While everyone is looking westwards these days, we focus on the east. And wonder, what does sovereignty feels like in Georgia or the lack thereof?
Tornike, 21, studies International Relations in Batumi, Georgia. Talking to him, you can feel how many dreams and plans he has got for his country. But it is not going to be easy to realize them.
Looking at the Georgian history, what is your country’s special link to sovereignty?
Georgia lost its independence in the 18th century. During these two hundred years that we were under the influence of the Russian Empire and Soviet Russia, we lost the essence of our sovereignty: that we people can govern ourselves and that we don’t need any external powers to lead us. Georgians have always struggled for their independence but since we gained it back in 1991, we don’t know what to do with it.
What is the biggest problem for your people?
A lot of Georgians still see two major powers besides our country: Russia and the United States. Georgians see that whatever government may come into power here, those leaders are always going to be under the influence of either Russia or the USA. People wonder if someone else is influencing your country that much, how can you be independent? So a lot of the discussion has stayed the same.
Why are the United States and Russia so interested in Georgia?
We have a very interesting geopolitical location.Through Georgia oil can be transported from the Caspian Sea towards Western Europe without passing Russia. That could make Western countries more independent from Russian oil supply.
What was the most important step for Georgia since the independence?
The process of democratization was very important. After the collapse of the Soviet Union we had very dark times in Georgia. There were times, we didn’t even have water or gas supply, and there wasn’t enough food and we didn’t have a strong government to lead us through those times. But with the “rose revolution” in 2003 we started rebuilding our sovereignty. The new government had a unitary vision for the country and we were able to put all our effort into implementing this vision. 2003 is the point in time we actually transferred into the shape of a state. That had a huge impact on the country.
What is Georgia’s role on the international level?
With our recent government there was a major breakthrough, the association agreement with the European Union. The previous government that was in power until 2012 actively stated that they were “pro west”. These statements irritated Russia. The new government which was just reelected is milder in its expressions. That is why I first thought they would move us closer to Russia but I had to realize that they are good diplomats. They are taking slow steps towards western integration without irritating Russia.
What would be the main advantage of joining the European Union?
The common market and the four freedoms are very interesting for us. Some Georgians would like to find jobs in the EU. But it would also be great for our economy. For example, we are ancient producers of wine. The first wine ever was made on Georgian territory and we would love to have better options to sell it to Europe! This is obviously the case for many more goods. But there are also non-economic motivations. The European Union has strict rules on the separation of powers. We have had some problems with that in our democracy and I am hoping that by joining the European Union our institutions would be forced to have a stricter separation of powers as well. And, last but not least, there are better chances for young people to study if you are part of the European Union. You can just study anywhere in Europe! For example, I would love to do my masters abroad. Right now, I am searching for a master in Germany.
Does the majority agree with you on the EU?
There is a huge debate whether we need the EU, the USA or whether we should go back to Russia. Some people say that everyone is only using us for our geopolitical location and that nobody really cares about the people here. Others say that it takes too much to join the EU or NATO and that it would be so much easier just to go back to “mother Russia”. I personally prefer to work together with neighbors who accept our rights, where there is a rule of law and where everyone is equal. I think especially within younger generations the western alliances are preferred and I am really happy about that.
Some people in Georgia still feel like they are not able to influence politics. Could more party plurality give the people in Georgia more power?
I think that, as there is not a lot of trust in governmental institutions, at this step we don’t need more plurality. First, we need a stabilized government with three independent branches of powers. They have to stay independent and be able to do their work, never mind who comes into government. Once this is achieved we need plurality. At this stage it would only cause immobility.