Matthew Bryza - The return of Mikheil Saakashvili has exacerbated the crisis, but the arrest of the former president was not a smart political step

In an exclusive interview with InterpressNews, the Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Matthew Bryza speaks about recent developments in Georgia. Bryza imposes the responsibilities equally between the political parties and believes that it is necessary for them to reach an agreement. Bryza also talks about the risks of democratic backsliding in Georgia in case the country will not be able to get out of the political crisis.

-Mr. Matthew, first of all thank you again for joining us and finding time for the interview. You are observing the situation in Georgia for years. What is your opinion about latest events happening in Georgia?

-Thanks for having me with you today. My view of latest developments is that political situation is very tense. It is disappointing because it seem to me after that recent local elections the crises could have passed even though the Georgian government has given up on the April 19 agreement, mediated by Charles Mitchell, the European Union, European Commission president and the Council president.

With the arrest of former president Saakashvili the country is right back into crises even more and I can tell you that Georgia's friends in Washington and in Europe are tired. They are tired of and not really paying so much attention anymore.

- What do you think, did Mikhail Saakashvili make a right decision when he returned to Georgia and how adequate the actions of Georgian Dream were made when he was arrested, what is your opinion?

-All political leaders need to make their own decisions and I think former president Saakashvili knew it was very risky thing to do, he had to anticipate he would get arrested and so for some reason he exercised what he viewed was right - a Georgian citizen to return to the country and I suppose except of the consequences I think that it was not a wise decision politically, to arrest the former president, no matter what the legal case may be against him. If the leading opposition figure of the government and a former leader of the country is arrested that will evidently will create a problem in the outside world, that the government arrested him for political reasons and that creates so much trouble for that government that keeps now Georgia in crises.

-Do you think that the return of Mikheil Saakashvili had a huge impact on the results of the elections?

- There is no way to tell. Georgian opposition political figures and experts I have spoken with, they believe that it is possible that his return has increased the turnout of Georgian dream supporters. As we know from the US elections polling date before the elections is unreliable. From a scientific or empirical perspective we will never know. It is also true that former president Saakashvili's return probably brought more voters from his support base as well. So it is impossible to tell. Opposition leaders say the elections were terribly unfair. At the end of a day it sounds like the US embassy and the EU say the elections were good enough, even though they did not say it was good enough.

-What do you think what is the solution in this case, when both sides are too polarized- Saakashvili refused to get any food, his health is in danger and he is sentenced for 6 years imprisonment. The society is divided. Some people say he is guilty and must stay in prison, some say that he must be free. How to end up this crisis?

- The first thing I would say is that as a human being and somebody who was close to Saakashvili, I worry very much about his well-being. I worry very much about his health. We in US we always talked about how important it is to build strong democratic institutions and that includes an independent judiciary. When democratic institutions are strong there is stability. That is the only way to build stability. If the people, the voters of the country feel that their voices are not being heard and they do not have fair chance to participate in the political life of their country independent judiciary is deeply called into the question. To restore stability there should be a new trial for former president Saakashvili. If the process will be free and fair there will be nothing from anyone to complain about and the country can move on.

-What do you think, are we faced of democratic backsliding in Georgia during last years?- I mean latest events- cancellation of Charles Mitchel agreement by Georgian Dream , violation against media representative etc.

-Hugely. It is across the borders. The government is primarily responsible. if the government gives up the agreement negotiated with the EU- clearly there is backsliding of democracy. But there is backsliding on the other sides as well. Also members of the opposition parties refused to sign the April 19 agreement. When you get into a situation like that where neither - the opposition or government is willing to obey the agreement and deescalate the political crisis and get democracy back on track than of course democracy has slid back. as the US embassy and ODIHR after the recent elections issued a statement that the elections was a missed opportunity for all political parties to address the needs, demands and desires of Georgian voters, because the political parties became so polarized. Now in Georgian media, not your media here we have a great discussion, in general during the elections there were personal attacks by one side against another and in that situation democracy is backsliding because the debate is not about helping achieve the needs and desires of the voters.

-How the image of Georgia can be seen from the perspective of West, how damaged it is nowadays?

- One the one side when it comes to the US national security establishment, there is strong support to Georgia to join NATO and that's because of democracy. Over 80% of Georgian citizens support Georgia's membership in NATO and many of us from the US believe all of NATO will be better of with Georgia in NATO. Why Georgia was so beloved by Washington and EU? It is not because of Georgia maybe be in NATO, it is because Georgia provided us with great help. Here was a country like no other. It escaped from curroptuon and disfunctionality form the post-Soviet world and was building democratic institutions that we have been talking before. we all put a huge amount if energy and financial support for Georgia experimenting democracy. over the past several years there is constant weakening in democratic institutions. I think the EU and US are tired, they are not goings to get involved in this domestic political disposes that are really annoying. Georgian political leaders they are government or the opposition need to act together, they need to figure out how to work hard instead of fighting each other all the time.

-That was my final question, would you like to add something?

- You asked great questions, very thoughtful, very clear. I wish Georgia the best. Those of us in the West who love Georgia it is not about any individual leader. We supported the government of Mikheil Saakashvili not because we particularly liked him or anyone else but those leaders of the Rose Revolution were committed to build democratic institutions. Our interest is in the success of Georgia and the Georgian people to enjoy political and economic freedom and the right to choose their own strategic destiny. They have chosen to join Transatlantic community. Georgia's natural home is Europe because Georgia is an European country.

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