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Thursday, October 12, 2006



"The past week was a trying one for Georgia. Air, rail, sea, land and postal links were severed unilaterally by our largest neighbor, the Russian Federation. Immediately thereafter, Georgians living in Russia were subjected to a form of ethnic targeting not seen in Europe since the Balkans in the 1990s--and the harassment is tinged with even more sinister historical overtones. Hundreds are being deported; business owners are being harassed; schoolchildren are being forcibly registered with local police; women are being gratuitously tested for sexually transmitted diseases; and children are being torn from families.

It is easy, amid these bleak headlines, to lose sight of an even more important story: In just three short years, my country has been transformed from a gangster-run economic and political basket case into a budding democracy with one of the world's fastest-growing economies. The World Bank recently lauded Georgia as the No. 1 reformer in the world and the least corrupt transitional democracy. Just last month NATO admitted Georgia into a new stage of membership talks, recognizing our political, economic and military progress. And just last week we completed an action plan with the European Union that charts our irrevocable course toward a fully Western future.

It is this remarkable metamorphosis--capped last week by fully fledged, free and fair local elections, hailed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for their "professional and inclusive manner"--that gives us strength in this moment of crisis. All of our gains have been hard-fought. Our citizens have long suffered privations, and only now are tasting the sweetness of liberty: the opportunity to vote, to lead fruitful lives, to speak their voice, and to chart a future for their children untrammeled by poverty, mafias or discrimination."

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