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First speech - praise and criticism

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, February 24
During his first annual address to the Parliament on February 21, President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili touched on various important issues. He stressed that Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic choice does not mean allying against someone, and Georgia is a guarantee for cooperation in the region.

Speaking on the breakaway regions of Georgia, Margvelashvili said that Tbilisi’s policy of non-recognition does not mean isolation. He reaffirmed that the European choice will never be revised in Georgia. The president said that 100 Georgian soldiers would be sent to the Central Africa Republic for participation in the EU-led peacekeeping mission. Marvelashvili also named the date for the local government elections (June 15).

The cabinet of ministers and the prime minister of Georgia did not attend the president’s address. The patriarch was also not present, due to his tight schedule. However, the Holy Synod and diplomatic corps representatives and other religious members attended the annual speech that was started with Ukrainian issues.

Margvelashvili stated that “use of arms against its own people does not speak well of any government and not a single government has managed to get away with it,” hoping that there still is a chance to resume a dialogue in Ukraine.

Margvelashvili emphasized that since the Georgian Dream coalition came to power in Georgia, the Georgian people have become the central issue and central value of the government.

Margvelashvili said that the government managed to strike a balance between what is called a restoration of justice and “pressure from the outside” – meaning warnings from Georgia’s Western partners to avoid selective justice.

The president stated that Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic course is unchanged. Margvelashvili admitted that Georgia has made progress, and at the NATO summit in Wales in September, Georgian society and the authorities will take more steps towards NATO and EU institutions.

Referring to Russia, the president stated that European and Euro-Atlantic choice “does not mean allying against someone.”

“We are building a peaceful and democratic country whose goal is good neighborly relations, but in the condition when our sovereignty and territorial integrity is protected,” Margvelashvili said, adding that barbed wire fences and the expansion of the border zone by 11 kilometers has seriously damaged the process of restoration of relations with Moscow.

Margvelashvili underscored that the occupied regions of Georgia should not be isolated from the home country. “We should provide an opportunity to our compatriots living in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region to receive direct benefits from Georgia’s European course. In parallel with the restoration of relations, the population of the occupied territories, with the support of the Georgian authorities, should be engaged in joint economic, trade, educational and humanitarian projects with the European Union envisaged by the Georgian state strategy on engagement through cooperation,” he said.

Majority members praised Margvelahsvili for his speech. However, members of the opposition United National Movement Goka Gabashvili, Irma Nadirashvili and Sergo Ratiani criticized him for his “non-critical attitude towards Russia in Ukrainian issues.”

They also stressed that the absence of cabinet of ministers hinted at disrespect towards the president and his nominal role. Non- parliamentary opposition member Kakha Kukava also criticized the president concerning sending Georgian soldiers to Central Africa. However, the decision turned acceptable for the parliamentary minority and 100 Georgian soldiers will be sent to the mission, presumably in May 2014.

Margvelashvili received positive assessments from the diplomatic corps.

“I am glad with the statements made by the president concerning European path and taking part in the EU peacekeeping mission,” head of the EU representation to Georgia Philip Dimitrov said.

Deputy US ambassador to Georgia Bridget Brink stated that Margvelashvili’s speech was “excellent”. She stated that the peaceful way for solving conflicts and democratic reforms named by Margvelashvili are essential.

Words voiced regarding the occupied regions turned most important for the ambassador of Germany to Georgia Ortwin Hennig.