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12 May, 2009 06:25

"Five clans control the country" – former Georgian FM

“We cannot agree to anything else than the total change of the system in which the power has been usurped by clans.”

That's the view of President Saakashvili's former Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili, who left government and became a prominent member of the opposition. She shared her views on the current political situation in Georgia in an exclusive interview to RT.

RT: On Monday president Saakashvili met the opposition and you have hailed this as a sign of success.

Salome Zurabishvili: Because it’s a change in strategy that we’ve forced on Saakashvili. For 30 days his strategy was to ignore the protest, more than for 30 days – for a year and a half his strategy is to deny that there is a problem in the country and that he is the problem in the country. And finally he has had to reckon with reality and he has had to reckon with the opposition, with real opposition. You cannot just play around with so-called opposition. And if that means that he had started tackling the reality – that means that we are on the right track because for the time being and up to now he was becoming more and more the prisoner of a virtual vision of the things as they went.

RT: Will the opposition agree to anything less than the resignation?

S.Z.: We cannot agree to anything else than the total change of the system in which the power has been usurped by clans; and he has been the organizer of this situation in which the Parliament is not the Parliament, the Government is not the Government, and the judiciary doesn’t count and behind the façade of democracy in fact we have five clans controlling the country. And at the top of these clans’ controller is Saakashvili. That is what has to change.

RT: What is the next step for the opposition after this meeting with Saakashvili?

S.Z.: Probably Saakashvili thinks that he can still get away with PR and offer the press and to the outside world the fact that he has met with the opposition and that he is a very democratic leader and he kind of deals with them because they are asking for his resignation.

But he will still have to reckon with the reality that the people are out on the streets, the protesters are still there, the crisis is in the open and will be there as long as what we’ve been talking about which is this usurpation of power will be abolished and we will come back to a normal state which is that the people have to choose. How will that happen? It’s something that he has a choice: either it can happen with him, and we can find very civilized forms in which that can happen, or it will happen without him.

RT: For how much longer you plan to continue with these street protests? There have been reports that people are getting frustrated with traffic, roads are blocking, shops have been forced to close. There are reports of rubbish piling up upon the streets.

S.Z.: That is a part of the regime propaganda, that people are upset. In fact this is not happening – they would like to see it. We’ve had in fact opinion polls on the street closures, because we were thinking to ourselves whether to adapt the situation or not, and it’s very unclear what the population is upset with. The situation is so really critical in terms of what will happen to this country. And we are at such a turning point, that whatever the discomfort, I think that people are realizing that this time they have to get put of this tunnel and go back to the track of building the country.

RT: President Saakashvili says that the fact that these protests are taking place is a sign that Georgia is a democracy. Does he have a point?

S.Z.: No, I don’t think that democracy is in protest, democracy is not in elections and democracy is not in just having newspapers printed.

Democracy is whether power is decided by the people and whether it’s shared and balanced. In this case power has been abused and continues to be abused by the clans that control this country as long as that happens. There is no outside sign that can prove that this country is a democracy. And it is not.

RT: Do you think the current wave of protest can topple the government?

S.Z.: I think the question again is not to topple the government. The question is to give back to the people the power to choose its government.

And I think that we have no other means. I know that this opposition is not the one that wants to use radical means. Saakashvili and his friends in power want to push us to non-constitutional means that would be the end of both the opposition and of the country.

So that’s not the road we are going to take. We’ve chosen the long road, the difficult one, and we’ve been going for 30 days, and I think that we have moved forward one step. This is not the victory, it’s not success, and nobody should expect today to deliver the result. But I think we are moving in the right direction.

RT: What is that goal? To continue with the street protests indefinitely?

S.Z.: Until the demands are met

RT: Do you think that the protests could turn violent and we will see a repeat of what happened in November 2007 and the violence that happened a few days ago?

S.Z.: I think that the government has tried the scenarios of provocation, the scenarios of Russian plot, the scenarios of military upheaval or whatever. And the reason that we’ve got this meeting today is that it didn’t work and it’s not going to work anymore because this country has become used to all of these and knows how to defend itself from that. On the other hand, the scenario of planned repressions that we had on November 7 is the one that is not available today in Georgia because of outside pressure and because of inner inability: the army will not follow Saakashvili and he knows that. So we are one-on-one. On one side is the population on the other side is the clan that that controls this country, and we have to liberate the country from the clans.

RT: Like many others you have said there is no freedom of speech in Georgia. Is it safe for you to talk out?

S.Z.: It’s difficult to know but it’s not the thing you have to think when you are entering what is really a political war. You don’t ask yourself the question.

RT: There is criticism that the opposition is disorganized and not unified. Do you really think the opposition can do a better job than the current government?

S.Z.: Because nobody has said that this opposition will do a better job and it’s true that this opposition is disorganized and very plural, I think that’s the chance of this country that we do not have a new monolithic force that will come in. And today the struggle is not between the opposition and the power in place, the struggle is between the population and the power in place. Even if today’s opposition is weak and disorganized and moves out, it doesn’t mean that the crisis would be terminated; the crisis will remain where it is and maybe become more radical. As disorganized as it is, this opposition has been able to prevent things from moving into a radical direction. We’ve managed to keep it peaceful, to keep it slow but determinate pace despite the provocations from the power to try to radicalize us.

RT: In what way is the government trying to radicalize the opposition and what is the advantage to the government in doing this?

S.Z.: The scenario of the last week of the military coup and the Russian plot and the incident with the police station – all of that was part of a big scenario of provocation to try to get the population out of its calm standing and try to react. And it’s true that people have been in a very nervous situation. And it’s quite easy to try to answer to all that and to behave in old Soviet style – these are very well known instruments, but because there is leadership of the opposition that does know where it is heading, that has not happened. And if we consider the last incident at the police station – had it not been for the leaders of the opposition that were present and that organized the women in the first row to prevent the defense of the police station then we would have been in a very serious situation.

RT: Would you agree with Moscow that the recent NATO military exercises were a sign of Western support for Georgia that further alienates Russia?

S.Z.: I think that those military exercises are not very important. They’ve been in fact presented as more important than they are by Saakashvili for his own political, internal reasons. And in fact he got a dismissal from NATO Secretary General on that matter. And I think they were overblown also by Moscow for parallel reasons to that of Saakashvili.

RT: In your opinion how can Georgia rebuild relations with Russia?

S.Z.: First of all, it has to rebuild itself. It has to found a new consensus after having got itself rid of the usurpation of power. And it’s only when it will be stronger within, more democratic and more stable economically, that it can talk with Russia about mutual interests and a mutual neighborhood.

RT: Although you were not part of the Rose Revolution, would you say that what we're witnessing now is not only the fact that the Rose Revolution collapsed, but also a sign it’s never achieved its goals?

S.Z.: Never achieved and completely distorted.

What I’ve been saying about that fact that there is usurpation of power. That behind the facade of moving towards democracy, moving towards the West moving towards economic pluralism and political pluralism, in fact we are in the country that is dominated by five families with no freedom of speech or of economic or business or anything. That is nothing to do with Rose Revolution it’s a big flaw.

RT: Why do you think president Saakashvili began a military operation in South Ossetia?

S.Z.: For his own power.

RT: Do you think it backfired?

S.Z.: Certainly.

RT: Are you optimistic about the future?

S.Z.: Yes, despite everything – yes.