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Expressing Sense of House Toward Establishment of a Democratic and Prosperous Republic of Georgia

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BURTON of Indiana. Mr. Speaker, As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia I have had the privilege of visiting Georgia twice in the past two years. Last year I led a bipartisan delegation that met with President Saakashvili, his cabinet, Members of Parliament and representatives of various opposition parties. Two weeks ago I briefly passed through Georgia, where I met with President Saakashvili, while traveling between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Georgia is a country in transition, the purpose of this resolution is not only to acknowledge this fact but to encourage this transition to continue. While serious challenges still remain, there is no doubt that Georgia is committed to developing a strong democratic government, a robust free market economy and joining key international institutions including NATO.

Democratic developments in Georgia range from high level reforms, such as changes to the constitution that strengthen the office of the Prime Minister as well as the Parliament, to lower level reforms, including the creation of ``Public Service Halls'' that provide essential government services, including passports and drivers licenses, through an efficient and transparent process. As we know, economic development follows political reform as investors seek stable places to grow their capital. Over the past ten years both the capital city, Tbilisi and the Black Sea port of Batumi have been transformed by investment into modern European cities. For Georgia's economy to continue to grow such investment must continue and reach outside the cities to embrace the country as a whole.

Georgia's commitment to NATO has been exemplary. While many alliance members and partners are winding down their commitments to ISAF in Afghanistan, Georgia is increasing its commitment to deploy the highest per capita troop level of any contributing nation. Georgian soldiers are deployed in the dangerous Helmand province where they serve side-by-side with U.S. soldiers and marines. Although participation in ISAF is not a prerequisite for NATO membership, alliance members should recognize that Georgia's commitment to Afghanistan as well as the country's commitment to democratic and defense reforms will make Georgia a model NATO member.

One major challenge that Georgia faces is Russia's continued occupation of two Georgian provinces; Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which is in violation of the August 2008 ceasefire agreement. As this resolution states, Russia has blocked the extension of OSCE and UN observation missions, and prohibits the EU mission from accessing the occupied territories. Last year I traveled to the boundary of Abkhazia from where one can plainly see that the Russian Army is constructing permanent bases including apartment buildings to house its soldiers. This Congress must condemn this continued illegal occupation.

As we know from our own history, building a successful democracy is a challenge. In less than two weeks, on October 1st, Georgians will go to the polls for parliamentary elections. It is not for those of us in Washington or any other capital to influence the outcome of these elections. The Georgian people must pick their own leaders. However we must urge, as this resolution does, that the Georgian government, the independent election commission, and all political parties ensure that the Georgian people have their say. The success of the elections as a whole, not any one candidate or party, will ensure that Georgia's democratic transition continues.

This resolution, H. Res. 526, is representative of a bipartisan effort to recognize Georgia and the progress it has made and symbolizes U.S. support for a young, but growing democracy. I want to thank Rep. SHUSTER for his efforts and for introducing this resolution. I also want to thank Ranking Member MEEKS, Chairman ROS-LEHTINEN, and Ranking Member BERMAN and their staff for their support of this Subcommittee's efforts to move this resolution.

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