GEORGIAN PRESIDENT QUESTIONS FUTURE IN CIS IN SPEECH TO STUDENTS

Rustavi-2 TV, Tbilisi
2 May 06

President Mikheil Saakashvili has said that Georgia may leave the
CIS if a government review concludes that staying in the post-Soviet
alliance is not beneficial to the country. Addressing students of
the school of public administration in Kutaisi in western Georgia on
2 May, he said that the Russian ban on Georgian agricultural produce
and persisting obstacles to free travel made it difficult to justify
continuing membership. To illustrate travel problems, he recounted a
recent incident in which his grandmother, who was passing through a
Moscow airport on her way to a scientific conference in the West,
was detained by the Russian authorities for two hours without
good reason, according to Saakashvili. He renewed his criticism
of Russian involvement in the breakaway region of South Ossetia,
saying that while travelling from Tbilisi to Kutaisi "through the
heart of Georgia" he received a "Welcome to Russia" text message
from a Russian company operating a mobile phone service in South
Ossetia. He described this as "a classic example of annexation" of
Georgian land. The following is the text of Saakashvili's speech,
which was broadcast live by Rustavi-2 TV:

[Saakashvili] First of all, I would like to welcome you all to this
school, which carries the name of my friend, the great Georgian
statesman [late Prime Minister] Zurab Zhvania. This school is a
realization of the dreams of both of us.

This school is something entirely new for the Georgian state. This
institution is to train the Georgian administrative elite, the
people who form the cornerstone of the state administration. Our
main principles of state administration are patriotism, continuity,
the continuation of traditions; that is we must create traditions and
there should be stability in these traditions; we must create our own
etiquette and there must be stability in this etiquette; we must create
our own working style and there must be stability in this style. At
the same time, we must constantly be improving on all of this.

Improving infrastructure and services in Kutaisi

I am pleased that we have set up this school in Kutaisi because
Kutaisi is a special town for me. By the way, my wife and I crossed
paths in this town today. She is here pursuing her own humanitarian
activities. This is the first town Sandra saw in Georgia, before
she ever met me. And that is why she was left with a much better
impression. That was Kutaisi in 1992. Therefore, I must thank Kutaisi
for the fact that she even looked at me when I first sidled up next
to her at university in Strasbourg.

I am happy that today all of Kutaisi is abuzz with activity. The
whole town is abuzz; roads are being repaired everywhere, even in
places where I never thought they would be repaired. Unfortunately,
some of it was affected by the rain.

We are renovating all of Kutaisi's schools. We had two models. One
model, a complete European-standard refurbishment, could have been
carried out in several schools, but that would have caused a certain
amount of irritation and bred suspicion and a sense of competition. The
other model was to treat every school equally. This year we decided
that we will install aluminium doors and windows in each of Kutaisi's
schools. Heating systems will be replaced so that children no longer
gather pathetically in front of small heaters, but rather there will
be gas-powered central heating.

Computers and internet access will be installed everywhere. Today
we saw computers with internet access at school No 32. All manner
of sports equipment and playing fields will be provided. And there
will be running water and facilities, which will allow our children
to grow accustomed to civilized practices from an early age.

Next year, all offices and classrooms in all schools will be
refurbished. From this year, in stages over the course of the next
three years, new desks will be placed in classrooms throughout
Georgia. And in the majority of Georgia's schools we are introducing
school uniforms as a form of discipline and civilization. But this is
a different kind of school uniform, not the type there was before,
where you had a Tbilisi uniform and a Moscow uniform, which was a
little better. Tbilisi's uniform will be one of a European standard.

This is what's being done in Kutaisi and I'm very happy about this. Of
course, much remains to be done and I know very well that there is
nothing to boast about, but what Georgia has achieved in this short
period is a miracle compared with where we were before. It is also
the case that the people have grown accustomed to miracles and demand
more and more and more, but we all must realize that no country was
built overnight and Georgia is no exception. But it is being built
and that is the main thing.

Role of ethnic minorities in Georgia

We have begun building Georgia together, because you are the people who
not just represent various ethnic groups, but you are all Georgians
too - you are citizens of Georgia. For us everyone is the same,
whether they are Azeri, Armenian, Ossetian, Abkhaz, Kurdish, Jewish,
Russian or Ukrainian, if they live in Georgia and love Georgia,
those citizens who are prepared to fight for the country. They are
all valuable and dear to us.

Therefore, those in this first group of graduates will all be employed
in state bodies, including several dozen Azerbaijanis, Armenians,
Kurds, Ossetians and people from other regions who used to have fewer
opportunities, such as the highlands of Ajaria and my dear Svaneti,
although every region is dear to me.

I am delighted that some among you have done particularly well,
in particular Davit Sariev, who got the highest marks. I would like
to tell him that he can work in whichever state department he likes,
and all of you will be employed through a selection process, because
it is important for us that people with your experience and knowledge
are present in every department. Studies here were difficult.

We have lagged behind other nations economically, in terms of
infrastructure and development because for 14-15 years we were
living in a vacuum. This was the first year since independence that
the Georgian people have been fully supplied with electricity. Many
other nations take this for granted. In Georgia it was practically
impossible and, despite a series of promises from various parties
of 12-hour, 16-hour or 18-hour electricity supplies, no-one did it
and in the end people were fed up with those promises. We promised
it once and we did it once and for all.

I would like everyone to know that we will provide equal opportunities
for everyone living in Georgia. We will give everyone an equal
opportunity to study, including the opportunity to study the Georgian
language while preserving their own culture and national, ethnic
customs, but you are all part of this country, our Georgia. We treat
every region equally.

I am proud of the fact that this year we have built a large sports
centre in Kutaisi, and this year we are building a similar one
in Akhalkalaki, another one in Ninotsminda, and we are starting to
build one in Marneuli, where most residents are ethnic Azerbaijanis,
and throughout Georgia.

I would like every person from every region to know that they, as
individuals, are components of the new Georgia. They have prospects,
they have a future. This year we are building a major road in
Javakheti. It will connect Javakheti not just with Tbilisi very soon
but also with other regions of Georgia and will become very important
for transit, allowing trade to develop, traffic to increase and people
to return. We are building a gas supply network in many places. It
will allow people to travel to markets to realize their potential.

We are similarly developing regions where ethnic Azerbaijanis
live. We also want ethnic Greeks to return to Tsalka and we are
similarly developing that area, because that is our richness, our
great multifaceted, multicultural, highly cultured nature. It is
very important.

At the same time, I would also like you to know what kind of state you
are inheriting today, what kind of state apparatus you will be working
in. You are going to work in a state apparatus which over the past two
years has allowed Georgia to develop into a real state. Before we were
a territory, not a state. Two years ago no-one in state service was
paid enough to support their family. Two years ago I would not even
have dared to offer you jobs in the state apparatus. At the time it
was real thievery and people could not make a living honestly. Today
we have salaries which can support families and provide opportunities,
allowing people to take out bank loans to buy flats.

I remember when I threatened to cut [Education Minister] Kakha Lomaia's
salary by 500 lari he said he would have to leave his job in government
because he had taken out a loan to buy a flat. There is now a feeling
of stability. We used to have ministers who had a salary of 20 lari
but nevertheless managed to build four- or five-storey villas for
themselves. We want civil servants who may not be able to build a
house in a year, but can take out a loan, educate their children,
continue their own education and most importantly will be guided by
one thing - how to serve their own people.

Our main aim is respect among our own people. Everything else is not
important, neither jobs nor salaries. We are renovating government
buildings. I was always jealous of the kind of buildings French,
German and English officials have. Whether you want it or not, you
have to do a great job. We are building offices like that in the most
far-flung regions of Georgia - prosecutor's offices, police stations,
tax inspectorates and local administrations. There is much more to do,
but we are doing it.

At the same time, Georgia has created institutions that took much
longer to set up in far more advanced countries. We have created
a very strong police force and special services. We have created
armed forces we can be really proud of. The day before yesterday,
we opened one of the best military bases [in Senaki] I have ever
seen, and I have seen many military bases in NATO countries and
elsewhere. No-one believed that it could be built in just one year,
but we have done it. Its construction started in marshland, in very
difficult conditions, and it was completed in a year.

Russian "annexation" of Georgian land

We should understand that now Georgia is at a very serious
crossroads. We are facing a historic battle. On the one hand, we should
establish ourselves as a European state. This is not simple. It cannot
be taken for granted that a country on this side of the Black Sea
is automatically a European state. I think this will still require
major battles in the future, despite the fact that we are a country
where the Argonauts travelled, despite the fact that we are a country
of Prometheus - after all, Prometheus was chained up in Georgia's
mountains - and despite our ancient and unique European culture. We
still have a major battle ahead of us to establish ourselves as a
European state, because we were isolated for centuries and Europe
managed, to a large extent, to forget our country.

In order to establish ourselves as a European country, we should be
a united country. We cannot remain a dismembered country. People
who fight against our European identity have been waging a daily
propaganda war against Georgia around the world. They want to portray
Georgia as an uncivilized and weak entity that will not survive for
long anyway. These people are Georgia's main problem today.

These people are encroaching on our land every day. Here is a classic
example of this. This is my mobile phone. Today I flew from Tbilisi to
Kutaisi through the heart of Georgia. As you know, the Tbilisi-Kutaisi
route passes through Kartli and Imereti [provinces]. Travelling on
this route, you may get the following message on your phone: Welcome
to Russia; the [Russian mobile] phone company Megafon welcomes you
to Russia; call us on this number for information.

This is a classic example of annexation, right here on my mobile phone,
no further confirmation is needed. This is an uncivilized, barbarous,
medieval-style annexation of a sovereign European country, in violation
of all the international norms and elementary human ethics. Very
serious Russian forces have been setting up telephone networks right
on Georgian territory. They have created a border department for
protecting the Georgian-Ossetian border, the so-called Alania border,
in which the top 25 officers are ethnic Russian employees of the
Russian Border Guard Department.

You also know that almost all members of the government of the
so-called autonomous republic of South Ossetia come from the Russian
Federation. I mean the so-called independent republic, because we do
recognize the autonomous republic. So, in broad daylight, they are
violating the territorial integrity and annexing land of a European
country, Georgia.

Of course, we can turn a blind eye and look the other way, but we
will never get another chance of regaining our country. Until now,
the Georgian authorities have been sufficiently tolerant and flexible,
but I really cannot hand over or cede my country to anyone.

Georgia facing Russian trade restrictions

Also, look at their policy towards Georgia. Representatives of the
Shida Kartli region are here. Last year, imports of our apples were
banned in Russia. By the way, the import ban applied not only to the
Georgian population, but also to ethnic Ossetians. They were also
told not to export apples because Georgian apples might accidentally
mix with Ossetian apples. Well, of course all these apples are grown
in Georgia.

Next, imports of our citrus fruit were banned just before the New
Year despite the fact that Ajarian and Gurian farmers have been
sending their citrus fruit to Russia for decades. And now they have
also banned imports of something we have been selling in Russia for
centuries, Georgian wine, and Georgia is the birthplace of wine.

They have banned other products as well. For example, Kutaisi used to
export lots of greens to Russia. This business is worth hundreds of
millions of lari. Now they have shut down this business completely,
and tens of thousands of people have been left unemployed and with
less income.

I want all of us to understand that all these actions have a single
goal - to cause a famine in Georgia. A few days ago a Russian official
articulated this goal very well. He said he did not understand why,
after all this, the Georgian people were still not taking to the
streets to topple their government. That's their sole purpose - to
change the Georgian government, which is the last chance for Georgia
to regain territorial integrity by peaceful means and by strengthening
the country.

I want all of us to wake up and realize what threats we are facing. One
political party blaming another is not a threat, and nor is it a
threat when some government decision is not completely understood
or is misinterpreted. Today, all of us, regardless of our political
beliefs or ethnic background, are facing the threat of losing our
country, our state, our independence, our freedom and our future. It
is high time everyone woke up. We should move from petty infighting,
gossiping and intrigue weaving to realizing and properly assessing
what the real threats are. We may lose our country and that's a real
threat, but we will not lose our country, because we have already
consolidated our statehood.

Our economy grew by 9.5 per cent last year, 4 per cent more, or 3.5
per cent more than Russia. According to preliminary data, our economy
grew by between 12 and 13 per cent in the first three months of the
current year, which is triple the rate of growth in Russia. Russia
has oil and Russia has natural gas. Russia has increased the prices
of gas and oil it supplies to us. Consequently, every household has
to pay higher prices for electricity and heating.

We should realize, however, that we will continue developing in spite
of this. We will continue attracting investment, we will continue
strengthening our democracy, and we will continue transforming Georgia
into a successful country. Our only response to these people is that
we will build a country that, while being free, will be successful,
rich, united and happy.

Saakashvili's grandmother questioned at Moscow airport

At the same time, we, naturally, want to have a very active dialogue
with the Russian Federation. We are not afflicted by Russophobia or
some kind of obsessively critical attitude towards Russia. We want to
have relations and friendship with Russia, with a Russia that respects
our sovereignty, Russia that will not close the only Georgian church
in the centre of Moscow and will not expel worshippers from there
just because Georgian is spoken there, Russia that will not close
Georgian Sunday schools on Russian territory just because Georgian
is spoken there, Russia that will not create problems on the border.

A few days ago my grandmother, who, despite reaching advanced age
is still in good shape, was going to an international conference
via Russia. She is a doctor, an allergist and immunologist. They
stopped her at Moscow airport for over two hours. She was a transit
passenger. She was searched very thoroughly. She must have looked
like a smuggler to them. Then they kept asking questions for two
hours. What is allergology, what is immunology? Why do you have to go
abroad to discuss allergology and immunology, do we not know enough
about it in Russia? In which field are you a professor? When did you
become a professor? Where do you work? Where do you live? In short,
they were mocking her.

She is the president's grandmother. There are many grandmothers and
grandfathers and simply ordinary people like her being trampled on as
a result of a senseless, incomprehensible, ill-considered and simply
evil and vengeful policy. I want us to react to this in a calm but
dignified manner.

Georgia's future in CIS in doubt

We want to continue consultations with Russia. At the same time,
I want all of us to realize that we also have to take certain
decisions. Officially Georgia became independent at the end of 1991. We
declared independence much earlier, but that was when our independence
was recognized by most countries. Georgia, just like the Baltic
countries, refused to join the Commonwealth of Independent States
at the time. Then in 1993, during the Abkhaz tragedy, a ruined and
humiliated Georgia, which had been brought to its knees, was forced
to join the Commonwealth of Independence States.

I think that while it was a humiliating act, we have benefited a lot
from being in this commonwealth. We have managed to maintain links
with former Soviet republics. We have very close and very friendly
relations with the majority of these countries. We have managed
to conclude bilateral agreements, we have managed to set up trade
networks, we have managed to facilitate travel and maintain ties
between our countries. This process has become much more active in
the last two years. I am happy that many Azerbaijanis, Armenians -
I am speaking about Azerbaijanis from Azerbaijan and Armenians from
Armenia because we have our own Azerbaijanis and Armenians - Kazakh
people, Belarusians, Ukrainians and many others visit Georgia. That
is very important. It is also very important that for many years
we had partner-like relations with the Russian Federation and that
our produce was sold in Russia. Demand for it has increased recently
because Georgia has been getting back on its feet. This year Russian
orders for Georgian wine have doubled compared with last year.

However, Russia has now closed everything to us. That is why we should
now sit down and calculate whether or not the continuing membership
of the CIS is worth it. Hasty and ill-considered decisions taken
without proper analysis are the last thing we will do.

Today I instructed the Georgian government to thoroughly examine
and present to me in the near future - I am talking about a few
weeks, perhaps months, two months at the most - an accurate economic
evaluation of whether or not it is worth Georgia remaining in the
Commonwealth of Independent States. If it is still possible for us
to derive some benefits, we will consider staying in it. If, as I
suspect, in practice Georgia is no longer able to derive benefits
from that organization and all it gets from there is humiliation
and insults, then the Georgian people, together with its parliament
and government, should take a decision worthy of a country which has
dignity and stands firm on its own two feet.

Simultaneously we should continue consultations on this issue with all
our friends and partners, including CIS member states, and elaborate
a coordinated policy together with them. We should continue entering
new markets.

Promoting Georgian goods abroad

Some people have questioned why the president had to go to China
to promote Georgian wine, or why Georgian wine is being promoted
in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Poland or in Ukraine where I asked
[Defence Minister Irakli] Okruashvili to do it. That is because we
should learn to operate on all markets.

We should reclaim [changes thought] - One day we will certainly return
to the Russian market, but as long as the people who are strangling
us and who want to destroy Georgia have the illusion that we cannot
see beyond them, they will always sap our last resources so that we
are weak, humiliated and in a state of economic depression. Once they
know that Georgia has access to other markets, that Georgia really
makes European- and world-class products, then we will have much
better opportunities to enter that market.

We will no longer be able to enter other markets through the
backdoor. We must understand that, for example, Russian wine imports
are merely a twentieth of the US wine market. We know very well that
Georgia is currently very popular in America. We have to work on that.

The Russian authorities should be thanked a lot for advertising
Georgian wine so well. The publicity Georgian wine has received in
a two-week period has been greater than the publicity it received in
the preceding 3,000 years, that is since winemaking began in Georgia.

I was on Brussels a few days ago where someone stopped me in the street
and said that he did not know before that we produced wine. Ordinary
people read this in newspapers. Newspapers around the world write
about this and no-one doubts that our wine has not been banned
because of pesticides or something else. Everyone knows why it has
been banned. Georgian wine is now described as a freedom drink.

I am sure that if we all work well, if business and the state stand
together, if we give subsidies, which we are doing - [changes thought]
We have made money available for our wine to be marketed in Eastern
Europe and America. We have made several million dollars available
for that and we will release much more, tens of millions, if we see
that it works.

Yesterday the government made a decision, which I have endorsed, to
issue a state loan for the construction of a grape processing plant
to produce grape concentrate, in addition to wine, which will make it
possible for the entire grape harvest to be bought this year. We will
buy the entire grape harvest this year. We will not abandon a single
farmer. We should not. That is my categorical instruction, which I
will see through to the end. We should build, rather than destroy,
vineyards. But we should also learn to produce good wine. We should
learn to manufacture other good products.

We should not destroy our citrus trees. We should enter new markets,
we should learn to package and process our produce, we should learn to
make juices and other ready products. Most important, we should learn
to work better in general and promote our goods better. In general,
we should learn more in many spheres. Our people are very talented
and very sensible.

"Georgia cannot be anyone's slave"

What is the aim of the people who assembled the facilities sending
such mobile phone messages? They want Georgia to give up on itself,
say that there is no hope and prostrate itself in front of them. You
must realize that I know these people well. Even if we go down on our
knees in front of them, kiss their feet and pledge eternal loyalty to
them, they will never trust us and will never give us even a modicum
of humane treatment. That is because the complexes of these people and
their psychology are such that they want you as either their slave or
their enemy. Georgia cannot be anyone's slave if we want our children
to live in a normal country. Nor should Georgia be anyone's enemy. We
will develop good relations with everyone. It is just a matter of time.

The Baltic countries - Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia - went through the
same process. Tomorrow I am going to Vilnius to meet our colleagues,
presidents, including the American vice-president. Poland, the
Czech Republic and Hungary also had to go through it. Our task is
doubly difficult because we have to go through this and also get to
Sukhumi. We should go through this while making sure that no-one in
Tskhinvali sends us messages saying Welcome to Russia. We should be
able to cover the entire territory of Georgia without coming across
even a tiny fragment of Russia or a telephone message, while having
good-neighbourly, warm, friendly and humane relations with Russia.

We should all do this together. That is not a task for ethnic Georgians
alone. It is a common task for our Armenians, our Azerbaijanis, our
Ossetians, our Abkhaz, our Kurds, our Russians, our Ukrainians and
our ethnic Georgians. If we just take ethnic Georgians, there are
too few of us, but if we take the people of all ethnic origins who
come from Georgia, there are more than 6m of us around the world,
which is already a force. Together, those of us inside the country
and those outside, we are a big force.

That is why I would like to greet you again. I want us to be ready for
anything and I must warn everyone that there will be more difficulties
ahead. There will be acts of provocation. We have accurate documentary
information about the nature of such acts of provocation and who is
planning them. We know all that. We are no longer the pushovers we
used to be. I am very proud of that and we will prove that to everyone.

Yet, you are still our main force. You are a new, self-confident
and educated generation caring about the future of your country. I
would like to greet you again and express the hope that you
build a much stronger Georgia which will overcome these temporary
difficulties. Thank you very much. [Applause]