British Ambassador Responds to Criticism over Her Conference Speech

The UK Ambassador to Georgia, Alexandra Hall Hall, spoke about the recent criticism she received over her speech at the international conference “Europe’s new Geopolitical Landscape” in Tbilisi. She released a full statement which you can read below:

“Thank you to the McCain Institute and the Economic Policy Research Centre for inviting me to speak. I am honoured to be here alongside noted democracy experts like David Kramer.

I don’t claim to be a democracy expert myself; and coming from a country which has an unelected House of Lords; a privileged media organisation- the BBC; and a lively debate about our own electoral system, which has not produced a government elected by a majority of popular votes since 1935, a certain amount of humility is required, and I certainly don’t want to appear to be lecturing anyone.

So I am not going to comment in detail on specific issues or controversies in Georgia- all which are already familiar to you. Though there are many issues which do deserve watching- the very fact we can debate them openly is in itself a positive thing.

There’s no such thing as a perfect democracy, and every society has to keep working to improve its democracy- including my own.” The text reads.

It continues:

“And I would like to say I am more positive than most about Georgia.

I’m just going to make 5 fairly general points about democracy here:

First – if judged on the most fundamental level – whether or not in Georgia it is possible for citizens to choose their government freely and peacefully through regular elections; whether they have access to sufficient information to make an informed choice; whether or not opposition political parties, civil society, the media, etc have the ability to organize, debate and challenge government policy – I would say Georgia definitely meets that threshold.

Sure, there might be areas for improvement, and occasionally steps that appear to be going in the wrong direction – but the overall trend is definitely in the right direction, and I would say that, yes, Georgia does have all the basic ingredients for democracy.

Second, what Georgia has achieved is even more remarkable, given the fact that 20% of its territory is occupied; given the number of IDPs on its soil; and given the extent of countervailing pressure on it not to succeed, and to undermine its progress.

I think Georgia is the undoubted leader in the region, should feel real pride in what it has achieved, and deserves recognition for this.

But I would still highlight three areas where I see challenges and scope for further development. The problem is that these can’t be legislated into being, and can’t be quantified formally. They are intangible factors – to do with the values which are necessary to underpin democracy:

First is Respect: as others have commented, Georgia still has a highly personalised form of politics, in which parties are dominated by individuals and personalities; and political debate is too often characterized by attacks on these individuals – including personal slurs and insults, questioning of motives, and accusations about their allegiances. When these involve attacks on individuals in formal positions of state – such as the former or current President, the former or current Prime Minister, etc. – it degrades not just the individuals, but the institutions they represent.

People often like to say, almost boasting, that Georgian politics is a rough game. I would like to suggest that Georgian politics needs to be more like Georgia’s wonderful rugby team – sure, it is a contact sport, but one which is played by gentlemen.

Second is Accountability: there was some reference yesterday about issues to do with informal governance in Georgia. I would argue that there is a more generalized lack of accountability: reflected in a kind of feeling that it is ok to do something, if you can get away with it. Put another way, just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done. In the UK we have an expression, to describe this as something which does not pass “the smell test”. Sometimes things happen here which I would suggest might not pass the smell test. Prolonged pre-trial detention is one example.

There’s also too often a tendency to blame and finger point at the other side, rather than accept one’s own failings. There were some particularly egregious examples last year of clashes between rival political forces, even throwing of semi-hatched eggs at politicians: it was disappointing to hear these incidents justified as happening because “the other side started it” , or “they deserved it”.

And the third is Responsibility: a country can have the most perfect laws and systems, the freest and fairest elections, and the most dedicated set of public servants – and I believe Georgia does have many good public servants – but, none of it will work without the active support of a country’s citizens.

Though this is not strictly a democracy issue, by way of an example, I’d like to mention how every foreigner visiting this country always comments about the way people drive, and the amount of littering in the countryside, which appears to be done without any apparent regard for the impact on others. Georgia has laws against littering, and has laws against dangerous driving, but the police can’t be everywhere, and it is up to everyone to help make such laws work.

So I don’t think it is fair to put all the blame on Georgia’s political elites: I think there is more to be done to develop this wider sense of personal responsibility.

But since the exam question is what can be done to address any weaknesses – I think the best place to start is the first one: political elites showing more respect for each other, and the institutions, since how they behave should set an example and send a signal throughout the system.

Finally, if asked what more the EU can do to help – I come from a country which believes countries like Georgia should be offered a European

Perspective, as a way to provide light at the end of the tunnel. But that is no substitute for implementing the reforms to get there – since it is the reforms themselves which ultimately will provide the most benefits. And we need to help Georgians feel the tangible results of the choices they have made” – the statement concludes.

11 September 2015 16:42