Salomé Zourabichvili: Georgia’s Crucial Choice — Europe, Democracy And Stability Are On The Ballot


Salomé Zourabichvili Georgian 2018 Presidential Candidate
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For a short period between 1918 and 1921, Georgia was an independent democratic country. The country’s short democratic history came to an end in 1921, when the Red Army invaded Georgia. That year, my grandparents boarded a ship in Batumi to ultimately find political asylum in France.

I was born in Paris to a Georgian émigré family whose entire life was devoted to Georgia’s independence and freedom. I became a French diplomat in the 1970s, during a time when the Cold War was the defining struggle. By then, Georgia was not even an independent State. Many — if not most — of my colleagues did not even know of Georgia’s existence.

When I joined the French diplomatic service in the 1970s, I knew from my family’s plight that the West was on the right side of history during the Cold War by fighting a totalitarian Soviet regime.

As part of France’s diplomatic service, I served at the United Nations in Washington, the OSCE and NATO with one goal in mind: defend the West in a struggle between right and wrong, freedom and oppression, democracy and totalitarianism. During those years, Georgia was always on my mind.

History holds many surprises.

I dreamt of an independent Georgia since my early childhood. But I was very far from thinking that I would become France’s Ambassador to independent Georgia in 2003, let alone be appointed Georgia’s Foreign Minister in 2004. History has come a long way.

A century after Georgia elected its first democratic government, I am running to become the first woman President of Georgia. A child of the Georgian liberal emigration, I will be on the ballot in the runoff that will take place on November 28.

Georgia has been at the forefront of the struggle for independence and democracy in the post-Soviet space. It was the first country to declare independence in April 1991, when Georgia was still a part of the Soviet Union. Shortly thereafter, in its first post-independence democratic elections, the country elected Zviad Gamsakhurdia as the first president of Georgia.

Following the overthrow of the country’s first democratically-elected president, the country went through a troubled decade of poor governance. In 2012 parliamentary elections, the people democratically rejected Mikheil Saakashvili’s increasingly authoritarian regime. Today, Georgia stands out as a beacon of democratic rule and stability in an otherwise troubled region.

The ongoing presidential elections will be another milestone in Georgia’s democratic evolution. The elections are not only a choice between two candidates. They will present Georgians with an existential choice between two visions for Georgia. My vision is a European, liberal and democratic Georgia.

I have sought to fight a clean and transparent campaign based on a positive narrative, refraining from negative personal attacks and offering a vision of what my presidency would be about.

First, I want to unify the country and represent the Georgian people above party politics. That is what the new Constitution expects of the presidency, and that is what I intend to embody. This last campaign has exacerbated tensions to such an extent that there can be no more pressing priority than to aspire to represent all Georgians, whatever their party affiliation.

Second, I will be the guarantor of Georgia’s democratic development and the last line of defense for individual freedoms and the rule of law. If a government, of any political affiliation, were to backslide into authoritarianism I would use all powers bestowed upon the Presidency to keep Georgia on a democratic path. European liberal democratic values will have a champion in the Georgian presidency.

Finally, I want to bring the country closer to its goal of joining the European Union and the Atlantic alliance. Georgians are overwhelmingly pro-Western: the European Union flag flies alongside the Georgian national flag on all official buildings; young Georgians aspire to live like their peers in London, Paris and Berlin; becoming a member State of the EU is a goal that transcends party politics.

Over the past few years, the West has paid less attention to Georgia’s ongoing struggle to remain a liberal democracy. I intend to use my past diplomatic experience and my contacts in all western capitals to bring us closer to what will be the final milestone of Georgia’s path to European democracy.

My opponent represents a path back to Georgia’s troubled Soviet past. His links to Russia continue to this day. His campaign has employed the post-Soviet playbook with all its dark features.

The opposition United National Movement (UNM) have waged a massive negative campaign based on hate, disinformation and personal destruction. They have used every trick in the old Soviet playbook: from daily fake news spread on partisan media outlets and social media to attempts to frame me as pro-Russian, despite my pro-western platform and credentials.

And now, they have resorted to ugly chauvinist rhetoric striving to divide Georgians according to ethnic and religious backgrounds, including intolerable anti-Semitic statements by former President Saakashvili.

Such tactics represent the very opposite of Georgia’s tradition of tolerance and peaceful coexistence of various religions and ethnicities. The risks of prejudice, division and tension have dramatically increased.

Despite Russian occupation of 20 percent of the country’s territory, Georgia stands out in the region as a stable country with a growing economy, and a regional leader in the fight against corruption. The country’s unity and stability represent Georgia’s best asset in the region.

The opposition’s plans and actions raise doubts about the country’s continued stability and peaceful civic discourse. In a dramatic turn of events that reminded Georgians of its darkest hours, death threats were issued by former soldiers affiliated with the UNM against myself and my two children, one of whom happens to be a Franco-American journalist working for France 24.

The opposition candidate now claims that following the election’s second round he intends to bring his supporters to the streets in droves. In effect, this series of steps risks jeopardizing the progress Georgia has made away from authoritarianism and Soviet-style politics.

My objective is to preserve Georgia’s stability in a region that had been historically riven by great power rivalries. With Russia to the North and Turkey and Iran to the South, Georgia’s geostrategic position is inherently complex. Georgia’s greatest asset is its ability to combine the support of its European and American partners with diplomatic agility.

I will defend Georgia’s interest using all available diplomatic tools, but without yielding to any form of provocation. I will do my best to keep Georgia on the path to liberal democracy, European integration and the Atlantic alliance. As a first female and European president, that is my dream for this country.

Salomé Zourabichvili is a presidential candidate for Georgia’s Presidential runoff on November 28. She is a former French ambassador to Georgia and former foreign minister of Georgia

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.