Tbilisi, capital of Georgia
By Rose Maramba
Smack bang in the middle of the Caucasus Region, the State of Georgia is surrounded by the Black Sea in the west, Russia in the north, Turkey and Armenia in the south and Azerbaijan in the southeast. During the Cold War (1947 – 1991), Georgia formed part of the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. As a matter of fact, Joseph Stalin, Premier of the Soviet Union (1941 – 1953), was Georgian. Only at the collapse of the USSR in 1991 would Georgia regain independence. But the process was no cake walk. Like many of the post-Soviet nominal republics, Georgia went through a period of sharp economic decline in the 1990s, buffeted by high inflation and large budget-deficits, the latter spiking at 6.2% in 1996.
The difficult transition from command economy to free enterprise was aggravated by the Abkhazia and South Ossetia territorial disputes in northern Georgia, both of whose separatism is aided and abetted by Russia to this day.
Georgia wasn’t one to wallow in post-Soviet syndrome, though. The government got its act together and created an environment for liberal investment which proved irresistible to Western financial institutions beginning with the IMF and the World Bank. Large inflows of foreign direct investment kick-started the economy in the now democratic semi-presidential republic.
Georgia’s recent record:
>Ease of Doing Business 2018 as ranked by the World Bank: 9th among 190 countries. (In 2007 World Bank named Georgia “the world’s number one economic reformer.”)
>Index of Economic Freedom 2018, The Heritage Foundation: Georgia placed 16th among 186 countries.
>Corruption Perception Index 2018 by Transparency International: 41st of 180 countries, same rank as Spain. (It is the least corrupt country in the Black Sea region.)
>Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders: 61st among 180 countries.
Wine figures prominently in the Georgian economy. Yes, Georgian, though one would have thought the economy referred to is the French. After all, France and wine are generally regarded as synonymous with each other. But winemaking in France dates back to only the 6th century BC while Georgia has been at it since 6000 years BC! A very gratifying fact for the Georgians. It’s not every country that traces its viticulture to the Stone Age! As is inevitable, Georgian national identity is inextricably linked to its Neolithic wine.
There is so much Georgia wants and needs to tell the world, proud as it is of the strides it has made in the political, economic and cultural spheres, apart of course from its ancient traditions and history. One might say that democracy has come to stay in Georgia (knock on wood!). Which is admirable – quite a feat, really – considering the lingering trauma of its debilitating Soviet past.
Yet some freedom watchers worry a little. Freedom House, a U.S.-based, U.S. government-funded NGO that conducts research on and advocates democracy, political freedom, and human rights, has voiced some concern over Georgian democratization. The NGO, which describes political life in Georgia as “vibrant” in “Freedom in the World 2019”, observes: “Georgia holds regular and pluralistic elections, and its democratic trajectory has generally shown significant improvement in recent years. However, oligarchic actors hold outsized influence over policy and political choices, and judicial independence continues to be stymied by executive and legislative interests.”
Be that as it may, Freedom House’s assessment is that “over the last decade, Georgia has significantly improved the quality of its electoral process, holding a number of competitive and free elections that were assessed by the international community as largely democratic.”
Georgia’s decidedly West-leaning foreign policy is reassuring. Its ultimate goal is to become a full member of NATO and the European Union. Current situation: the EU-Georgia Association Agreement (AA) is in force since 1 July 2016. Along with the EU-Georgian Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreement, the AA builds a foundation for far-reaching Georgian political and economic integration with the EU.
Spain wholeheartedly supports Georgia’s aspirations.
Georgia has much to show the world. And one of the intriguing means to hand are its Young Ambassadors.
Featured image/Vadim Klochko, CC BY2.0
Tbilisi city center/Thomas Deponbusch, CC By2.0
Chelti wine/Young Ambassador’s Facebook
Wine vessels/Lucia Braz, CC BY-SA2.0
Tbilisi night scene/Thomas Przechlewski, CC BY2.0
EU-Georgia AA/Georgia Ministry of Foreign Affairs, PD