TBILISI, DFWatch–A war of words developed between Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Georgian PM Irakli Gharibashvili on Friday as the two spoke on the phone.
In the conversation, Gharibashvili called Bildt, as well as Lithuanian FM Linas Linkevicius, members of former Georgian President Saakashvili’s ‘friends’ club’.
The squabble started with a tweet by Bildt on Wednesday: “Georgia authorities deviate from European path in using justice system for revenge. Does damage to the country.”
Bildt’s tweet was a comment to the charges being brought against former President Mikheil Saakashvili in connection with the violent dispersal of anti-government demonstrations on November 7, 2007.
The tweet caused a debate in Tbilisi, and prompted the PM to comment that the priority of the government is transparency and establishing an ideal democracy and statements and calls not to investigate past crimes, directly contradicts principles of democracy. He said no-one is above the law.
Bildt then tweeted Thursday: “there is rising international concern over the policies of revenge in Georgia. Damages the country.”
It was after this tweet that Mr Bildt and Mr Gharibashvili made a phone call to try to settle their differences on Friday.
But apparently the phone call wasn’t enough to solve their dispute, as Bildt wrote another scathing tweet the same day: “If Prime Minister (of Georgia) does not want to listen to the best friends of his country in EU that’s his choice. We take note.”
Members of the Georgian government and the ruling Georgian Dream party see the these and similar statements as a result of the work of lobbyists working for ex-president Saakashvili and his network, promoting the false assumptions that the former regime was genuinely committed to building democracy.
On July 28, US Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Jim Risch (R-ID) drafted a statement harshly attacking the Georgian government for their charges against Saakashvili and ‘numerous senior leaders of the previous government.’
On Friday, after paying tribute at Mukhatgverdi memorial cemetry to the Georgian soldiers fallen in the August 2008 war with Russia, the PM said that the foreign ministers of Lithuania and Sweden are ‘members of Saakashvili’s friends club’ and ‘have a friendly obligation [toward Saakashvili] and are now expressing their compassion.’
“This is normal,’ he said, ‘unfortunately they didn’t know that disaster which was happening in Georgia for years, let alone the  war.”
“For me, a Georgian citizen, it was staggering to watch footage of scuttling commander-in-chief… I don’t know…future generation will judge this and the judgment will be inexorable,” said Irakli Gharibashvili standing with his spouse, apparently deriding the former president for the awkward moment during the August War.
On August 11, with the French minister of foreign affairs, Bernard Kouchner, Saakashvili visited Gori. When he opened the door of his car to sit inside, while talking with the swarm of journalists, both local and foreign correspondents, upon hearing voice of the plane flying above he suddenly flapped about, panicked and ran away. After running a few meters, he was overtaken by his bodyguards who leaned over him and forced him to the ground.
This was caught on camera by dozens of TV journalists and made fodder for jokes about Saakashvili long afterwards among his opponents.
Davit Bakradze, a member of parliament from the National Movement, called on the government to stop having confrontational discussions with leaders of partner countries.
Bakradze said that Bildt is one of the authors of the processes leading to Georgia’s association agreement with the EU and he advised the government to stop confronting him and other allies.
Another one who defended Bildt was Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili who said Bildt’s tweeted statement is very important for the country.
Bildt has made his mark as an advocate for Europe taking a tough stance toward Russia. He has been actively engaged in tying former Soviet countries closer to EU policies, and in condemning Russian policies in Eastern Europe.
Bildt was, along with Polish FM Sikorski, a key player behind the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative.