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Georgia leader hails progress, new steps that curb corruption, restore faith

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The three years since the Rose Revolution peacefully overthrew the government of Georgia have seen dramatic change and reform in the fledgling democracy, its current prime minister said Friday (Dec. 8).

Despite stormy relations with neighboring giant Russia, Georgia has taken dramatic steps to curb corruption, bolster a market economy, and restore its people’s faith in its government, Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli told about 150 people gathered in the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Malkin Penthouse.

In recent years, the government has reformed its police force – firing thousands wholesale and hiring new officers. It has embarked on a sweeping reform of the judicial system, including a new witness protection program, free legal aid for those who can’t afford it, and a nine-part plan to ensure judicial independence and the integrity of the courts.

“We are shifting Georgia from being almost a failed state to one that is vital and secure,” Nogaideli said. “I believe that, three years later, we are on the path to success.”

Further, the Georgian economy is growing at about 10 percent, and Nogaideli said that international investors can be assured that their investments will be treated fairly.

“[Our goal is] a market economy with competition, not nepotism,” Nogaideli said.

Nogaideli’s address, “Three Years After the Rose Revolution: Reform and Results in Georgia,” was sponsored by the Kennedy School’s Black Sea Security Program in cooperation with the Kokkalis Program on Southeastern and East-Central Europe.

Nogaideli, who spoke and took questions for about an hour, is on a multistop trip of the United States, with other stops in Washington, D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco.

Georgia’s prime minister since 2005, Nogaideli has a long history of service to Georgia’s government since the nation became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. Most recently, he held the post of minister of finance from 2003 to 2005 and, before the Rose Revolution, from 2000 to 2002.

The current government came into power following a peaceful revolution that took place in 2003. The revolution ousted the government of Eduard Shevardnadze, who, following disputed parliamentary elections, had ruled Georgia since shortly after independence.

Nogaideli said the country held elections for local government leaders just a month ago, the first time the nation elected independent local top executives and a step in the move to decentralize government.

“Slowly but surely, accountability has become part of the Georgian political scene. It is our job to make it irreversible,” Nogaideli said.

Despite the progress domestically, the nation faces considerable difficulty in two breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of which are seeking independence. Nogaideli said the areas are hotbeds of smuggling and asserted that disputes would be much easier to settle if Georgia and Russia reached an agreement over them.

“For us, a top priority is resolving territorial conflicts on our soil,” Nogaideli said.

Relations with Russia have deteriorated, Nogaideli said, with recent Russian bans on major agricultural imports from Georgia, including wine and mineral water. Though 17 percent of Georgian exports had previously gone to Russia, Nogaideli said exporters have already found new markets for most of those goods.

Georgia considers itself “enthusiastically European,” Nogaideli said, and seeks to associate itself with European and North Atlantic countries and institutions. It is talking with NATO about becoming a member, which has helped sour relations with Russia. Nogaideli said Georgia is not trying to antagonize Russia, but needs to make decisions based on the best interests of its citizens.

On European Union membership, Nogaideli said he thinks there is “expansion fatigue” on the EU’s part and that it is “not constructive” to talk about Georgian EU membership.

Nogaideli spoke with enthusiasm about the Rose Revolution and the changes that have occurred in Georgia since. He said he was happy when the revolution took place and, despite his reluctance, agreed to serve in the new government as minister of finance. He equated the current period in Georgia to that of the United States when the Founding Fathers were shaping the nation.

“When the Rose Revolution happened, I was excited like a child,” Nogaideli said. “[But] elections and revolutions are not the only thing. You need viable, well-functioning institutions as well. [They are] key to democracy.”

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