By Vakhtang Makharoblishvili, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia.
Georgia marks the Independence Day – 102 years ago, on May 26, 1918, Georgia’s National Council established the First Democratic Republic. Although Georgia lost its independence as a result of Soviet occupation in 1921, the First Democratic Republic has remained a symbol of Georgia’s freedom, its values, as well as its pride. Modern Georgia is also a legal and political successor of the short-lived First Republic.
Over a century ago, Georgia started to build a state based on democracy, equality and individual freedoms. To build a free and democratic state, the country needed to succeed in two main directions – to liberate from Bolshevik Russia’s political influence and to develop effective democratic state institutions. These goals remain relevant today. Georgia has been consolidating its democratic institutions, developing its growing economy, asserting itself as a viable trade route between Europe and Asia, and, importantly, advancing its integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic institutions regardless the Russian efforts to derail Georgia’s independence.
Georgia’s geographic location has been an asset for the country’s economy – we are slowly becoming a regional hub for tourism, international business, logistics, education and innovation. Among the main roads connecting Europe to Asia, the road through Georgia is the most stable and secure and serves as an entry gate for the Central Asian landlocked countries to Europe. Georgia is an important knot for regional trade flows and has a unique geographic advantage for market integration with the rest of the world, including the European Union.
The country has written a remarkable story of transformation whereby Government has taken significant steps to deregulate the economy and streamline bureaucracy, thus, creating a favorable and welcoming business environment, as well as inclusive growth opportunities.
The global pandemic of COVID-19 has posed us a severe and unprecedented challenge. To contain, delay and mitigate the effects of COVID-19, the Government of Georgia started implementing the relevant measures at the earlier stage of the pandemic. Coordinated efforts were directed to three principle directions: healthcare, law and order, economy.
The effectiveness of the measures has translated into the relatively low COVID-19 numbers in the country. Georgia is one of the successful nations to duly address the global crisis and prevent large negative impact. The country has been praised for its effective coordination and communication. The Government has cushioned the economy with tax deferrals, allocation of funds, mobilizing international financial aid, etc. which has secured opportunities for swift economic revival. Apart from the policies and strategies, the Government has been transparent and open in its crisis management.
As a consequence of successful containment of the virus in Georgia, we will soon be able to open up to international tourism, which is one of the fast-growing industries of Georgian economy. Our country has received up to 9.4 million visitors in 2019, which is a 7.8% increase compared to the year before. Georgia has become a popular travel destination for Dutch tourists during past years that have been demonstrated in elevated number of travelers (18 204 visitors in 2018, while in 2019 – 22 908 visitors).
Fortunately, successful response to pandemic allows our country to open its tourism sector to both domestic and international travelers. Provision of domestic tourism services will begin on the 15th of June while the country will be ready to welcome its foreign tourists as of 1st of July through safe corridors and in strict pursuit of health and sanitary standards. The Georgian government rigorously adheres to the guidelines of the World Health and Tourism Organizations in its decisions to make travel to Georgia as safe as possible.
Even if Georgia has a lot to celebrate, we still have a part of the territory occupied by the Russian Federation. The country is divided by barbed wire fences erected by Russian FSB troops along the occupation line, we continue with our positive reform agenda and country’s democratic transformation. Throughout years, we have faced Russia’s constant violations of the EU-mediated 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement, intensive military build-up in both Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, while close to half a million of IDPs and refugees are deprived of the right to return to their homes in safety and dignity.
Those, who remain in the occupied territories, have become target of grave human right violations and ethnic discrimination. Despite Russia’s continuous provocations, the Georgian Government unwaveringly pursues the peaceful conflict resolution policy aimed at the de-occupation of its territories and reconciliation of people divided by the occupation line. Almost a century ago, the Russian Red Army invaded Georgia and disrupted its development for the following seventy years. However, after the fall of the Soviet regime, the country has become one of the most successful young democracies of the region. As an associated Partner of the European Union and a NATO aspirant country, Georgia is becoming another success story of democratic transformation and Western integration in Europe.
These achievements are rooted in the democratic aspirations of the people of Georgia who have come a long way to earn their independence, their freedom and their right to choose. This is why the Independence Day of Georgia is not just a day of remembrance of the past victory, it is most of all a day that celebrates the future of Georgia: free, democratic and united.