Ambassador Degnan's Remarks to Media at Kutaisi State University
Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: Well, let me start by saying how happy I am to be back in Imereti and to have had the past few days to explore parts of Imereti that I haven’t been to before, and to come back to Kutaisi to talk with the students here this morning. I visited Akaki Tesereteli’s home and learned more about his legacy and his dedication to Georgia’s freedom and independence. We had a wonderful reception last night with all of our friends and partners here in the Imereti region, which brought together the wide range of work and support that the United States has had over the years here in Imereti: supporting not only rule of law and the judiciary, but also education, agriculture, viticulture, tourism, and so many different areas where we have had wonderful Georgian partners helping to build the economy here in Imereti, helping to build the educational institutions and opportunities and helping to build the democratic institutions that are so important to Georgia’s strength as a democratic country.
Question about former President Saakashvili
Ambassador Degnan: The United States is following Mr. Saakashvili’s case very closely. We commend the work of the Public Defender’s Office, which has done an exemplary job of monitoring his situation and ensuring that his rights are protected, visiting him twice in the last week. Ultimately it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that Mr. Saakashvili’s physical and mental health is protected, that his medical needs are met, and that his rights are protected, including a fair trial. So, we would be looking to see that that obligation, that responsibility under the constitution is protected.
Question about Georgian fighters in Ukraine
Ambassador Degnan: I think it’s clear the side the people of Georgia have taken, and that is in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Ukraine is fighting for its sovereignty. It’s fighting for its territorial integrity. It’s fighting for its existence as a country, its identity as a people. These are all things that Georgians know deeply from your own experience with Russian aggression, from your own experience with Russia trying to take your identity away, taking your territory away, trying to take your sovereignty away. So, when the people of Georgia extend their generous humanitarian assistance to support the people of Ukraine, who are fighting for their country and their identity, I think we know clearly which side the people of Georgia are on.
Question about the Public Defender selection process
Ambassador Degnan: As we’ve seen from the outstanding work of Nino Lomjaria and her professional team at the Public Defender’s office, this is a very important position. It’s important because it’s one of the few independent agencies that has the obligation under your Constitution to protect the human rights of every citizen in Georgia. That is why the selection process needs to be inclusive. It needs to be done in a transparent way to ensure that whoever is the next Public Defender is someone who’s qualified, who’s independent, who’s courageous, and who is prepared to take on this tremendous responsibility, mandated by the Constitution to protect the human rights of every Georgian citizen.
On your second question, I think Georgians feel deeply the struggle that Ukrainians are facing to preserve their identity and their homeland, and their sovereignty. This is something that Georgia has experienced and is experiencing right now with 20% of your territory occupied by Russia, and the kinds of harassment and kidnappings that you have going on because of Russian occupation in your own country. I think that that probably inspires some Georgians to want to do what they can to help, whether it’s humanitarian assistance or anything else.
Ambassador Degnan: I just wanted to say thank you very much to all of the people in Imereti who have given me such a warm welcome and who have been such wonderful partners to the United States over the past 30 years. Everything that we do here in Imereti, in Georgia is in partnership with our Georgian friends. And everything we do here is to help you realize your goal of being a secure, stable, prosperous democratic Georgia. That is why we’re here, and all of our assistance over the years goes to helping you achieve that goal. This is the clear choice of the Georgian people to be part of Europe, to be part of the European Union, and NATO and the United States will continue to do everything we can to support you. I also want to encourage you all to come out tomorrow to Kutaisi City Park at one o’clock for America Day, where there will be a lot of American culture, American food, and American fun. So, thank you so much for your hospitality.