Georgia

Remarks of the President of Georgia H.E. Mikheil Saakashvili to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

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Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, Members, Distinguished Guests:

I would like to begin my remarks today by expressing special thanks to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for the opportunity to address this institution.

Throughout its history, the Assembly has been instrumental in helping promote Georgia's democratic development, and strengthen its commitment to human rights.

Even when those fundamental freedoms were under threat, the Assembly never abandoned Georgia - choosing instead to engage and to partner with us, with the knowledge that the people of Georgia would one day embrace lasting change.

I am proud that that day finally came - just over one year ago.

And I am pleased, that through our joint efforts, the Assembly has helped establish a permanent home in the European family of nations, for Georgia.

From this unique rostrum, I would like the Parliamentary Assembly to become a home not just for the defense of democracy and the protection of human rights in Georgia.

Rather, this Hall, its Members, and this Institution should become a permanent home for the promotion of lasting peace in Georgia.

This is why I have chosen to launch our Peace Initiative here in this Hall with all of you as our witnesses.

Georgia today is a nation undergoing a profound transformation.

It is a transformation that requires us to first acknowledge who we are - in order to be sure of what it is we want to build.

It is a transformation that requires us to frankly assess our strengths and weaknesses, and to confront sometimes painful realities.

And it is a transformation that is producing results.

One year ago, when the people of Georgia rose up to defend their freedom - they also rose up to reclaim their future.

A future that would no longer be defined by the false promises, wholesale decay, and state disintegration of the recent past.

A future no longer dominated by the politics of division, state-sanctioned theft and disregard for the poorest parts of society.

Instead - the voices that gave the peaceful Rose Revolution its unique strength - are the same voices calling Georgia to succeed today.

And to succeed today means adopting new rules, new principles, and the renewed promise of democracy.

If something from the Rose Revolution continues to resonate today - not only in Georgia, but also in Ukraine - it is the voice of freedom, reminding us of the historic opportunity and tremendous responsibility we all bear.

To create a more prosperous - a more equitable - and a more peaceful Georgia - now and for all generations to come.

My aim in coming here today however is not to sing the praises of Georgia one year after the Revolution.

Rather, it is to establish and to testify that Georgia having expressed a profound and irreversible commitment last year - to move forward and build a stable and modern European democracy.

And it has made significant advances already in honoring that commitment and, with the peace initiative we will launch today, we are making further steps along that road with which we will need your help.

The strength of this commitment is an expression of in our most deeply held values. It is reflects our common aspirations. Our commitment to democracy is simply an expression of who we are.

Georgia's character - now and forever - celebrates tolerance, embraces diversity, relishes lively and open debate, and above all, respects liberty and human dignity.

Georgia is a democracy, because above all - its national identity is rooted in the traditions of democracy.

For us the greatest thing about the Rose Revolution was that it allowed us to reclaim our dignity, the dignity which is the foundation of our commitment to democracy.

And sometimes it takes a Revolution to remind us of that.

I believe that this is what has enabled us in the last year to achieve so much, and surprise the skeptics.

Because we are resolute and because we are fair, we have made great progress reducing corruption in the police forces, combating money laundering and putting an end to religious intolerance.

Because we are disciplined and because we are accountable, we have tripled our state budget, doubled state pensions and paid back a decade of arrears.

Because we are transparent and because we are impartial, we have established the first public service broadcasting network in our region - from the ashes of state control and censorship.

And because we are just and because we are deliberate, we have peacefully re-united Ajara and dedicated new funds to building roads that help integrate dislocated regions in Georgia.

These accomplishments reflect the collective will and the collective demands of the Georgian people.

These political choices demonstrate how a united Georgian state is being built today - with the participation, consideration - and inclusion of all Georgia's people.

A State that has rejected the politics of ethnicity, division...and mistrust.

A State that instead defines itself and governs itself by upholding rule of law and the principle of impartiality.

A State that derives its strength from our diversity and lasting stability by respecting our millennia-old culture and collective values.

These are the source of my political mandate - and the foundation for lasting peace.

Re-building a nation requires the courage to review past errors and to correct forgotten injustices.

Unfortunately, the wounds of conflict are too present in our world today - diminishing the human potential of many societies.

My Georgia has suffered more than its fair share of bloodshed, dislocation and destruction.

The conflicts that have fragmented my country have left us with hearts that ache so much that we find it hard to speak.

My heart breaks when I look at the conditions of the people in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia.

Sometimes people call these situations "frozen conflicts" - but what those words don't describe are the frozen or hungry people whose lives are damaged because we are not able to resolve the conflicts.

When I assumed the Office of the Presidency one year ago, I promised to oversee the peaceful re-unification of Georgia.

And I said the first step in making this vision a reality was to make Georgia a well governed and more prosperous country.

Our efforts - our attitude - and our results speak more loudly than anything I can say here today.

When I made that promise, I pledged to re-unite Georgia in a manner that would preserve the dignity - the culture - and the fundamental rights of all who have suffered - and all who live in our country.

Because no person should be born without the right to live in peace.

And no person should be denied the chance to receive an excellent education, to earn a decent living and to raise a healthy family.

Violence, conflict, and greed make these things impossible.

We must do better - and we must work harder.

So that our generation will be remembered as the generation that had the courage to make and sustain peace.

Today I stand before you with the purpose of sharing our vision for a lasting peace in an area now called the Tskhinvali region - but more generally known as South Ossetia.

A small, but important area that has for too long been forgotten by the outside world.

And for too long neglected at home.

In speaking about the challenges and the needs of South Ossetia, I speak also about the situation in Abkhazia.

I speak to all the peoples of Georgia.

Because together, we share a common land - we share a common history - and we share a common future.

And together, our common challenge is to re-build and re-integrate our societies, so that never again will any child grow up with the fear of war.

On behalf of the Government of Georgia, I am pleased to present the main features of our South Ossetia Peace Initiative.

First and foremost - our vision for a united and peaceful Georgia is based on respect for the desire - and respect for the right - to South Ossetian Autonomy.

If during the Soviet period South Ossetia enjoyed a moderate form of autonomy, today - under this plan - it will enjoy a distinctly broader form.

Even broader in fact, than that accorded to the Republic of North Ossetia.

Specifically, our plan envisions a Constitutional guarantee of Autonomy, that includes the right to freely and directly elected local self governance - including an Executive Branch and a Parliament for South Ossetia.

South Ossetia's Parliament will be a Parliament with substance - and that means having control over issues such as culture, education, social policy, economic policy, public order, the organization of local self governance and environmental protection.

At the same time, the people of South Ossetia must have a voice in the national structures of government - and this plan establishes a constitutional guarantee to do just that...

...In the national government - in judicial and constitutional-judicial branches - and in the Georgian Parliament, their voices will be present.

To keep Georgia whole and strong, we must learn to work together - in Tbilisi and in Tskhinvali. This plan established that institutional basis.

A meaningful peace initiative is one that respects the uniqueness of Ossetian history, its rich culture, traditions and language.

This plan achieves that by granting language rights and status - by decentralizing education policy - and by committing funds from the Georgian budget.

Differences in ethnicity and language, history and tradition - these are the very traits that make Georgia's tapestry of culture so exceptional - and this plan seeks to celebrate, protect and promote that richness.

Understandably, no peace can sustained when people continue to suffer from hunger, lack of jobs, lack of basic public services - and most of all - lack of opportunity or hope.

The people of South Ossetia deserve to share in the economic prosperity and stability that is now characteristic of the rest of Georgia.

They deserve to benefit from the investments taking place and opportunities now blossoming.

This plan addresses this need by dedicating Government funds for the rehabilitation of the economy - including critical infrastructure...

By leveraging the generosity of the international community to purse economic revival projects.

By creating conditions to spur the development of small and medium-sized enterprises that create stable and lasting jobs.

By offering to discuss innovative development ideas such as free economic zones....and easing border crossings into Russia.

And most importantly, by allowing the authorities of South Ossetia to determine and control their economic policies, so that choices reflect local needs, local interests, and local priorities.

As Georgia becomes more prosperous, so too do the people of South Ossetia.

The courage to build a lasting peace requires us to confront the crimes, suffering, and misdeeds of the past.

And unfortunately, there were many.

This plan calls for the establishment of a special law on property restitution - that will make generous payments to victims of the 1990-1992 conflict.

The Government is prepared to pay pension arrears to those who have been denied state benefits, that will not be less than the current framework.

Confronting the wrongs of the past, this initiative allows for the establishment of a special commission to deal with unresolved property disputes - and another empowered to deal with allegations of crimes against the population.

So that the past - while difficult to face - can finally be put to rest in a fair and dignified manner.

And for all those who were forced to flee - this initiative guarantees the right of return - a right that is backed up with will State sponsored financial assistance.

The road to peace will not be immediate. It will not be easy. And it may not always be smooth.

In recognition of that reality, this initiative calls for the establishment of a transitional 3 year conflict resolution period.

A period during which mixed Georgian and Ossetian police forces - under the guidance and auspices of international organizations - shall be established to guarantee public order and freedom of movement.

A period when Ossetian forces will be gradually integrated into a united Georgian Armed Force.

A period when trust will replace fear - when hope conquer suspicion.

A period when the fruits of peace and renewed prosperity will be shared and enjoyed by all.

The cause of peace is a just and noble cause - but it cannot be accomplished alone.

If we are to succeed, it means that this Institution, and others around the world, will have to take a more active role. A more visible role. A more pronounced.

Specifically, the Council of Europe should act as a peace facilitator.

The OSCE as a peace monitor - and it also should expand,;

The EU as a peace guarantor - and time has come to take action in our region. We and the EU can no longer afford to have black holes next to member states. It's time to take an active lead, it's time to consolidate the policies.

The United States as a peace supporter.

And the Russian Federation as a welcomed and constructive partner for peace.

In order for the bonds of trust and institutions of governance to be re-built - the people of South Ossetia and the people of the rest of Georgia will need your help.

I believe this initiative provides a refreshed platform - and a renewed commitment that can make peace last.

The components contained in this initiative prove that Georgia, under this democratic government - is willing to offer and willing to guarantee - a new future to the people of South Ossetia.

It means that we have taken a decision in favor of peace.

And it means that we have taken a decision that is both challenging and necessary.

Today, we have committed on paper an offer that forms the basis for a lasting and just settlement.

And in doing so, we recognize that it will take time to work out the details.

That it will take flexibility. That it will require compromise. And that it will require good will on all sides.

We also recognize a painful truth - that unfortunately - peace is not always in everyone's interests.

So we must be prepared for challenges - prepared for attempts to derail the process - and prepared for the risks that come with making difficult decisions.

Georgia today is ready to take those risks.

Georgia today is making a first step.

Today - I declare that the time has come to put these deadly conflicts in the past.

The time has come to end divisions between peoples.

The time has come to end the cycle of poverty, hopelessness and despair.

The time has come when all those affected by this conflict must become genuine advocates for peace and no longer promoters of instability and an unhealthy status quo.

It is my hope that the people of South Ossetia, and the international community of responsible nations to whom we belong - will join together and lend their active support.

So that this conflict, and others like it - can once and for all become permanent features of our past.

Now is the time.

THANK YOU

I. Political Status

The authorities of the Government of Georgia herein declare that it is urgent to take timely and efficient steps aimed at a comprehensive and peaceful solution to the conflict and the commencement of a new era of stable, prosperous and peaceful co-existence.

Whereas the proposal of the Government of Georgia for the population of South Ossetia is based on Constitutional Law, South Ossetia shall be granted broad self-governance, including the right to freely and completely elect self government bodies by the population.

South Ossetia is granted Autonomous Status as a territorial entity of Georgia.

South Ossetia will be led by the head of the Executive Branch of South Ossetia who shall be elected on the basis of general, equal and direct elections, where the sanctity and rights of all voters will be protected thru secret balloting on the territory of South Ossetia.

The supreme legislative body of South Ossetia is the Parliament of South Ossetia which will be freely and directly elected. The Parliament of South Ossetia shall implement legislative activities with regard to such issues as culture, education, social policies, economic policies, public order, organization of local self-governance and environmental protection.

Representation of South Ossetia in the National branches of power shall be guaranteed. The precise representation and participation procedures shall be determined by Constitutional law.

Representation of South Ossetia in the Parliament of Georgia shall be guaranteed. The precise number of representatives and participation procedures shall be determined by Constitutional law.

Participation of South Ossetian representatives at the national level in the activities of judicial and constitutional-judicial bodies shall be guaranteed, in compliance with Georgian legislation.

II. Language and Education

The Georgian state shall guarantee the protection and development of the cultural and ethnic identity, language, and history of the Ossetian people.

On the territory of South Ossetia, the Ossetian language has official status along with the State language.

Education in the Ossetian language shall be guaranteed and educational issues and policies are to be dealt with by South Ossetian authorities.

The State Budget of Georgia will guarantee funding for the broadcast in television, radio and newsprint of Ossetian media.

The State Budget of Georgia will guarantee funding for the preservation of Ossetian culture and history.

III. Social and Economic Compensation

Once constitutional law enters into force a Law on Property Restitution shall be adopted with respect to the population that suffered from the conflict of 1990-1992. Every affected family shall receive a lump-sum monetary compensation.

Additionally, the Government of Georgia is ready to pay pension arrears to the inhabitants of South Ossetia that have accumulated since 1991 as a lump sum, and to give guarantees to all inhabitants that their current pensions and social privileges will remain in force, at a minimum according the current framework of benefits.

With the participation and assistance of international organizations, a special committee will be established to deal with unresolved property disputes.

The Georgian government will guarantee the economic rehabilitation of South Ossetia and will dedicate from the State budget funding for the rehabilitation of critical infrastructure.

The Georgian Government will support the conduct of targeted economic revival programs intended to develop small and medium sized enterprises and create sustainable sources of local employment and revenue.

An Economic Revival Support Fund for South Ossetia will be established. Funding will come from the Georgian State budget along with the international donor community that will be encouraged to contribute. Management and prioritization for Fund usage will be administrated jointly by National and South Ossetian authorities, including members of international organizations.

The Government of Georgia is prepared to discuss preparation for establishment of a special economic zone on the territory of South Ossetia.

Economic development policies and priorities will be determined by local self government authorities.

IV. Legal Issues

During the period of conflict resolution, a 3-year transition period shall be declared.

Implementation of this transition period shall be monitored by the international organizations.

During this period, mixed Georgian-Ossetian police forces shall be established under the aegis of international organizations.

The police in question shall ensure the safety of citizens and the freedom of their movement.

A joint commission is to be established that will thoroughly investigate allegations of crimes against the population, which shall be entitled to make decisions regarding the perpetrators' fate.

The Government of Georgia guarantees establishment of a simplified border regime for the local population on the South Ossetian portion of the Georgian-Russian border.

The Government of Georgia guarantees the right of return for all individuals who left Georgia due to the conflict.

The Government of Georgia guarantees financial resettlement assistance for all who choose to return.

V. Powers of the Georgian National Authorities

The following shall remain within the powers of the Georgian national authorities:

- National security and defense.

- Control over the armed forces (within the 3-year transition period Ossetian forces shall be integrated into the united Georgian Armed Forces).

- State border protection and custom-related policies.

- National financial including currency and money supply and national taxation policies.

- Foreign policy (The South Ossetian authorities shall be granted certain rights with respect to foreign trade relationships, within the framework determined by law).

- Citizenship issues.