Interviews

Mariam Rakviashvili: European Values Are Part of Georgian Identity

Published: 12. 4. 2021
Author: Lubor Winter
Photo: Archives of M. Rakviashvili and Shutterstock.com
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Although Czechia and Georgia are 2,500 kilometers apart, these two countries are closer than you might expect. We spoke with H.E. Mrs. Mariam Rakviashvili, Ambassador of Georgia to the Czech Republic about Czech-Georgian relations and Georgia’s path into the family of European democracies.

How would you assess the current state of relations between Czechia and Georgia?

First of all, Czechia is a strong supporter of Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration. It is important for us to have such a partner, as we have ambitious plans for EU and NATO membership and a lot was already achieved in this regard. Czechia’s support towards integrational process is especially valuable, as it still has memories of the pre-accession period, and there is much to be shared with us.

The Czech Republic is a firm supporter of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. As you know, 20 % of Georgian territories are occupied by Russia. Moscow tries to isolate Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions from the rest of Georgia, through installation of barbed wire fences along the occupation line. The population of the occupied regions is subject to severe human rights violations on daily basis. This is something that needs to have vocal support from our partners and Czechia is one of them.

Czechia is for Georgia an important development cooperation partner. Since 2008, the priority focus has been addressing the impacts of the conflict with Russia as a matter of greatest urgency. The Czech government allocated an extraordinary volume of funding for reconstruction and development assistance in the country. Over the past 10 years, the nature of cooperation has evolved from humanitarian assistance through post-war reconstruction to stability and successful integration of Georgia into the European Union.

Where do you see the main possibilities for further development of our economic relations? In what specific fields / projects?

Czechia is the leading investor in Georgia among EU countries, especially Czech investments in energy sector are significant. However, Georgia offers attractive investment opportunities in many other sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, agriculture and food processing, hospitality and real estate, logistics, IT, etc. Food/beverages and basic metal product industries provide the largest industrial base for Georgia, while electronic equipment, pharmaceuticals and rubber/plastics are the fastest growing industries. 

Considering that, the transit projects add great value to the country’s political significance and energy security of the region, Georgia actively supports the development of different projects enabling an alternative transportation corridor for western markets. 

Georgia’s streamlined tax scheme has produced the third lowest overall tax rates in the world according to the World Bank Group. Paying taxes in Georgia is simple and transparent.

Taxation is just one of many examples how Georgia eased doing business. Georgia ranks 7th in the 2020 Ease of Doing Business index by the World Bank. Starting a business or registering a property takes only hours, and the same simplicity can be experienced while dealing with any government institution. Everything is transparent, fair and most importantly, does not take much time.

Is the Georgian Embassy in Prague preparing any promotion events for Czech entrepreneurs who might be interested in investing in Georgia?

Actually, because of COVID-19, many promotion activities were suspended and I hope they will restart in the nearest future. Of course, one of the priorities of the embassy is to promote Georgia and deliver information to interested companies and business groups. There are a number of formats of cooperation between the two countries in the field of economy. I would outline the Georgian-Czech Intergovernmental Economic Commission as one of the most important instruments of promotion of bilateral trade and economy. At the same time, the Czech-Georgian Chamber of Commerce, established just recently, aims at supporting interconnectivity and information sharing among the business groups of the two countries.

Promotion of tourism opportunities is one the priorities. Georgia’s unique climate and nature, fascinating architecture, well-known hospitality, delicious cuisine and the longest running tradition of winemaking is attracting more and more tourists from Czechia. A number of press tours to Georgia and active media campaigns in 2019 had very positive outcomes and resulted in a dramatic increase of Czech visitors.

Among the countries of the Black Sea / Caucasus region, Georgia cooperates most intensively with the EU. The EU and Georgia signed an association agreement (June 2014) and the relationship between the EU and Georgia is going to be even deeper. What is currently the biggest challenge for Georgia in this matter?

As I said, EU integration is one of the main foreign policy priorities of Georgia. It is not a decision made by a certain political party. European values are part of Georgian identity – Georgia is a European country. If you look at the polls, about 80 percent of Georgians support the EU integration of Georgia.

Georgia is a frontrunner among the Eastern Partnership countries; and the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU was definitely a milestone. I would like to point out the granting of visa-free travel status to Georgia. When we speak about European integration of Georgia it is important to remember the complexity of the region’s geopolitical context. Though pro-western orientation is very strong in the country, there is a certain skepticism fueled by Russian propaganda, saying that Georgia will never be an EU member, saying that there are alternatives. In this situation it is important to keep consistency, and to see strong support of the EU. Granting of the visa-free regime was one of the important signals that the EU delivers and the process is merit based.

This year Georgia marks the 100th anniversary of its first constitution. Following the First World War, Georgia adopted the declaration of independence in 1918 and the first constitution in 1921, which was based on several European examples including the constitution of Czechoslovakia.  However, soon after its adoption, the Democratic Republic of Georgia fell under Soviet occupation for decades. Those three years of independence were kind of a renaissance. It was a time of significant economic, social and cultural development, and a time of creation of a modern democratic political system – members of the Social Democratic Party established the first Georgian parliament. We are proud of that period, which was short, but crucial for our history, as it reflected the potential of Georgia being part of democratic Europe.

Georgia also endeavors to deepen cooperation with NATO. What is the situation like in this matter?

NATO membership is another priority of Georgia’s foreign policy. Georgia is the most advanced NATO aspirant country, and it’s well recognized that all practical tools that we have, help speed up full membership of the Alliance. When a country like Georgia contributes, it has to be reciprocated. Georgia needs practical political solutions. Unfortunately, the decision of non-granting to Georgia the Membership Action Plan (precondition of membership) in 2008 at the Bucharest summit of NATO, was an impulse for Russia to invade Georgia and start military action. We realize the current situation in NATO, that there has been no political decision made yet, but we are moving closer to the membership. We should be prepared for the momentum. When this momentum comes, we have to be ready.

Finally, one personal question: How do you like living and working in Prague / Czechia?

I am enjoying it. For a diplomat it is a privilege to live and work in a friendly country, in a country, that shows political support. This is key to a successful cooperation. Czech and Georgian people have much in common and the main reason is the similar historic experience of a Communist regime – it brings more understanding to our relationship. The quality of everyday life is very high here in Czechia – everything is well organized, you have good services, a good education system, a lot of culture and sports events are happening here… I personally enjoy Czech architecture because my first university degree is in architecture and design. Especially Prague art nouveau architecture is splendid. I would say Czechia is a favorable destination for every diplomat.

Mariam Rakviashvili

National Council meeting, May 26, 1918. The Act of Independence of Georgia, declared on this day, outlined the main principles of the nation's future democracy: “The Democratic Republic of Georgia equally guarantees to every citizen within its limits political rights irrespective of nationality, creed, social rank or sexˮ. The first government was led by Noe Ramishvili. In October, the National Council was renamed to ‘the Parliament‘ and announced new elections to be held on February 14, 1919.

Lake Udziro in the mountainous province of Racha in northern Georgia.

The oldest parts of the capital Tbilisi are full of beautiful historical buildings.

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