Czech Ambassador: Georgia is One of Our 6 Priority Countries

Exclusive Interview

As the Czech Republic celebrated its National Day on October 28, GEORGIA TODAY sat down with the Czech Ambassador to Georgia, H.E. Petr Mikyska, to discuss the relationship between the two countries and its perspectives.

“I would like to wish Georgians a normal, democratic, European country, which means no daily headlines in the world’s media but steady development, normal functioning of the State and its institutions, normal perception abroad, a calm life: this is what I wish to my Georgian friends,” the Ambassador began.

“I spent more than 20 years in several Latin American countries, naturally I started with comparing everything with Latin America. The Georgian wine was as good or even better than in Latin America, the food was as tasty or even tastier than in Latin America, the people were as friendly or even friendlier, and I just fell in love with the country from my first visit ten years ago. So when I received the offer to represent m country in Georgia, I accepted gladly.”

What are the cornerstones of your work here? Tell us about the bilateral relationship betweenthe two countries?

Our relations at this moment are probably at one of their highest points. We share the same values and we have the same priorities. Politically, we are supporting each other on international fora, we share, I hope, the common European future. The Czech Republic supports Georgia's accession to both NATO and the European Union. In the economic field we have a long history of mutual cooperation and Czech investment in Georgia. We have a growing trade turnover, Georgia is our main economic partner in South Caucasus in terms of our exports. Our trade is around EUR 110 million, EUR 85-86 million of that were Czech exports to Georgia last year and around 25 million Georgian exports to Czechia. This amount can be and must be increased, there is a potential on both sides.

Georgia is developing, its need for technologies and investments in infrastructure is high, and the Czech Republic is ready to support this need and to to provide everything necessary, including financing. On the other side, the development of Georgian export capacity must be at the center of our attention, because Georgia as a small country with small market can develop only with exports. The conditions are all set with the Association Agreement and the DCFTA with the EU, so now we must use all this potential and help Georgian products to find their way to European markets, including the Czech market.

What are the mainchallenges for Georgian productsto reach and become popular on the European market?

I think that the main challenge is the export capacity, because so far we see only traditional products being exported to the EU. We must widen this offer: Georgia is more than traditional exports. We know the wine, we know the hazelnuts, we know other agricultural products, but there is much bigger potential. We must focus on how to mitigate the negative impact of the distance between the EU markets and Georgia and the transportation costs.

The other problem is that the European food market is quite saturated and Georgian products are facing the impact of the common agricultural policy of the EU, which makes European products cheaper than imported goods. But there is a way out of this situation, I think: the focus on natural production, bioproduction, with possibility of higher prices that allow to overcome the transportation costs.  Georgia must be ready to certify its production and its compliance with European standards, and that´s where we also support Georgia.

Is there also a lack of awareness? Do Georgian products needmore promotionto the European audience?

Definitely. Georgian production is of very good quality, but only a small amount of consumers know about it. So there should certainly be a continuous marketing. We know that Georgia is able to make a good campaign, we saw it in the tourism. But so far, it was not so visible in other sectors.

The Czech Republic is involved ina plethora ofcooperation and joint assistanceprograms in Georgia. What are the flagship ones andwhat good do they bring to Georgia?

Georgia is a priority country for our development corporation, it's one of our six priority countries. Being a priority country means we have more means, financial means, human means, than in other cases .

The sectoral priorities correspond to the development needs of the Georgian society and are thoroughly discussed and defined with the Government. Our first priority is social welfare and healthcare, projected mainly in the support to the transformation of Georgia´s primary healthcare. Cooperation and synergies with international organizations, for example UNICEF, are vital not only for comprehensive development of the sector, it is crucial in the current pandemic environment, too.

Second is the development of mountainous areas. We’ve been working for many years in the Tusheti region, and now we’re moving to Mtskheta-Mtianeti. We also have plans to work more in Adjara and in Samegrelo, which is also important in terms of the support to the population of Abkhazia. Next is support of good governance and education, providing the governmental scholarships to dozens of Georgian students. This year we quadrupled the number of government scholarships, 20 Georgian students will be fully supported by the Czech government during their studies in Czechia, and I’m confident that this number will be repeated in next years, too.

We support civil society and free and independent media, it´s very important to strenghthen their resilience to malign foreign influence.

The Czech Republic has been a staunch supporter of Georgia'saspirations to becomea fully Euro-Atlantic integrated country. How would you make the casein Georgia's favorto your more skepticalcolleagues in the West?

Together with our Visegrad and Baltic partners we have been quite successful at changing the mindset of several member states, so the understanding of the importance of the Eastern Partnership and of the support to democratic countries in our eastern neighborhood is growing. Future membership in NATO and the EU is a logical next step.

With the Balkan states in, the belief inGeorgiaand Ukraine is that we should benext. How realistic is that expectation?

In my opinion, those expectations are quite realistic and Georgia has very strong supporters within the EU and NATO. On the other hand, there are member states that don't see the urgency of such a development, and what we need to do now is to convince those member states that it's also in their interest and in the interest of the international community. The peace and security and democratic development of Georgia is part of the development of democracy in the whole region. So yes, it's a realistic expectation. Maybe it’s not a short-term development, it will take some time. It depends on many factors, but it will happen.

This week,Georgia will haveits first parliamentary elections witha 1% passing threshold. What is your advice to the Georgianpolitical elite and the nation?What does the international community  expect of us?

What we hope for is a clean, calm, transparent pre-election campaign, hopefully free of hate speech and attacks. This is very important: how the campaign is conducted, how all political parties lead their campaigns. Obviously the elections themselves must be clean and transparent, up to all international standards and following the recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR from previous elections.

We think all the conditions are set. Now it depends on political parties and the population how democratic the elections are, how respectable to others and respectable to the rules of the game voters and parties are. We will follow the developments very closely.

29 October 2020 17:54