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Georgia: Former Estonian Premier Says 'Forget' Russia

Mart Laar speaking to RFE/RL (RFE/RL) February 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Georgian government is hoping to emulate many of Estonia's postcommunist successes, particularly regarding the economy. For the last nine months, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar has been working as an economic adviser to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Nino Gelashvili spoke to Laar in Tbilisi on January 30.

RFE/RL: What are your impressions, now that you've been several months in the job as an adviser to the Georgian president?

Mart Laar: Of course, I've learned a lot about the Georgian character. Which means what to do and what not to do, what to say, what not to say. Because sometimes the Georgian character is very "active" and it means everything happens very fast. And sometimes really just more organization is needed. But I have found there are very decent and very good people working in various government departments. I was afraid, to be very frank, that the attitude toward the rule of law and in other areas was significantly weaker. It's not so.

MORE: RFE/RL spoke to Mart Laar in June, just one month after he began working for President Saakasvili.

RFE/RL: But isn't it weak, the rule of law?

Laar: Yes, it's not so strong. I can't use the word "weak," but it's certainly not as strong as it should be. But what I've found is that there is really a lot of interest in moving forward and there has been improvement and movement. And of course it's not complete. It takes time...

RFE/RL: Are Estonians more patient than Georgians?

Laar: Oh, who knows. I'm not sure. Estonians are little bit more...their temperament is little milder, actually not just a little bit, but very clearly milder. Estonians are impatient in the same way that Georgians are, which is positive. Because for the people, they take every good thing that happens as a most normal thing. People in other countries take this for granted. This is not always so.

RFE/RL: Everybody wonders if the Georgian president listens to your advice?

As I've told a lot of Georgian businessmen -- "forget this market."

Laar: He listens. Sometimes he listens too actively. Some of my advice was realized more quickly than I expected. The president actually listens not only to my advice, but to the advice of lots of other people too. He is the listening president in this way. Very active, but listening as well.

RFE/RL: Let's talk about Georgian-Russian economic relations. When the blockade started and relations worsened, some foreign experts, the president, and government representatives said that it could be very useful for Georgia. Sometimes they even mentioned Estonia. That it would help Georgia to approach other countries and target better markets. Is that true? Is Russia no longer important for Georgia as an economic partner?

Russia has banned Georgian wine (epa)

Laar: Yes, I can say that's absolutely true. As I've told a lot of Georgian businessmen -- "forget this market." Actually, it's not possible any more and you can be quite happy that this market won't exist because your exports there are low quality [and result from] low productivity. And when you really want to have a normal economy you must move toward the world market. That's the only way. And this is happening now. In a lot of business areas the only way to [achieve] a principal change in a company is by necessity. They don't have another option. That was exactly the same as in Estonia. It worked very well. And looking at the current economic development and even the current situation, where a lot of people thought that Georgia would be on its knees in the winter, that there will be enormous problems and the budget will go down, that GDP [gross domestic product] growth will be so small, but it has not happened. You are starting the first steps to reorientation but it's only a start, of course. You must continue and don't waste time hoping that this market in Russia will be open. One moment it will be open, but when Russia sees that you will manage so well in other areas there is no way [for Russia] to boycott. Why are Russians now trying to go back on some of the steps [taken]? Because they see very well that Georgia is surviving, Georgia is doing well.

RFE/RL: You've just mentioned in comments on TV that the data and reports from international organizations about the economy in Georgia are very optimistic. But you can hardly explain that to ordinary citizens in Georgia.

Laar: No, I know. That was the same in Estonia too. People are not interested in international reports. They are interested in what is not done in the country. But again, knowing that these reports help you to develop, because these reports bring in investment and this is not only a report of what you have really done, because Western indices are not written by politicians. They are written by real experts and you can not hide your real situation in these reports. These reports are real, which means they will have a real positive impact, because a lot of foreign businessmen are looking at the situation, they make their decisions based on this. It's doesn't raise the government popularity at home, but it makes your country in the long-run more prosperous.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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