Shaheen Remarks As Prepared for Delivery Ahead of Hearing on Bolstering Democracy in Georgia

March 23, 2021

Shaheen is Chair of the SFRC Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation

(Washington, DC) – This afternoon, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) – a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and Chair of the SFRC Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation – will hold a hearing on bolstering democracy in Georgia at 2:30PM in light of the nation’s recent political developments. Witnesses will include George Kent, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. State Department, and Kara McDonald, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, at the U.S. State Department. This is the first hearing of the subcommittee in the 117th Congress.

The hearing will be live streamed here.

Shaheen has been a leader in Congress in support of Georgia’s path toward democracy for years. Senator Shaheen previously served as an election monitor during the 2012 Georgian elections and has since encouraged Georgian lawmakers to remain committed to a path of democracy. She and Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) served as election monitors together and amid this recent political crisis, have led bipartisan calls in Congress for the Georgian government to release all political prisoners, end the violence and have pushed for all parties to pursue a peaceful solution.

 

Below are Senator Shaheen’s Opening Remarks As Prepared for Delivery:

 

Good afternoon, everyone.

 

This hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security will come to order.

 

Thank you all for being here today, and I would like to extend particular thanks to our witnesses, who we will hear from shortly.

 

I would also like to thank Ranking Member Johnson for agreeing to have our first subcommittee hearing to address this important topic.

 

Given the nature of this hearing, with some of our members present and some virtual, we will do questions by seniority and will work to accommodate all members whether they be virtual or in person.

 

The purpose of today’s hearing is to engage with our witnesses about the situation in Georgia and to better understand how the U.S. can support a democratic resolution to the current political standoff.

 

Georgia has come a long way in a relatively short period of time.

 

It has worked to establish and strengthen its democratic institutions.

 

The path has not always been straight, but the overall trajectory has been positive.

 

I had the honor of traveling to Georgia in 2012 with Senator Risch to witness Georgian democracy in action.

 

We were there as part of a delegation of election monitors to oversee Georgia’s parliamentary elections.

 

That election was notable for the peaceful transfer of power, a necessity for any democracy.

 

Since that 2012 election Georgia’s democracy has been tested but it has also deepened and strengthened.

 

Georgia has also demonstrated a desire to join the European Community. It has also affirmed its desire to become a member of NATO, which I continue to support. As a co-chair of the Senate NATO Observer Group, this is precisely the path we want for new democracies and there is bipartisan support in the Senate for this.

 

But the situation facing Georgia today is a crucial one, the resolution of which could either re-commit the country to democracy or erode the efforts of many years. 

 

While the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has reported that the 2020 elections were “competitive and administered efficiently despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” it also emphasized the need for election reform, which I urge the Georgian government to undertake with expediency.

 

It is not enough to hold an election that meets the threshold of legitimacy. Democratic elections must have robust mechanisms in place to resolve disagreements – mechanisms that are seen as fair by all participants in the democratic process.

 

The U.S. has long been a friend and ally of a free and democratic Georgia – and this remains the case today. But that important relationship is dependent on Georgia’s commitment to strengthening the institutions of democracy.

 

But to be clear, Georgia’s commitment to democracy must be demonstrated through the actions of all Georgians, whether they be in the government or opposition.

 

So it is imperative that the government take immediate steps to ensure an independent judiciary and work with all opposition parties to find a negotiated resolution to this crisis. 

 

We know that a truly democratic country must be responsive to the will of the people, but a successful democracy also needs to function and address the needs of its citizens.

 

Amid a pandemic and a struggling economy, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the Georgian people are suffering – the failure of the country’s politicians to decide on a way forward isn’t helping.

 

At present, only one party is winning: Russia.

 

Russia thrives from disorder and chaos. Every day that members of the opposition sit in jail is a victory for Russia. Every day that Georgian parliament seats are empty is a disservice to the people of Georgia.

 

This is why I am surprised and disappointed that all parties have allowed the current crisis to last so long, and I call on all sides to put aside short-term political interests and instead look to the strengthening and perseverance of Georgian democracy.

 

It is my intention that this hearing will provide better clarity on how the United States can assist our important ally, Georgia, to fulfill its democratic goals and solidify the representation of the values its people hold.

 

I look forward to the testimony of our distinguished witnesses and to hearing their perspectives on this important topic.

 

I now turn to Ranking Member Johnson for his opening remarks.