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March 23, 2023

Ambassador Degnan’s Remarks to Media at the Opening of Akhalkalaki American Shelf

Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: We are so pleased to be back in Akhalkalaki to open our American Shelf here at Public School Number Three. This is the 17th American Space we have opened throughout Georgia. It’s a place where students and members of the community can come and read books, learn English, exchange ideas, maybe develop ideas on businesses, and learn a little bit about America. It’s a place where people can come together in their communities. We are very pleased to have partners like Public School Number Three, including director, Tamar,Layla, and Teresa, all who sought us out to have a shelf here and have been wonderful partners as we’ve set it up. So, today was a great day to come back to Akhalkalaki—it’s my third time here—and talk a little bit more with the students and open our new American Shelf. 
Question about the Human Rights Report
Ambassador Degnan: The United States has been producing Human Rights Reports for decades. They report on issues, not political parties or individuals. They are sourced from across a spectrum of reliable sources that we check and double check to make sure that the information that’s included in the reports is credible and reliable. These are important reports, and I would encourage people to go back and read previous reports because they are a chronicle of both areas where improvements are needed, but they also often show where real progress has been made. Our ultimate goal with the Human Rights Report here in Georgia, as elsewhere, is to better inform Georgia’s efforts to strengthen its democracy, and to protect the human rights of all of its citizens. We hope that the Human Rights Reportthat we do annually will be seen as a useful resource toward achieving that goal.
Question about President Zourabichvili at the Summit for Democracy
Ambassador Degnan: President Zourabichvili is a fantastic representative of Georgia, as we’ve seen over the last month. She attended last year’s summit, in which all countries made certain commitments. This summit is to follow up on those commitments. In Georgia’s case, they were whole-of-government commitments; so there is also government participation in fulfilling the agenda that Georgia set for itself in terms of improving its democracy and fighting corruption. Ibelieve the Foreign Minister is also giving a video address at the second day of the summit, which will be in the Netherlands. I think it reflects a commitment by President Zourabichvili, who has done an excellent job of representing Georgia and the government, especially in terms of the commitment Georgia has made to strengthening its democracy and fighting corruption.
Question about recent protests—her assessment of regional activism
Ambassador Degnan: I heard there were also people coming out in the streets in many other cities to demonstrate their desire for Europe, but perhaps not here. I think there was a very clear demonstration by the people of Georgia that they have made a clear, determined choice that their path is Europe, and anything that takes them off that path, anything that distracts from that path is not welcomed by the people of Georgia. Thegovernment heard the peoples’ voices and withdrew those laws. One of the reasons we think the regions are so important is because there is a rich contribution that the regions can make to the policy of the government as a whole. Your challenges, your priorities, and your dreams need to be represented.
One of the reasons we’re here—not only to open the American Shelf—is to do some training with civil society organizations here in Akhalkalaki to better understand what our programs are and how to apply for them. I know some people want more transparency. We have a very transparent process for how United States assistance is used in Georgia, and this is part of that process, making sure that the partners who work with us to improve conditions in communities all over the country, understand our process, understand what America stands for, understand that we are here to support the Georgian peoples’ dreams to build their democracy. We want to support civil society because these are Georgian citizens helping other Georgian citizens improve conditions in their communities. It’s as simple as that. This is Georgians helping Georgians, and if the United States can support that with some financial assistance for any other kind of assistance, we are very proud and happy to do that.
But is the NGO sector strong?
Ambassador Degnan:  My experience traveling around Georgia is that there are some very active, very strong, very effective civil society organizations working all over this country. Sometimes in the regions they’re even stronger because they have fewer resources. They are more on their own, but they’re also more tapped in, plugged in to what the people that in their communities need. And I have found a real passion and commitment, a dedication from many of the NGOs that I’ve had the pleasure to talk with when I’ve traveled around Georgia. So I’m actually very impressed with the NGOs and civil society in the regions.