Building a prosperous, democratic and outward-looking Georgia

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

David Zalkaliani [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia]

Safety requires cancelling public festivities but Georgians are marking their National Day by celebrating individually in their hearts and standing together in solidarity, writes David Zalkaliani.

David Zalkaliani is a Georgian career diplomat serving as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia since 21 June 2018.

The 26th of May is one of the most significant days in Georgian history. On this date in 1918, 102 years ago, Georgia gained independence from the Russian Empire when the National Council of Georgia adopted the Act of Independence that gave birth to the Democratic Republic of Georgia.

Yet, this long-sought freedom turned out to be short-lived; in 1921 Georgia was invaded by the Soviet Russian army and eventually incorporated into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It took 70 long years before Georgia was finally able to reclaim its independence.

Independence Day reminds us of all the sacrifices our heroes have made for their country. Independence Day also reminds us that freedom is not “free”. It was hard-won by our forefathers, who paid for it with their lives. They fought to defend core beliefs and the principles that guide us through life and embody everything we hold dear.

Since regaining our independence 29 years ago, we have remained vigilant in protecting our independence and sovereignty. And we will continue to remember this important day, even if the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many events around the world to be cancelled, including the public gatherings, street festivals, and parades that mark one of Georgia’s most prominent holidays.

Safety requires cancelling public festivities but we shall mark this day by celebrating individually in our hearts and standing together in solidarity. Most nations tend to have a sense of belonging to a larger community, to which they can anchor their identity. Georgians feel strongly about Europe as their cultural and political destiny.

We have followed a long but resolute journey towards Europe and today, we are an Associated Partner of the European Union and enjoy ever-closer cooperation. However, the journey is not yet over.

Since liberation from Soviet rule, Georgia has been building democratic institutions and a robust market economy; strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and striving for peace.

These values are what the EU stands for in the minds of Georgians, who have consistently displayed overwhelming support for our country’s integration with the European Union.

With the implementation of the Association Agreement in full swing, the evolving Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, the freedom of short-stay travel for the citizens of Georgia within the Schengen area, and many other fruits of our common efforts, the EU and Georgia have become indispensable partners.

This partnership has a goal, and Georgia has committed all its resources to realize it.

Among the most memorable moments of our current history has been Georgia’s accession to the Council of Europe exactly 20 years ago. Then Secretary-General of the CoE, Lord Russell-Johnston, greeted the Georgian delegations with the words: ‘Georgia welcome back home!’

Coinciding with the 20 year anniversary, Georgia assumed its first ever presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in times of pandemic. Current global crisis heavily interfered in our plans, but due to the consolidated efforts and prompt adoption, our work has never been on lockdown.

Just as we are learning to live with the COVID-19, so the international organizations have to learn to continue their important work while dealing with this challenge. Despite difficulties caused by the pandemic we managed to register progress on all four priorities of the Presidency and adopt some important documents which would eventually form the legacy of the Georgian Presidency.

In particular, I would like to highlight the adoption of the Joint Declaration of the outgoing and incoming Presidencies on Human Rights and the Environment, Youth Sector Strategy 2030, Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on the Covid-19 pandemic and finalization of the process on the complementary procedure between the CM and the Parliamentary Assembly in response to the serious violations by member states of its statutory obligations. ​

Indeed, Georgia is geared towards development, progress, and prosperity. Yet another proof of this is the fact that we have recently been hailed as a success story in keeping the COVID-19 outbreak at bay and continue to make international news headlines.

The World Health Organization and leading journalists consistently follow our country’s successful response to COVID-19, noting that other countries have much to learn from us.

While the world is busy dealing with consequences of the COVID crisis, Russia loses no time to continue its destructive policies towards Georgia and notably in the occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia. This illegal occupation is our biggest pain and a great challenge.

Russia’s constant violations of the EU-mediated 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement intensified military build-up, and the deplorable human rights and humanitarian situation in both occupied regions seriously undermines peace and security not only in Georgia but across the whole of Europe.

While Russia continues provocations and hybrid warfare tactics even during the global pandemic, Georgia unwaveringly adheres to a peaceful conflict-resolution policy directed at the de-occupation of Georgia’s territory and reconciliation between the people divided by the occupation line.

At the same time, Georgia is determined to share with the communities on the other side of the occupation line all benefits that the rest of our population enjoy as a result of Georgia’s democratic and economic development.

Georgia is an aspirant to and valued partner of NATO, which recognizes Georgia’s significant and enduring contribution to NATO’s operations and missions.

Georgia’s recent comprehensive reforms aimed at modernizing Georgia’s defence and security sectors, in addition to our substantial improvements in democracy and human rights, the rule of law and justice, economic management and governance, energy and transport, tourism and agribusiness, and many other areas have earned the Georgian government a reputation of star reformer committed to building a democratic, stable and prosperous country.

Moreover, Georgia will be among the first to open its borders to international tourists once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Faced with the challenge of finding some way to balance the need for safety and the need for tourism, Georgia will proceed with great caution, as it did during the pandemic.

With its well-thought-out pandemic preparedness plan rapidly brought to the table; effective health, transport, and other protocols immediately put into action; and medical staff’s strong emphasis on testing, tracing and management of contacts of COVID-19 cases, Georgia successfully contained the outbreak and now deserves a successful summer as a reward.

Our tourism-reliant economy stands an incredibly good chance of benefiting from the reopening of travel to Georgia, and we look forward to welcoming tourists once again.

We will build a truly prosperous, democratic, and outward-looking Georgia for the generations to come.

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