INTERVIEWS

  • IGOR KAPYRIN: “IM SORRY IF GEORGIANS THINK OF RUSSIA AS AN ENEMY”

Igor Kapyrin is a Deputy to the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe. 

By Nana Tabatadze

How would you evaluate situation in Caucasus region?

Right now not only Caucasian but all the post-soviet countries are undergoing hard political time, especially, Caucasian region with questions about territorial integrity issues. The democratic development of all our countries is a complex process. I’m very sorry that the relationships between Russia and one of the Caucasian states are complicated. I think that the President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili complicated the relationship between Georgia and Russia that were already difficult after the collapse of Soviet Union.

 

What is your view about possible ways out of the current situation?

There’s no simple answer. It’s hard to say. One of the points is that some problems are already out of date. In addition to this, I think that more openness of the states, more communication, transport connections, more human and trade relations will have positive impact. Connections are even now. There are flights and transports between the two capitals, Georgians live in Russia and Russians live in Georgia. There are still connections between nations, which are not depending on elections.

In my opinion, time should pass and it will help. Most important is that national identity and development of Georgia should not be based and focused on anti-Russian feelings. At least, that is how I would like it to be. I’m really sorry if Georgians think of Russia as an enemy. We are not enemies. Everyone should make decisions by themselves and should be less dependent on government policy.

What does Council of Europe to improve relationships between those two countries?

We are not right now directly working on improvement of Georgian-Russian relations. However, I can assure you that each employee of Russian diplomatic mission is ready to work on this issue. With the initiative of Georgian delegation present at the Council of Europe, a big share of attention is dedicated to the situation in regions affected by the “August conflict” or Georgian conflicts – Abkhazia and Ossetia-.

There were interesting offers connected to humanitarian situation in the region but there are also different obstacles such as Georgian law about occupation or Georgian Strategy about Abkhazia and South Ossetia, etc… Anyway, there are unilateral steps and decisions about the issue, however if we are talking about Abkhaz and Ossetian people, I emphasize the fact that we should ask Abkhaz and Ossetian people themselves.

I think and I see that dialogue is in process. The point is that Georgian youth and Russian youth should be willing to sit and talk to each other and try to find way out on their own. They shouldn’t stick on political aspects like who is the president or what will happen when a new president comes.

What can you tell us about Georgian delegation to Council of Europe?

They are pretty handsome people. Relations were pretty good until at the point it got worse. The point was when Georgia broke off diplomatic relations with Russia. However, it does not stop us to greet each other while meeting in hallways, to smile and ask how we are. During sessions we often criticize each other but this is part of our job, it’s our professional life.

However, any political discussion should be framed in some rules, should be based on respect. I would prefer it were this way during discussions with Georgian delegation, too. After “August war” we are in constant debates and I’m sorry that we are losing time which could be used for more productive and useful activities.

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  • MAMUKA JGENTI : “IT’S EASIER TO WORK IN ORGANIZATIONS WHERE RUSSIA IS NOT MEMBER STATE”

Mamuka Jgenti, 36, is Ambassador of Georgia to the Council of Europe. Graduated from law, married, two kids, he plays tennis and listens to classical music when he is not seating at the Council of Europe. He talks about its daily work, Russian-Georgian relations and European integration.

By Sopo Mgaloblishvili and Mariam Jachvadze

It’s already one year you are representative of Georgia in Council of Europe, what is your main achievement while working here?

Step by step we are improving our relations and the position of Georgia within the Council of Europe. I can mention different positive achievements which we went through during this year, but I can’t really identify any concrete achievement, because doing that might somehow downgrade something else. At this stage, I think that Georgia’s voice is heard and taken into consideration.

What are your main goals and objectives while working in Council of Europe?

It’s very unfortunate, but the reality is that we have to concentrate on issues which we would prefer to be solved. For example, the restoration of Georgian territorial integrity. We are also trying to be actively involved in all the processes related to Georgia. My main objective is to move from the kind of benefiting country to a status where we are not only donating, but also sharing our experience and our culture to other countries. We are a European country, have an European culture, so we also have a lot to share with our European partners.

What obstacles do you face while working in Council of Europe?

The main obstacle is that Georgia is a member of the Council of Europe, as well as Russia. You know how Russian diplomacy is working; it’s called “Bulldozer Diplomacy” -aggressive diplomacy-. On a daily basis, I feel Russia’s presence with the same statute, rights and obligations as Georgia within Council of Europe. This makes my professional work much more difficult. It’s much easier for me to work in international organizations where Russia is not a member state.

What is the position of Council of Europe about Georgia –Russia conflict?

We know that the conflict between the Russia can’t be solved over night. The Council of Europe fully supports Georgia sovereignty, but it is not an institution that has to deal or solve security or military issues. Council of Europe is mostly oriented on human rights and humanitarian issues. The Assembly is regularly following the developments in order to evaluate the consequences of Russian invasion and ongoing occupation of Georgia.

Council of Europe was the first international organization that managed to make the action plan effective, in relation to occupied Abkhazian region of Georgia for example. Nowadays, other international organizations are able to follow this good example, so it was very important for us that the Council managed to be a pioneer in this cooperation.

Joining and improving relations with European institutions are one of the main objectives of the Georgian Government, what are the chances of Georgia in becoming member of European Union?

The same questions was asked in 1993-1994, whether Georgia would be able to join or not the Council of Europe. It took some years but in 1999, we have joined the Council of Europe. European Union is not only values; the process of integration is much more complicated, even countries declared as candidate countries took years to prepare themselves for becoming members. It is not only about human rights or democracy, but also about economical, financial criteria, which all countries have to comply.

We are working hard on European integration in order to join the European Union. It is very difficult to say an exact date, but we are moving very fast. Currently, we are mostly dealing with comprehensive and deep free trade agreement, at one stage we might also get the visa free agreement, but you also should consider what is going on at the moment within the European Union -financial crisis-. EU should also be ready to accept new members. I cannot predict, but it will take some years.

If you could define Europe in three words?

Space of free people.

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  • MATTHEW COLLIN, REGIS GENTE: “OUR JOB IS TO INTERVIEW LIARS ALL DAY LONG…”

Crossed interview with foreign correspondents in Tbilisi, Matthew Collin and Régis Genté, about South Caucasus, freedom of speech and their daily work.

By Elvira Abdullayeva and Rena Allahverdiyeva.

Matthew Collin, 47, is working in South Caucasus as a correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP). Living in Georgia for about 5 years, he used to work for BBC, Al Jazeera, The Guardian and the other mass media organizations.

Regis Genté, 43, lives in Tbilisi where he works since nearly 10 years as a freelance journalist, “without any tie”, as he likes to describe. His features and news about Caucasus and Central Asia came on air on Radio France Internationale and published in Le Figaro as in other French media.

-What are the main difficulties to be a foreign correspondent?

M.C.– Maybe working in the region which is not widely known in the rest of the world. Sometimes, it is also difficult to sell stories from here to European media. When it comes to international news, Caucasus is not the number one region in the world. At least less than other places, where events like war, riots or natural calamity happened.

R.G.-For me the most difficult is getting a very accurate background on the story I cover. For example, it is really interesting to understand who is lying, who is not lying. Our job is to interview liars all day long and to try to find the truth that lies behind. Of course, everybody is lying, also in Europe and Asia. But maybe it is more difficult to discover here, because we are less familiar with the mentalities or the context.The other difficulty is to replace any story I cover in South Caucasus into a wider global context. Sometimes I know I have an interesting story but editors in Europe don’t want it. Because they think it is too local and will not be interesting for our people. So I have to convince them, to replace it into a global context.

-What about freedom of speech in South Caucasus?

R.G.- It is a problem you can generalize to all post-soviet countries. It is still is not perfect, it is still not absolute. There might be some problems for foreign correspondents in South Caucasus region, even if in Georgia, we do not need any visa to work. In Azerbaijan, it’s the contrary and it is very difficult for journalists to get an accreditation. The government is not eager to welcome foreign journalists because sometimes they are critical. In Armenia though, it is quite easy to get accreditation.

M.C.– The freedom of expression is a certainly a problem here, but in different ways and at different levels. In the period of the five years, the situation is the same.

-What advices could you give to aspiring young foreign correspondents?

R.G.– If you are a foreign correspondent, it is important to know where you go, to who you talk. They must get to know as much as possible and as deep as possible, about the place where they are heading to, about the region’s history and context.

M.C.– And also it can be useful to talk to their predecessors to share their own previous experiences.

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Nationality: Italian. Professional background: lawyer. Passion: human rights. Since April 2011, Caterina Bolognese, 39, is the new head of office of the Council of Europe in Georgia. Energetic and determined, she shares her vision about the role of this institution in the Caucasus.

By Sophio Mgaloblishvili

How do you deal with your new role in Georgia?

I used to work for several years for the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, where I helped monitor the situation in prisons and detention conditions in many European countries. Today, I am directly facing political issues and it is sometimes tricky. I should practice more diplomacy!

Official representatives of the Council of Europe usually stay in a given country for about three years. I was warned from the beginning that it would take about a year to get to grips with the situation. You really need to have information from a broad range of sources to get things right.

©Arshaluis Mghdesyan

What is the role of the Council of Europe in the South Caucasus Region?

 The protection of human rights, the promotion of democracy and the implementation of the rule of law are our priorities. The people and local institutions look to the Council of Europe for guidance, as an inter-governmental structure promoting and encouraging the respect of European standards, through a variety of monitoring and cooperation activities.

We are quiet achievers and sometimes remain in the shadow of other prominent actors. So we regularly have to remind others – and ourselves – of the important role the Council of Europe plays. We are an Organisation that tries to rise above geopolitical concerns and various actors’ struggle for influence in the region.

Is it difficult for you to get objective information about human rights or freedom of speech in Georgia?

It is difficult for me to say whether all the information I receive is objective: I try to get it from different sources and it is not my job to expose people who spread false information. Unfortunately, my lack of Georgian means I have to rely on sources in other languages or on help to understand sources in Georgian.

My role is to promote deeper cooperation between Georgia and my Organisation. To do this I speak to people and groups from different sectors of society. That way I can also help my colleagues in Strasbourg better understand the progress Georgia is making in terms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

One of the problems I find is how popular rumours seem to be – as everyone knows, sensationalist rumours can spread like mushrooms. I have even been told that Georgians love rumours more than the truth! A professional media, bound by proper ethical standards, can go a long way to improve the level of reliable information available.

What about freedom of speech in the Caucasus Region? What can you say about the recent case in Georgia of the arrested photo-journalists?

I can’t really comment about this case, as it is not my role to pass judgment in such situations. There are various monitoring bodies of the Council of Europe which might have something to say. But generally speaking, looking also at the past case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, the standard in this area is the following test: would the way the authorities handled the case mean that other journalists might, in future, feel less free to do their work?

I understand that the fact that the case was closed without a trial being held meant that people were left wondering about the case, and its implications on the freedom of speech. But freedom of speech is not only a challenge in the Caucasus – it’s hotly debated in many European countries, including my own!

Question Of The Day, By Mariam Jachvadze

InfoBox:

  • A group of four Georgian photojournalists are arrested on 07.07. 2011 in Tbilisi, accused of spionage. Suspected of „providing sensitive information“ to foreign state’s intelligence service, amongst them Russia, they didn’t admit their guilt. While media representatives were asking for more transparency, the case ended with plea agreement.
  • Internally Displaced People from Abkhazia, who have been living in Tbilisi nearly 20 years, are evicted by the Georgian government and sent back to different regions of the country. The process of eviction started in 2010 and before the end of August 2011, all of them were moved away from their living area. According to Georgian opposition, evicted refugees were offered too little compensation to buy a house and this actually turns them into homelessness.

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Prime Minister of Bulgaria, permanent representative to the UN, ambassador to the US, observer in the European Parliament, Philip Dimitrov, 56, has been appointed Head of the EU Delegation in Tbilisi in 2010. He speaks about the role of the European Union in South Caucasus as an essential ‘peace factor‘.

By Nana Tabatadze

What role does the EU play in the Caucasus region ?

In South Caucasus, European Union has tried to achieve a number of things in two directions.  One of them is the direction of the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan [the frozen conflict about the region of the Nagorno Karabakh]. The other thing which put Europe on the map in the region was its reaction to the events of 2008 [war between Russia and Georgia]. EU claims now to be one of the major factors for peace.

Philip Dimitrov © Nicolas Froehner

It is very difficult to discuss the present situation in Caucasus without discussing the role of Russia and even more difficult to discuss it without mentioning Turkey, too, because those both major players may have an influence on what is going on between Azerbaijan and Armenia. As for Russia, in fact, the question of the role of EU in conflicts in South Caucasus and conflicts depends greatly on Europe’s approach to Russia.

United States also have an influence on South Caucasus region but to what extent?

Yes, US are here. And at a period of time, it was even more than EU. It is however currently suffering through three serious problems. One of them is the start of a “reset” foreign policy with Russia. Second problem was that US had to pull back a little bit from the situation after 2008. Third problem is that US politics is greatly dependant on electoral cycle.

USA still spends a lot of money in Georgia, supporting the country financially but I am not sure that they claim to play a more active part than other international players. In the long run, whether US will try to take again a more leading role in cooperation with Georgia, I can’t say.

Do you expect the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) to stay in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

Since there is no sign of moving forward in this conflict issue , patience is inevitable in this status quo situation. I would always support the maintenance of the EU monitoring mission as long as another more efficient instrument isn’t found in this region. EUMM is extremely important for Georgia, I believe.  Even though this solution is a half-way this option still gives a feeling of security to the people living close to the administrative border. EUMM may have small cars and its observers may not be seriously armed but it is important to show the presence of the international community there.

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Irakli Berulava is a busy man. Media expert, he is also a well known blogger, a journalist, film director and a producer. Berulava is  a production manager in Internews Georgia and representing Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Caucasus.

By Hrant Mikaelian

Gloomy”: that is exactly the word Irakly Berulava uses to describe the situation of medias in the South Caucasus countries. As an illustration, he cites the situation of TV stations, that is bad in all three countries. “In Georgia, the three major TV-stations – Imedi, Rustavi-2 and the Public Television-, are under the full control of the authorities. Still, in Georgia,two opposition TV-stations exist, even with limited coverage.” Georgian authorities also create a state-funded TV-stations like PIK (First Caucasian) and regional TV channel. In Armenia and Azerbaijan, TV is even more controlled by the authorities.

The biggest problem of Post-Soviet journalism is the self-censorship made by editors”, Berulava says. “Most of editors are trying to remain in good relations with authorities and they don’t let journalists to write anything they consider interesting. And journalists mainly don’t have any choice, except continuing working in this self-censorship style, because of unemployment. Low wages are also problem for regional media and any media that is not foreign or state funded, so this reduces quality of its content”, – tells Berulava.

Conservatism And Lobbyism

Another great problem is closed minded mentalities and conservatism of Caucasian societies”, – continues expert. “Journalists prefer to write about religion but not about violence against non-conformist citizen and their voice remains silent. Major media ignored the case of the arrested photographers, and did not show any solidarity with journalists. Only one TV-station, “Maestro”, showed live from breaking down an opposition rally on May 25-26 in Tbilisi. At this occasion, journalists were beaten, but most of the journalists prefered to keep the silence about it”, – adds Berulava.

The third biggest problem in the South Caucasus journalism is lobbyism and lack of transparency of media. Media turn to closed corporate entities, where the same faces work for decades. Generation is not changing and new stuff is mostly recruited from friends and relatives of chief editor of newspapers or TV director. In such a situation, the most vulnerable sections of society as cultural minorities, have no chance to be heard”, – Berulava says.

A Change Of Generations

Georgia has lost the chance that was given by the Rose Revolution in 2003 – thinks Berulava. “After the Rose Revolution, the opposition TVs became pro-government and many of others have been closed. Now the situation can change only if there appear new faces in the government. If they will be more open-minded, the young talented journalists will have more chances to show themselves, in all of three countries.

However, during the last 5 years Berulava saw only “regressions” in this field. For the government, it’s more easy to control journalists, which will not write about anything which might be tricky. And journalists themselves play this game, mostly because of unemployment.

About the future of journalism on South Caucasus, Berulava intends to stay optimistic and calls for a generation change. “There always has been a small minority of open-minded and well-educated creative students, whom also called ‘liberals’ – in all three countries of South Caucasus. Today they also exist; some of them even study in Western universities. If generation changes, they will be chance to change the system”, asserts Berulava. It depends on who will come to rule, after the old faces are leaving journalism – people from the same system or new faces, 25-28 years old journalists. System shouldn’t reproduce itself”.

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