Ex-Georgia parliament speaker talks to RT nine years after Ossetia war

Tuesday marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the war between Georgia and the self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Georgian forces waged a massive attack on the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, in an attempt to regain control of the region. Russian peacekeepers who were there also came under fire. Ex-Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze talks to RT.

Nino Burjanadze: I would like to mention that even in 2008, I saw how deep and serious results could bring for Georgia events which had place in South Ossetia and this tragic war, but unfortunately even at that time people did not understand this and we remember celebration of the victory and I would like to say that right now some people in Georgia don't understand reality quite well. They are living under illusion. But I see after these years, after war, situation concerning territorial integrity and situation concerning conflict solution is worse and worse, and I'm very much disappointed that these years Georgia didn't use for solving the problems, just opposite. Many politicians, they're closing their eyes on the reality of the problems. Unfortunately I would like to mention that this tragic 2008 brings so serious problems for Georgia that we can't just create a better possibility for Georgia's future.

RT: Would you say the Georgian media provides fair and balanced coverage of those events?

NB: No, absolutely not. Of course it's little bit more maybe fair than it was during Saakashvili national moment. But nevertheless, I didn't see any realistic investigations, journalistic investigation in the media, or even some attempts to show pictures from different sides. And I for example, and I mentioned that the main problem was that Saakashvili began a war, and Saakashvili was the person who is most responsible in these tragic events. I was declared as an enemy of the country by all media and all media representative. Even right now, despite investigation made by European Union, despite of [Swiss diplomat Heidi] Tagliavini’s declaration, despite the things that everybody knows what really happened, so say that Saakashvili began the war, this is very uncomfortable in Georgia and nobody wants to stress or to say this.

RT: Do you think Western media coverage provides fair and balanced view on events of 2008? Do viewers in the West have a more fair view of what’s going on?

NB: No because the main problem here is that another side is Russian Federation and right now it's a trend everywhere in the world to blame Russia in everything – what Russia made and what Russia didn't make. And so of course, unfortunately, despite very provocative actions from the side of Saakashvili many times, Russia used this, and Russia intervention had a place in 2008 and Russia brought Russian military bases back in Georgia, in South Ossetia, in Abkazia, and even still there is a so-called borderization process in the middle of Georgia which is very painful, but nevertheless nobody wants to show pictures from two different sides, from what was the fall of Georgian leadership and what Russia made and how Russia used these unclever steps and tragic steps made from side of Saakashvili. Of course it's very comfortable for Western politicians and for Western media to use this to show Russia in only negative light.

RT: There’s a report by a Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini where she says Saakashvili started the conflict and used against civilians forbidden weapons including cluster munitions during his bombing of Tskhinval. Why hasn’t he been prosecuted?

NB: I think it was a political decision of Georgian government and not only of Georgian government, but from the side of some forces in the West, especially in the US, who supported maybe Saakashvili during his actions in 2008. Sometimes I have a feeling that despite the official position of US high officials, that there were some very strong forces who may be were trying to force Saakashvili or to provoke Saakashvili to begin this war in 2008. You remember that it was pre-election period in the US and it was very useful for some aggressive forces in the US to use an anti-Russian card in their activity. From another side of course I had a feeling and I had a big hope in 2012 when Georgian Dream [party/coalition] came into power that they will investigate not only 2008 but other crimes of president Saakashvili and his team and they will prosecute him and it could be a very serious tap even for solution of relations between Georgians and Ossetians. But I saw that nobody wants restoration of justice, nobody wants really to open the files which will show what Saakashvili was doing during his presidency in reality. Maybe it was some kind of pressure from the side of United States, yes it was some pressure, I’m sure. But having a real investigation, having a serious investigation, might give us some possibility even for Georgian Dream to show everything to the West, western representatives and to say that you should not protect a person who is doing things like that.

RT: Saakashvili has now been stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship. What do you think has caused his fall from grace in such a short time?

NB: By the way he is really uncomfortable for the leaders in Ukraine because the country’s really corrupted, the country’s being trouble and being in opposition Saakashvili is of course quite strong. So I think that he created some kind of threat for today’s Ukrainian leadership or maybe he received some kind of instructions because I’m absolutely sure that he’s part of some kind of program of what should be done in Ukraine so he’s continuing everything the same what he was doing in Georgia. Of course again he could be used for the different forces from the side of West because they again want to use Ukraine as anti-Russian card in the world political game. Immediately when Saakashvili lost the citizenship of Ukraine he was in CNN and BBC and other international media and all these interviews the people begin from the words “biggest fighter against Putin, biggest fighter against Russia.”

RT: Do you think Saakashvili allies during the time of war should also bear responsibility?

NB: Nobody shared the responsibility after August 2008 because it was a general line that nobody was responsible for that and nobody paid a price for beginning of war, nobody paid the price that people were not evacuated on time , nobody paid the price for Kodori [Valley], the part of Georgia that government forces left without even one shot and so on. There was no investigation so it means that nobody responded to what happened in 2008 from the side of Georgian political elite.

RT: The Georgian Dream, the ruling party, when they came to power, they talked about repairing relations with Russia. Have they done anything in that direction?

NB: No, nothing serious. Yes there were some talks concerning flights, concerning Georgian wine or some agriculture products but this is not important. What is important to have real serious political dialogue. This is very important. If you remember President Putin suggested three times that he’s ready to meet high-level Georgian officials, president or prime minister, and the answer was absolutely tragic. The answer from the side of the president was “I will ask my western colleagues and then I’ll decide to meet Putin or not.” This is a tragedy for the country, this means that Georgia is losing its independence. If your president, your prime minister are asking permission from the side of US embassy to meet Putin or not, how can we speak about some serious dialogue between these two countries. So I can blame Georgian Dream that they lost five golden years for solving the many problems which exist in front of my country and they really lose this possibility to speak with Russian president, they didn’t use it.

RT: Two areas of Georgia have independently been building their own states. How do you begin to fix this situation, to de-escalate and unify?

NB: First of all I would like to stress very seriously that Georgians and Abkhaz, Georgians and Ossetians, we have centuries of history of friendship and I'm sure that these centuries mean a lot but what is very important is that we should not forget that pain right now which exists after these tragic events…this pain is very strong. But we have to begin to speak with these people, we have to rebuild these bridges which existed during many centuries and we have to ensure them that being a part of united Georgia will be much more safe and comfortable for them than to be just separated from [the rest of] Georgia. And these people should have absolutely 100% insurance that nobody in the future will repeat the same [mistake] what Saakashvili did or what happened in early 90s. This is very important. Of course I am not naive and I understand that it will be quite difficult and it needs a lot of time but I'm sure that if from one side we begin a direct dialogue with Abkhaz and Ossetians and from another side we will find a solution in our relations with Russia. This could be possible but the problem is that Georgian government is losing time and the time is not working for Georgians and the situation when we are not using the possibility to have direct dialog with Russia, it’s creating more and more problems on the way to unification and this is a problem.

RT: Is there any chance that Georgia would recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states?

NB: For me, no. I will never recognize Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia as independent states and I think if any Georgian politician will do this, he will leave office very very soon because despite problems and difficulties which exist in Georgian society, despite the fact that sometimes there are some positions when people are really tired because of difficult social and economic life, if you look very deeply you will see that for every Georgia and for everbody in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a unification of the country is very important.

RT: Just before the conflict broke out, you resigned temporarily, paused your political career. Why?

NB: Because you know I saw that Saakashvili is driving country in wrong direction. After crisis in 2007 and the second election of Saakashvili, he promised to me he will change his policy, he will change his internal and international policy, that he will respect democratic values much more because he was just really violating democratic values very seriously in the country. He promised to me he will change his position with Russia and with the conflict regions and he will begin the negotiation process but I remember quite well April 2008 when we were very near to the war in Abkhazia and I saw what Saakashvili [was] doing, I saw what the people around him were doing and what kind of advices they were giving to Saakashvili. I saw that unfortunately I will have no kind of mechanisms to avoid very serious problems for the country in the future and of course I said to Saakashvili, “either you are just doing what you promised or I will leave because I don’t want to be a part of this process, process which is bringing my country into absolutely wrong direction and to the very serious problems.” That was why I decided to leave.

RT: You came back and founded the United Georgia party. What motivated you to come back?

NB: Only war, because before war, I had very strong decision made for myself that at least for a few years I will continue to be somehow out from the political life of Georgia. I wanted to see what was going on a little bit from the side to understand the situation more. But when the war happened in 2008 and especially when I saw the reaction of Saakashvili who was celebrating so-called victory in 2008, when I saw absolutely inadequate reaction from the side of political forces and unfortunately from the side of big part of society, I understood that I have no right to stand on the side, I have obligation in front of my people and even in front of the people who don’t understand this and are blaming me as a traitor. I have an obligation in front of future generations to do something to change the situation and to [help] the country survive.

RT: During the last elections your party didn’t gain seats while Saakashvili’s party gained almost 1/3 of parliament seats. Is Saakashvili still popular?

NB: In some part of population unfortunately yes, because during these nine years when Saakashvili was in the power, he was able by using media and TV to somehow change the people’s mind and views and it was a very serious propaganda during this period but he has maximum 15 percent of support – he received much more, more than 20 percent – and again this is because of two reasons. One was a reason that again [former PM Bidzina] Ivanishvili used Saakashvili and his forces as a main oppositional force and the second was of course very serious process of manipulation of elections. And when I’m speaking [of] this, it’s quite easy to see the conclusions of [OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] ODIHR, concerning elections where ODIHR just mentioned very clearly that the counting process of votes was bad, or very bad.

RT: You’re one of the most recognizable politicians in Georgia. Do you plan on running for President?

NB: First of all, yes, I’m planning to run for presidential elections. But again it depends on what Georgian Dream will do because they’re changing legislation, they wanted to change legislation in Georgia and make Georgia absolutely parliamentary republic, they wanted to elect next president of Georgia not with direct elections but via parliament, which of course means that somebody will put just any person and just bring him in presidential palace. This somebody will be Bidzina Ivanishvili if nothing will be changed. But I hope that opposition will be strong enough not to let Georgian Dream to make such kind of constitutional changes because it means that Georgia will not be a state anymore, it will be some kind of company under Ivanishvili’s ruling and this is absolutely not acceptable. So in any case, I am ready and I will continue my fight for active political life… Despite a very serious shock during parliamentary elections, our party was the only one political party in Georgia among opposition parties who just keeps unity and…continue our fight for justice, our efforts to protect our laws. But we’re alone unfortunately and the system of justice in Georgia is so unjust that it was impossible to achieve anything.

RT: We’ve heard about your foreign policy, but what about your domestic program? What would you offer the Georgian people?

NB: First of all, of course the foreign policy is a very serious priority for me. The first thing I will do, I will try to have a meeting with President Putin and to begin very serious direct negotiation with Russia. Of course one of the first steps will be again my attempt to meet representatives of Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia. It doesn’t mean I will recognize them as an independent states but we will find a way how to begin a negotiation process between me and between them. Concerning domestic policy of course many things should be changed. I am absolutely sure that for further development of the country it’s important [to begin with the] restoration of justice, process of restoration of justice. Why? Not because I'm angry at Saakashvili or somebody else and I want to punish them, no. Because for democracy it's very important, when in the country the rule of law really exists. The rule of law means if president was guilty he should be punished, if ordinary citizen was guilty they should be punished and everybody should be equal in front of the law. Once and forever, if Georgia will create a situation when if I know as a president or as a speaker of the parliament that I should not do wrong things otherwise I will answer tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, it will change Georgian reality absolutely fully. It will have results on corruption, it will have serious results on many different fields of life. And of course one of the biggest priority will be economic and social situation in the country. I want to see Georgia as a social country which will give the protection, elementary protection, to its own citizens. We don't want to be dependent only from western help. We need to have serious improvement of economic situation and investment climate in Georgia and we want to really strengthen Georgian economy, Georgian agriculture sector and to give to the people more possibilities to work because the level of unemployment in Georgia is really very high.

RT: Is there any chance Georgia could play and independent role in international arena?

NB: My position, concerning me and my party and concerning Georgia: Georgia should not be pro-western, and Georgia should not be pro-Russian. Georgia should be pro-Georgian. It's as simple as that. And for this, it's very important first of all to think about your own national interests. You know when we are speaking is it possible for small Georgia to play independent role or not, in 21st century nobody is independent 100 percent, everything in globalization process is so linked with each other and you can’t be independent 100 percent, but you can be independent in these frames which is necessary for sovereignty, territorial integrity, and democratization process in Georgia. I think the biggest mistake of Georgian politicians is that Georgia decided to be I think the strongest ally of the United States and some other NATO countries. This was a very, very serious mistake. When you are in this geographical situation where we are, you should not forget, that you have in the north a huge super power which has very serious interests. I think that if Georgia will respect and will try to take into account Russia’s legal interests, I want to stress this word, legal interests, in this case it will be much more easy to play really independent role but not to be pro-western, or maybe more correct to say pro-American, and not pro-Russian. Be pro-Georgian.