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We cannot imagine any kind of relationship with Russia apart from ‘Open War’: David Usupashvili 

We cannot imagine any kind of relationship with Russia apart from ‘Open War’: David Usupashvili

Georgian Speaker of Parliament David Usupashvili in an exclusive interview with Oslo Times International News Network spoke about the pertaining Human Rights issues in Georgia and the kind of reforms his government has brought about since their landslide victory in the last elections.

Speaking to The Editor-in-Chief of the Oslo Times, Hatef Mokhtar, The Georgian Speaker spoke in depth about the problems they were facing and Georgia’s relationship with its neighbors-Iran and Russia.

The Excerpts that follow are an edited version of the interesting talk that followed:

1. Can you tell us about the kind of democratic reforms Georgia has gone through since 2013 and 2014 Elections?

We have gone through and are going through various reforms to secure the rights of our people. The main forms of reforms we are working on at the moment are –Amnesty to prisoners and Installation of Justice, Citizens Right to Privacy, Ensuring Political Rights of the people and ensuring the rights of Minority groups.

Amnesty to Prisoners:

It was very shocking to find video and audio evidence of a massive torture of prisoners. Once that came into light, it became our priority and we issued a large scale amnesty for prisoners kept in those conditions. Our main thinking behind that was, lets say someone was sentenced to 4 years in prison but because they were kept under such torturous conditions we decided to release them in two years. Since, we felt that because of the condition they were living in the government could pardon the rest of their sentence. We started from the amnesty and that ended with fundamental changes and reforms of the prison administration.

Right to Privacy:

The other area we looked into was the lawful survival of or citizens and their right to privacy. Tens and thousands of recordings of the private lives of citizens were found about two years ago. The recordings were taken mainly by the police and other investigation units, because the previous government felt that they not only needed to know everything about everybody, but they also needed hard evidence against every citizen. In most cases these recordings were not of crime scenes or preparation and planning of illegal activities. They were recordings of the everyday life of the people including what they did in their bedrooms. These recordings were used as possible black mailing tools, therefore we adopted new laws in this direction, and, the police destroyed all these recordings. The parliament is currently working on making certain amendments on the police and other law agencies which will regulate who will be responsible for prying into the lives of suspects and how it can be done without hindering personal and private lives. It could be in terms of taping phone conversations or creating access to email, internet and so on.

We have international experts in Georgia who are involved in this and we have also invited other people from across the world to adopt, not only appropriate legal proper means but also to adopt proper technology which could decrease the intervention into private lives of people to a minimum.

Political Rights:

The third area is political rights, we conducted presidential elections in 2013 and local elections in 2014 and these two elections were marked with highest European standards of fairness and freeness. The elections were widely appreciated and recognized by observers as well.

This is very important because it represents the voices of both the majority and minority groups. And, the balance between them depends on how the elections were conducted. Can the result be trusted? Is the result an outcome brought about by the majority of the population or is it a result of someone exercising their administrative powers, like the police misusing their powers and so forth. If the results of an election are manipulated and changed–it washes away the efforts of all the people down the drain, so its very important to make sure that the election results aren’t rigged. So far, we have managed to bring these ends of democracy and democratic rights on to one page.

Installation of Justice :

I would now like to talk about the installation of Justice, which is another area that has been widely popularized as a major problem we face in Georgia. For many years thousands of people have been denied their rights to own private property. There are thousands of cases when transfer of title on the property is verified by notary offices at 3am or 4am or so on, this what is written on the property paper. What was happening was they were taking people to empty places away from their homes and threatening them that they better transfer their property to the state for free or they would face problems. The property owners would then call Notary and confirm the transfer and that is how such transfers would happen.

So, there were these kinds of violations and there were other violent crimes which are now under investigation. Unfortunately such cases are pending at Georgian courts, some cases have been pending for the last 9-10 years. We are working really hard to protect the rights of the accused as well, because human rights does not only mean the rights of good people. It does not differentiate between good and bad people, so the rights of the accused should also be protected.

Ensuring Rights of Minority groups:

The other aspect is protecting the rights of the minority groups, we have religious minorities, ethnic minorities and in our case we find a lot of influence from the outside world especially from the middle east or central Asia, we have minority groups from Iran and other countries and all these affect society and we are very cautious and careful so that everyone living in Georgia can feel safe and protected by the Georgian government. However, it is not easy to practice Human Rights in a prospering nation because as you know communism was based on different ideology and we are working really hard to establish democracy. What we need to remember is that the communist way of thinking is still alive.

2. How is your relationship with Iran?

Well Iran has been our neighbor for a long time but our relationship with Iran had stopped long before Russia emerged as our northern neighbor. Our relationship with Iran begins back in the medieval ages and before that. After Georgia adopted Christianity as a state religion in the 4th century our problems with Iran began. To understand our relationship with Iran we need to look back into history. In those years Iran and Indian states that were functioning in that region would try to invade us. Most of the times back in those days Iran would invade our territories, sometimes we would win but Iran was a stronger nation and most of the times they would win. A lot of times our kings were forced to convert into Islam to save their nation and so some of them did just that. However we did benefit from the interaction with Iranian culture in the past.

Today our relationship with Iran depends on what is happening in and around Iran. We have managed to avoid unnecessary conflict with Iran. There have been some misunderstandings, some issues because our major and number one strategic ally US and Iran have had problems with each other time and again. So we have had to balance our relations. However, in recent days we have had some interesting developments about two weeks a ago a delegation of the Georgian parliament visited Iran. The delegation was headed by the head of the foreign relations committee. I believe by the end of this year I will also be travelling to Iran as well to meet my counterpart. And, we are working on building more understanding between the two nations and cooperation in terms of business. More and more Iranian citizens today, are establishing business and are using Georgia as a transit point to Europe and Austria. There are two factors which have contributed to this trend– on one hand, Georgia’s association with the European Union which makes the European market more accessible from Georgia and on the other hand some progress in negotiations regarding nuclear power and facilities in Iran are boosting the trade talks. Also, there is a newly emerged factor the IsIs and both Iran and Georgia share concern regarding this issue. There could be some mutual interest there as well. Therefore we want to be open to all those who do not question with the national integrity of Georgia and the right and free choice of Georgian nationals.

3. Last but not the Least, can you tell me about your country’s relationship with Russia?

At the moment we have the worst possible relations with Russia, our relationship with Russia never improved since August 2008 on fundamental issues. We do not have diplomatic relations with Russia, we consider Russia as a military aggressor and a nation which occupies Georgian territories. We consider Russia as responsible for the problems of state but also for the problems faced by our citizens. More than 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes, as a result of the military aggression by Russia. One factor contributing to all this is that Russia cannot digest that this is Georgia, they are trying to treat us as their back yard.

Therefore, I cannot imagine any form of relation with Russia unless its open war. However, we have realized the limitations of the democratic world when super powers go out of control. We have also found that there are no necessary tools with the international community to solve such problems.

Therefore we follow the strategy of Political Patience. We have made sure that no one can be treated differently in Georgia. You won’t find anyone even if they are of Russian Descent treated badly or differently in Georgia. Especially in the last two three years the number of Russian tourists to Georgia has increased and they are not treated any differently. We believe everyone visiting or living in Georgia should feel safe and protected by the government.

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