President Zurabishvili under Fire over Army-related Remarks

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili’s yesterday’s remarks in which she hailed her country’s “huge, [and] very strong weapon, that is knowledge, science, culture” while suggesting that Georgia has “neither the army, nor weapons and will not have them either,” outraged many.

Speaking with Georgian scientific community on December 10, President Zurabishvili said “this is a very serious choice. We have nothing else, neither the army, nor weapons and will not have them [in the future] either…nor [we have] big economic potential to immediately conquer even [the] region… but we have a huge, [and] very strong weapon, that is knowledge, science, culture.”

While drawing scattered applause from a crowd of Georgian scientists present at the meeting, Georgian President has been harshly criticized from her political opponents, as well as Defense Minister Irakli Garibashvili.

Calling the President’s army-related remarks “absolutely” and “categorically unacceptable,” Garibashvili said “the Georgian army is strong and our servicemen are heroes.”

“Statements like that are absolutely unacceptable from the Commander-in-Chief. I do not know what the President of Georgia meant, probably it needs more explanations, but… as a Defense Minister I will spare no efforts to make the Georgian army even more stronger,” Garibashvili added.

Chief of the Defense Forces, Lieutenant General Vladimer Chachibaia also noted that Georgian defense forces are among the strongest and well-equipped in the region nowadays.

Opposition parties have also decried President Zurabishvili’s remarks. Calling on the President to “immediately apologize to each servicemen,” newly emerged public movement “Lelo” of ex-banker Mamuka Kazaradze slammed Zurabishvili’s statement as “anti state.” “Lelo” noted that the statement was “in direct interest of the occupying country’s views,” and that it attempted “to demoralize and demotivate” Georgian defense forces.

Zaal Udumashvili of opposition United National Movement said “this lady has been placed on President’s position and granted, gifted the status of a Commander-in-Chief, and now we are yielding the results of [the decision of the ruling party leader] Bidzina Ivanishvili.”

Davit Berdzenishvili of Republican party noted that while Georgia is making an important contribution to peacekeeping missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the President’s statement as if Georgia neither has an army, nor will have it, might “along with ignorance and lack of qualification,” point at her “skeptical attitude to Georgia’s NATO integration” perspective.

Davit Sikharulidze, Defense Minister during the period of 2008-2009, also stated that the entire responsibility over Zurabishvili’s remarks lies on the ruling Georgian Dream party, that endorsed her candidacy at last year’s presidential polls. “It is very unfortunate that a person, who had been pulled to become the President of Georgia by the Georgian Dream… does not quite believe in a fully-fledged Georgian statehood,” Sikharulidze noted.

A day after the new wave of criticism, Presidential administration made an explanation on December 11, noting that the President’s words have been “again distorted” and misinterpreted in media “out of context.”

“To spread such a fake interpretation is not only an attempt to discredit the President and of bullying, but it first of all it harms the national interests of the country and its security,” the administration stated.

Following the official statement, Salome Zurabishvili also responded  to the criticism in her personal Facebook page, saying that “instead of work-oriented comments or even criticism,” her words are being shared in a “distorted and grotesque” manner with “defamatory estimations and interpretations.”

Zurabishvili says this aims at “weakening the Presidential institute,” making “a crack” between the President and ruling party, and “create the sense of misunderstanding and mistrust in the society.”

International Republican Institute (IRI)-commissioned public opinion survey that was carried out in September-October found out that with the support of 87% of respondents, Georgian Army represents nation’s most trusted institution, even surpassing the Georgian Orthodox Church (85% in 2019 fall, 89% in 2019 summer).

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