Swiss Ambassador on His Tenure in Georgia

Exclusive Interview

At the end of November, the Ambassador of Switzerland in Georgia, Lukas Beglinger, completed both his ambassadorial assignment to Georgia and his 32-year diplomatic career. Although he and his wife Barbara have plans to make Georgia their second home, GEORGIA TODAY decided to catch him before the Christmas holidays and ask for a summary of his time as Ambassador here.

Compare the Georgia you see today with the Georgia you saw when you arrived.

Although three years is a very short period in a country’s history, there is ample evidence of Georgia’s continuing quest for reforms, modernization and increased prosperity. New transport and touristic infrastructure, buildings, power generation plants and manufacturing facilities are the most visible signs of that process. But I also witnessed political reforms as well as progress in many economic and social fields, which was underpinned by generally forward-looking government policies and an increasingly market and business-oriented attitude of the people. In some key areas such as education, far-reaching reforms were announced, but need yet to be implemented. Serious systemic weaknesses inherited from the past persist and remain to be adequately addressed. The experience of other countries in transition shows that such processes take time, hence it is all the more important that Georgia stays on its path of reform.

What of the extensive work of the Swiss Embassy would you highlight as having had the greatest impact on Georgia?

Our bilateral relations were strengthened, in particular economic and trade relations, which now benefit from a free trade agreement that was concluded in 2016 between Georgia and EFTA countries. This year, Switzerland and Georgia signed an agreement on the protection of geographical indications for wines, spirits, cheese and other special products which will underpin our efforts to expand mutual trade.

We promote trade with Georgia, but we also aid Georgia. Over the past two decades, Switzerland has systematically contributed to Georgia's democratic, economic and social development, and I am glad to say that our support has produced tangible results. In the agricultural sector, which accounts for almost half of Georgia's total employment, our longstanding assistance in the milk, cheese, meat and other product lines helped farmers, suppliers and processing companies to produce successfully for the market, in some cases even for overseas markets. Switzerland and Swiss companies have a lot to offer in the field of practice-oriented vocational and professional education and training, which needs to be developed in Georgia by all means and is rightly considered a priority by the Georgian government. Another important focus of our cooperation concerns political and financial decentralization and the concomitant requirement of appropriate public services at the regional and local level. In this area, which is critical for containing the ongoing rural depopulation, Georgia can benefit from Switzerland's century-old, successful experience and expertise as a "bottom-up" country.

Last but not least, Switzerland has continued to offer its good offices as a protecting power acting on behalf of Georgia and Russia and as a mediator. The results of our discreet efforts in this field may not always be obvious and well known, but they are real and serve the interests of all parties concerned.

Where do you see Georgia in future, say five years from now?

I do not expect miraculous developments, but I am confident that Georgia will maintain an adequate degree of political, economic and social stability which will enable the country to make further progress towards a functional democracy and a thriving, competitive economy.

What advice can you give Georgia moving forward, based on the projects you have been involved in while here?

I hope that Georgia will persist in pursuing its path towards reform, modernization and European standards in all areas. This is a key necessity in order to overcome the current economic and social challenges. As witnessed in many projects, the widespread lack of professional know-how and practice-oriented training is a major impediment to Georgia's development. Hence, a thorough reform of the education system is necessary to ensure adequate skills and the employability of the workforce. Another big impediment, the unresolved separatist conflicts within Georgia, merits to be addressed rather than just kept in status quo, based on an attitude of constructive dialogue.

What are the biggest take-aways of your time here? What will be your fondest memories?

Georgia is highly rewarding for its rich cultural heritage, its amazing landscapes, its nature, cuisine, wine tradition and many other special features. But I and my wife are most impressed and attracted by the Georgian people: they are very open-minded, accessible, hospitable and truly cordial, which makes it really worth working and living in this country.

What are your future plans?

As I retire from the diplomatic service, we plan to stay in Georgia and continue to promote Georgia’s development as well as Swiss-Georgian relations in our private capacity, notably by exporting high-quality Georgian products such as wine and tea to Switzerland and by fostering wine and mountain tourism.

By Katie Ruth Davies

13 December 2018 20:05