Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili on Wednesday addressed the European Parliament, saying “My speech today was intended to be more than a plea for the status of candidate. It was meant to explain our European identity, recall the toll the Georgian people paid in the face of Russian aggression, and the importance of what the European Union and Georgia’s people and governments have delivered in the past two decades. To explain that we are asking for candidate status as a family member is asking for recognition, for protection, and for support.”
In her lengthy speech, Zourabichvili stressed that “Georgia’s European path is of course largely the result of European sustained efforts and support.”
Below is the full transcript:
I am addressing this distinguished Assembly, in the name of the Georgian people, representing centuries-long will of a nation to rejoin its European family. I am also here as the Head of State of a country the Constitution of which mandates every State institution, to take all possible steps to further the objective of Euro-Atlantic integration. I will do so relentlessly.
I will do it, not only to implement the Constitution but out of a moral conviction.
Born in France to émigré parents, who had to leave Georgia following the 1921 Russian invasion and occupation, I returned to serve my country and achieve the ideal of so many generations of Georgians, seeing a free Georgia in a free Europe. The only guarantee of independent Georgia and the only path to a better future for every citizen.
In my first official capacity as Foreign Minister of Mr. Saakashvili, I am proud to have negotiated both Georgia’s entry into Europe’s neighborhood and Russia’s withdrawal of its military bases. I remember seeing Russian ships depart from the port city of Batumi – but three years later Russian tanks rolled again in our territory.
As a member of Parliament, I fought to pass a law allowing double citizenship for all. Those that are today nationals of a European country and Georgian citizens, formed the very first concrete link between Georgia and Europe.
As President, at this decisive time of our journey toward Europe, I want to see Georgia get past domestic and international challenges and firmly embark on the path to full-fledged European integration. And for that, there is only one road: to secure Georgia be granted by year-end the status of candidate to the European Union. And I am confident.
Georgia shared its tragic history for 2 and a half centuries through Tsarist imperialism and Russification, Soviet totalitarianism and repressions, and again Russian aggressions and occupations with one country, Ukraine. I therefore cannot stand before you without first reiterating the complete, unequivocal, and principled solidarity of the people of Georgia with the people of Ukraine. We know too well that Ukraine is not only defending its territory but is shedding blood for us all: for Europe, its security and freedom; for Georgia, its security and European future. I would like to reiterate here my personal respect, admiration, and support to President Zelensky and its people. I am convinced that in the near future both our countries will see their representatives seating side by side in this very chamber.
My plea for Georgia’s European future starts with Georgia’s European past, based on shared history, cultural roots, and most importantly shared values.
Since Georgia began to exist, it has shared the three pillars considered to be at the foundation of Europe’s civilization: Greek and Roman heritage and Christianity.
Antique Greco-Roman civilization has left its influence and visible marks in our mythology, archeology, and culture.
Christianity has for its part been central to our identity as a Nation. As the first kingdom to be converted to Christianity, Georgia has been fighting for centuries to preserve its faith and identity, against numerous empires and invaders; all along, on the Eastern shores of the Black Sea, it has served as a small Christian outpost facing the empires of Asia.
This common heritage has influenced our core values. These are the same ones that have given birth to the European Idea and have inspired Europe’s founding fathers. Maybe it is not a coincidence that the first Federalist Constitution of Europe was written by a Georgian, Professor Michel MUSKHELY from the University of Strasbourg!
Tolerance, Protection of minorities, and human rights have been ours for long. It is a miracle that Georgian tolerance has survived in the Caucasus – this “mountain of languages” as the Arabs used to call it – and build a state where religions have found protection throughout the ages. Tbilisi’s architecture is a testimony to this history: mosques, synagogues, Churches of various denominations even Zoroastrian sites coexist side by side. This long-standing tradition of peaceful coexistence between religions and cultures is best symbolized by more than 26 centuries of Georgians and Jews living together and side by side, free of any form of repression or discrimination. Today, 20 % of our population is of Armenian, Azeri descent, Kurdish or Yezidi heritage maintaining the old tradition of hospitality, that has reached well beyond our borders.
While political polarization has affected the image of Georgian tolerance, recent events have underscored that it remains very much alive: Georgia has received and is hosting for over a year and a half more than 80 000 Russians. Let’s reflect for a moment what it means to welcome citizens from a country which is occupying 20 % of your territory and wages the most brutal aggression against your friend Ukraine. That this has happened without serious incident speaks millions of Georgia’s tolerance. We can and should be proud. But it should be accompanied by clear and strict state regulations so that tolerance does not give way to frustrations and escalation.
Gender equality: this very modern notion stands at the core of the national epos when Shota Rustaveli in the 12 th century already said: “ლეკვი ლომისა სწორია ძუ იყოს, თუნდაც ხვადია“ (Lions cubs are equal, be they female or male”). This again appeared in the role that women have played throughout our history: in the 4th Century, St Nino converted the Georgian state; Queen or as she was called King Tamar reigning over Georgia’s golden Age; or in 1918, the first Democratic Republic of Georgia giving women both the right to vote and be elected.
Rule of law: the predictability of laws which stands at the core of any liberal judicial system has been espoused for ages. And King Vakhtang the VI[C1] finally gathered in one compendium the principles, obligations, and laws guiding Georgian monarchy: from the Old Testament to Greek and Roman laws, traditional Georgian Justice, medieval Georgian laws, church laws, and his own justice code.
Unity: which is a country of polarization, our coat of arms carries the words “force lies in unity”. Echoed by the Georgian poet Vazha Pshavela: “It is when we fight each other that the enemy wins”. National Unity, has allowed the country to survive and is today challenged by the cancer of polarization. Georgia is no exception in this regard, but polarization in a small country is far more destructive. And more destabilizing for a country confronted to occupation, outside threats and disruptive campaigns of propaganda, fake news, and hate speech. Polarization serves only the enemy and is something that we should comprehend better.
This list of Georgian core values echoes in fact directly the 12 recommendations put forward to achieve the candidate status. My point here is certainly not to say that historical records are sufficient to address current concerns, and there are many. But to underline that what the EU is asking is nothing but an integral part of our culture, our values, and our heritage. Your recommendations are not some foreign ideas imposed to us – as was Soviet ideology. These are in essence Georgian. Therefore, what you are asking from us is that Georgia remains true to its identity. What you are “recommending “is that Georgia eliminates the remnants of the totalitarian past and reunites with itself and its European roots.
Since its independence, Georgia has never wavered on its path to European integration:
Georgia paid a heavy price to defend its freedom and its independent democratic and European future in 1921, 1989, 1992, and 2008. Without comparing to the incalculable plight that Ukraine is going through today, it should not be forgotten that Georgia has had and paid its own blood price resisting Soviet rule, defending its independence and its right to rejoin the democratic and free world and the alliances it chooses.
Georgian Governments since the independence have set forth pro-European platforms and all delivered constant progress on this path. President Gamsakhurdia put Georgia back on Europe’s map of Free Nations. President Shevardnadze first initiated the idea of Euro-Atlantic integration. President Saakashvili made Georgia’s integration with the EU and NATO the priority for his reform agenda. Under his leadership, Georgia joined the Neighborhood policy and the Eastern partnership. In 2012, the Georgian Dream government was elected on a pro-European agenda and reached some milestones in this regard: the Association, free trade agreement, and visa liberalization agreements were all signed at that time. The Constitution was amended in 2016 to include the objective of Euro-Atlantic integration, and that is something that none of us should forget.
Despite challenges and foreign aggressions, Georgia’s population has not hesitated, wavered, or faltered. It has stood its ground. The people have been the backbone of the pro-European course, supporting – even sometimes preceding or forcing- their governments when embracing the path towards European integration:
Opinion polls have shown constant support for European integration. I think it is fair to say that there are many countries within Europe that would envy such levels of Euro enthusiasm.
Beyond electing pro-European governments, it is impossible to point to any party that has scored any decent result while not claiming to be fully supportive of European integration. That is a lesson for Georgian politics today: anti-European campaigns only lead to political marginalization.
Despite Russian wars, occupation, or actives measures, Georgians never faltered. Fear has not altered the European course. For European integration is not a mere foreign policy orientation, but it is an existential one, a part of our DNA.
Georgians choose also Europe with their feet: hundreds of thousands have emigrated to Europe; Georgia’s youth has turned to learning English, German or French, to studying in Paris or Berlin. My country’s youth’s visceral pro-European stand is a testimony to the strength of European soft power. In one generation, Russian for them has become definitely the anachronic past and Europe without question the only future.
Most importantly Georgians have been vigilant not to let any government deviate from this path. Every massive demonstration has been in support of freedom, democracy, and the European path. Over the last few years, Georgians have taken to the streets to defend this ideal when it seemed to falter: in June 2019 after a member of the Russian Duma was allowed to sit in the Georgian Parliament, violating our law on occupation and raising questions as to the pro-European orientation of those who invited him; in February 2022 to demonstrate its total and massive solidarity with Ukraine and our common European aspiration; in June 2022 before the European Council was to decide on the candidate status; in March 2023 when Georgians literally forced the Government to back down on the so-called “Russian law” viewed as a threat to civil society and the non-governmental sector, and hence to our democratic and European path.
As the President of Georgia on my side, and within my constitutional powers, I have been taking all steps and initiatives to further this objective:
– through attempts to achieve depolarization: by launching an initiative for national reconciliation together with civil society. By supporting united political platforms. By bolstering women’s role as facilitators of renewed political dialogue. It is undoubtedly a difficult process, and I cannot be proud of any success yet but one I will continue pushing through, moved by the conviction that we have no alternative but working altogether.
– through brokering political agreements. I am proud that alongside President Charles Michel what became the April 19 Agreement was signed in the Presidential palace in the presence of all political parties. It is fair to say that if this agreement had been implemented Georgia would have already been given candidate status.
– through granting pardons – three times – to opposition figures in order to deconflict political tensions and allow agreements to emerge. These decisions have come at a high political cost in a polarized political atmosphere. But I stand by every one of these decisions as timely expressions of Voltaire’s words: “Je ne suis pas d’accord avec ce que vous dites, mais je me battrai jusqu’à, la mort pour que vous ayez le droit de le dire”. But in view of some interventions I’ve received I want also to be clear that while representing a small country, I think that the discretionary power of the President in that matter should still be equally respected for small or big country. For pardoning is a right to be exerted by a President “En son âme et conscience” free from any pressure. Be it from the outside, or be it from within, I want to also address some of the government circles that there is no need to try to threaten me because I will do what I will think is necessary to do.
– Also, by using my constitutional veto against legislation contradictory with European principles. And I know that even if my vetoes have and may be in the future be rejected by the current majority, they will be supported and strengthened by hundreds of thousands of Georgians; because they deal with the main principles to which we all adhere.
– Through, finally, high-level diplomacy. I have time and again advocated for Georgia’s European integration in almost all European capitals as I am doing today with you. I most vividly remember hosting the 2021 Petra Summit on the shores of the Black Sea with President Zelensky and President Maia Sandu alongside President Charles Michel, as a major step to accelerate our associated trio’s path towards European integration. We have lost time since then, we – Georgia.
This is by no means the end of the road. Every decision will have its own time and its own place. I will leave no rock unturned when it comes to ensuring that Georgia stands where it belongs.
GEORGIA’S EUROPEAN PATH IS OF COURSE LARGELY THE RESULT OF EUROPEAN sustained EFFORTS AND SUPPORT.
While Georgia has expressed its determination, it has been matched by what has been an extraordinary support by Europe over the years. And while we await a historic decision, I am also here to express the thanks of the Georgian people to Europe.
Because the European Union has helped to support increased prosperity. It is by far the largest international donor in Georgia in all sectors of the Georgian economy, it is European aid and European markets that have provided Georgians with increased standards of living. In that sense, when I hear that we should thank Russia for now helping some development of our economy, I think it is not only immoral but also, and simply flat wrong.
The European Union has been a provider of stability. One should never forget that when Russian tanks rolled into Georgia our partners prevented a tragic outcome from being even worse. In the name of France’s Presidency of the EU, Nicolas Sarkozy’s mediated – with US backing – an agreement that stopped Russians from going further into Georgian territory. Europe’s reaction may have been insufficient by not imposing greater costs on Russia and we realize that today, but without Europe, Tbilisi itself could have been occupied. Since 2008, the European Union Monitoring Mission has also been an invaluable presence on the occupation line acting as a check on Russia’s destabilizing activities.
The European Union has provided us with constant high-level diplomatic backing, especially in times of crisis both foreign and domestic. Let me here pay tribute to our many Eastern European and Baltic friends for their constant and unwavering commitment. Let me also underline that visits by European Union Council, Commission, and Parliament High representatives, parliamentary delegations, and representatives of the Members states are for our people a daily demonstration of proximity and support that they need and for the government a reminder to deliver timely on the requirements that will get us to the next historic step.
The European Union has helped us move up the ladder of ever-closer integration. One should never forget the journey that Georgia traveled in the past 20 years. Moving from neighborhood to Association, something that most thought was impossible. And with the last step of utmost importance: granting us the European perspective, the EU has once and for all settled the question of geography versus identity. We might have to fully grasp its full significance because the focus has been on what we did not get – and was within our grasp. But we should understand, that the European perspective closed an existential debate over geography which for years had been used as the essential demand against our membership. The EU decision has closed this debate once and for all and sent Georgians two main messages: you are Europe and your path to Europe is in your hands.
Why should Georgia be granted a candidate status ?
My speech today was intended to be more than a plea for the status of candidate. It was meant to explain our European identity, recall the toll the Georgian people paid in the face of Russian aggression, and the importance of what the European Union and Georgia’s people and governments have delivered in the past two decades. To explain that we are asking for candidate status as a family member is asking for recognition, for protection, and for support.
Candidate status would indeed mean recognition. Recognition of the relentless fight of the Georgian people for their European identity. While we are the first to understand our current shortcomings and maybe the word is weak, we do not want those to overshadow our achievements. That for the past 30 years- that is one generation! – we have made extraordinary progress through substantial reforms.
We are not perfect, far from it! For the last two years, my unrelenting message to the government has been to listen to its people and stay true to its electoral commitments for more, no less Europe. Some of the 12 recommendations have been implemented; but here again, more should have been done, more could, and more should still be done. That will be our common task in the months to come to make sure we do not let go a second chance. One that the people of Georgia will not forgive.
Recognition should be given also to the Georgian people’s democratic credentials. A democracy rests first and foremost on its people. It rests on the strength of its civil society. If there is anything that the last two years have shown it is that Georgians will not give up: not give up on Ukraine and solidarity; not give up on Europe and their future; not give up on their rights. That is why I am so forceful and optimistic: with such a democratic force, it is only a matter of time before changes come for the better. And that is the message that the retreat of the Russian law taught everyone: do not dare to dent the democratic will of this country.
Candidate status would provide also protection and security for Georgia. Protection from Russia. Russia to this day which continues to occupy and wage a hybrid war on the Georgian people. Russia which listens to each and every signal. That is why nobody can afford sending the wrong signal and leave Georgia in a grey zone. The lessons from 2008, 2014, 2022 is that hesitation comes with a price and a heavy one. As Russia is facing defeat in Ukraine, we cannot ill-afford to provide Russia with a temptation to look for weaker spots anywhere else.
Russia needs to understand that Georgia is Europe and that Europe is determined for Georgia to be Europe. What we have seen in the past months in Georgia is Russia trying to score points, to subtly reestablish its influence while weakening that of Europe’s. Renewed flights, lifting visas, unrestricted population inflows, increased trade and ambivalent statements, all designed to create domestic tension, confusion, escalation. This cannot be allowed to happen. Neither for Georgia nor for Europe. As Europe helps Ukraine push back against brute force, its needs to help the Georgian people resist to this more subtle push. That is what candidate status stands for: a clear statement of determination, not of confrontation.
Candidate status would cement Georgia’s role as a pro-European force in the region. Europe understands the importance of this region for the new world that is emerging. It knows that Georgia is not only a democratic and European stronghold, but a central element of a secure Black Sea and a stable Caucasus region. It is a key to new connectivity projects over the Black Sea and through the Caucasus with the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.
Candidate status would certainly safeguard democracy. The spirit of the European Council decision in 2022 was to create conditionalities in order to improve democracy in Georgia and correct its trajectory.
This commendable objective should not be weaponized by populist forces that try to create an anti-European trend. A narrative is being spread that Georgia has been denied candidacy because Europe does not share its traditional values, because it does not consider our tragic past, because it treats us differently from Ukraine or Moldova. We all know this is a flat lie. And the Georgian people have shown where they stand. But one should not ignore the capacity of darker forces, helped and fueled from outside, to try to undermine this solidity.
In fact, granting us candidate status would serve the democratic future and help lay the ground for all these recommendations to be fully and thoroughly implemented. Europe has stood by Georgia despite its democratic shortcomings in the past. It is because Europe remained committed to Georgia that Georgians were successful in getting their democracy back on track.
Keeping Georgia on its European path is vital for us f course, but no less important for Europe. Promoting Georgia’s European membership in the European Union is part of a greater strategic vision regarding a new European order that will emerge from, what I am confident, will be a Ukrainian victory:
– what Ukraine has achieved in 2022, is what we failed to achieve in 1992 or 2008 and what Ukraine failed in 2014 or 2015. That is to open the eyes of the world to the true nature of Russia; that the myths about Russian humiliation or Russian insecurity are just that – myths to justify aggression and wars. The largest country in the world has still to understand and accept that it also has borders.
– now we need to fully apprehend that it is accommodation and not determination, that feeds Russian aggression. Appeasement has never worked anywhere. It is not EU or NATO enlargement that ever threatened or incited Russia to attack, it is Russia’s very own irresistible imperialist nature. If anything, it is the “stop and go’s” before decisions that incite and dynamize Russia, trying through intimidation to affect the outcome. Signals of insufficient resolve – subdued reactions to 2008, 2014 or to little green men entering Louhansk and Donestk regions is what encourages Russia to do more. In reverse, former Soviet Republics and Members of the Warsaw Pact are here to show that they enjoy peace and stability since they have become the members of NATO and the European Union. And That is our future too.
That is why European candidate status is not only about essential democratic recommendations but also about the future European security architecture. It is about long-term stability. I say this not as a bargaining plea that would be both immoral and wrong. But as a lesson of history: leaving us behind would only encourage Russia to seek compensation for its own failure to win a war it started but cannot end.
In Ukraine, Russia has already been politically defeated and militarily defeated in so many aspects: destroyed is the myth of military invincibility, lost the sense of strategic superiority, lost the ability to divide Europeans and play on their divisions.
Ukrainian resilience and strength; Swedish and Finnish historical choices the Europe puissance is finally emerging… all of that is the result of an immense miscalculation by the Russian leadership.
Today’s world is divided between those, who do not dare imagine that Russia is no longer invincible and losing and those who that understand a new world is emerging. That is why only Ukraine can decide when to negotiate peace and together with Europe determine what peace – one that will have to oblige Russia to renounce occupying any foreign land.
That Is why when I plea for the European future of Georgia, I plea also for people in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions; this future is for them too the only one that will ensure their freedom, their protection, and their identity. And I stand with those who demonstrated yesterday in Sokhumi, Abkhazia under the banner “Abkhazia is not for sale, we will not concede to the Russians”!
Thank you very much!