November 23, Strasbourg
Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am humbled by the immense honor that your invitation signifies for my country and I would like to thank the Presidency of the Parliament and all the political groups for this opportunity.
I came here to deliver a message of hope and to make a solemn pledge.
I came here to affirm that peace-a just and lasting peace-is possible in my region, and that we need Europe to contribute to it.
For centuries, the Caucasian mountains have been a geopolitical mystery, a beguiling paradox-a region where individuals and souls were free, but where citizens were oppressed; where cultures were tolerant, but where governments created artificial divisions; where people never ceased to feel deeply Europeans, but where walls erected by Empires turned Europe into a faraway mirage, where men and women were striving for peace, but where wars seemed unavoidable.
I came here to tell you that we must put an end to these times, that cooperation must replace rivalry, that negotiation must prevail over the rhetoric of war.
Ladies and gentlemen, in all the troubled corners of our world, the European Parliament is a symbol of hope-the striking proof that even the cruelest of conflicts can be overcome and that peace is worth any political risk.
This very place would not exist if-in the middle of ruins, surrounded by death and legitimate claims for revenge-brave leaders did not choose to end centuries of wars by launching the most ambitious and fascinating political experiment of our time: European unification.
This Parliament-divided not by nationality, but into political groups-fulfils the vision so eloquently expressed by Victor Hugo at the 1849 International Congress of Peace in Paris.
Allow me to quote this visionary poet in his own language:
"Un jour viendra où vous toutes, nations du continent, sans perdre vos qualités distinctes et votre glorieuse individualité, vous vous fondrez étroitement dans une unité supérieure, et vous constituerez la fraternité européenne. Un jour viendra où il n'y aura plus d'autres champs de bataille que les marchés s'ouvrant au commerce et les esprits s'ouvrant aux idées. Un jour viendra où les boulets et les bombes seront remplacés par les votes, par le suffrage universel des peuples, par le vénérable arbitrage d'un grand Sénat Souverain qui sera à l'Europe ce que le Parlement est à l'Angleterre, ce que la Diète est à l'Allemagne, ce que l'Assemblée législative est à la France!"
Most of Hugo's contemporaries thought he was an infantile dreamer when he pronounced this speech and it took more than 100 years and 2 world wars for History to hear his voice.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is high time for Hugo's voice to be echoed and heard in my region as well.
It is high time for this voice of brotherhood to overcome the sounds of canons and the calls for hatred.
It is high time for the European peace to be extended to the Caucasus.
And it is our responsibility, as political leaders, to conceive bold initiatives in order to make this happen.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Exactly 7 years ago, the Rose Revolution initiated the new journey towards the European family of an old European nation, my beloved Georgia.
On November 23rd 2003, hundreds of thousands of citizens-of all regional, religious, and social backgrounds-peacefully took over the streets and the Parliament.
They did more than overthrow a corrupt, backward-looking regime: they triggered what The Economist of London called some weeks ago a "mental revolution."
As some of you know it well in this Assembly, there has been two ways of getting out from communist regimes after the liberating collapse of USSR: the European one and the nationalistic one, the rule of law and the rule of fear. To sum up: Vaclav Havel or Slobodan Milosevic.
Once the tyranny of the Party was over, the divisions, the corruption, the verticality, the bureaucracy, the cynicism and the authoritarianism that were the pillars of the Soviet society remained.
7 years ago, Ladies and gentlemen, Georgia was formally an independent State but Georgia was still part of this world of fears and hatreds.
The borders of the soviet mentality were not abolished yet and Soviet Union was still existing in the minds and the souls.
Only a "mental revolution" could lead to a European transformation of our societies.
This is the message that we, Georgians, brought to this region. This is the message that unleashed so much anger towards us among the nostalgics of the Empire.
But this is the message that turned Georgia into a laboratory of reforms for our region.
When we led the Rose Revolution, we were members of student organizations, opposition parties, civil society groups-all united by a single dream: to turn a dysfunctional post-Soviet country crippled by corruption and crime into a European democracy.
Ladies and gentlemen, Soviet Union was based on one principle: divide to rule.
People were artificially opposed to each others, at every level of the society, in every field.
In every Republic, the different religious, social, ethnic groups were put in constant rivalry and politics was understood as an art of manipulation of fears and hatreds.
This explains why former communists leaders turned so easily into nationalists, in the Balkans as well as in the Caucasus, in Eastern Europe as well as in Russia.
7 years ago, Georgia was still divided into isolated communities fearing each other and some extremists were using the weakness of the State to reject minorities.
Our first task was therefore to embrace multiculturalism and differences.
We have developed an affirmative action program - in all spheres, from higher education to law enforcement bodies.
Soviet Union had another caracteristic: an absolute centralization.
7 years ago, Georgia was still all about its capital and we initiated a vast decentralization program, heavily invested in regional infrastructures and spectacularly empowered local authorities.
As a result, regions that were once abandoned became the most striking examples of our development.
Until the Rose Revolution, all key regional principles were appointed by the President. So - while others were restoring the famous "vertical of power", canceling the autonomy of all regions - we systematically transferred powers to regional elected bodies.
This policy recently lead to the first direct election of the mayor of Tbilisi last May and in the decision to move the Constitutional Court to the city of Batumi and the Parliament to the city of Kutaisi.
Soviet Union was all about control and corruption, an overweight and inefficient State.
Our first step was therefore to dissolve the KGB, fire the entire police forces, as well as customs officers and tax agents, but also to open up our economy and our educational system.
The vision that guided all these steps was captured by a single symbol: besides every Georgian flag, in every official building, we installed a European flag.
We did this to show where we were aiming to take Georgia with our reforms.
Of course, our peaceful revolution has had its share of failures and shortcomings.
Of course, we have made mistakes.
But, as the great inventor of "European cosmopolitism" and one of my favorite philosophers- Emmanuel Kant-wrote about the French revolution: "You cannot be ready to be free until you are free."
What Emmanuel Kant meant, Ladies and gentlemen, is that no book can teach you in advance how to govern or even behave in freedom. You can only learn this from your own successes and failures.
We have had failures and we have learnt from them, but we have also had surprising successes.
Georgia has just been singled out by the World Bank as the number 1 economic reformer in the world over the last 5 years, and now ranks 12th place in the world for the ease of doing business, number one in Eastern and Central Europe.
Once the epicenter of the post-Soviet mafia, Georgia has made more progress against corruption than any other country in the world from 2004 to 2009, according to Transparency International.
I value these rankings only because they reflect and reveal the social and moral transformation that happened in my country, the "mental revolution" to which I referred earlier.
Georgian citizens have stopped thinking of their country as a post-Soviet state. They see it, judge it, and often criticize it as a European democracy.
Such change goes far beyond the leaders and parties that led the Rose Revolution. It is something that nobody owns and nobody can suppress, neither us nor anybody else. Such revolution leads to this amazing fact in our part of the world, the fact that Institutions are systematically more popular than any political figure.
There is a great deal more to do, obviously, and we are more committed than ever to pursuing our path of reforms.
We are aware than democracy is always a work in progress.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our alternative democratic model was not welcome by everyone, of course.
It met fierce opposition among those revisionist forces who still perceive the fall of the USSR as the "worst catastrophe of the 20th century."
They imposed a full-scale embargo on my nation in 2006, deported our citizens, repeatedly bombed our territory, and finally invaded in 2008.
As I speak, these forces still occupy 20% of Georgian territory, in blatant violation of international law and of the August 12th cease-fire agreement brokered thanks to the efforts of my good friend, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was acting then as President of the European Union.
As I speak, Georgia still counts up to 500,000 IDP's and refugees who cannot return home because some people animated by an old imperialist mentality decided to welcome the 21st century by organizing ethnic cleansing campaigns and building a new Berlin Wall in my country.
How did we respond to these aggressions?
We fully implemented the ceasefire agreement and went beyond our obligations, without even once using as a pretext Russia's refusal to comply.
Last August, the head of the European Union Monitoring Mission, Hansjörg Haber, publicly praised Georgian restraint and our engagement strategy as "constructive unilateralism".
When tanks and missiles are standing at 50 kilometers of a capital, governments usually play the card of the besieged nation, proclaim that freedom is a luxury they cannot afford and start to crackdown their opposition and close their society.
We did exactly the contrary.
We are, Ladies and gentlemen, building a democracy at a gunpoint.
In front of the Iron Curtain that the occupation forces have built around the region of Abkhazia, in the small seaside town of Anaklia, a new tourism resort is being built as we speak, with beautiful hotels and sand beaches.
Some suggest that we should stop and wait until the situation is resolved and only then start building when the ground is less shaky.
Our philosophy is the complete opposite - we are constructing buildings not because they are on a strong ground but because building them will eventually make the ground stronger.
In Anaklia, a new phase of development started in 2005 after the place had been destroyed by the conflict already twice, in 1993 and 1998.
In 2008, it once again witnessed total destruction.
And few weeks after, the constructions started again.
A great poet and a famous Russian dissident, Alexander Galich, one of these 8 heroes that demonstrated on the Red Square in 68 against the invasion of Prague, wrote about Georgia:
"Прекрасная и гордая страна! / Ты отвечаешь шуткой на злословье."
Translation: "Splendid and proud country / You respond to mud-slinging by a smile"
Last time I visited Anaklia I saw a row of discotheques as lively as you can see anywhere in Europe, where young people danced just like they would do in Ibiza or Saint-Tropez.
The only difference was that after the last disco on the beech there is a wall that the occupying army has erected.
Let me ask you: what is more absurd than a New Berlin Wall on a sandy beech?
Ladies and gentlemen,
In short, we understand that peace is in our supreme interest and we are convinced there is no alternative to peace.
By jeopardizing peace, we would place at risk everything we have achieved and everything we want to achieve in the coming years.
And so I came here to announce a new step in our policy of constructive unilateralism.
I am here to take an initiative that, I hope and with your help, will defuse the tensions and allow serious negotiations to start.
Before coming, I reflected a lot and also consulted with our European and American allies.
The Georgian government already considers itself bound by the August 12th ceasefire agreement and has always understood that this ceasefire clearly prohibits the use of force.
But-in order to prove that Georgia is definitively committed to a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Russian Federation-we take today the unilateral initiative to declare that Georgia will never use force to restore its territorial integrity and sovereignty, that it will only resort to peaceful means in its quest for de-occupation and reunification.
Even if the Russian Federation refuses to withdraw its occupation forces, even if its proxy militias multiply their human rights violations, Georgia will only retain the right to self-defense in the case of new attacks and invasion of the 80% of the Georgian territory that remains under control of the Georgian government.
I will address the relevant letters to the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Secretary General of the OSCE, and the leadership of the European Union, stating clearly that we commit ourselves not to use force in order to reunite our illegally divided country, neither against the occupation forces, nor against their proxies, even though the UN Charter could allow us to do so.
My pledge here, in front of you, constitutes a unilateral declaration of a state under international law.
This initiative, Ladies and gentlemen, is far from an easy one for a country that is partially occupied and that counts 500 000 IDPs and refugees.
It continues and expands our policy of "constructive unilateralism."
I am, ladies and gentlemen, ready for a deep and comprehensive dialogue with my Russian counterpart.
We will of course continue to participate in the Geneva talks, hoping that our pledge today will persuade the Russian Federation to stop blocking these discussions.
But we need the political dialogue to start as well.
And for this to occur, the international community must make clear to the Russian leaders that the situation today is totally irregular and unsustainable.
In order to push them to discuss a compromise, its is essential to clearly state the reality of the situation on the ground.
This is why we are asking that the Russian military buildup within the international borders of Georgia be qualified as an illegal occupation of a sovereign territory. Many European nations, as well as the United States, already have done so.
Equally, the brutal campaigns that have expelled hundreds of thousands of Georgian citizens from the occupied territories should be qualified as illegal acts of ethnic cleansing.
If we fail to denounce this ethnic cleansing, why would the occupiers ever even consider allowing them to return to their homes and villages?
Ladies and gentlemen, if the first victim of war is always the truth, the truth is always the most solid foundation of peace.
Our constructive unilateralism and the pledge I have just made will not have the expected impact if our European friends do not speak out the truth-if you do not speak out the truth."
I came here today, humbly, to tell you that we depend on you.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our region has known too many wars in recent History. It is time, to paraphrase Hugo once again, to replace canons with roundtables.
Our region has had its own Warsaw, its own Coventry, its own Oradour-Sur-Glane, and it is time to build on our common rejection of war and destruction.
It is time to say that we must never have another Grozny- a regional capital of 400 000 inhabitants that has been totally wiped out from the surface of the globe.
It is time to say that we must never see again people expelled from their homes or deported on the basis of their nationality, their faith or their origins, as it happened in my own country as well as in other countries of the region.
I am ready to work with the Russian leadership so that this does not happen ever again, so that the consequences of war are reversed and the conditions for peace are established.
Walls like the one dividing Georgia will not be brought down by bombs, but by the commitment of citizens to build a free, united country-and by the commitment of the world community to enforce international law.
It is noticeable that, despite enormous pressure and multiple threats from Moscow, not a single former Soviet republic has recognized the dismemberment of Georgia.
It shows-to the great surprise and fury of some people-that the old times are definitely over.
It shows that the former captive nations of Soviet times have become strong, independent states that determine their own policies.
No one, in short, is going back to the USSR.
Ladies and gentlemen, our region has made its choice.
A war has been launched to stop this movement, but tanks cannot reverse the sense of History and it is time for the long and dolorous hangover of imperialism to end, peacefully.
I call, therefore, on the Russian leaders to make the choice of the future.
They could play such a major positive role in the ongoing transformation of our common region, accepting other countries as partners and not vassals.
We all want-I personally want-Russia as a partner and not as an enemy.
Nobody has a greater stake than us in seeing Russia turn into a country that truly operates within the concert of nations, respects international law, and-this is often connected-upholds basic human rights.
This is why I wholeheartedly support the efforts of European and American leaders to strengthen their relationship with Russia.
Our conflict has done nothing to harden feelings between our two peoples: I want to tell the Russian people that they will always be welcome in Georgia, as partners, as tourists, as students, as businessmen, as journalists or simply as friends. Not as occupation forces.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to end this speech with a quote from the President of the first Georgian Republic, Noe Zhordania.
As you might know, Georgia was the first European social-democratic republic ever proclaimed in 1918.
A few days before the Red Army invaded his Georgia, Zhordania explained our European choice:
"What do we take from the cultural bow of European nations? Only 2000 years old national culture, democratic system and natural wealth."
Today, another Georgian President addresses you, with the same message of love for the European ideas and values.
It is rare that a nation is given twice in History the same opportunity.
I came here today to tell you that we will seize this opportunity and do whatever we can to achieve our European destiny.