Who are the congressmen writing the letter and why does their opinion matter? " />

American congressmen write letter to Georgian PM detailing eight main problems in Georgia

Who are the congressmen writing the letter and why does their opinion matter?

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia received a letter from American congressmen which said that the Georgian government has not upheld its promise to make democratic reforms, that it is persecuting political opponents, and that the investment climate in the country is becoming worse.

The letter was written by four congressmen: co-chairs of the House Georgia Caucus Adam Kinzinger and Gerry Connolly; Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; and Michael McCaul, leader of the republican minority in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The letter was dated January 21st, but the administration published the letter on the evening of the 22nd.

Opposition leaders and experts say that this is one of the most critical letters the ruling Georgian Dream party has received, and that it addresses not the prime minister, but the unofficial leader of the country, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The official reaction from the Georgian government is that this is only the opinion of four congressmen and doesn’t warrant any serious discussion.

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Concrete points raised in the letter:

1) The congressmen say that the Georgian government has not made the promised democratic reforms

This refers to the promise to switch to a proportional election system, which the leader of the ruling party Bidzina Ivanishvili made in the summer of 2019 against the backdrop of mass protests in Tbilisi. However, in November, representatives of the ruling Georgian Dream party (party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili) voted against this decision during a parliamentary vote.

2) Georgian authorities used force against peaceful demonstrators

Quote from the letter:

“…we are concerned over the decision to forego promised democratic reforms and the associated violence against peaceful protesters.”

3) Georgian authorities used a strategic project, the deep sea port in Anaklia, as a tool of political persecution

Quote from the letter:

“Furthermore, Georgian Dream’s perceived political targeting of the U.S.-backed Anaklia Development Consortium has now deterred or prevented investment from American companies in this important project. These developments seem to reflect  an increasingly unfavorable business environment and could deter future U.S. investment in Georgia.”

4) The actions of the Georgian authorities strengthen the influence of Russia and President Putin in the region

Quote from the letter:

“Decreased foreign investment not only hurts the Georgian people and their hopes for deeper integration with Western institutions, but it also strengthens Vladimir Putin’s hand in the region.”

5) Leading up to the 2020 parliamentary, Georgian Dream is financing a wide network of Facebook accounts that spread anti-democratic, anti-Western views and question the possibility of holding high-level elections

Quote from the letter:

“As Georgia moves toward the 2020 parliamentary elections under Georgian Dream’s leadership, we continue to encourage you to protect the legitimacy of these elections and ensure they are guarded against both internal and external interference. In your response letter, dated December 17, 2019, you pledged that the 2020 elections would be held to the highest standard. Yet, recent reports indicate that Facebook had to shut down an extensive network of accounts funded by Georgian Dream. The fact that these accounts were apparently spreading anti-democratic, anti-Western sentiments is simply unacceptable.”

6) “Georgian Dream” is persecuting its opponents for political reasons and uses the prosecutor’s office to do so. It is also harassing the media and public:

Quote from the letter:

“We are troubled by reports that prosecutors appointed by Georgian Dream are repoening old legal cases against the party’s opponents. While some of these cases may have merits, others are perceived as targeting leading opposition political figures, news operators, international corporations, and civil society members.”

7) The judicial system in Georgia is biased

Quote from the letter:

“Respect for the rule of law and an impartial justice system are key to a healthy democracy and to ensuring free and fair elections, which were guaranteed by your party.”

8) The business atmosphere in Georgia is becoming less favorable, and American and European companies are being harassed:

Quote from the letter:

“Since Georgia’s independence in 1991, we have witnessed the Georgian people stridently march towards democracy and towards deeper partnership with the West. However, despite the promise shown over the past three decades, recent democratic and economic trends are negatively affecting Georgia’s image in the United States. Unfortunately, American and European companies have suffered harassment, causing many to reconsider their business ventures.”

What advice do the congressmen give to the government? 

The congressmen urge their Georgian colleagues to prevent Georgia from losing much of the support from both parties in congress.

Quote from the letter:

“We hope that your government will work with the United States Congress, Ambassador Kelly Degnan, the European Union, and non-governmental organizations to strengthen democratic institutions and enhance economic prosperity for the Georgian people so that Georgia can continue to be a strategic partner of the United States for many years to come.”

Why is their opinion important?

The first important point is that there are members from both parties among the letter writers—both democrats and republicans. This means that there is a full consensus in congress about the situation in Georgia.

“The Georgian government needs to take this letter seriously. This is a bipartisan shot across the bow that warns of negative trends…This is coming from Georgia’s friends,” tweeted Managing Director of the Penn Biden Center Michael Carpenter in response to the letter.

The second important point is that the was signed by the co-chairmen of the House Georgia Caucus, whose view on Georgia is especially important.

The third important point is that the signatories carry a lot of political weight in congress. Among the signatories is the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel. And Gerald Connolly, who also signed, is the chairman of the US delegation to NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

These congressmen often make statements in support of Georgia. For example, it was because of their work that the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bipartisan act in support of Georgia in October 2019.

The Georgian authorities then called these congressmen “friends of Georgia” and often referred to this act during debates with opponents as an example of American support.

Reactions of the authorities and opposition

Government officials say that congressmen have no real information about the current situation in Georgia, as the opposition gives congressmen “false information.”

Officials tried to downplay the political weight and influence of these congressmen in their comments, stressing that only four lawmakers signed the letter.

The opposition and experts view the letter as a serious warning and a “red card” from the US for Georgian Dream leaders during the pre-election period.

“Unfortunately, the idea of what kind of system of government has developed in Georgia is changing in the West. In fact, if we were to summarize their position, we would say that the West is convinced that some kind of shadow authoritarianism has fallen over Georgia…

In fact, the addressee of the letter is Bidzina Ivanishvili. (Prime Minister) Gakharia is just the messenger through whom the information was relayed,” states political observer Gia Khukhashvili.

 

 

 


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