Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: I’m really excited to be here today for the launch of an initiative that is designed to promote tourism here in Georgia, high-value tourism, too. That creates good jobs. This is a partnership between the Ministry of Economy, the Georgian National Tourism Administration, USAID, and a stellar private sector company that specializes in high-value tourism promotion through the internet. What we’re doing tonight is we’re going to have 15 influencers—tourism influencers—spread out around Georgia and soak in all of the sites and the culture and the food and the wine and the scenery and report back on that through their channels to stimulate interest in high-value tourist areas in Georgia. And that is going out to audiences in Canada, France, Italy, the United States, the UK, Japan, and many other countries that are maybe just learning about all that Georgia has to offer. This program has been extremely successful. We’ve done it twice in the past for winter tourism in Georgia, and then before that, last summer. It’s generated lots of interest and we’re really excited about what it’s going to produce just as Georgia’s revving up again after the COVID pandemic. So, thanks everybody for coming here tonight, and we’re really looking forward to this producing good results for Georgia’s tourism industry and creating great jobs for Georgians.
Question about MP Kavelashvili’s letter
Ambassador Degnan: That letter was so full of lies and conspiracy theories that I really couldn’t even finish reading it; and it sounded really unhinged to me. What he clearly doesn’t understand is that the United States is here to support the people of Georgia, not a particular political party, one way or the other; or to support the independent institutions established by your constitution: like the Public Defender’s Office that exists and is constitutionally mandated to protect the rights of every Georgian citizen. It’s very dangerous when independent institutions are undermined like that. That’s very dangerous for any democracy. And I will say again, quite clearly since he seems to insist on repeating disinformation that has already been clearly identified as false: the United States and Europe do not want to drag Georgia into Russia’s war against Ukraine. We are doing everything we can to stop this war, to prevent it from expanding. We are working for peace, and anyone who wants to work for peace with us is who we are working with, who we are trying to have on our side. And there are many countries, as I’m sure the Prime Minister saw when he was recently at the NATO summit in Madrid: the extent of support and the effort to stop Putin’s war against Ukraine. And that is the serious issue that is at stake here. It is very strange to me though – I suppose it shouldn’t be – but this supposedly former GD MPs’ narrative tracks very closely with some of the ruling party leaders who also are repeating disinformation that has been clearly identified as false. What is their motive in continuing to repeat what has been identified as lies and false information? That’s my question.
Question on former GD MP Kavelashvili
Ambassador Degnan: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know that. All I know is that what he says seems to be echoed by members of the ruling party leadership. So, it doesn’t sound like he’s really distanced from the party as he says. What I know, per your question, is the people of Georgia have said repeatedly what they want, and that is European Union membership; that is Western integration; that is a path toward a democratic future. You have already made great progress in building your democratic institutions that are needed for that. Where I think the energy should be going right now is into fulfilling the recommendations set forth by the European Commission, because the Commission has made it clear: as soon as those recommendations are fulfilled in a meaningful way, not in a superficial way, not in a one-party approach way, but in a meaningful, inclusive way, then Georgia will have candidate status as well. There’s no time to lose. There are already some very good proposals put forward by various opposition parties, by GD, by civil society. In civil society’s proposal, 22 organizations sat down and made a concrete action plan for steps to take it. There’s no question about what needs to be done. The leaders in society have been talking about this for as long as I’ve been here, certainly in the last year. There’s a very clear roadmap, and Georgia’s leaders have already agreed to most of these reforms. It is now a matter of doing it. It’s action, not words, not working groups, but action to move: to fulfill these 12 points and get Georgia candidate status. It’s there waiting for you, but you need to do the work.
Question on the opposition parties’ participation in Parliament’s 12-point program
Ambassador Degnan: The main thing is getting the work done, and there are good plans put forward by the opposition as well as GD as well as civil society. That’s what needs to be focused on, not whether they attend working groups or not. What needs to be done is sitting down to start work on the legislation, to adopt the legislation, to start fulfilling those 12 recommendations as quickly as possible.
So my suggestion is get to work, get to work on actually fulfilling the recommendations, not talking about them.