Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: The United States is very pleased to be able to support this initiative that is designed to bring together groups with different views to express and talk about their differences in a more civilized, mature fashion. This doesn’t mean that everyone in the end is going to have the same view, or that all disagreements will be resolved. It acknowledges that there are different perspectives in this country; but it is designed to provide a format for people all around the country to discuss their differences and find out what Georgians have in common. We’ve already seen at today’s presentation that there is a very strong foundation of issues on which Georgians share the same values and share the same interests for the best interests of this country at this very important moment in Georgia’s history. It’s a wonderful opportunity for Georgians to come together and take that next step forward toward their European future. That is the best path to the security and the prosperity that Georgians deserve, and it’s something that Georgians have been working toward for so long. That’s why the United States wanted to support this initiative, and we hope that it will be successful in bringing Georgians together to share their points and hear each other better.
Question about reactions to Senator Shaheen’s comments
Ambassador Degnan: Well, from what I understand, no Georgian would use that kind of language against anyone. I think it was completely inappropriate, and most Georgians recognize that. As to the proposal regarding the NGO restrictions, that sounded to me like something straight out of the Kremlin playbook. That’s what we see happening to NGOs in Russia. I don’t think that is what Georgia has been working for these past 30 years, to go back to that kind of oppression. In fact, I think, at least from my experience, as I’ve been traveling around Georgia, I have seen really important work that’s being done by NGOs and civil society to help improve the lives of everyday citizens. These groups are working to address environmental problems, working to provide legal aid to families in need. These are NGOs that are trying to help students, young people who are disadvantaged or disabled. There are many different kinds of NGO groups and civil society groups that are made up of the people in the neighborhoods who want to address a problem and make this country and this society better for all Georgian citizens. That’s why we support Georgians who come together to form organizations like NGOs. It’s surprising to me sometimes because many of the Members of Parliament, including in the ruling party, worked in NGOs—they started out in NGOs—and contributed to Georgia’s growth and development through the good work of NGOs. It’s a little bit confusing to me now to hear some of them criticizing the good work that NGOs are doing. I would hate to see Georgia lose that strength, the voice that the people of Georgia have in their NGOs and their participation in civil society. It’s such an important part of a strong democracy and a strong Georgia.
Question about the European Parliamentary resolution and funding of NGOs via USG assistance
Ambassador Degnan: The United States is not in the European Parliament, so we are not involved in drafting European Parliamentary resolutions or party resolutions. What the United States legislation does reflect is a real support for Georgia, and you can see that in the Georgia Support Act that the House of Representatives adopted earlier this year, and the Black Sea Security legislation that Senator Shaheen introduced in July. These are both very supportive of Georgia. They’re supportive of Georgia’s security. They’re support supportive of Georgia’s economic development. That is what the United States Congress is focused on. The United States government is committed to Georgia’s security, its prosperity, its democratic development. That’s what we’ve been supporting for 30 years, because that is what the Georgian people have said they want.
As to the question regarding NGOs, I think you could ask any of the hazelnut farmers or the blueberry farmers or the dairy farmers, who have expanded their dairy herds or have been able to sell their milk and cheese in more markets, about the kind of support they’ve received from the United States. You could ask the students who go to the United States on our exchange programs, or the many different people who go to the United States on a variety of exchange programs. These are not through NGOs. Ask the Georgia Defense Forces that are working with the United States military, the Coast Guard, our border police, our law enforcement cooperation. These are not through NGOs. They’re largely through the government or directly with people. But we also do work, as I said, with some very good NGOs and civil society groups who are helping build a stronger Georgia, who are addressing issues at the grassroots level, the local level, at the national level to improve the quality of life, to create jobs and better environment for all the citizens of Georgia. Our assistance for 30 years, and we have a very good track record, has gone to improve the quality of life of Georgians. That’s who we care about: the people of Georgia. We listen to what they say they want and need, and that’s how we determine where our assistance goes. We work with the government often, as often as we can, but we also work with others to make sure that we’re reaching into the corners of this country to help people realize their dreams and to support people in need. That’s what we’ll continue to do.