Opposition should “put aside,” not necessarily “give up,” the demand for President Saakashvili’s immediate resignation and the authorities should not use a dialogue for marginalizing the opposition, Peter Semneby, the EU’s special representative for South Caucasus, said.
He suggested in an interview with RFE/RL Georgian service on April 17 that these two issues might be part of concessions that was required from the both sides. Semneby, although having no formal role of mediator, has held series of meetings with opposition leaders, government officials and representatives of the Georgian civil society in Tbilisi in recent days amid ongoing protest rallies.
“Of course, there are some concessions that are necessary on both sides and certainly the advice that we have been giving, that others have been giving, is that the primary aim of the demonstrators – the immediate resignation of the president – should be put aside,” Semneby said. “I'm not saying that they should give up this. It's a legitimate right in any democracy to make any political demand that keeps within the constitutional framework.”
“But in order to make sure that we have a dialogue it will, of course, not be helpful to have as the primary aim that the immediate departure of your negotiation partner. So, while this demand can of course remain, there has to be at the same time a dialogue on constitutional issues, on electoral issues, and so on, which will have to involve all the major political forces in Georgia,” he said.
On the part of the government, he continued, it should engage in a dialogue “in good faith” and should not take it “as an opportunity to put additional pressure on the opposition, to marginalize the opposition, and squeeze the opposition, but, actually, I would say, to empower it, even.”
EU diplomat suggested that the rallies had given the opposition “some leverage” and it was not in its interest that the demonstrations “just fizzled out.”
He, however, also warned that “this leverage will not last forever so it should be in their [opposition’s] interest to use it in a constructive way while it lasts.”
He also warned the authorities that if these demonstrations end without resolving “the fundamental, underlying” political issues, the similar political standoff might reoccur in - “I don't know how many months – three, four, six, twelve.”
“This is an opportunity to break this cycle that Georgia has been going through now for a long, long time of resolving issues in the streets. This is not the way that things are done in a modern democracy,” Semneby said, but he also stressed that protest rallies were part of democracy and a fundamental democratic right.
He said that the stakes were high and both the authorities and the opposition were aware of that.
“The stakes here concern the future of Georgia, how Georgia is governed, the political culture of Georgia, how Georgia is viewed in the world, which in turn will influence also how Georgia's partners and friends are able engage with Georgia,” he said. “So there are many implications that go beyond actually the more narrow issues that are in the focus of attention there before the parliament. So this is what is essentially at stake.”
He also said that although EU’s role as a formal mediator would not be appropriate, EU was ready to consider “any role” that might be acceptable for the both sides.