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Discussing US-Georgia Relations with Johns Hopkins SAIS Students

On March 5, the Georgian Association in the USA, along with Johns Hopkins SAIS Eurasia Club, hosted a discussion with Ambassador of Georgia to the United States David Bakradze and President of the America-Georgia Business Council Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli. The event took place in Kenney Herter Auditorium of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and focused on the security, political, and economic pillars of U.S.-Georgia partnership.

Ambassador Bakradze began his remarks by examining the persistent threat facing Georgia’s security and stability from the Russian Federation. He reminded the audience of Moscow’s aggression in 2008 and underlined the continued presence of Russian troops and military bases in the occupied regions. Shifting to Georgia’s future, the ambassador then spoke of the country’s Euroatlantic aspirations. Explaining that Georgians share conviction in the values and principles of democracy and human rights, he declared joining the transatlantic community to be the country’s “civilizational choice.” Thus, he continued, “every government serves this choice of Georgian people to become part of the European Union and NATO.” He also touched on Georgia’s bilateral security relationship with the United States, stressing the country’s contribution in the resolute support mission in Afghanistan.

Dr. Tsereteli continued the discussion by focusing on Georgia’s bilateral economic relationship with the United States, which he noted started to develop in early 1990s and evolved into a serious business and economic partnership. Though the level of political engagement is larger than business and economic ties, he explained that there are always quality U.S. investments in Georgia. This has set up high standards for future Foreign Direct Investments and over the years contributed in how businesses operate in the country. He noted that Georgia is consistently ranked among the top countries to do business in by the World Bank.

The opening remarks were followed by a Q&A segment moderated by Ms. Darina Markozashvili, who serves on the Board of Director of the Georgian Association. After the formal dialogue, the speakers and guests moved to the reception where the they continued the conversation over Georgian food and wine.

The full event can be viewed with the link bellow:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=SShVEzLwHV0&fbclid=IwAR3cU2CBg0NWCIam7_R93IGmIi8PZ6Ixu5Jzi8_ChYeKJWBJ-3qpDa58ROc

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Young Georgian Entrepreneurs Take On Silicon Valley

Members of the Georgian Association recently met in California with a dozen young Georgian entrepreneurs representing Georgian startups focused on areas such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, health care and transportation. The young entrepreneurs are part of Startup Grind Tbilisi and attended the global Startup Grind conference in Redwood City, California.  With financial support from Georgia’s Innovation and Technology Agency, the Georgians are part of the community of startups, partners, investors, thought leaders, and worldwide directors who came together over several days of invaluable education, connection, and inspiration provided by a roster of world-class speakers.

Startup Grind-Tbilisi, (www.startup grind.com) co-founded by Colin Donohue and Giorgi Tukhashvili, is the Georgian charter of Startup Grind which is the largest independent startup community in the world connecting more than 1,500,000 entrepreneurs in over 500 chapters. Like it’s parent, Startup Grind-Tbilisi nurtures Georgian startups through events, media, and partnerships with organizations like Google for Startups.

Among the young Georgians participating in this year’s Startup Grind global conference are Nikoloz Gogochuri of Vrex Immersive (http://vr-ex.com; Zaal Gachechiladze of Pulsar AI (http://www.pulsar.ai); Giorgi Bezhitashvili of Health-Hub LLC (https://health-hub.com), Revaz Mazanishvili of Pawn LLC (http://pawwwn.com) and Lasha Kvantaliani of Treespond (https://treespond.com). These younf entrepreneurs and other members of Startup Grind Tbilisi will host the next international Startup Grind event in Tbilisi in late 2019.  The goal of this particular event will be to actively promote Georgia to the international technology and startup investment communities.

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Statement of Georgian Association in the USA on the latest Russian aggression against Ukraine

The Georgian Association in the USA strongly condemns the latest Russian aggression against Ukraine.  The attack and seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and crew members, some of whom were injured, is the latest incident in Russia’s incursion on its neighbors and a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.  While Russia’s motives in this latest action and next steps may be unclear, Russia continues to ignore international norms of behavior as it attempts to unlawfully increase its presence in the eastern European region by whatever means it deems necessary.  Their aggressiveness is a threat to all freedom loving people.  The Georgian Association stands with the citizens of Ukraine in reaffirming support of its independence.

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Pre-election polling in the republic of Georgia

By Nino Japaridze, originally published at Edison Research

In three weeks, voters will have an opportunity to elect the Republic of Georgia’s next President. Edison Research took a detailed look at the voter’s pre-election sentiment by surveying 3,000 eligible voters nationwide in September 2018. The survey was commissioned by Georgia’s leading independent national broadcaster, Rustavi 2.

There is no shortage of Presidential candidates to choose from: The names of twenty five registered candidates will appear on the ballot on October 28th.  There were twenty-one additional presidential hopefuls whose registration was denied by Georgia’s Central Electoral Commission.

Several clear themes emerged:

The vast majority of interviewed voters tell us they plan to perform their civic duty and turn out to vote: We discovered 64 percent of eligible voters “definitely” plan to vote during the upcoming Presidential election, with 23 percent who think they will “probably vote,” 9 percent report being less likely to vote, and 4 percent did not answer the question. Should this be surprising? If we look at the long-term trends, voter turnout during Georgia’s Presidential elections has significantly declined over time, with only 46.6 percent of registered voters voting during Georgia’s 2013 Presidential election. Some analysts predict this trend will continue and expect a low turn-out this fall, in part because the weakened institution of the Presidency — a result of Constitutional amendments passed by the Parliament of Georgia on September 26, 2017. Edison’s poll, however, reveals 41 percent of eligible voters are unaware these amendments also annul Georgian voters’ ability to directly elect their president. When we asked them about this, we discovered 40 percent of eligible voters “completely disapprove” and 31 percent “somewhat disapprove” of this change, which will take effect in six years.

Only three Presidential hopefuls lead: When asked “if the election was held tomorrow, which candidate would you vote for,” 22 percent of eligible voters expressed support for Grigol Vashadze (a candidate from the Power is in Unity alliance of opposition parties), 18 percent for David Bakradze (a candidate from the European Georgia Party, which broke away from the United National Movement), and 15 percent for Salome Zurabishvili (an independent candidate backed by Georgia’s ruling party– Georgia Dream). Nearly seven out of ten supporters of these top-ranking candidates told us they were certain of their choice.

Shalva Natelashvili (a candidate from the Labor Party) and David Usupashvili (a candidate from the Independent Democrats Party) garnered 8 and 3 percent support, respectively. Other candidates had less than 2 percentage points of support. A quarter of the interviewed eligible voters told us they are undecided or they refused to answer this question.

Salome Zurabishvili has a strong negative image among eligible voters. When asked which Presidential candidate they would never consider voting for, 41 percent named Salome Zurabishvili, 29 percent named Zurab Japaridze and 16 percent named Shalva Natelashvili, while 13 percent of the surveyed respondents would never vote for Grigol Vashadze and 11 percent said they would never vote for David Bakradze and David Usupashvili, respectively.

A run-off election is likely. A run-off election between the top two candidates will occur if no candidate reaches 50% of the vote. With three candidates garnering significant support in our survey, and several others bringing in smaller numbers, a run-off election seems likely to occur. And voters in our poll agree, with 44 percent of surveyed voters expecting a run-off election, while 22 percent don’t expect this outcome and 32 percent “don’t know” or “refuse to answer” the question.

If all remains equal, the government party endorsed candidate Zurabishvili will likely be defeated by an opposition candidate during a run-off. Edison’s pre-election survey shows that if during a run-off election Grigol Vashadze and Salome Zurabishvili are on the ballot, 50 percent would vote for Vashadze, while 24 percent would vote for Zurabishvili, with 26 percent undecided or refusing to answer this question. Similarly, Zurabishvili appears to trail David Bakradze during a run-off election scenario: 53 percent would vote for Bakradze and 23 percent would vote for Zurabishvili during the run-off election, with 24 percent being undecided or refusing to answer the question.

Georgian voters are deeply dissatisfied with Georgia’s developments, creating an environment favorable for an opposition candidate to take the helm of Georgia’s Presidency this fall. 79 percent of the surveyed respondents feel the Republic of Georgia is going in the wrong direction. Six out of 10 respondents told us they “strongly disagree” with the legislative initiative led by Georgia Dream to legalize production of marijuana for export, while 26 percent “somewhat disagreed.” Immediately after the Edison poll was released, Salome Zurabishvili stated that, if elected President, the dialogue with Georgia’s population on this issue will continue. She also invited two leading opposition candidates to participate in pre-election debates. Georgian voters are known to radically shift their political preferences in a short time-span. With 24 days left before Georgia’s Presidential election, presidential candidates still have some time to earn the voters’ trust.

Click here to view Rustavi 2’s coverage of Edison’s findings

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Commentary: Who Will Be Georgia’s New President? By Irakli Kakabadze, Chair, Gandhi Foundation Georgia

Commentary: WHO WILL BE GEORGIA’S NEW PRESIDENT?

By Irakli Kakabadze, Chair, Gandhi Foundation Georgia

New presidential elections are fast approaching in Georgia. They are scheduled for October 28, 2018.  It is very interesting that this time the ruling “Georgian Dream'” party which holds an absolute parliamentary majority and has unilaterally formed four governments over the last six years decided not to nominate a presidential candidate for this election cycle.  Leaders of the majority party declared that they will support one of the independent candidates for president.  Georgia’s current president, Giorgi T. Margvelashvili has not announced his plans about running for re-election.   Many experts think that Mr. Margvelashvili will not run this time and will retire.  His candidacy was actively promoted by the Georgian Dream party in 2013 and once he was elected president, he chose to distance himself from the ruling party.  This won him a reputation as a moderately independent president, with pro-Western and pro-democracy values.

There are indications that the sole independent female candidate for presidency, Mrs. Salome Zourabishvili will get the support of the ruling party and along with it, its administrative resources, which will give her a big advantage in the presidential race. Mrs. Zourabishvili was born and raised in France, the daughter of immigrants from the first independent social-democratic republic of Georgia (1918-1921).  She was educated in France and the United States and served as a French diplomat at different missions throughout her career.  In 2004, former Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili tapped her as his Foreign Minister and she presided over the Russian troop withdrawal from Georgia in 2005.  After a disagreement with Saakashvili on a number of issues, she left her post as Foreign Minister and joined the opposition, becoming actively involved in protests from 2006 to 2009.   She continued her career as a UN diplomat in New York City overseeing the problems of disarmament.   After her service at the UN, she returned to Georgia and ran as an independent candidate for parliament in 2016 and beat the former Minister of Culture in the Saakashvili government, Nickoloz Rurua.  Since then she has been a member of the Georgian parliament, was moderately independent and conservative.   If elected, she will become the first female elected president of Georgia.   Her political views are close to those of the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. However, she proclaimed that she will be ‘first of all a women’s president’, which caused a lot of debates in the social media.   Her good relationship with Bidzina Ivanishvili, head of the ruling party and Georgia’s prime billionaire, will be key in this upcoming presidential struggle.

However, experts are not completely sure that Mrs. Zourabishvili will have the unconditional support of Ivanishvili’s crew.  There are a number of strong opponents within the voting electorate.  Mr. Grigiol Vashadze is representing the United National Movement of Georgia, the former ruling party of Mr. Saakashvili.  Mr. Vashadze is also a moderate figure, who also has a long and distinguished diplomatic record – first in the Soviet and Russian Foreign Services and then as Saakashvili’s Foreign Minister.   Unlike many of Saakashvili’s party members, Mr. Vashadze is not known as a hothead and even among his opponents he commands some respect as a distinguished statesman.  This gives him some chance at winning. Some experts state that Mr. Vashadze also has a good personal relationship with Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is Georgia’s strongest power-broker.  This relationship between current and former ruling regimes is called ‘co-habitation’ by the Georgian populace.  If you ask a regular cab driver or construction worker in Tbilisi, they will express their resentment at this ‘cohabitative’ state of events; they see it as an elitist plot against ordinary blue-collar inhabitants.

One additional moderate candidate is the former speaker of the Georgian Parliament during the Saakashvili period, Mr. David Bakradze.  Mr. Bakradze belongs to the group that split from Saaakshvili’s UNM and calls itself “European Georgia”.   This is the group led by Mr. Giga Bokeria, liberal former deputy foreign minister, who is well regarded as one of the smartest politicians in Georgia.  There have been talks in Georgian media that ‘European Georgia” was also paid by Georgia’s leading oligarch and now their financial situation is the best amongst all parties.  One group of experts is betting on Mr. Bakradze as next president of Georgia.   They note that even though he is from the formal opposition party, he will be a very convenient opposition president for Bidzina Ivanishvili and he will  help to consolidate the image of contemporary Georgia ‘as a democratic state’ with divided powers.

 Another former speaker of the Parliament, Mr. David Usupashvili, is also running for the Presidency.  He is respected for his honesty and high professionalism as a constitutionalist and human rights defender.  It should be noted that during Mr. Usupashvili’s chairmanship of the Parliament of Georgia (2012-2016) Georgia had its best human rights record.  A number of experts indicate that the current parliamentary leadership is not up to his standard.  Mr. Usupashvili is also considered a good dealmaker, although lacks charisma to attract large masses of electors.  He also enjoys a good relationship with Bidzina Ivanishvili and it is possible that Georgia’s leading figure would bet on him.  But, here again, there are many questions unanswered.

There are number of other less significant candidates. There is still time to apply for this job.  However, popular perception in Georgia says that the next president of Georgia will be chosen not by the Georgian people, but by Mr. Ivanishvili. The one most pleasing to him, will get the job.