A group of civil society organizations have launched an online petition calling on the Georgian Dream ruling coalition to “react adequately” on anti-western rhetoric, voiced recently by the leadership of one of the coalition partners, Industrialists Party.
Although voicing anti-NATO stance by MP Gogi Topadze, a beer magnate and co-founder of the Industrials Party, who was the only lawmaker to vote against giving consent to Georgia’s contribution to NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan and EU’s mission in the Central African Republic last year, is not new – he was publicly speaking about it even when joining the GD in 2012, up until now he kept mostly low profile on foreign policy issues.
But in series of recent multiple media interviews Topadze intensified his anti-western rhetoric by criticizing Georgia’s NATO aspirations on the one hand and on the other calling for the need of Russia-style NGO laws to impose tight control over the civil society groups.
“I never hide what I don’t like. I don’t like that NATO is our course. Our predecessors [referring to the previous government] also wanted to join NATO, but NATO did not accept us and they will not let us in NATO… NATO is not accepting us… I don’t know any country, which has benefited from NATO,” MP Topadze told Palitra TV on March 10. In separate remarks he called NATO an “aggressive military bloc.” He also said that his views on the issue are shared by “many” within the GD parliamentary majority group.
In one of the newspaper interviews he spoke against, what he called, “too much doze of democratic approach” and praised those countries, which have “frozen bank accounts” of and restricted those non-governmental organizations, which “receive funds from abroad”; he siad it was needed in order to prevent “undermining of the state”. “That’s how Americans overthrew many countries,” he said.
Another leader of the Industrialists Party, MP Zurab Tkemaladze, who chairs parliamentary committee on economic policy, said he shares the views of MP Topadze.
In their joint statement on March 20, which has a form of online petition, several civil society organizations said that such rhetoric from ruling coalition partner party “can obviously be regarded as an overt attempt to instill among the population anti-western and nihilistic stance towards Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic course.”
Describing Topadze’s rhetoric as “identical” to the one of the Russian leadership, the statement says that the position of ruling coalition member party also “puts in danger strategic relations between Georgia and its western partners.” It also says that such remarks from ruling coalition politician are “damaging” for the country and “trigger questions in the society about ruling political force’s foreign policy and democratic course.”
GD politicians and some government members tried to downplay Topadze’s remarks. Parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili said that Topadze is not the one who sets government’s agenda and his position has no affect on country’s foreign policy course. A senior GD MP Gia Volski said that Topadze was expressing his personal views, which was not in line with the ruling coalition; he also said that the controversy will possibly be discussed by the coalition’s main decision-making body.
The civil society groups said in their statement that explanations by some GD politicians that MP Topadze was expressing his personal views not reflecting government’s position were not enough and called on the ruling coalition’s main governing body to discuss and “react adequately” to this issue.
Among the groups, which have launched the petition, are: Transparency International; International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy; Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association; Institute for Development of Freedom of Information; Open Society Georgia Foundation; Civil Development Agency; Human Rights Center; Economic Policy Research Center; Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters; Article 42 of the Constitution.