Past Reflections on the Future


There is never an ideal time to reflect on the future. No more is this true than these days. When I wrote the article below, on 15 March, the ink had barely dried on the agreement reached in the political dialogue, when Europe and Georgia began to face the early, uncertain phases of the COVID-19 challenge.

As a consequence of the latter, this article would not go to print for another four months. As anyone knows, four months is a long time in politics and diplomacy (and arguably in pandemic fighting), so the editor kindly gave me the opportunity to review my article before publication. However, after re-reading what I wrote then, I decided to leave it as it was. Had I written this today, I would reformulate some of my assessments, but not drastically. And in the end, I would argue, hopes and aspirations are after all more interesting than day-to-day assessments, because aspirations do not come with the same best-before date! So here are my reflections on the year 2020 from four months ago. I hope you will enjoy my dusty letter from the recent past!

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The agreement signed by a broad majority of political parties one week ago was truly historic. It is my hope, and still my prediction, that the outcome of the political dialogue will enter the history books as a landmark victory for Georgia’s democracy.

In parallel, the world is struggling with the unprecedented health challenge of the COVID-19 virus. My hope on that account is that the peak of this crisis will soon be left behind us. At the same time, I realise that I may well be let down on both accounts.

I believe that the agreement signed on 8 March fundamentally came about thanks to the realization of all political sides that it was high time for Georgia to start moving away from I-win-you-lose politics, towards the win-win logic of compromise. If true, this realization alone would make 2020 a truly significant year for Georgia! The issue now is whether everyone is ready to honor and nurture the current consensus and keep pushing the narrative away from destructive polarization towards healthy competition in this crucial election year.

Speaking of health, I hope the Government’s early and proactive approach to countering the spread of the COVID virus will help Georgia avoid the plight of all those countries that arguably woke up too late. Unfortunately, even in a best-case scenario, Georgia will be facing the consequences of COVID’s global economic impact. Being a small, open economy makes Georgia highly dependent on global markets, but I hope its overall healthy economic fundamentals will help cushion the blow.

Otherwise, the main challenges for Georgia in 2020 look similar to those of last year. A credible strategy for inclusive economic growth and de-centralization remains key to eradicating poverty and ensuring broad public support for reforms. Current investments in the education system, including in vocational training, need to be sustained. We need to work together to boost trade, while Georgia should also seize its potential as a regional connectivity hub, linking it closer to Europe over the Black Sea.

Relations between our citizens intensified further last year. More Georgian students than ever made use of education possibilities in Europe, and the number of Georgian companies exporting to the EU has grown at a steady pace. EU programs offer increased opportunities for Georgia also in other fields, including research and culture. These exchanges are facilitated by visa free travel for Georgian citizens and I hope we will be able to reverse the negative trend of unfounded asylum seekers to ensure its continued success.

Finally, were I to make a wish for 2020, beyond free and fair elections and the successful handling of COVID-19, it would be that environmental issues will move further into the focus of Georgian politics. I see it happening already, but further mobilization is necessary. Sound environmental and energy efficiency policies are key both to citizens’ health and economic growth, making Georgia even more attractive as a tourist destination, lowering energy costs and enhancing energy security. Georgia is a truly beautiful country, with truly wonderful people; both deserve to be taken care of properly!

Lopota, Georgia, 15 March 2020.

By EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell

13 August 2020 14:06