Amid growing calls for a probe into what led to war with Russia, President Saakashvili said on September 12 that not a single question should remain unanswered and he proposed to set up of “a group of rapporteurs” to study the matter.
Just a few hours before the announcement, former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze held a press conference in Tbilisi after returning from a lengthy trip to the United States and Europe, and called for “a serious investigation” into whether it was possible or not to have avoided the war.
Burjanadze made similar calls in earlier interviews with western media sources, but this is the first time she has brought up the issue in Tbilisi.
Burjanadze, who now chairs a non-governmental group, the Foundation for Democracy and Development (FDD), set up by her after quitting the ruling party a month before the May 21 parliamentary elections, said that the time for tough questions had come.
“The authorities should now give a competent and justified answer to the question of whether or not it was possible to have averted [the war],” she said at a news conference.
Some opposition leaders have already called for President Saakashvili’s resignation and for early presidential and parliamentary elections; Burjanadze, however, said her position on the matter would largely depend on the answers she received from the authorities.
“My final position will depend on how adequately the authorities act and how adequately they respond to the country’s current reality,” Burjanadze said.
She said that a simplistic answer from the authorities – such as “we have won” - would not be acceptable.
“I am sorry, but we have not won,” she said. “We have been severely defeated.”
“We know that [South Ossetian secessionist leader Eduard] Kokoity opened fire on Georgian villages; we know that Russia did nothing to stop the shooting. But we want to know whether it was possible to avoid further escalation; whether the government could have acted otherwise or was it the only option. It needs argued, justified answers based on evidence,” Burjanadze added.
“There is no time for the authorities’ propaganda. The truth should be said today, no matter how bitter it may be,” she continued. “And the truth is that Georgia is in an extremely critical situation; today we are in the worst situation in terms of conflict resolution than we have ever been in for the past 10 years, and we should admit that we are no closer to resolving these conflicts. However, not a single Georgian will ever reconcile to the loss of Abkhazia and Samachablo [South Ossetia].”
She also revealed she was holding consultations on the format of the commission to oversee the proposed probe.
President Saakashvili, meanwhile, held a live televised meeting with cabinet members and senior government officials on Friday evening and said the authorities were ready for a transparent investigation. He also reiterated that he was assuming “full responsibility for what happed before the [Russian] intervention and full responsibly for Georgia’s rebuilding and future.”
“I welcome the fact that Parliament, the opposition and various groups in society have various questions about the Russian aggression, about this war, and that they want additional information on many details,” he said. “These questions are absolutely fair and all of them should be answered. We should be ready to answer them.”
“Therefore, I welcome the idea of setting up a group of rapporteurs in the parliament. I have discussed this issue with various groups and it was their idea, it is not my idea,” he said. He did not, however, specify with whom he had discussed the matter.
Saakashvili in his speech mostly spoke of “a group of rapporteurs” within Parliament – what he called “a parliamentary process” – but at one point he also mentioned non-governmental groups, saying: “We want to submit all material and evidence – and we have more than enough [of this evidence] – to this parliamentary process, to the non-governmental organizations.”
This is the second time Saakashvili has said he was willing to accept a parliamentary probe. He called on Parliament on September 10 to study “in detail all the aspects of the Russian aggression, including what led us to this point.”
The actual make-up of the group that is to conduct the probe is likely to become a matter of contention. Many opposition parties will refuse to accept a solely intra-parliamentary composition, as parties in the parliamentary minority are criticized by them as “the authorities’ satellite parties.”
Saakashvili also said the group of rapporteurs “will receive all the available information.”
“I hope that this group of rapporteurs will work quickly, effectively, thoroughly and they will not leave even a small question without an answer,” he said. “I hope that appropriate hearings, debates will be held, as well as a transparent parliamentary process. We are a democratic country and democrats do everything openly. We differ from Russia in that decisions there [in Russia] are made by one person and others implementing them, even the most irresponsible decisions, without any criticism.”
At the news conference Nino Burjanadze also called on the authorities to ease, as she put it, restrictions on the broadcast media and to allow public debate on the matter. The Georgian Public Broadcaster, she said, should at least provide an opportunity to hold discussions.
Burjanadze confirmed that she had plans to set up a political party and was holding consultations on the matter; she, however, did not go into details.