Visa liberalization: a way to the European future

Georgia is a special country. It is ambitious, arrogant and unique. It is like that little bird from a folk tale who, when everybody else decided to fly to the south, decided to fly right to the sun. In this lonely flight, the bird burnt the edges of its wings, dropped to the bottom of the deepest gorge and suffered many other hardships. Yet, the stubborn bird did not want to give up its principles and the chosen course: it continued flying directly to the west. From now on, the sun rose in the west for it.

Why now? Maybe, it has always been like that? Maybe, the striving to be part of Europe and to carry the western values was historically predetermined, not just accidentally chosen after the country became independent? This is quite likely. And then the progress Georgia made on this way and the visa-free regime with the European Union acquired as a bonus are quite logical, while the seventy years spent as part of the Soviet Union are, figuratively speaking, like having been married to a strong partner suppressing the will of the minor one. This is so.

However, Georgia is a country of contrasts. Together with europeanization, which consists in adopting laws corresponding to European standards, reforms in the key areas and a change of thinking, parochial standards and age-long traditions are still strong in the society. Georgia, which was second to Moldova (apart from the Baltic countries) post-Soviet country which acquired a visa-free status with EU and which made another step towards Europe, is still in the Orient in terms of civilization.

Well, Georgia has time for changes, as only twenty-something years have passed since the official declaration of a new course towards the west. This is a very short period for quality changes and a breakthrough forward.

The wind of changes

Georgy was born on the verge of two epochs, in 1995, when we destroyed the old world in order to build a new future of our own. To be true, nobody knows what the new world was to be like. The time of destruction, hunger and cold came. Georgy recalls his childhood time as a period of total deprivation, where there was neither light nor water nor heat. People survived only because of cooperation and the inconsumable belief in the better future.

— The time was awful, says Georgy. — Although I was a little boy then, I clearly remember the details of the time. We all got together in one room, because the other rooms were not heated. Sometimes that was the room of our neighbors, sometimes it was our own, depending on who was able to get some kerosene. Several families would get together, depending on who managed to get some potatoes or beans. That was a feast then. We ate meat only on very special occasions. We slept clinging to each other, using the natural ways of warming ourselves. What movement to the west? Who thought about it then? Chaos, total corruption and crime were everywhere. I remember well when once outside, right under our windows, a robber tore off a gold chain from a woman’s neck. She yelled but no one moved to come to rescue. The society was permeated with fear. Such crimes occurred all the time, in the daylight. The discontent of our citizens accumulated with the years until the wind of changes blew one day. And that day was beautiful.

The bloodless coup, later named the Revolution of Roses, was predetermined by economic, social and political factors. The reality was changing fast. As Mikhail Saakashvili came to power, he clearly indicated the priorities of the government policy. Georgia declared its intention to join NATO and EU and received a corresponding ‘homework’. Its fulfilment guaranteed its approach to the western structures. The team of reformers started implementation of reforms.

The then President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili declared zero tolerance in the struggle against crime and started eradicating the criminal mentality. It turned out that the monster of corruption could be defeated. A strong desire was just needed. The reform of the law enforcement system became one of the first steps on this way. All the road police officers suddenly found themselves dismissed. The government hired new professionally trained people. The reformers started complete liberalization in the economic sector, mass privatization and weakening of the government’s role in the economy. The phrase of the then minister of economics Kakha Bendukidze comes from that period: “Everything can be sold except conscience”. The team of nationals — this is still the short name for the party led by Mikhail Saakashvili “The United National Movement”— simplified the system of government management by liquidating a lot of control bodies, eliminating bureaucracy and combining provision of all kinds of services in one building, the House of Justice. Besides, a universal national test was introduced to assess the knowledge of all the school graduates in a uniform manner.

Flights in dreams and in reality

The lion’s share of the progress Georgia has been able to make over the recent decade is due to the work done by the reformers’ team. However, as the time has demonstrated, even such tremendous success has not been able to outbalance the mistakes made by the authorities. The United National Movement is still reproached for systemic errors. These errors became the main cause of the defeat the party of Mikhail Saakashvili suffered at the 2012 election. To be true, these guys left the power in a civilized “European” way. For the first time in the recent history of the country, such a precedent occurred as the peaceful transition of power. The power was transferred not by means of a revolution, revolt or uprising, suppressed and not suppressed, as it used to happen before, but by holding a democratic election. There has never been such a precedent in Georgia since the time of the first president.

— Do you know what the main value of a state and of a society is? It is the citizen and protection of civil rights. The talk is about a citizen as a phenomenon, on which everything else should be based. The value of a human life is the basis of democracy, — says Georgy. — Four years ago, I entered the school of architecture of a state technical university. I am studying for free, as the state is paying me a scholarship. I am not sure whether I will work as an architect, though. This year, I met guys from Ukraine, who are promoting the sport of paragliding in Georgia, and my life dramatically changed. Now I dream of flying. And my Ukrainian friends are dreaming of acquiring a Georgian citizenship and of staying here to live. It is difficult to speak about the advantages of being born in a particular country in a particular time period. I do not know how I would live at the time of the totalitarian era. There is a huge gap between our generations, both temporal and mental. The life of our ancestors was composed of bans, whereas our life consists of opportunities. For example, when I save some more money, I will go to Europe for vacation. Could my Georgian peer dream of that 50 year ago? Yet, everything is moving, everything is changing. Our civil conscience is growing.

As Georgian experts say, we definitely have not solved all the problems we have but we have succeeded in many things, especially compared to our nearest neighbors. After the Baltic countries, Georgia turned out to be the most successful project among the post-Soviet states. Of course, this striving should be encouraged! Georgia has made a huge leap forward: it has let Europe in and has remained faithful to the chosen course. Georgia has not turned away from the chosen path over the recent five years, although the opponents of today’s government have accused it of change of orientation and betrayal of the western values. Only when speaking about the continuous movement towards the west, we often forget about the civilization in which Georgia lives.

When the second hand of the clock is not needed

— The main boundary is between cultures, — says Georgy Siamashvili, a researcher from the Institute of Politics of Ilia’s University. — Georgia is a classic example of a collectivist culture. A community is the main unit of an Oriental culture. This may be a company, a team, a working place one feels part of. For us, this is very important, it is more than an individual life. We are not attracted to individuality, and we do not know what to do with it. Our people prefer to be in those relations which are determined by a collective. Here we cannot attribute everything to our Soviet past. This is rather a remnant of community-oriented thinking, which was manifested in the Soviet system, too. In the west, people are individualistic. It will not be possible to make a European person think by collectivist categories.

Georgy Siamashvili indicates another significant difference between these two civilizations.

— When they say in the west that some place is well-organized, that means that people try to use it with a maximum effect and the right purpose. Rational arrangement of a place is a characteristic feature of the western world. For example, when we come to a public toilet in Denmark, there is everything there: a needle, thread, scissors, bandage and eau de cologne. And the fragrance is such that you do not want to leave. This is what we call rational organization of a place.

As tourists return from Georgia, they say that the notion of time for this country is a conditional thing. The first thing a visitor to Georgia notices in this country is that time has slowed down. The existence of a second hand on a watch or a clock suggests the value attached to time. The greater the reference to time is, the more a person does. In this case, the human activity is productive and meaningful. This has an ingrained tradition in the west. Living in accordance with the time is considered to be natural. In Georgia, the attitude to time is oriental. Time in Georgia is measured by events. Time is determined by the state in which a person is at a certain moment. If one likes staying at a certain place, this person does not care much about the time. “I do not care what time it is now: I am and will be in this state as long as it gives me pleasure. I feel so good that I do not think how much time is allotted to this event”, — Siamashvili concludes.

There is a proverb in Russia: “Work takes time, and amusement takes an hour”. In our life, it is like this: if I am in a state of amusement, I forget about work. Work becomes secondary for me. Maybe, we should not try to make ourselves different. Maybe, we should stay what we are. Actually, stopped time sometimes has advantages of its own…
© Yekaterina Minasyan

Yekaterina Minasyan

I graduated from the Tbilisi University with a major in foreign languages. When I was in my third year of studies, I realized that I had chosen the wrong specialization. The linguistic side of life interested me much less than the human aspect. Years have passed since then, but the subject of my scrutiny has not changed, and my interest for it has not subsided. I strongly believe that the Man is a whole universe. I like writing about people and for people. I write a column at the information resource called Sputnik/Georgia. I tell the people about the staples of old Tiflis and the places in the city they are usually unaware of, and about the people whose names have made the history of Tiflis


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