Few days after a controversial interview with the Russian daily Kommersant was published, the Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili had to make some clarifications via a separate interview with the Georgian daily, 24 Saati.
Merabishvili’s interview with the Kommersant triggered wave of criticism by the opposition towards a powerful interior minister, who is often targeted by the opponents accusing him of politicizing the law enforcement structures. His remarks in the Kommersant interview about an attempt to bribe Russian militaries to convince them to destroy Stalin statue in Gori during the August war, as well as remarks about EU’s recommendations and Georgia’s role in North Caucasus issues were major source of controversy.
Below is an English translation of Merabishvili’s interview published by the 24 Saati on April 10.
Q.: Your interview, which was published in daily Kommersant a couple of days ago, was already described in Georgia as scandalous. The Interior Ministry has issued a statement in connection with this interview saying that some of your opinions were cut out of the context. But it did not prove enough and this statement failed to satisfy public interest. Special attention was drawn to the part of the interview, where [longtime Soviet and Russian senior official Yevgeny] Primakov was named as an author of an idea about resumption of monarchy [in Georgia].
A.: Primakov’s personality in respect of Georgia has emerged quite recently – during his birthday party Putin, so to say, made Primakov in charge of Georgian issue. The idea of monarchy [in Georgia] is much older and it is not right to link these two issues to each other.
I have my own opinion about restoring of monarchy in Georgia. I think that restoring of monarchy in the 21st century is total anachronism. Those politicians, who support this idea, do not deserve my sympathy.
As far as Primakov is concerned, I have linked Nogaideli, Burjanadze and so on with him. I think it’s reflected in the article [the Kommersant interview] as well.
So, these are two separate topics.
Q.: Another opinion of yours has also triggered concerns – you say in the interview that you do not deem it necessary to take Europe’s recommendations into consideration.
A.: The entire interview and my conservation [with the Kommersant journalist] were full of democratic and pro-European statements. In 80 percents of the interview I say that there exists no civilization except for the western one and a sentence in which as if I say that we never follow Europeans, has never been said by me.
In the interview I brought one concrete fact when the European Union [Monitoring Mission] recommended us not to use [light] armored vehicles in the conflict zone (by the way, it was the only case of criticism by the EU monitoring mission towards our ministry).
I mentioned in the interview that we did not followed the EU recommendation not to use armored vehicles (as, in their opinion, it could have caused provocations on the part of Russia) and nevertheless we brought these vehicles, thus saving the lives of our policemen. Let me remind you that we have lost 14 policemen in the conflict zone since the [August] war. I mentioned in that interview that after we started patrols with the use of those armored vehicles we have not lost even one policeman.
You can look at documents about how the EU Monitoring Mission is assessing the activities of the Georgian police in the conflict zone, saying that the Georgian side does not violate even one provision of the agreement.
As far as the third issue about continuation of war with Russia is concerned, our opinion about repelling the Russian aggression is reflected quite clearly in that text [the interview]. Our major weapon is democratic reforms and modernization. We should defeat Russia just in this struggle.
You know that Georgia is firmly observing all of its commitments undertaken by the six-point [ceasefire] agreement.
Q.: One more interesting part [of the interview] – 50,000 offered by [ruling party] MP Givi Targamadze to Russian servicemen in exchange of destroying Stalin monument [in the town of Gori]…
A.: Both of us – me and [Kommersant] journalist – knew this information and we were talking about it jokingly.
It is a well-known story – when Givi Targamadze was negotiating with the occupants on the release of captives, he told them ‘do not destroy the civil infrastructure and if you want we can give you money and blow up the monument’ – that’s the context in which it was said. Russian officers were saying how could be say it about Stalin, ‘Stalin is our ideal’… So, I was speaking about these attitudes – Russian officers and Russian army, who intruded into our land, are followers of Stalin, they are Stalinists. Just this is what I wanted to say.
Q.: The First Caucasian Channel and assistance to Chechens was also raised in the interview.
A.: First of all, I have to say, that Georgia has condemned terrorist acts in Moscow [metro] and expressed condolences to the families of the victims. There is no justification of terrorism and murder of innocent people.
You know that Chechens and North Caucasians were actively engaged in the first war in Abkhazia and Ossetia [in early 90s]; but after Georgia itself became a victim of aggression even Moscow-based Chechens became sympathetic towards Georgia, because Georgians also became victims of the Russian aggression. Conversation [in the Kommersant interview] was only about that. As far as the First Caucasian Channel is concerned, the Interior Ministry has nothing to do with this channel.
Function of the First Caucasian is to show to the Russian-speaking audience reforms ongoing in Georgia, which is a real strength of Georgia. We remember that during the war in Abkhazia [in early 90s], Russia’s propaganda managed to negatively dispose one part of the North Caucasus people towards Georgia. Goal of the First Caucasian is to provide people of the North Caucasus with different, free point of view.
Q.: In the interview with the Russian newspaper you have also mentioned pre-election ratings of the Georgian politicians and the issue of their failures…
A.: Like most of my deputies, I am a political figure, a civilian person, I do not have any military rank. What I have said in the interview is not only my personal assessment; it’s a fact and results of public opinion surveys were published more than once. I can reiterate again what is written in the Kommersant – the opposition will not win the elections, because it is weak. What is not written in the interview, although I said it, is that those politicians, who go to Moscow to have talks with Putin are, at first, losing their rating and then go [to Moscow] and not vice versa… Going to Moscow to meet with Putin is a sign of their despair, including in the case of [Zurab] Nogaideli [a former PM and now leader of Movement for Fair Georgia].
Q.: Nogaideli was the one, who had the sharpest reaction to this interview.
A.: Nogaideli’s statements do not correspond to his capabilities… I do not consider him seriously. I can say the same about [Nino] Burjanadze [a former parliamentary speaker and now leader of Democratic Movement-United Georgia].
Q.: How real is a scenario depicted in simulated Kronika [reference to Imedi TV’s fake news broadcast], about which President [Saakashvili] said that this threat persists?
A.: It’s not a secret for anyone that Russia has aggressive plans towards Georgia. Russia has failed to accomplish its plans in August, 2008.
I make this statement once in every six months through TV and I want to repeat it now – threat of a large-scale aggression in nearest months is minimal. Minor provocations are never ruled out and as soon as we see that the threat is high, we will officially warn the society about it.
Q.: What do you expect after the local elections?
A.: Most of the Georgians are waiting for the [2010 Football] World Cup [starting in June], although I am not a big football fan, my child is waiting for it.
Q.: What would you say about threat of possible Kyrgyz scenario in Georgia?
A.: I do not see any link or influence of those events on Georgia. There are no similarities at all – neither geographical nor political and of any other type. It won’t have any influence on Georgia.
There will be no unrests neither before, nor after elections and not because the police will not let it happen, but because of the public mood shows that Nogaideli and small radical groups like him do not have any public support. Such a scenario is absolutely unacceptable even for the opposition-minded society. Such radical actions simply have no powerbase. I am sure that election will be held calmly, objectively and because of the society active [engagement in the process] I do not see any threat.
Q.: How would you assess situation in the conflict zones?
A.: Situation is stable and after we have reinforced security measures for our policemen, thanks God, there have not been tragic cases among the policemen. Although it is very alarming that cases of kidnapping of Georgian civilians continue to occur.
Then the interview continues with several questions, not related with the Kommersant interview, in particular about a music video and a song promoting the Georgian police in production of which, as Merabishvili said, he had personally “took an active part”.
“It’s a fact that while speaking with foreigners, even opposition figures are saying that they are proud of the Georgian police – I know it from various sources,” Merabishvili said.