

I think for Georgian policy, radicalism is very dangerous. Any radical changes in foreign policy are very dangerous for the country’s development.

Let’s talk about your political viability. In the government’s incriminating tape of former Patarkatsishvili campaign chief Valeri Gelbakhiani, your name was mentioned as a possible accomplice in a coup plot. You said you had no connection with this, but do you think your party is tainted from birth by these allegations?

You know, there was always interest towards me, even from my resignation from the Georgian parliament four and a half years ago. [There was always] political interest toward me. And there was a lot of speculation about my future, my political future. This was often discussed in political circles.

So they were just speculating?


I’ll say frankly that I made my decision to start political activity…on [the evening of] 7 November, when spetsnaz entered my studio and when I saw reality in the face of six machineguns.

It was comfortable for me to work in journalism… But every independent profession will always be under very serious risks. These are not personal risks. We made investigations and special stories about a lot of problems in Georgia, especially against government officials, when no one in Georgia was talking about this. But I’m speaking about professional risks and I think my friends and I should do everything to create more guarantees for the functioning of a democratic system.

If other opposition parties agree with you, will you join them in a bloc?

We are open for partnership with our opposition colleagues… Our political partners may be the New Rights, Conservatives, Traditionalists.

Are you in talks with them?

I have good personal relations with their leaders…we have a lot in common, similar positions about Georgian politics, economy. For us, these negotiations and relations will be easy.

Do you plan to return to journalism?

I never say never. I like journalism very much; when I sleep, I dream about my studio and TV station.

When there will be a sustainable democratic system in Georgia, when all of the people from independent professions—journalists, lawyers—will do their job decently and effectively, I will start thinking about my comeback to my first profession.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.