We need continuous support from our friends
An interview with Ilia Darchiashvili, the Ambassador of the Republic of Georgia to Poland. Interviewer Daniel Gleichgewicht
DANIEL GLEICHGEWICHT: This year marks one hundred years since Georgia and Poland established diplomatic relations. It was a difficult century for both states. How would you describe the relationship and challenges for both countries in the future?
ILIA DARCHIASHVILI: When we talk about Polish Georgian relations it is worth to mention that there are several similarities between the two countries which can be considered as a firm basis for our relations. We should recall the people of the past who have contributed to building these relations. Last year like Poland, Georgia marked a hundred years since the establishment of its first democratic republic, an important part of our history. Within three years of independence the Georgian government brought an important impetus to our country’s development. Unfortunately, in 1921 this was followed by the Soviet invasion. It is worth to mention the Georgian officers who joined Marshal Józef Piłsudski’s ranks, serving Poland as if it was their own country, building a bridge between the two nations. I would like to emphasise that Poland is one of the most dedicated supporters of Georgia’s foreign policy aspirations, sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as the non-recognition policy of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The most painful topic for Georgia is the current occupation of 20 per cent of its territory by its neighbour Russia, at the same time the country has been very successful in its closer integration with the European Union and NATO and on that path Poland is a vocal supporter of Georgia. We have loads of friends and Poland is surely one of them.
It has been also 10 years since the beginning of the Eastern Partnership. What significance has the Eastern Partnership had for Georgian-Polish relations?
The Eastern Partnership has been a platform which has delivered very tangible results for Georgia. First, Georgia has become an associated country with the EU. Second, Georgia implements a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, which is important for the development of our country. Third, Georgians are travelling in the EU within a visa free travel regime. These are the visible results we have achieved through the framework of the Eastern Partnership, which from our perspective has been extremely important. If we talk about the tenth anniversary it is a good time to look around. We are very happy that Poland and Sweden, two friends of Georgia, initiated this platform which has provided Georgia with these benefits. We strongly believe that the upcoming years will be successful like the previous experiences. Step by step we can travel on a path where the final destination is Georgia’s full membership of the EU.
In what way could Poland and other EU member states further support the territorial integrity of Georgia?
Poland has been very supportive in the last year within the Polish term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Polish support has been vocal with regards to Georgian territorial integrity and we are very much grateful for it. When we talk about the conflict and the occupation we have on Georgian territory, it is the desire of the Georgian government to de-escalate tensions and resolve it in a peaceful way, because there is no other way to solve it. In this process we would like to have the support of our partners, international friends who share the values for which Georgia stands. We also need this continuous and unwavering support with regards to the non-recognition policy, as it is one of the most important issues for us. We need to continue this type of partnership in the future, using all possible international platforms where we can highlight Georgia’s painful challenges. On the one hand we have an occupation and on the other we are developing, hosting as many as eight million tourists a year, meaning we need to move forward, aiming at membership in the EU and NATO. This requires mobilisation and continuous support from our friends and partners.
Tourists from Poland have already discovered the splendours of Georgia and their numbers seem to be growing. How could Georgia take advantage of this potential and encourage more investments in the country?
Tourism is one of the most important pillars of the country’s economy, generating a large part of the GDP. I would like to emphasise that Poland is number one when it comes to visitors from the EU, with some 75,000 tourists, a number which is still growing. When we talk about this industry we need to focus on people-to-people relationships. As for investments, Georgia is trying to become one of the most attractive destinations for investing on the world map. We are building a strong investment climate on a daily basis and decreasing the tax burden in the country in order to boost and promote international business. Georgia is an attractive place offering different incentives depending on the type of business that wants to invest in Georgia. This is one of the key directions of the government of Georgia, boosting international interest in investing in the country.
Tourists are also coming from Russia. Is this not problematic in the long run as they are citizens of a state that occupies 20 per cent of Georgia?
The Georgian nation is a tolerant nation and famous for its hospitality. We welcome any visitor coming to Georgia, especially tourists. Tourism and politics are different. It would be good if the visitors from Russia take an image home with them of how Georgia is developing as an independent and sovereign country. We want to bring the benefits of European integration to the people living beyond the occupation line, something Russian occupation is preventing us from doing.
The recent intense protests in Tbilisi, which were a reaction to a speech by the Russian Deputy of the State Duma in the Georgian parliament, show that Russia still plays a part in Georgian internal politics. Is it possible to avoid such clashes and how dangerous are they for the stability of country’s democracy?
Anybody can stand in front of any building, protest and express their own opinion(s) in Georgia. That is the value of democracy. The situation was very difficult to comprehend and follow, but the protest of those people was understandable. There are always risks in the country that somebody will try to destabilise the situation. This is why Georgia stands firmly on its ground based on democratic values – which aid in resisting such threats.
Georgian Dream, the party that has ruled Georgia since 2012, has recently confirmed it wants to change the electoral law. In what way would proportional representation in the 2020 election improve Georgian democracy?
That is the next natural step in Georgia’s democratic development. The decision of the ruling party is extremely important because it will help and promote direct voting resulting in a diverse parliament. It is another step towards expanding democracy. It is all about changes in the constitutional law as a consensus of different political parties. These politicians were asking for these kind of changes and that was one of the drivers for the ruling party to prepare these amendments ahead of the next elections. We strongly believe that these changes will be added value to the democracy in the country.
Is there a lesser known place in Georgia you would recommend to travelers going there a second time?
This is not an easy question, depending on what you like. Hiking is the most requested activity among Polish visitors. Being the motherland of winemaking, this type of tourism is also striking a chord with visitors. There are several ski resorts which make it a nice destination in Winter, while Batumi on the west coast is great if you want to travel in Summer. Each year people can discover something new, as there are massive investments in the tourism infrastructure making the country more connected and accessible.
Ilia Darchiashvili is the ambassador of Georgia to Poland.
Daniel Gleichgewicht is an editor with New Eastern Europe.