No Georgian please. We’re NATO!

The Secretary General of NATO , Anders Fogh Rasmussen, last week nearly became the first victim of Georgia’s new system of political cohabitation when he got caught into the controversy surrounding the arrest and charging of senior military and security officials from the previous government on accusations of abuse of power.

Rasmussen’s facebook page was bombarded with Georgians commenting on various statements that the Secretary General made throughout the week, as he met with President Mikheil Saakashvili in Prague and later in Brussels with the new Prime Minister Bidhzina Ivanishvili. The problem was that many of the comments were in Georgian. At a press conference with Ivanishvili, Rasmussen reminded all Georgians that the official languages of the NATO alliance were English and French and asked them not to post in Georgian.

It was a light moment at the end of a tense four day period. Speaking at a meeting of the NAT O Parliamentary Assembly in Prague on Monday, November 12, NAT O Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said, after he was asked about Georgia, that he appreciated the way October 1 parliamentary elections were conducted and added that Georgia passed “a litmus test when it comes to democratic development.” He said that he also appreciated the way how transfer of power took place following the elections. “So far so good,” he said.

But Rasmussen also added: “No reason to hide that I’m extremely concerned about the development we have seen since then not least related to recent arrests of political opponents in Georgia.” “Well, I am not going to interfere with judicial system in Georgia. It’s for the legal system, the judicial system in Georgia to sort out these cases. But of course it’s important that such trials are not undermined by political interference,” he said and added that NAT O would follow developments “very closely.

The comments were picked up by pro Saakashvili media outlets and commentators which claimed that the arrests had prejudiced Georgia’s NAT O membership bid, something that both the previous and the current governments declare as a priority.

President Saakashvili himself addressed the issue in the tone of his recently adopted posture as Georgia’s elder statesman. “It is of course very unfortunate that the Secretary General was very critical. I actually do not remember NAT O having a critical tone about Georgia in recent years and I can barely recall NAT O having such a critical tone towards any country,” Saakashvili said in televised remarks. He said that he did not think the new government carried out these arrests “intentionally” to harm Georgia’s NAT O integration, but was rather a result of the new authorities’ “inexperience”. “If only they had waited for at least few weeks… I really can’t understand why these hasty decisions were needed,” Saakashvili said.

To add pressure, the NAT O Parliamentary Assembly also adopted a resolution which was critical of the arrests. All this hapened as Bidhzina Ivanishvili arrived in Brussels to meet senior NAT O and EU officials on his first foreign trip after becoming Prime Minister.

In a joint statement three senior Georgian Dream Parliamentarians: Tedo Japaridze, chairman of parliamentary committee for foreign affairs; MP Irakli Sesiashvili, chairman of parliamentary committee for defense and security and MP Victor Dolidze, chairman of parliamentary committee for European integration reacted sharply to the criticism. “It is regrettable that this statement [by the NAT O Secretary General] and resolution were based not on information provided by NAT O liaison office in Georgia, diplomatic missions of NAT O-member states or authoritative international organizations, but, based on distorted and one-side assessments presumably provided by representatives of the United National Movement,” they stated.

Ivanishvili met Rasmussen on Wednesday by which time what had looked like a NAT O rebuke had softened to become a matter of benign concern.

The issue dominated a joint press conference of PM Ivanishvili and Secretary General Rasmussen after their meeting. “Indeed I raised this issue with the Prime Minister and I made my position clear,” Rasmussen said. “I am concerned if these trials are perceived to be politically motivated; that would be damaging for the image of the country and the government even if it’s not true – that’s my concern.” “This is the reason why it is of utmost importance to stress that such trials must take place in accordance with basic principles of rule of law, ensure full transparency, ensure due process; that’s what I have made clear. The Prime Minister has ensured me that will be the case,” Rasmussen said. “Based on that I have to say and really stress that we are not going to interfere with ongoing trials. We have confidence that they will be conducted without political interference and live up to fundamental principles of rule of law.”

The NAT O Secretary General said that his remarks on November 12 were made “out of positive interest in seeing progress in Georgia’s relationship with NAT O.”

“My concern is that it may be damaging if prosecutions, if trials are perceived to be politically motivated and I think the Prime Minister shares my concern. That’s why we have mutual interest in stressing the need for full compliance with the fundamental principles of rule of law to ensure that possible trials are conducted in transparent manner without political interference,” Rasmussen said.

PM Ivanishvili told journalists: “Don’t try to find differences in our views” about this issue. He said that his and the NAT O Secretary General’s views that ongoing criminal proceedings against several former officials should not be politically motivated “are fully in concurrence”. Ivanishvili said that for the purpose of securing more transparency he had offered the Secretary General NAT O’s monitoring “in any form” over ongoing criminal proceedings against several former officials. “To our pleasure, Mr. Rasmussen expressed clear confidence towards us and he did not deem it necessary,” PM Ivanishvili said.

Rasmussen said that the Georgian PM had offered him to establish “a certain specific mechanism to actually follow these processes.” “I think the Prime Minister wanted to assure me of his clear commitment to principles of rule of law,” Rasmussen said. “Prime Minister I really appreciate your commitment to these fundamental principles, but let me ensure you that we don’t need new mechanism, new institutions; we have NAT O-Georgia Commission, I have a special representative, who is in a constant dialogue with the Georgian authorities.” “Based on the Prime Minister’s clear assurances, I do not see a need for new institutions to follow the development. I have confidence that the government will live up to these high principles,” the NAT O Secretary General said.

And that was it. It was only left for Rasmussen to remind his facebok fans not to write to him in Georgian.

This report was prepared by the editorial team of Caucasus Elections Watch with reports from civil.ge and nato.int.