Internet press-conference with one of the leaders of The Social Democratic Party of Georgia Beka Natsvlishvili (Georgia)

On February 19 Internet press-conference for Armenian media with one of the leaders of The Social Democratic Party of Georgia, Member of the Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo), political scientist Beka Natsvlishvili was held on following topics: Georgia after signing the EU Association Agreement. 
 
These "first-hand" comments Armenian journalists will publish in their media outlets.
 
The internet press-conference with Beka natsvlishvili was organized within the project “Topical Dialogues on the New Integration Agenda of Armenia” of  the “Region” Research Center supported by U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section.
 
David Stepanyan, Arminfo.am
 
- Outline the pros and cons of Georgia’sjoining the Association Agreements with the European Union?
 
- With regard to the pros and cons of the Association Agreement, the advantages for Georgia will undoubtedly outweigh the disadvantages.
 
The Association Agreement between Georgia and the EU provides for cooperation in several directions. Firstly, this is cooperation in the areas of political reform, the economy, culture and education, as well as visa regulations, and mobility without restrictions for citizens and businesses. As for political reforms, those are already being implemented by the Government of Georgia. The EU acts as an advisor and an observer in this area. The hardest part is not the legislative process itself, but the implementation of these transformations.
 
It will be difficult to carry out reforms in the economic sphere. Under the former Georgian government, the economic reforms were aimed at total deregulation of economic relations. The Food Sanitary Service, the anti-monopolyinspection, andthe labor inspection were liquidated. The Labor Code itself was almost abolished and simplified to such an extent that labor relations did not differ from those of the feudal times. They said they did it to attract investment. Naturally, these neoliberal reforms did not justify themselves, as it became apparent to many at the end of the former government’s rule. Investors do not need total deregulation, they need stable rules, human resources with proper qualifications, and an adequate infrastructure. But unfortunately all this was almost totally ignored back then.
 
One of the most important components of the Association Agreement in economic terms is regulation that establishes the standards for sustainable development.
 
For example, the international standards of the labor code and social partnership, food safety, health and the proper operation of the Anti-Monopoly Service. These and a number of other changes will lead to a situationwhen companies interested in stable labor relations and quality will invest in Georgia. And this gives hope for production standards of a higher level. The most important thing is that thearea fordeep and comprehensive free trade, the so called DCFTA will enable the Georgian economy to enter the consumer market with a turnover volume of 500 million. That will greatly trigger the development of manufacturing in Georgia. Of course, on the condition that these companies meet the standards mentioned above.
 
Besides, this will attract further investment from those countries that are not EU members, not enjoying free trade with Europe but eager to enter this huge market.
 
There are some apprehensions that the European products may come to replace those of domestic make, causing the reduction of the underdeveloped industry in Georgia. But the aim of the European Union is the appropriation of the small Georgian market and the alienation of production, which is at an early stage of development. At the first stage it would be more reasonable to unilaterally open up the European market and thus stimulate Georgian manufacturing in order to make it competitive. And this is a matter of negotiations.
 
One of the greatest assets of this agreement is the prospect for Georgia to become a member of the European Area of Education and Science. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia was part of a large scientific area that ensured its fully efficient functionality.
 
Now there is an opportunity to become part of the global European scientific structure, which is one of the most important prerequisites for the development of the country.
 
The visa-free regime also creates friendly relations among people.
 
- Did the signing of the AA and DCFTA introduce any adjustments in the relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, given that Russia, to put it mildly, does not support the promotion of the "Eastern Partnership" project in the post-Soviet space?
 
- The incumbent government of Georgia is trying to normalize relations with Russia, which presupposes the restoration of dialogue between the two countries, as confrontation is unfortunately the only  alternative to dialogue.
 
Given the tense geopolitical situation in the region the Georgian government continues its efforts in this direction without excessive expectations for the preservation of peace only in order to avoid a new military conflict. And no matter how serious Russia’s apprehensions are about the dynamics of rapprochement between Georgia and the EU, the Georgian Government will in no case reconsider theAssociation Agreement with the EU because Georgia's membership to the European family is a choice for the development of the societymade by the incumbent government, and most importantly by the vast majority of the people.
 
However, we must understand that in order to achieve this goal, only membership to a multinational organization is not enough. Europe is primarily integrity of values ​​that cannot be put on a par with any agreement.
 
- The dismissal of the Minister of Defense of Georgia, pro-Western Irakli Alasania and his counterparts from their positions led to assumptions on the strengthening of the pro-Russian ruling elite in Georgia. Do you personally notice such trends?
 
- I cannot say that there are pro-Russian forces in the ruling circles of Georgia, so the change of the ministers has nothing to do with the change of the strategic course of the country's development.
 
This might suggest a difference in the tactical steps of the political figures.
 
It is worth remembering the steps of the previous government in relation to Russia, which led to the invasion of the Russian troops into Georgia, the annexation of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, whichmade  the restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity even more difficult than before.
 
There is a strong consensus on the development factor both among thepublic and in the political circles.
 
- What are, in your opinion, the mainthreat trends to the national security of Georgia?
 
- Theoretically speaking, it is the socio-economic status, which, by the way, has improved somewhat over the past two years due to greateraccessibility of healthcare and education. We are the leaders in the region in these two areas, but overall the situation remains difficult.
 
On the other hand, there is a territorial threat, there is the Russian factor. The situation is aggravated by the conflicts and disagreements between the West and Russia. There are some threats of religious and ethnic nature, the national minorities in Georgia are not sufficiently integrated in the society as a whole, which creates opportunities for manipulation by the internal and external forces.
 
Armen Minasian, Panorama.am
 
- Armenia is already joining in the Eurasian Union, while Georgia is moving towards in the European Economic Area. The leaders of the two countries said that this should not bring about division lines, and on the contrary, the good-neighborly relations and the economic cooperation between Armenia and Georgia should play a bridging role, become kind of a bridge between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union. Do you thinkthis is possible, and if so, due to what mechanisms?
 
- Of course it's possible, but we should not overlook the Russian factor. The pressure applied on Armenia to make it part of the Eurasian area was not due to Russia’s fear of losing Armenia as an economic partner, but above all, by the desire to annul the possibility of prospects of the holistic integration of the Caucasus region with the help of attractive movementsfrom the European Union.
 
And secondly, it was caused by the fear of losing military base in Armenia in the long-run which would result in the shift of the traditionally strategic axis between Russia, Armenia, and Iran.
 
The political relations between Armenia and Georgia will remain traditionally friendly thanks to partnership, peaceful coexistence and a high level of interdependence. Here I would like to emphasize that Georgia is the main transport corridor between Russia and Armenia, and Armenia itself is kind of a guarantor of stability in the province densely populated by Georgian citizens of Armenian descent.
 
If we talk about the relations between the two countries in terms of economy relations, given the low production capacity of both entities, no large-scale relations have been noted in the last decade., Armenia is one of Georgia’s several trading partners. And these relations were mainly confined to re-exports of vehicles from Georgia.
 
The situation in this regard will get even worse when the DCFTA and the Eurasian Economic Union come into force, for they could minimize these relations.
 
But Georgia’s signing of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) enables Armenian companies to invest and produce in Georgia and have free access to the European market. Therefore, the governments of both countries must approach this issue more creatively.
 
- Ever since the launch of the "Georgian Dream" campaign, the need to restore the operations of the Abkhazian railway section was spoken much about, but there has been no progress in that direction. Do you think there are any real premises for the realization of this project, and what needs to be done?
 
- The opening of the Abkhazian section of the railway relates to the Georgian-Armenian relations in its very least. The possibility of opening the railway section will be directly connected with Russia’sposition regarding the territorial conflicts in Georgia.
 
- How do you see the further development of the Armenian-Georgian relations with Armenia’s movement towards the Eurasian Union and Georgia’s choice of the European vector?
 
- I seem to have almost exhausted this question. I would only like to emphasize again that the deepening of trade relations will depend on the creativity of both parties. I would also add that nothing will prevent the creation of joint ventures, which would enable the Armenian and Georgian businessmen to successfully implement business activity in both economic and customs areas. As for political relations, they will follow the principles of partnership.
 
- It is no secret that during the confrontation between global players small countries that try not to enter or be involved in global processes at all incur the most losses. In light of the recent events in Ukraine is there an algorithm that small countries should followin order to avoid losses or to minimize them to the extent possible?
 
- For global powers both Georgia and Armenia and Ukraine are but small states, and yet they stand out from the group of small states. Ukraine is a large country both by its territory and population as well as in terms of its economic potential, at least larger than Georgia and Armenia. And we must take into account that Ukraine’s  MIC is not very small. But its geographical location makes it a buffer state between the great powers. If you take into account the ethnic and geographical division of Ukraine, it is not difficult to understand that if desired the big powers can easily manipulate the processes in the country, which is what we witness today.
 
Given the weak state institutions and oligarchic rule, Ukraine was not able to fully use its natural, military, and economic potential.
 
In terms of GDP Ukraine has long been much slower than the smaller Belarus. Accordingly, the low standard of living and inequality do not contribute to unity and Integration of all population groups. Therefore, the difficult economic situation in the country and the external factors make Ukraine, as well as other small states in the bone of contention for larger countries.
 
Therefore, Ukraine did not manage to overt the hesitations and great difficulties in joining the major  integration projects. Armenia and Georgiaare in a no less difficult situation, for they face strong resistance at their independent choice of their path.
 
On the basis of its national interests Armenia safely adhered to the principle complimentarism in its relations with both Russia and the West. But Armenia's membership to the Eurasian Union willhinder the further pursuit of this policy. In general, small countries cannot follow luxurious ideological paradigms, for they always face the problem of self-preservation. And this is, of course, makes them react to short-term permanent challenges, rather than focus on the long-term strategy.
 
- What do you think conditioned the emergence and the subsequent strengthening of Mikhail Saakashvili’steam in the governmental bodies of Ukraine?
 
- The emergence of Mikhail Saakashvili’steam in Ukraine was primarily due to the fact that an image of incomparable reformers in the former Soviet Union was created around his person and his team, and this was the actual superficial impression.
 
Also, Saakashvili's image as a fearless warrior against Russia (mainly against the background of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine) and his excellent relations with politicians from the neoconservative US camp (that bear a more aggressive stance toward Russia) ever since the velvet revolutions played a no less significant role.
 
During the rule of this team a few effective anti-corruption reforms were implementedat the mid and lower levels, within the administration of some public services and for the transformation of power structures. As these reforms well fit their neo-liberal ideology, respectively, almost nothing was done to ensure universal access to health care and education. On the contrary, this period was marked with total privatization, the waiver of state responsibility for providing the population with minimal social benefits. Accordingly,  inequality deepened, and all the economic and political resources got concentrated in the hands of a very narrow group of people. In the context of the so-called "notolerance" well-stocked law enforcement agencies were authorized withthe draconian law, which impacted on the lives of innocent people. Instead of fighting poverty and thus reducing the motivation for crime, the government increased the number of prisoners. But I repeat once again that the decision of the Ukrainian authorities was largely conditioned by Mikhail Saakashvili’s image as a reformer. But if well analyzed, he would look more like a leader of the authoritarian regime rather than a reformer.
 
To summarize, this step of the Ukrainian authorities is conditioned by Mikhail Saakashvili’s relations with neoconservative political circles and the hope of the Ukrainian authorities to legitimize reforms in their own countrywith the help of Saakashvili’simage. I hope these reforms will not be as severe as they were in Georgia.
 
Tatevik Ghazaryan, News.am
 
- Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili said that Georgia’s signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union and Armenia's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union will not affect the relations between the two countries. Do you think the trade regime between Yerevan and Tbilisi will sustain, and is the further development of mutually beneficial economic ties, given the different paths of economic integration of Armenia and Georgia, possible?
 
- Of course, both parties want to develop these relations. But we must not overlook the Russian factor. The pressure applied on Armenia to make it part of the Eurasian area was not due to Russia’s fear of losing Armenia as an economic partner, but above all, by the desire to annul the possibility of prospects of the holistic integration of the Caucasus region with the help of attractive movementsfrom the European Union.
 
The political relations between Armenia and Georgia will remain traditionally friendly thanks to partnership, peaceful coexistence and a high level of interdependence. Here I would like to emphasize that Georgia is the main transport corridor between Russia and Armenia, and Armenia itself is kind of a guarantor of stability in the province densely populated by Georgian citizens of Armenian descent.
 
If we talk about the relations between the two countries in terms of economy relations, given the low production capacity of both entities, no large-scale relations have been noted in the last decade. Armenia is one of Georgia’s several trading partners. And these relations were mainly confined to re-exports of vehicles from Georgia.
 
The situation in this regard will get even worse when the DCFTA and the Eurasian Economic Union come into force, for they could minimize these relations.
 
But Georgia’s signing of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) enables Armenian companies to invest and produce in Georgia and have free access to the European market.
 
I would also add that nothing will prevent the creation of joint ventures, which would enable the Armenian and Georgian businessmen to successfully implement business activities in both economic and customs areas. Therefore, the two governments should approach this issue more creatively.
 
- Do you know who will represent Georgia on April 24 at the events dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide?
 
- No, unfortunately I cannot answer this question.
 
- What is the internal political situation like in Georgia, a friendly country to Armenia, given the resignations of the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Foreign Affairs last November? What processes can be expected before the parliamentary elections in the country?
 
- Many people are trying to interpret these resignation as a shift in the developmental choice of the country. I think the whole thing was because of the over-ambitious steps and statements of the Minister of Defence, which led to the fact that the Prime Minister removed him from his post. Not surprisingly, after the resignation of the minister his entire team followed him and left the Georgian Dream coalition,too. From the eclecticism perspective, a coalition is already a fragile unity of constituent political forces. The coalition includes conservatives and liberals, as well as left-wing forces. As far as their vision of the foreign policy, they all share a common strategic vision. And in this respect the differences may be only of tactical nature, relating to the implementation of the strategic vision. The main purpose of such a broad coalition was getting rid of Saakashvili's authoritarian regime. Since this mission has already been realized, I would not exclude the possibility of the disbanding of the coalition until the next elections in 2016.
 
Gagik Baghdasaryan, newsarmenia.am
 
- Do you think Saakashvili's promises to regain power in Georgia are realistic? Can he destabilize the situation in the country and are there serious foreign political forces supporting him?
 
- With regard to Saakashvili’s return to power, this is impossibledespite all the boasting by him and his team. Despite the attitude towards himthe society is well aware that he has no resources to come back by either a revolution, or elections. Accordingly, he is not an alternative to the incumbent power, and if we consider the negative attitude of the larger part of the society, it is totally excluded,even though Saakashvili does have supporters, fewer in Europe than in America. Previously, he was the bastion of neo-liberalism for the Western right-wing political circles, which in these circles is often perceived as progress and democracy. Here we should specifically mention a number of deputies of the European People's Party and the neo-conservative politicians in America. Of course, their support will not change the situation in the country, but may rather introduce anti-Western moods in the society.
 
- Does Georgia have a chance to join the EU and NATO? Is it a short-term or long-term issue?
 
- Unfortunately Georgia's accession to the EU and NATO does not depend only on Georgia’swillingness and efforts. Both NATO and the EU are multinational organizations with different perspectives on this issue. To a larger extent, these perspectives are conditioned by their trade and political relations with Russia. Especially at this stage, when the tensions between Russia and the West have reached the highest possible point, Georgia’s accession in any of these organizations is unlikelyin the long term. Primarily, it will all depend on Russia’sbeliefs that Georgia's membership to this organization is not a political or economic threat to Russia, as well as Russia’s democratization. Secondly, the unresolved conflicts Georgiais regionally involved act as an equally inhibiting factor. The third and a no less important factor is to overcome the financial and economic problems within Europe that will pave the way for the membership of new countries.
 
- How should Armenia and Georgia build their relations, taking into account their choice of a differentdevelopmentvectorin its foreign policy?
 
- I have already answered this question above.
 
Tatev Harutyunyan, aravot.am
 
- How do you feel about the statement of the ex-Presidentof Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili that he will coordinate the delivery of arms from Western countries to Ukraine?
 
- Mikhail Saakashvili’smembership in the international council, as advertised by his proponents, is certainly not due to thereforms he implemented in Georgia. If you look at the results of these reforms, you can see that by the end of his rule, we face a high degree of economic inequality, deteriorated agriculture, which employed 50% of the working population. We had enforcement authorities who followed the politicized and draconian laws, whose actions took the lives of many innocent people. Despite improvements in various areas (services, eradication of corruption in the mid and lower levels), these reforms did not yield the desired results, and we got quite an effective authoritarian regime, where the economic and political power was concentrated in the hands of a small group of people. Notonly Ukraine, but also the authorities of all countries know about this. Therefore, it is unlikely that Saakashvili appeared there to implement political and economic reforms.
 
If you look closer, you will see that Saakashvili is supportedspecifically by the neoconservative circles who never concealed their support for color revolutions and their ideas on conflict resolutions by military actions. The idea of ​​three conservative think tanks is that the West should provide arms to Ukraine. From this perspective, if we take into account Saakashvili’spast and his outlook, he will be a good lobbyist of this idea in the Ukrainian government. We hope that this conflict will be resolved not by force, but through the application of intense diplomatic methods as weapons in Ukraine will cause more victims, and the inclusion of Russia in this process can be fatal for the region and for global peace.
 
This paradigm of development would be acceptable only for a number of neoconservative groups, especially in America.

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