Alpen Know-How for Georgia

Switzerland and Georgia are brothers in more than mountains. Yet Switzerland is the paragon of stability, a state that seemingly works like a well-oiled mechanism of the watch they so rave about: everything is in place, tick-tock, no rushing, no surprises, while Georgia is every bit a mixture of that bombastic chaos that is so quintessential to the Caucasus that even the volatile Southern Europeans would be impressed. Mind you, it is still the most democratic country in the region. All that, though, is first impression, barely scratching a surface. As was well demonstrated in the speech of the Swiss Ambassador to Georgia, His Excellence Patric Franzen, that he gave to commemorate The Swiss National day – an annual event where politicians, journalists and civil sector representatives all gather to pay their due respects to that small nation in the Alps that has become synonymous with success over the latest couple of centuries.

It was perhaps an answer to a quintessential question for our country: how long will it take for Georgia to become a country where land is taken care of in this manner, where infrastructure and planning are not just fancy words you ask government and international funding for? As long as it may take, baby steps, but we've got to move forward and there can hardly be a better model to follow than the Swiss one. One particular message rang especially important in the Ambassador’s speech: the importance of political dialogue, and one probably needn't have to be a political expert to figure out that it was echoing the recent events that unfolded in our fair capital city.

"Over decades we had to learn that a constructive compromise is not a weakness but a strength," Ambassador Franzen said. "We had to learn that power-sharing with the weaker is more sustainable than dominance of the stronger, and we had to learn that a respectful dialogue with the political opponent is more effective than its personal discreditation. The culture of political dialogue has become part of our DNA. Today, we can say that we are united in our diversity through dialogue and compromise and have a high level of political stability."

This, however, was not the only insight the Ambassador was trying to get across. Particular emphasis was given to how much the bilateral relations between the two countries have evolved since Georgia gaining independence, when Switzerland was not only one of the first countries to recognize the fledgling state, but also one of the first to provide significant humanitarian aid as Georgia went through a dark period of secessionist conflicts and civil war. And the support since has only seen growth, with Switzerland never backpedaling on deepening the partnership, both on the political and economic level.

"We committed a total of $45 million in the period 2017-2020 and have all elements in place to start to develop our next cooperation program for the years 2021/24,” Ambassador Franzen reported. “We are among the biggest donors in Georgia per capita of our population and we look forward to further developing our cooperation with our partners and to be focused, capacity building and business oriented, and effective." And lest it is forgotten, Switzerland still acts as a mediator between Russia and Georgia due to the absence of diplomatic relations, while the Geneva Talks remain one of the main platforms for dialogue between Georgia and its volatile breakaway regions. Dialogue, as mentioned above, is one thing Georgia can learn from Switzerland – the mentor's skill is perhaps the best in the world, and with an apt pupil the only way is up.

“We try to facilitate interaction between them on concrete, operational issues that are important for their citizens. We act as mediator and facilitator, for example, in the implementation of the Customs Monitoring Agreement. And in the framework of our Human Security Program we contribute to confidence building and dialogue in the region,” Franzen added, underlining his country's support for Georgia's European integration. Switzerland itself might have chosen to opt out both of EU and the NATO, but it’s a luxury they can afford. And it's all about choice too: Switzerland chose that path, while the sovereign nation of Georgia chose a different one, and the Swiss respect the choices of their partners.

So, to go back to the very first argument – instead of comparisons, mayhap we must look for lessons when it comes to the Swiss-Georgian relationship. And one simple, yet crucial lesson might end up being the most rewarding one: realizing that despite all differences in mentality, Switzerland is the example Georgia has to strive for and look up to. And although the situation for our country may often look perilous, let us not forget that life was not a piece of cake for the Swiss either, for centuries. They too had mighty empires looking down at them and fought more than once for the independence and sovereignty of their country. They endured and we must too: endure, and in enduring grow strong, as the saying goes.

By Vazha Tavberidze

08 August 2019 18:53