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Cory Welt - I just don’t think that will lead to some kind of involuntary accession of Georgia to Russian-led organizations
11:39 07-08-2013
Cory Welt - I just don’t think that will lead to some kind of involuntary accession of Georgia to Russian-led organizations Cory Welt - I just don’t think that will lead to some kind of involuntary accession of Georgia to Russian-led organizations

“InterPressNews” interviewed Cory Welt, Associate Director of the George Washington University’s Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies and an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for American Progress


How does the cohabitation look like from the United States? Is a successful cohabitation a step forward in consolidating the Georgian democracy?

-The first thing I would say is that it looks foreign from the perspective of American politics. There might be a lot of talk about cohabitation among U.S. policy makers and experts who are following Georgia, but cohabitation as a political concept is quite alien for the United States. What we have is a bipartisan system, but cohabitation is something that is rather distinctly European, something that has emerged in France. So cohabitation that we see in Georgia today with regard to President from the old ruling party and prime minister from the new party is something that by necessity arose in this period of political transition, it might continue depending on the outcome of the presidential elections, but I think most people have understood it to be a transitional process. And really for me the emphasis that has been placed on cohabitation is a little bit misplaced. Really the importance is on emphasizing the evolution of multiparty system in Georgia. Whether the president is from one party and the prime-minister is from another is not really that important.

In your earlier articles you write that there is the tendency of centralization in Georgia. Do you think the new Georgian government is also attempting to consolidate power?

-It is still too early to say. We are in transitional period. I think it is important to remember that because of constitutional changes it will be much more difficult for any government to have the kind of centralized power that the former government had. That’s a good thing, as long as the rules remain in place, as long as those rules are followed and it will be rather difficult to break those rules to the degree, say, it has been done in Ukraine. Then we should still see a further de-evolution of decentralization of power which is a positive sign. I think the question has to do mostly with the development of the independence of the judiciary system and there the signals are mixed so far, but overall I think it’s a positive direction, although I say this with a little bit of caution because once again I think it is too early to determine the direction the judiciary is going in, but the fact that the council of judges is developing not necessarily along the lines of the government would hope for suggested certain perhaps independence on the part of the judiciary. The real concerns of course will have to do with prosecutions of high level officials, like Merabishvili, possibly Ugulava and I think this is less of an issue of the centralization of the government and more an issue whether the Georgian political system will accommodate former leaders of the country into politics in the long term.

Some people say the arrests of former government officials are politically motivated. How do you assess the arrests and how in the long run they may affect Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations?

-I think there are at least three issues with regard to prosecutions. The first issue is whether the crimes that former officials are being accused of are significant enough to continue to pursue this kind of a judicial process to the full extent. There are many examples of successful democratic transitions in which crimes of former government officials are forgiven for the sake of peaceful, stable transition and for the sake of the development of the multi party democracy. It’s a very difficult road to travel because you don’t want to set the precedence of encouraging government officials to break laws knowing that they will be forgiven. Now, some crimes may be so severe that it is important to prosecute and I think they should be fully investigated. The second issue has to do with the question of selective prosecution and as you now that’s something that many people have raised concerns on from the outside, the questions been: are supporters of the current government not been prosecuted for similar crimes? If they did commit these crimes would they escape? We have unfortunately seen few signs that people who have been prosecuted for crimes, have been amnestied, or have been forgiven or have been allowed to leave the country and that makes the government look it is using the tools of the justice system in order to only prosecute former government officials. And it is important to see equal treatment before the law. And the third question is whether or not the punishments will be proportional to the crimes that officials have been charged for. Many people are concerned that people like Merabishvili are being prosecuted in order to lock him up in jail for many years and to bar him effectively to ever entering politics, similarly to what’s happening in Ukraine with Timoshenko. But if charges are brought and punishments are more in a line with nature of the crimes that have allegedly been committed and people are prosecuted for six months, one year, then that will not be as calamitous a situation as it would be if people served ten year prison sentences. So far the signs suggest that the justice system might have the capacity to provide proportional punishments to the crimes that the officials have been charged against and that would be an important thing.

How do you see Georgia at one hand aspiring to the Euro-Atlantic integration and on the other hand trying to improve relations with Russia? How do you assess the Georgian government’s policy toward Russia?

-I’m one of Georgia’s probably biggest foreign supporters in terms of the prospects for a NATO membership and EU membership. I think it would be terrific if Georgia did join Euro-Atlantic organizations. I’m also realist and I think Georgians are realizing that NATO and the EU are not necessarily ready for enlargement any time soon. So when we are talking about Euro-Atlantic aspirations, for better or for worse, we have to talk about this in a long term perspective. And changes that the government might make today, we might not see results in terms of Euro-Atlantic integration for many years down the road, if ever. There’s a very real possibility that a country like Georgia may find that there’s a third option available that we don’t necessarily take very seriously right now. That might be a more realistic outcome, but that does not preclude integration to the broader Euro-Atlantic community, but the institutions that exist as we know them, they might themselves change. So, I think we want to be careful not to focus too much on the prospects for membership per se in NATO and the EU. It should not be presented as one choice or the other and if this does not happen then Georgia will be forced to go back into the sphere of Russian influence. So, that said, the more the government continues to implement policies that are good for Georgia, the things that Georgians want, but also are in line with the values of the Euro-Atlantic community than that will continue to bring Georgian closer to the community. In terms of Georgia’s relations with Russia, again I don’t think this is black, or white. I think, it is possible for Georgia to have improved relations with Russia, particularly at the economic level, possibly at the level of labor as well and trade. We see some signs of this happening. I think that’s valued. I think everything that can be done to reduce certain tensions in the Russian and Georgian relationship are important. That does not mean that Georgia is expected to sacrifice its core principles. The Russian government fully understands and has repeated several times it understands Georgia’s position regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But at the same time Russia is a military occupier of the country and that will naturally limit the extent to which these relations will be repaired. I have not seen signs that Prime Minister is some kind of secret agent for the Kremlin. I see that he has certain pragmatic interests with regards to Russia and so far nothing that I have seen has alarmed me in particular and again, I just don’t think that will lead to some kind of involuntary accession of Georgia to Russian-led organizations.

Nino Tsivtsivadze
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