Ambassador Kelly Degnan's Speech on U.S. Independence Day 2023
Kalbatono Presidento, Batono Premier Ministro, Kalbatonebo da Batonebo, Chemo megobrebo. Qvelas mogesalmabit Amerikis saelchoshi! Didi, didi madloba mobrizanebistvis. Ertad vizeimot Amerikis damoukideblobis dre!
We are honored to have you with us and deeply grateful for the strong partnership that has made it possible for us to do so much together for the people of Georgia.
Please join me in thanking the hard-working Embassy team that organized today’s event, led by Chris Yarng and Yang Monteiro. I’d also like to thank our wonderful sponsors. Our celebration would not be possible without their generous support.
This will be my last year hosting our Independence Day festivities as the U.S. Ambassador. It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as Ambassador to this amazing country. I will leave behind so many wonderful friends all over Georgia. I will always keep you and Sakartvelo close to my heart.
My outstanding Deputy, Rian Harris, is also leaving Georgia shortly. Rian is an exceptional leader and I could not have asked for a better partner in leading this dynamic Mission. We are fortunate to have Alan Purcell taking the reins from Rian as Deputy Chief of Mission. Alan served in Georgia 15 years ago and is thrilled to be back. I also want to thank the other people on our leadership team who will be transitioning this summer for their hard work and dedication to helping Georgia become more secure, more prosperous, and more democratic.
July 4th marks the day America’s Founding Fathers declared independence. It is celebrated by Americans and many freedom-loving people around the world as a day to remember that freedom is worth defending.
July 4th is also a day when we celebrate the beautiful, ever evolving, democratic system that Americans have been striving to improve for 247 years. It’s a day to remember that “democracy” is governance by the people, through free and fair elections. It’s a system based on respect for the rule of law and the independent institutions created by compromise and consensus to protect fundamental freedoms and equal rights. It depends on a system of checks and balances that limits the influence of the powerful few and the tyranny of the majority.
America’s founders created a system of governance that would serve the people, and we have seen overtime that this system leads to greater respect and greater prosperity by stimulating economic growth, innovation, and a more vibrant artistic and cultural environment. Many countries, including Georgia, share America’s belief that a democratic system based on equal rights and the rule of law is the best way to ensure stability and protect our precious freedoms.
History shows that we cannot take democracy for granted. As President Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It must be defended, protected, and handed on for our children to do the same.” Americans and Georgians know this because we have both had to fight for our independence and defend our freedom – just as Ukrainians are bravely doing today against an aggressive, imperialistic Russia. We must defend democracy from autocratic countries like Russia that have historically sought to undermine and subvert democracies in the pursuit of their imperial ambitions. The Kremlin did that using military force here many times, including 1921 and 2008, and we see that Putin is doing that now in Ukraine.
History also shows that democracy can wither, gradually, through the steady erosion of civil liberties, the corruption of rule of law, and the elimination of political and media pluralism. And history shows that abandoning democratic values to accommodate autocratic powers does not bring long term stability; it brings oppression, instability, and injustice.
Georgia’s history of developing its own liberal democratic system is long and impressive – whether through the rule of law seen at the ancient Court in Dartlo, or the equality evidenced in the rights given to women and minorities in the 1918 Constitution, or the emphasis on respect for human rights in the writings of Georgia’s great statesmen, such as Chavchavadze, Tsereteli, Pshavela, Iashvili and the Blue Horns, Javakhishvili, and Baratashvili. Throughout history, Georgian leaders have protected Georgia’s language, religion, and culture – including its liberal democratic values. As Noe Zhordania said in 1921, “What do we have to offer to the cultural treasure of the European nations? The 2,000 year old national culture, democratic system, and natural wealth” of Georgia.
To those who question the choice of Americans and Georgians for democracy, or who reject our shared values, I say, remember history. Remember what Russia did in Georgia to undermine your language, your religion, your culture, and your independence. Remember deportations and forced labor. We see what Russia is doing today to erase Ukraine’s identity and sovereignty, and the oppressive autocracy in Russia. The people of Georgia I have had the privilege to meet do not share those values. They do not want to live in a Russian-style autocracy. History shows that in the many protests by the Georgian people to protect your cultural identity, human rights, religious freedom, sovereignty and independence.
The Georgian people remember their history well. They have repeatedly resisted autocracy and oppression and have clearly chosen a democratic way of life. Georgians’ strong independent spirit and love of freedom is the basis for our close partnership and friendship. This is why Georgians and Americans have stood together for more than 30 years, as strong partners dedicated to Georgia’s success as a flourishing, secure, European democracy.
America and Georgia stand as proof that freedom-loving people will ultimately refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness. As President Biden said, “…the darkness that drives autocracy is ultimately no match for the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere.”
As we celebrate America’s 247th Independence Day, today is a good day to remember that we stand united – Americans and Georgians — in the name of peace, liberty, and freedom.
Chemo stumrebo, chemo megobrebo. Amerikeli halkhi mudam mzad aris kartvelta tanadgomistvis! Rogortz Sulhan-Saba ambobda, “Dzala Ertobashi”!
God bless America. God bless Georgia.
Damoukideblobis Dres Gilosavt! Happy Independence Day!