Exclusive Interview with Irakli Alasania: “Individual Freedoms are central in our ideology”. 2

In the first in a series of interviews with Georgian political leaders ahead of the 1 October Parliamentary elections, Caucasus Elections Watch interviews Irakli Alasania, Leader of our Georgia-Free Democrats, one of the coalition partners in the Georgian Dream Opposition bloc.

In the wide-ranging interview Alasania speaks in detail of his party’s plans in the social-economic sector, as well as on the need for a refocus of Georgia’s foreign policy within a pro western orientation.

What is the most important issue for “Our Georgia – Free Democrats” and how does the party plan to make a difference on this topic in Georgia if you win parliamentary representation?

Individual freedoms are central in our ideology. Restoration of rule of law and general appreciation of justness, building democratic institutions that guarantee and secure the provision of basic human rights will be the primary goals for Our Georgia Free Democrats.

According to the National Democratic Institute survey conducted this past June, jobs and unemployment are the most important national issue for the Georgian electorate. What is your party proposing to do to address the issue of unemployment and to create jobs in Georgia?

The authorities have promised us new workplaces many a time.  This promise, among many others, has remained lip service. Against the background of high unemployment rates, having a job has become a privilege primarily enjoyed by supporters, relatives, and friends of the authorities. Instead of decreasing, unemployment has increased in Georgia even further. We promise to make employment the foremost priority of our economic policy. We will promote the creation of a fair and competitive labor market so that workplaces will be equally accessible to everyone.

People are unable to protect their rights out of fear of losing their jobs. Labor relations acquire distorted forms, while pay received as a result of slave labor and unconditional obedience does not suffice even to cover basic needs. We will protect the rights of employees and treat trade unions with due respect. Through negotiating with employees and employers, we will develop a new labor code and depoliticize the public service. Our commitment is to decent work for everyone!

We will attract billions in investment into industry, agriculture, education, healthcare, and other fields.  We will defeat elite corruption, rid business of political pressure. Entrepreneurs will be provided with means to start new businesses and create workplaces.  Our priority will be the development of SMEs. We will make horticulture modern and income generating, ensuring the welfare of those occupied in the village.

We will protect the labor rights of citizens, adopt a labour code commensurate with European standards, and ensure equal pay for equal work.  We will fight against political and other types of workplace discrimination. We will foster capacity development of local human resources and the growth of competitiveness of each person and the country as a whole.

With regards to territorial integrity and relations with Russia, almost half of all Georgians feel the situation has deteriorated since January 2008, according to the survey mentioned above. Furthermore, about the same number of respondents felt that Georgia’s prospects for EU and NATO membership remained about the same as in 2008. Could you please briefly outline your party’s position on foreign affairs and which issue it will focus most on in this area?

Free Democrats will ensure Georgia’s pro-Western orientation.  NATO and EU membership is Georgia’s destiny. The Saakashvili government is unable to achieve a peaceful accommodation with Russia that allows Georgia to protect its interests and sovereignty, reduces the threat of war, and increases trade and economic development.  By bringing stability to Georgia’s relationship with Russia, Free Democrats can further strengthen Georgia’s ties with the West, become more integrated into positive trends of regional economic development, and take its rightful place as a regional power playing a positive strategic role for international trade and security.

Georgia’s foreign policy should be refocused on establishing regional stability in the Caucasus.  It should concentrate on assisting its neighbors to settle their difference and build a more integrated region.

Media freedom and diversity has been a controversial issue in the lead up to the elections and has received considerable attention from the international community. What does your party intend to do to ensure and protect both the safety of journalists and freedom of expression?

Freedom of speech is a foundation of any democratic state. Media should be and will be free after our political coalition come into power. The current practice of having the news portrayed by the national media outlets, which are orchestrated by the administration of the President of Georgia, is unacceptable. It is incomprehensible that there are no debates or discussions around the problematic issues; and Georgian society is being fed with one-sided monologues from the man and the party in power.

Universal health care is a central item on the campaign agenda. Could you please elaborate on your party’s position on healthcare and what policies “Our Georgia – Free Democrats” is proposing in this area?

Quality healthcare is not a privilege but a right of each of us! As a result of healthcare reform implemented by the current government and due to disastrous medical treatment bills, many of our fellow citizens have gone broke and wound up homeless. We will create a European-type healthcare system based on the principle of social solidarity.  We will ensure quality and accessible healthcare for everyone!

  1. Only every fourth citizen is currently insured – We will provide every citizen with universal health coverage.
  2. Pharmaceutical and medical treatment prices are unjustifiably high nowadays – We will succeed in lowering prices and improving the quality of service.
  3. The presently existing insurance cannot cover even the basic needs of the majority of population – Our insurance package will fully finance services provided by family and village doctors, preventive examinations and vaccinations, emergency treatment, childbirth, infertility diagnostics treatment of oncologic diseases, hospitalization, etc.  Our insurance will cover fifty percent of first-aid medications.
  4. The current healthcare program financing is not sufficient – We will double the financing of diabetes, mental illnesses, anti-rabies, safe blood, and other programs.
  5. Many physicians are presently between jobs, while patients remain without physicians – Enhancement of medical service will create additional workplaces for medics.
  6. Due to the malfunction of the system, the level of medical service and use thereof drops on a daily basis – We will create a flexible and self-governing system of healthcare.
  7. The rights of patients, insurance companies, healthcare institutions and their staff are ambiguous – We will clearly separate the obligations of the state, insurance companies, and healthcare institutions.

Given the significant role agriculture plays in the Georgian economy, what policies does your party intend to develop to stimulate and support rural economies?

Immediately after coming to power, the Georgian Dream will create a billion GEL fund for the village. Processing industry will develop, the acreage of irrigated lands will increase, agricultural service centers will become available, every farmer will be provided with long-term loans, modern equipment and technology, and consultations with highly qualified experts. A system of insurance related to natural disaster risks will be developed.

We will provide care not only to farm enterprises but smallholdings as well. The latter, in the initial years of their existence, will be provided with highly fertile seeds and saplings, fertilizers, safe and quality pesticides.  No harvested crop will go to waste unsold.

We will study and help every village in accordance with its needs. No subsidy or aid intended for the village will any longer depend on the willful decisions of the authorities. Population itself will be in charge of village property and assets.

Dozens of thousands of workplaces will be created in processing plants, new outpatient hospitals, schools, and small and medium-size enterprises.  Innovative technology, free kindergartens and good schools, in addition to workplaces, will impel youth to dedicate their lives to the village.

We promise that:  Horticulture will become income generating. The state will create all necessary conditions for farmers to harvest and sell crops. Novelties, information, and innovations will be introduced in the village. The village will have its own financing, property, and self-government. The market will overflow with Georgian production.

Considering there are only nine current female members of parliament, does your party have an action plan to encourage more participation of women in politics?

We already have very strong Women organization. OGFD women are represented at the political board of the party as well as the coalition. They actively participate in the formation of decisions and will be also represented at the Parliament.

Given that the Georgian Dream Coalition, in which the OGFD is participating for the parliamentary elections, is comprised of several political parties, how will the OGFD be able to influence policy development and implementation if the Coalition is elected?  

OGFD is a bit more than 3 years old party, but has already demonstrated that it is one of the most progressive and speedy growing party. From organizational/structural point, as well as by representation of highly qualified human resources, the party is one of the strongest. We believe that OGFD will be significantly represented in the future Parliament by both proportional and majoritarian MPs. Accordingly, we will be represented at the executive branch.

Is there any other point, related to your campaign platform, that we have not discussed that you would like to mention?

Our country must succeed not only in learning everything innovative and progressive from others but also in creating and disseminating on its own. We have all preconditions to achieve this goal. Knowledge and education have been traditionally highly appreciated and recognized in Georgian society. We intend to build the advancement of the country’s development upon this very tradition.

Our care for the country’s future has been, and remains, inseparable from care for education, sciences, literacy, and culture. Under our governance, education and science will become priority fields, and their financing from the state budget will increase. We will improve every stage of the system of education.  Development of a child’s reason and behavior will start in the kindergarten.  School education will be improved.  Teachers and professors of every educational institution will be free of political pressure, unlawful persecution, and fear.  Students’ tuition fees will be lowered.

The system of education will ensure the development of multifunctional work force – the country needs nurses, agrarians, and veterinarians, as well as engineers and shoemakers. We will support persons of any age in mastering new vocations and improving their qualification.

We promise that: Kindergartens will become accessible to every family and free of charge; every village will have a school of its own, the quality of middle school education will improve; a part of school textbooks will be free of charge, while prices for others will decrease, teacher’s vocation will become prestigious and appreciated. Universities will regain their autonomy and become places where new knowledge is generated.

The interview with Irakli Alasania was prepared by Karina Gould and Marion Kipiani for CEW.