Official Statements 2012
Ambassador’s Remarks to Civil Society Forum – (October 15)
The month of October 2012 will go down in Georgian history as a moment of dramatic yet peaceful change: following a genuinely competitive electoral process, a new government led by incoming Prime Minister Ivanishvili will soon take office, and the previous government will take on the role of loyal opposition. President Saakashvili has demonstrated his statesmanship, and I have every reason to believe, based on the commitment shown by both sides, that this transition process will continue to unfold in a serious and professional manner. Georgia is lucky to have two patriots of this caliber – leaders who love their country so much that they are determined to move beyond deeply felt differences of the political campaign to advance Georgia’s interests as a nation.
Civil society, whose representatives are gathered here today, played a vital role in these events, and in doing so you acquired enhanced moral authority and credibility. For it was your advocacy for electoral reform, your push for greater transparency and media access, your ongoing concern for human rights in the prison system and elsewhere – in all these areas you stood up for principle, for transparency, and for justice. And it is a tribute to Georgia’s increasingly tolerant and progressive political culture that you were able to play this role.
Looking ahead, I expect you will continue to play a vital role. In every democratic society, independent watchdog groups and the media are essential to maintaining the equilibrium between power and justice. Political parties will engage in partisan battle to advance their view of the nation’s best interest; and NGO’s and civil society are expected to keep them honest. In the upcoming competition of ideas, you will serve as expert and referee. The voters, of course, will serve as final judge.
But there is another side to this, too. Civil society serves not only as a check and balance, but also as a vital partner in the quest for a positive relationship between the democratic state and its citizens. To play a fully effective role, NGO’s should maintain their neutrality and independence. They should be open to constructive communication with political parties and the state, even as they retain their intellectual objectivity. Fortunately Georgia has a wide range of experts who are prepared to play this role, and we – along with others in the international community – are prepared to support them.
Government, for its part, should also be open to engagement with civil society. Consultative mechanisms to facilitate dialogue and transparency between ministries and genuinely independent outside monitors can do much to promote good government and prevent abuses in the first place.
We also need to remember that civil society is not just about laws and regulations and principles – it is about real people, those who have sometimes been forgotten or left aside because they are from a small village far from the capital, or because they are disabled, or because they come from a different religious or ethnic group or have a different sexual orientation or are the victims of human trafficking or domestic violence. The job of civil society in these cases is to remind government that its actions have consequences for the lives of real people in need, and to protect the rights of individuals.
It is an honor to address you today. We admire the work you do, and wish you good luck in the exciting period that lies ahead. We are confident Georgia’s future is in good hands.