STRASBOURG, 24 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Council of Europe welcomed one of its favourite pupils in Strasbourg today, although its praise was more muted than in the past. The co-rapporteur on Georgia, Matyas Eorsi, spoke of steady progress in the year since his last report.
"The difference between the Kremlin and Strasbourg is precisely that in Strasbourg there is discussion and not just orders."
"In politics, very often you can say: no news are the best news and, of course, there are some news in Georgia," Eorsi said. "But, by and large, I would say that several of the commitments that Georgia undertook are fulfilled and there are large-scale reforms in the pipeline and they are launched and we feel that they are on the right track."
Coming Of Age In Strasbourg
It was a coming of age of sorts for Georgia in the Parliamentary Assembly. There were kind words and pats on the back, but it was made clear that the period of grace granted after the 2003 Rose Revolution is over.
The resolution on Georgia said previous resolutions had taken into consideration the extraordinary circumstances resulting from the revolution -- but now the time has come to start delivering. Two years on, it said, the new authorities have to keep their promises.
Eorsi identified the Council of Europe's disagreement with Georgia over the status of Adjara as a case in point. The Georgian authorities only re-established full control over the Black Sea region, which borders Turkey, after President Saakashvili came to power in January 2004.
The Council of Europe recommended that Georgia grant it extensive autonomous powers -- a move it argues would send a positive signal to Georgia's other breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But the Georgian government has resisted.
"One of the major issues is the constitutional status of Adjara because when we speak of South Ossetia and Abkhazia it is very easy to criticize external powers why there is no progress," Eorsi said. "But Georgians could do more because if the framework for Adjara were better, if the second chamber [in the Georgian parliament] would be established, then I think it would be a proper message to the people in Abkhazia and also South Ossetia that when they come back to Georgia they will have fair treatment. And that was a promise made by the Georgian authorities."
Dealing With Breakaway Regions
The Georgians respond that Strasbourg is making a mistake by comparing Adjara to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Adjara, they point out, is populated predominantly by ethnic Georgians and most of them support the existing central authorities. Elene Tevdoradze, a member of the Georgian parliament and part of the Georgian delegation to the Council of Europe, spoke to RFE/RL.
"We didn't fulfil the recommendations -- not because we couldn't, but because we considered these recommendations not essential for Georgia today," she said. "We don't agree with the Council of Europe. We have our own arguments. The main thing is for us to fulfil those obligations on whose basis we were accepted into the Council of Europe -- and only two of those are left."
It's an argument made forcefully by Giorgi Bokeria, a senior figure in the Georgian administration and head of the delegation to Strasbourg: "Georgia is making progress along a stable, democratic, modern, European path -- and this is clearly stated in the Council of Europe's resolution. The Council of Europe is an important forum for us and an instrument that helps us in our progress along this path. But that does not mean that we have to agree on every single issue. It is our choice to be in the Council of Europe and it is an unshakeable choice that is not subject to revision. But the difference between the Kremlin and Strasbourg is precisely that in Strasbourg there is discussion and not just orders."
A point that will no doubt be well taken in Strasbourg. But the council, like the European Union in Brussels, is showing signs of losing patience. Georgia is ignoring the council's recommendations on Adjara, on reducing the electoral threshold for parties under its system of proportional representation from 7 to 5 percent, and on the reduction of presidential powers. The resolution passed today makes clear that Georgia's future progress will be measured in part at least by the progress it makes on these issues.
Human Rights In Georgia
Georgia's police have been accused of using excessive force (official site)
READ'CULTURE OF IMPUNITY':Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's government has had a checkered human rights record since it came to power after the 2003 Rose Revolution. The international community has welcomed the steps taken by the new Georgian leaders to refine the legal mechanisms needed to combat rights abuses. But it also blames the government for failing to ensure those mechanisms are properly implemented....(more)