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Saakashvili speaks in Los Angeles

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, April 29
President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili attended the 2010 Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles on April 28. This year’s event promised to be full of insight, inspiration and entertainment, with a diverse slate of speakers from different fields who discussed financial regulation, economic recovery and other issues.

Mikheil Saakashvili introduced the guests to the political situation in Georgia by reviewing the Georgia-Russia war, its consequences, its affect on democratic reforms and the economic situation in the country and the challenges Georgia is facing today.

“Georgia has undergone important changes during the last few years. The people had lost all faith in the country due to its high level of corruption, dysfuncional state institutions and police which didn’t defend the interests of its citizens. The Government of Georgia (referring to the post-Rose Revolution administration) then made serious reforms in order to deal with these problems and I’m here today to introduce to you the Freedom Act – the basis of our State Constitution – and its major principles such as freedom, low taxes, non-interference by the state in private activities and equal conditions for everyone,” Saakashvili told the audience.

Saakashvili also mentioned the upcoming local government elections [on May 30], stressing that the electoral culture of the people has significantly increased in the last few years. “We [Georgians] are now preparing for local elections which will be more intensive than ever before. I was personally chosen by a universal consensus but was still opposed by protest rallies organised by particular groups. These were followed by snap elections where I again gathered the majority of votes and regained the people's trust,” Saakashvili said, adding that popularity with a considerable part of society is good enough while failure in elections is also part of democracy.

The most significant challenge which Georgia faced after the Soviet Union’s dissolution, according to Saakashvili, was the mental and social transformation of people who weren't used to independent thinking. “Now the situation is quite different,” Saakashvili told the audience, saying that the street rallies aimed at preventing the Government functioning in 2009 had been a natural part of the democratic process.

Saakashvili highlighted that Georgia is in 11th place in terms of attracting foreign investment, performing better than even such large countries as Russia, Germany and Finland in this respect. The President said that the economic and democratic reforms in the country weren't hindered even by the Russian aggression and its occupation of 20% of the country. “What Russia did in 2008 – ethnic cleansing - was a real tragedy for our country, as hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless. But nothing could make Georgia change its path of development. We proved our potential by entering new international markets after Russia imposed an economic embargo on us. Georgia’s export rate has doubled, so we can now offer our electicity to neighbouring countries too. The August war didn’t damage our lives, on the contrary, Georgia is the top post-Soviet Union country thanks to its democratic achievements and freedom of speech and the country belongs to its people,” Saakashvili concluded.

Analyst Nika Chitadze commented on Saakashvili's speech for The Messenger. “Since the Rose Revolution [in 2004] the situation in Georgia has changed in various ways. In economic terms there has been a significant increase in GDP and the budget. The Government has encouraged the development of business, introduced a new Tax Code and improved income and taxation conditions for businessmen,” Chitadze said, confirming the results of the Ease of Doing Business Rating which puts Georgia in 11th place.

“Reforms made in the Police system, especially the Patrol Police service, have also positively affected the democratic process but Georgia is still a half-free country according to Freedom House. Problems remain in the judiciary system, which is still biased and can’t make independent decisions. There have been several cases of violations of enterpreneurs' rights, and sealing up the Sony centre is clear evidence of this,” he said, disapproving of the Constitutional reform which gave the President additional rights, stating that in other countries it’s not generally the President’s prerogative to dismiss Parliament.

In terms of freedom of expression Chitadze said, “The print media has significant freedom of expression but the electronic media less so. Despite the fact there is a special TV station (referring to the 2nd Channel) which enables all political representatives to screen their election campaigns there are still so-called Government and opposition media sources which remain biased, but there is a balance between them.”