The United States is confident that Georgia will move “in the right direction” and will restore democratic momentum with and after the early presidential polls, a senior U.S. diplomat said on November 13.
Speaking at a news conference in Tbilisi after a series of talks with the Georgian leadership and the opposition, Mathew Bryza, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, reaffirmed Washington’s “firm support” for Georgian membership of NATO.
The Georgian authorities’ decision to impose a state of emergency and to close down two private television stations, Imedi and Kavkasia, has triggered international condemnation, with the reaction from NATO, although not necessarily the most severe, having the greatest impact, particularly on Tbilisi’s hopes of gaining a Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the alliance’s summit in Bucharest in April.
“Some of our fellow allies [in NATO] are wondering whether or not the events that are unfolding right now [in Georgia] mean that Georgia someway disqualifies itself for Membership Action Plan,” Mathew Bryza said. “We do not share that view… As the state of emergency is lifted and as the country prepares for the elections and if those elections are as free and fair as we expect them to be, why should there be any questions.”
He did, however, push the Georgian leadership to lift the state of emergency and to restore media freedoms.
“These steps are important to restore everyone’s faith in democratic processes,” he said. “If Georgia’s democratic system recovers and moves forward again then it appears that Georgia will be on the path again to fulfilling all the criteria of NATO membership.”
In an apparent attempt to allay skeptics' concerns about Georgia’s democratic credentials, Bryza said the sort of tensions observed recently in Georgia were “by-products” of drastic, but necessary reforms.
“We have spent over a decade contributing part of our treasure, energy and our emotions to the success of Georgia’s democracy,” he said, “and we should keep in mind that, despite the current tensions, what has happened here in the last four years is positive, it is in fact remarkable and it is only the beginning of the story.”
He, however, also said: “The jury is still out as to how it will come out, but I feel more confident that things will get back on track.”
Bryza also said that the U.S. State Department’s immediate reaction to the developments in Georgia was a clear sign that Washington’s support to Georgia was not “unconditional” and that the U.S. administration was concerned that “the beacon was not shining as brightly as it should” – a reference to U.S. President Bush’s description of Georgia during a visit to Tbilisi in 2005 as a beacon of democracy.
Need for ‘Professional Journalism’
While calling for the full restoration of media freedom, Bryza also focused on the need for, what he called, “a fully professional journalism.”
“I sense that the Georgian government is genuinely, genuinely concerned of what has been broadcast by Imedi TV at that time [of the demonstrations], that it was inciting people to overthrow the government,” Bryza said. Bryza, however, was quick to distance himself from this view, immediately adding: “I am not saying that Imedi [TV] was doing that… I do not know actually what it was saying. What I can say is that I know there is genuine fear, or belief in the government that that was happening.”
Imedi TV has been off the air since a November 7 police raid on the studio. A ruling party official has claimed that Imedi TV - co-owned by business tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili and News Corporation – was the propaganda wing of alleged coup plotters financed by Patarkatsishvili and supported by the Russian intelligence service. The authorities have been claiming that through its inflammatory news coverage Imedi TV was inciting unrest.
The U.S. diplomat then complained that he was “misinterpreted all the time” by both Imedi and Rustavi 2 TV stations – the two major television stations in Georgia.
“Maybe because I do not speak clearly, or maybe there are translation problems, but sometimes there are desires of editors to manipulate,” he said. “So when Imedi is restored, when Kavkasia TV is restored, when Rustavi 2 news broadcast is restored, we hope that the journalism that is coming out is fully professional… and does not involve calls for unconstitutional steps, but instead of that offers a variety of views, different views and political views that are critical of the current government.”