29 years ago, I sat in a small room of a Soviet institution where I had been appointed head of the graduate department.
Every day was the same: several female colleagues of mine sat there drinking coffee and discussing current affairs. We had a monthly salary and were stuck in our comfort zone. The facilities were ideal for me to further my fledgling academic career, but we were existing in a lifeless, monotonous environment, a country that stood still, a rotting and unjust Soviet system.
I left my job within a month and started doing business – something that was completely novel for me, not only as an activity, but also as a concept. Businesspeople were referred to as ‘wheeler-dealers’ and had the same stigma attached to them that politicians have to deal with today: their activity was discredited, where money was made solely through shady deals. My main objective at the time was to destroy this paradigm and create a new transparent system, implement new management methods and build corporations. That is precisely how TBC Group, Borjomi and numerous other successful companies were formed. We were first to attract multi-million-dollar investment to Georgia in 1996. We founded world-class companies, two of which became worth more than a billion dollars – an amazing feat in a small country such as Georgia. We achieved success on the international market and created jobs for ten thousand people.
Before I decided to enter politics, I had the same feeling I felt 29 years ago. Unfortunately, Georgian business has come to resemble the closed and suffocating environment of the small room in a Soviet institution that I mentioned earlier – an environment where there are no development prospects; an environment where one can be calm yet feel uneasy, all the while the social precipice between myself and others is widening. People are leaving the country, children are hungry, investments have stopped flowing in, the economy is standing still, the rule of law no longer applies, and the occupation of my country continues.
I knew 29 years ago, as I know today, that the road ahead is long and difficult. However, to use a quote from Confucius, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”; I have also started my journey into politics with a single step.
The first step was to leave behind the companies that I founded and successfully managed over the years. This means leaving the world of business forever. I am not seeking sanctuary in politics – a Georgian businessman could always “come to an understanding” with the authorities. However, I chose not to do such a deal, as it became a matter of personal dignity that affected my country’s significant interests. I am not escaping into politics: I took this decision after our shareholders re-elected us onto the Board of Directors of TBC Bank with 98% of the vote following the financial inspection conducted by a London court, once again proving in front of the international audience our transparency and innocence in the face of Georgia’s current unjust system.
Now Georgia is my only cause, and the decision to move into politics is the first step in this cause. It is a decision that has been taken for the sake of achieving freedom, overcoming the crisis that today cannot be ignored, the ‘Gavrilov night’, the young people who are leaving Georgia, our mothers and sisters living abroad who are sending their hard-earned money home and supporting our economy with their savings, our shackled and biased judiciary system, and for a country that has the potential to be prosperous and happy, but is instead lagging behind. A country where universal nihilism and hopelessness have taken a hold.
To this end, I formed the Lelo movement together with like-minded individuals. This movement is soon to become a political party. I am inviting people with no prior experience in politics to join us, just like I used to invite inexperienced young people into business.
Once again, we are starting a long and difficult journey in order to create a successful startup, a new political reality, new political standards and a new country.
At this time, I cannot promise anything to you – not before we can fundamentally alter the existing reality together. I can only repeat the words spoken by Winston Churchill during his first address to the parliament of a country that was on its knees because of the Second World War:
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat and tears… You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs.”