Relations between countries come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from unmitigated enmity to total cordiality. But the strong historical friendship and the deep cultural and religious ties between Greece and Georgia put our bilateral relations in the league of their own. Because these ties go beyond the recorded accounts of the ancient Greek colonies of Phasis and Dioscurias, extending to the stunning myths of the altruistic Prometheus, chained on the Caucasus Mountains, and the adventurous Argonauts seeking and finding the Golden Fleece.
These old and diverse interactions, coupled with historic cataclysms, generated the waves of Pontic Greeks moving to Georgia, creating one of the most vibrant and creative Greek diasporas. Social, political, economic and cultural life in Georgia over the past millennium is unimaginable without the ethnic Greeks toiling hard and contributing to the well-being of their Georgian homeland. Both nations rightfully pride themselves on people such as famous conductor Odysseas Dimitriadis as an attestation to how Greek talent can flourish on fertile Georgian soil.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union. And the relations between our two countries continue to be characterized by smoothness, friendliness and good spirit. Greece was among the first countries to recognize Georgia’s independence in 1992 and establish diplomatic ties with Tbilisi, which was shortly followed by the opening of the embassies.
Greece was the country that so generously accepted many Georgians who sought better fortunes in times of massive economic hardships that Georgia experienced in those difficult years. Remittances from Greece were an important factor that allowed many Georgian families to weather the bad times.
And some of these emigres, such as Kakhi (Akakios) Kakhiashvili – repaid their adopted homeland by scoring many glorious victories in a number of international competitions, including the Olympics. Kakhiashvili became not only a symbol of athletic excellence, but also of your country’s responsiveness to the plight of a neighboring nation.
The utmost reverence of the Georgian nation toward Greece, its culture and people is vividly attested to by the fact the Georgian word for “Greek” – “berdzeni” – means “wise” or “wisdom.” This name is a tribute to the notion that philosophy originated in Greece. But along with a fondness for philosophy, we Georgians also embraced the biggest gift your country bequeathed to humanity – democracy.
The spirit of the famed Athens Agora reigns over the world today, giving hope to many freedom-loving people and nations.
As was the case for Greece and many other countries, the road to democratization has not been smooth for Georgia either. But the government is committed to continue on the path of reforms that lead to economic growth and the strengthening of democratic institutions.
In the spirit of democratic transformation, the Georgian government has accomplished a series of constitutional amendments over the past several years that reduced the outsized powers of the executive branch and introduced a genuine mechanism of checks and balances – the cornerstone of institutional democracy.
Moreover, the government of Georgia maintains transparency and openness in its work, ensuring free access to information and setting high standards in the field of open governance. The high level of the government’s accountability and transparency has met with positive international appraisal, as illustrated by the election of Georgia as a member of the executive committee of the Open Government Partnership initiative.
In its capacity of a full and active member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation and other key international agencies, Georgia remains committed to compliance with the highest possible standards in the field of democratic freedoms and human rights.
Of course, Georgia has been conducting all these reforms on their own merit, in order to ensure the prosperity and freedom of our citizens. We are a European state and need no carrot of this kind – but economic integration and political proximity to the European Union is a natural stage of Georgia’s ultimate return to its natural political and cultural habitat.
The historic signature of the Association Agreement with the EU in 2014 marked an important milestone in the EU-Georgia relations and opened a qualitatively new phase in our cooperation. The Agreement set our country on a course of political association and economic integration with the European Union. We are very thankful to the political leadership of Greece for the timely ratification of the Agreement – for understanding where Georgia belongs and helping us make one more step in this direction.
Our commitment to European integration is further evidenced by our efficient implementation of all the requirements of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP). It proved to be a genuine catalyst for reforms, thanks to which Georgia adopted more than 130 legislative changes, along with eight national strategies and action plans, and ratified seven international conventions. These reforms include high standards for document security, the modernization of the asylum system, the elimination of all forms of discrimination, and the adoption and implementation of the Human Rights Strategy, Action Plan and many more.
Now we rightfully expect the visa-free status for Georgia to be introduced in the nearest future. Granting Georgia a visa-free regime will be an important message of support for pro-Western forces. But, more importantly, it will signify support for the Georgian people as a whole, rather than one political party or leadership.
We believe that on this fundamental issue we can count on the support of our Greek partners, representatives in the European Parliament and European Commission that Greece will once more extend the hand of friendship and political support to Georgia and duly honor our progress.
The crosses that adorn both our flags are testimony to our deep Christian traditions. But, being rooted in and learning from our proud past, we are essentially forward-looking nations, pinning our hope on a united Europe, and able to adjust and reform in the face of massive economic and security challenges. Both our countries are decidedly part of the solution to the challenges.
We believe that through cooperation and partnership, through our shared commitment to the European cause, we are poised to make our contribution to the most successful integration project in human history – the European Union.
* Mikheil Janelidze is Georgia's Minister of Foreign Affairs.