Sunday

23rd Sep 2018

Opinion

Georgia moves ahead, but consequences of war remain to be dealt with

  • Tbilisi: Russian tanks in 2008 were poised to roll into the Georgian capital (Photo: Thomas Depenbusch)

In August 2008, thousand of Russian troops and armour rolled into Georgia, as Russian aviation pounded the country's military, infrastructural and civilian targets.

Four years on, Georgia stands strong in asserting its identity as a liberal, democratic state, its economy is surging ahead and the government is working hard to take care of people displaced during the conflict.

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Our friends stood by us in 2008. We need their support still so that those residing in 20 percent of our territory occupied by Russia can partake in and benefit from the progress Georgia has achieved.

Pictures of war on major news networks mean destruction, devastation and despair for those embroiled in conflict.

If the eye of an international reporter ever returns to those areas as the years go by, one usually sees a grim reality, where human suffering prevails with no hope in sight.

This was one possible scenario for my country as well, after it was invaded by a neighbour which is vastly superior in size and military capabilities. Still worse was the threat of obliteration of our very statehood and of our way of life.

Yet neither of these came to be.

Georgian people defended their homeland. Our friends and allies stood by us on the international arena to rebuke the invasion.

Georgia has kept its identity as a free nation and is moving ahead, though ever-mindful of the ongoing threat from the two Russian military bases that were set up on occupied territories, in violation of the ceasefire agreement and fundamental principles of international law.

The country withstood the shock and managed to rebound into steady economic growth. Real GDP increased by 6.4 percent in 2010 and by 7 percent in 2011. Later this year, we expect to open a major railway route linking Central Asia with Turkey and Europe.

Georgia still remains one of the safest, buisness-friendly and least corrupt countries in Europe.

The UN World Tourism Organization recently singled out Georgia for its remarkable growth in tourism - arrivals have almost tripled in the past five years, from just below 1 million in 2006 to close to 3 million in 2011.

The UN also gave it a prize for quality of public service - the key way citizens interact with government on a daily basis.

Our democratic choice remains unshaken. Citizens will vote on 1 October to elect a new parliament and to rejuvenate our democracy.

Our nation is also negotiating an Association Agreement and free trade agreement with the EU, implementing reforms to strengthen our justice system, local governance and our penitentiary.

While we are proud of our success, we call attention to the plight of the thousands who were displaced during the war and whose homes were often razed to the ground in an act of ethnic cleansing.

The Georgian government made sure that most of these families had a new roof over their heads for the winter of 2008. But their rights are far from being respected and their loss is far from compensated. Justice is yet to be restored.

As we work to advance our nation, we need the help and support of the international community to condemn and reverse the occupation and to make our successes available to those who reside on the 20 percent of Georgian territory currently occupied by Russian troops.

In the 21st century no power can afford to lock people behind barbed wire, to raze villages in order to build military bases, to deprive children of the right to study in their mother tongue and to make carrying a gun the only available employment.

We have reached out to all those who reside on occupied territories. We have tried to build confidence with them by offering services in order to restore the social fabric that linked our communities for centuries.

Georgia keeps neighborly relations with the Russian people - we cancelled visa requirements for all Russian citizens in March and the tourists have poured back in, despite a propaganda of fear by the Kremlin.

We are ready to engage in constructive talks with Russia. We made a unilateral pledge not to use force. There has been no reciprocity, but we hope, often beyond hope, that hearts and minds in Moscow will slowly change.

Georgia has achieved a lot, but we still need a friendly hand so that all of our compatriots may live in peace, dignity and security.

The governments and civil society of the free world should continue to deliver a loud and clear message to the government of the Russian Federation that the military occupation cannot be tolerated, that systematic abuse of human rights cannot be window-dressed as nation-building and that ethnic cleansing has no place in modern society.

Four years after the war, the Georgian nation stands tall, looks to the future and demands justice for all its residents.

Grigol Vashadze is the foreign minister of Georgia

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Updated 13:30 The French EU presidency is preparing to call an emergency EU summit on the Russia-Georgia conflict, following a Polish request. A snap gathering of EU foreign ministers has already been organised in Brussels for Wednesday.

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