Georgia is on a precipice right now — to one side is a fall back into Russian control and to the other is an incline leading the country forward to an independent embrace of Western values. As with any incline, this path is not without its challenges; luckily, the nation has the perfect guide in presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili, a lifelong politician and diplomat with strong ties to the West, including her advanced education at Columbia University in the United States and her many years of exemplary service in the French Foreign Service.
Sadly, many may take the easy route of falling for the lies and platitudes of presidential candidate Grigol Vashadze, a man with close ties to Russia and the former Soviet Union. Georgia is a proud country that is still working to escape from under oppression it faced from the Soviet Union and the aggression it has faced from modern-day Russia since the USSR fell. To elect Vashadze, a man who has publicly said he is “very proud” of the work he did for the Soviet Union, would be a step backward for the nation. To elect Vashadze would be an invitation for Russia to meddle in Georgia’s affairs to attempt to once again make this independent nation a Russian satellite.
Vashadze was a committed Soviet diplomat based in Moscow from 1976 to 1993, where for many years he worked at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in the Department of Nuclear Armament and Space. Though he denies having any ties to the KGB, the Soviet Union’s feared, heavy-handed security organization, this denial seems farfetched. The Soviet Union’s own records show that the KGB was heavily involved in the Department of Nuclear Armament and Space. Though Vashadze may deny the connection, the rest of the world can put two and two together and see the obvious connection.
Clearly such a close connection did not just disappear. Even Vashadze worked for many years to maintain this bond. He held dual Russian-Georgian citizenship until November 2009 — waiting a year after the Russo-Georgian War in 2008 to renounce his Russian citizenship. Why the long wait? In August 2008, Russia’s military illegally entered Georgia, sparking a violent conflict that left thousands displaced. Mere months before this confrontation, Vashadze became Georgia’s acting Foreign Minister. And yet he maintained his allegiance to Russia as it attacked his “home” country for which he worked.
What is to keep him from remaining loyal to Russia and its interests if he becomes president? To elect Vashadze is a step backward, back into Russian control and Russian aggression.
Vashadze is a clever man and this is why he has been trying to spin this as if his opponent is in fact the one with close ties to Russia. The facts simply do not bear this out.
A Zurabishvili presidency would usher in an era of prosperity, furthering all of the progress Georgia has made to embody Western values, such as democracy, personal freedom and free enterprise. Zurabishvili had a distinguished career with the French Foreign Service for decades, where she built strong ties with many Western nations, such as Italy, Belgium and the United States, just to name a few. She collaborated with diplomats from around the globe through her work at the United Nations. She led France’s Division of International and Strategic Issues of National Defence, again utilizing the skills she learned at Columbia University and strengthening the bonds she had built with nations throughout Europe.
And yet, her proudest position with the French Foreign Service was being appointed to serve as France’s ambassador to Georgia — her ancestral home — in 2003.
Zurabishvili’s presidency would also be a significant step forward for women in Georgian politics. She was the first female Minister of Foreign Affairs in Georgia when she was appointed in 2004; since then, three other women have served in this post. Zurabishvili is poised to break yet another glass ceiling. Never before has a woman been elected as Georgia’s president. Her win would be a win for women worldwide and would cement Georgia’s position as a Western-style democracy — a nation in which anyone with drive, intelligence and commitment can succeed.
On November 28, it is up to Georgian voters. Do they want to take a step back and fall into Russian control with Vashadze? Or do they want to take a step forward and be a beacon of democratic values with Zurabishvili?