“Europe-Georgia Institute” and Georgian CSOs’ open letter to Ambassador Carl Hartzell
In the letter, the Civil Society of Georgia thanks Hartzel for many years of successful work in Georgia and for the support that Georgia and the civil society have always felt from the European Union and him personally. At the same time, they emphasize Hartzell’s unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.
CSOs emphasize Hartzell’s contribution to the Charles Michel Agreement and the granting Georgia the European perspective. However, it is also mentioned that the political class of Georgia failed to properly assess the importance of the involvement of the European Union and the “Georgian Dream ” annulled the agreement.
In a joint letter, the civil society states that recent anti-European and anti-American statements by the Georgian Dream, attacks on the ambassadors of Georgia’s strategic partners and friendly countries, attempts to use foreign policy and the country’s interests in the domestic political game harm the national interests of Georgia and pose a direct threat to its future.
Georgian Dream party Chairperson, Irakli Kobakhidze summarized the Ambassadorship of Mr Hartzell with the following: “Today, as he completed his mission, it can be safely said that, unfortunately, Carl Hartzell played only a negative role in the relations between the European Union and Georgia. This is a very sad event. We really hope that the next ambassador will act differently.”
The letter is signed by 30 Georgian non-governmental organizations, including the “Europe-Georgian Institute”. Carl Hartzell has served as the EU Ambassador to Georgia since 2018. He will be replaced by Polish diplomat Pawel Herczynski.
CSOs Release Study Alleging Ruling Party Vote Bribery Scheme
The civil society organizations Transparency International – Georgia and the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) released a joint study on July 21 about an alleged scheme of voter bribery and illegal mobilization by the ruling Georgian Dream party.
The documents were handed to the CSOs by whistleblower and former deputy head of the State Security Service of Georgia (SSG), Ioseb (Soso) Gogashvili, and include the alleged 2018-2019 correspondence from a Georgian Dream e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and documents from 2020. Additionally, they verified certain parts of the data through publicly available information.
Notably, Gogashvili published a Facebook post the day before he was arrested on July 16 by law enforcement officers, where he exposed the government for falsifying elections and said that he had provided corresponding evidence of the “entire structure” to “all relevant organizations.”
Per the CSOs, their study revealed a large-scale scheme of mobilizing votes in favor of the ruling Georgian Dream party through illegal means which “very likely confirms the use of state agencies (including law enforcement agencies) for electoral/party purposes.”
“Through these agencies, personal information about employees of budgetary organizations was likely collected, probably with the goal of pressuring them in the future. Additionally, in exchange for support during elections, citizens were provided with pre-requested benefits and other advantages through various state agencies,” the document stated.
More specifically, the document outlined that ruling party representatives allegedly offered to rescind probationary status, as well as early release from penitentiary institutions, restore the suspended or confiscated driving license, ease charges in ongoing criminal cases, improve the conditions of those serving sentences, and postpone military service obligations of conscripts, among other benefits.
According to the study’s authors, information obtained from the National Probation Agency confirmed that in the 2018 Presidential elections, especially in the second round and the following months, the number of people who had their probation revoked and their driving privileges restored increased significantly. “Furthermore, in the reports by various TV channels, many persons confirmed the circumstances mentioned in the documents,” it added.
Per the document, the ruling party, together with the SSG, also compiled political dossiers of employees in budgetary organizations, as well as directors of public schools and educational resource centers, and made personnel-related policy decisions on that basis.
“A typical example of this can be considered discrimination against public school principals on political grounds. From fall 2020 to August 2021 the Ministry of Education and Science did not re-appoint at least 112 public school principals after the expiration of their term of office,” the document stated and explained that out of these 112 persons, 95 principals were evaluated in the documents provided by Gogashvili.
According to TI – Georgia, and ISFED, the material submitted to them by Gogashvili has been handed over to the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia, which should become a prerequisite for starting an effective investigation.
President of Georgia criticizes Ruling Party for Anti-Western Rhetoric
President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili criticized the ruling Georgian Dream party for their anti-Western rhetoric and the “unimaginable… endless attacks on MEPs” at a time when the country should be working towards fulfilling the European Commission’s 12 recommendations for the EU candidate status.
In a 21 July interview with the Georgian Public Broadcaster, the President referenced the key visit by a delegation of MEPs to Georgia over the last two days and emphasized, “At this time an unimaginable thing happens, press speakers from Brussels and Washington tell us that we need to learn how to behave.”
“I don’t know how long we will continue playing this two-faced game, where we pretend that we want to keep going towards the EU, that we want candidate status, [but] at this time not only are we not doing what we must… we are actually taking contrary steps,” she said.
“Starting with annulling the Charles Michel agreement, and every step that has been taken in the last year. Saying no to credit in a particularly harsh manner, there were a series of steps on these issues where they expected us to make different decisions,” President Zurabishvili emphasized, “with judicial appointments through a fast-tracked process, abolishing the State Inspector Office, any step that was taken in the last year were steps that was assessed negatively by the European Union.”
President Zurabishvili underscored that these steps coincided with ruling party statements of GD Chairperson Irakli Kobakhidze and MP Mamuka Mdinaradze, among others, which accused and blamed our American and European partners of being “protectors of criminals” and of forcing Georgia to join the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict by opening up a second front.
President Zurabishvili stressed that such statements are “not a critique, this is an accusation.”
Asked about the basis for the ruling party’s accusations that the West is trying to open a second front and drag Georgia into a war, the President underlined, “If anyone traveled and met with Europeans on a high level it was me. If anyone traveled to the U.S. for high-level meetings, this was me and I never heard any sort of demand for us to join the war. This is entirely fabricated and interesting that it coincides with Russian rhetoric.”
President Zurabishvili also criticized Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and noted that “I have never seen a Prime Minister write to the [President] of the Commission to distance herself from the European Parliament.”
Speaking on anti-Western rhetoric, President Zurabishvili also drew attention to the MPs and members of local councils who left the ruling party and emphasized that they “do not look like independent people” with their “message box” remaining aligned with the Georgian Dream.
Peter Fischer to be Germany’s new Ambassador to Georgia
German ambassador to Georgia, Hubert Knirsch, will be replaced by Peter Fischer.
“Some personal news: At the end of August, Maria and I will be transferring to Tbilisi where I will have the honor of serving as German ambassador to Georgia.” – wrote Fischer on twitter.
Ambassador worked in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served in various countries. Previously, he was the German ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
Hubert Knirsch took up the appointment as German Ambassador to Georgia in September 2018