Malkhaz Songulashvili – Sleepless in Georgia – 9 – Meeting President Saakashvili

Saakashvili reception
Official picture with President Saakashvili of Georgia

Stephen, Charles and I left for Tbilisi. That night we had to see off the British delegation.  By that time I was very sleepy, as sleepless nights were catching up with me. As soon as we started from Batumi Stephen and Charles got engaged in a rather hot discussion on Church of England policies. I sat in the back of the car and decided to have a nap while they were engaged in conversation, but it did not work. From time to time, in the midst of the conversation, the bishop would turn to me and ask somewhat  banal questions.

“My Lord Archbishop, what is the distance between the Black and the Caspian Seas?”; or “What is the population of Kutaisi?” Then there was a long interval and I thought the bishop would not ask any questions. I went to sleep. I even started dreaming of something. In the midst of the dream I clearly heard the voice “Malkhaz, how many archbishops have you known?” No, that was not a dream, that was Bishop Stephen again.

“Which archbishops?” I asked naively.

“Archbishops of Canterbury,” clarified the bishop.

“Let me think. I knew Donald Coggan, Robert Runcie, George Carey and Rowan Williams.” I slowly remembered all the names and also the settings where I had met them.

“You would have been very young when you met Archbishop Coggan.” Stephen could not hide his amazement.

“No, I was not very young when I met him. Coggan was very old.” With this our conversation ended and I continued dozing. We were near Gori when I received a telephone call saying President Saakashvili had arrived from Strasburg and if we wanted we could see him at 10 pm.

At 10 pm we were at the President’s office. We were received at 10.15 pm. The President looked rather relaxed he did not seem to be terribly tired after his European journey.  He immediately offered us some tea and invited us to seat in large white leather couches. He thanked Stephen for his support of Georgia and everything he had done for our country. Bishop Stephen has certainly been one of the most committed friends of Georgia as well as of Baptist and Orthodox churches in Georgia.

We had a very meaningful conversation. The President looked very sad and I felt very sorry for him.

“Before the elections I though I would leave political life but now I have decided to stay in politics,” he said.

After the conversation Stephen offered Saakashvili his gift, which was nicely wrapped and tied up with a ribbon.

“What is it?”, asked Saakashvili.

“It’s the cufflinks of the House of Lords,” said Stephen.

“Cufflinks are always useful, Thank you!” said Saakashvili, and immediately ventured to open the little box with a child’s enthusiasm.

“One cufflink says ‘Content’ and another ‘Not Content’,” explained the bishop.

“They are very nice,” said the President.

Before the photographer came to take pictures I had a brief chat with the President.

“Why have you abandoned us?”, asked the President in a kind of offended tone.

“I have not abandoned you.  I went to Oxford to finish my dissertation. I will be back soon.” I was very surprised to find out that Saakashvili knew where I was and what I was doing.

Would my presence in the country make any difference for his government? If I had offered critical solidarity to the government in a more robust way would it have made any difference? I suppose I will have to live with these questions and doubts.  I had been critical of his government’s policy on the militarization of the country, and the lack of care for the social needs of the people. But perhaps I could have done more. Saakashvili has achieved a lot. When he became the president Georgia was a failed country. Corruption was overwhelmingly everywhere in the police, the army, education, and health care. He and his government brought about dramatic changes in the country. Georgia became the least corrupt country in Europe! He achieved it with his daring decisions. For instance, he fired 70, 000 policemen in one day. The police used to be the most corrupt institution in the country. He has also made a lot of mistakes, which caused the downfall of his party at the election last year. He might be considered as a lame duck by his opponents, but I think he will be back in power. He is very young. He has just turned 45. At the end of the meeting Saakashvili asked us to pass his greetings to Bishop Richard Harries, Baron Harries of Pentregarth who visited Georgia last June and on his 76 birthday had a meeting with President Saakashvili. Richard is also very good friend of ours. During his visit to Georgia we con-celebrated the first eucharist with the historic chalice  which had just been returned to our Cathedral.

At the meeting  with Saakashvili I felt embarrassed. I had nothing to give to the President.  I should have thought about it. Stephen was more prepared.  But the President was well prepared.  We received lovely presents: a bottle of red wine, various books on life in Georgia and an apple i-pad with an engraving of a picture of the Georgian President’s Palace on its silver back.  I think I should keep it.


Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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