Q-n about the opening of Kombucha production facility
Ambassador Degnan: It is wonderful to be here today for the opening of this state-of-the-art production facility. We were here little over a year ago for the groundbreaking, and despite COVID, entrepreneurs behind this Kombucha factory started this new business in Kharapila near the Administrative Boundary Line. This is one of the five initiatives supported by USAID partnership fund Start-up Georgia to help communities along the Administrative Boundary Line develop new businesses and create good jobs for the community. I have to commend the four young Georgian entrepreneurs who are behind this initiative. They had the idea, they followed through, and now they have a wonderful new business here in Kharapila. I can tell you, Kombucha is terrific. It is really delicious, and I encourage you to try it. All of the ingredients are from Georgia. It is very healthy and good for you.
Q-n about the pre-election environment, a general assessment, if there will be observers from the U.S., and on the opposition’s claims about possible provocations
Ambassador Degnan: I was pleased to see in some recent polls very high numbers for turnout. It is great to see that Georgians want to come out and vote. These are important elections. I hope there will be a calm, peaceful environment for voters to cast their votes tomorrow. That is very important. We are quite concerned about the reports of significant intimidation, harassment, and violence in the pre-election period. There is no place for that. There is no place for hate speech. That just divides an already polarized society. Of course, the attacks against the media, against civil society – these are extremely damaging and destructive. Journalists need to be able to go out and do their jobs to inform the public so that they can make informed choices on election day. I think Georgian voters need to see that each election shows improvement. They deserve that, and it is a sign of the commitment to democratic progress. I hope that that is what we are going to see in the coming days. We will be deploying election observers from the Embassy, about a hundred. Embassy employees are going to be out doing informal observation. We are very pleased that there is a robust international and domestic professional election observer corps here for these elections. That is extremely important. It also shows the level of commitment and interest and concern of Georgia’s partners around the world that there are so many international observers here to observe the election. The environment is not just about tomorrow, it is about what has been going on in the pre-election campaign, it is what happens after the election. Certainly, the United States and Georgia’s friends will be watching very closely how this plays out, and they strongly, strongly urge a calm, peaceful environment for the political process to play out here.
Q-n about the statement of MEP Maria Kaljurad saying the OSCE/ODIHR final report should be accepted by all political parties; on the actions of the ruling party somehow being seen as exacerbating the situation, plus the Israeli PR strategist allegedly promoting hate speech, attacks against journalists, PM’s announcement about possible confrontations if Saakashvili arrives.
Ambassador Degnan: That is three questions. Georgia is a member of the OSCE. OSCE/ODIHR is a well-respected, very experienced organization that does election observing around the world and its findings, its assessments are by a rigorous methodology and strategy. It is very important that they are sending observers here trained to do election observation. Their reports are based on solid analysis. They are very well-respected around the world, and I see no reason why they would not be respected in Georgia as they have been in the past. I do not know details about strategies, but the strategy that I think we are looking for is: What is the strategy for the future of Georgia? There are so many priorities that need to be addressed here that the Georgian people are focused on: like unemployment, high inflation , high prices . That is the strategy that I think Georgians want to see from their government and from their political leaders.
Q-n about Saakashvili’s possible arrival, about the U.S. position if he is arrested upon arrival: “Will he be considered a political prisoner?”
Ambassador Degnan: I am not going to speculate on what Mr. Saakashvili may or may not do. There has already been plenty of commentary on that including from Mr. Saakashvili. I think we can all agree that what Georgia needs is calm peaceful environment, and no more political instability or violence. That is what we should be trying to contribute to. And I hope that is what we are going to see tomorrow and the days after the election.