"Panjikidze’s Reform" - a Step Backwards in Georgian Diplomacy?


Following the elections the Georgian Dream party is going to rectify the case that was “messed up” by Maia Panjikidze, confirmed when one of the leaders of the ruling party, Gia Volsky, said that the topic remained on the agenda and the discrimination of a number of diplomats will end after October 8. We refer to more than 20 of our friends working in Georgia, including the Honorary Consul from an EU member country who, since 2014, have been unsuccessfully trying to protect their dignity and rights. Let’s look at who they are and what mission the honorary consuls have.

The Honorary Consul is not in the Government Service but performs certain consular functions at the decision of the sending State. An Honorary Consul may be appointed whether a citizen of the sending or receiving State.

Clause 96 of the Georgian Law says of Georgian consular offices: “A person can take on the role of Honorary Consul if he/she: a) Has the social status and personal qualities necessary to fulfill consular functions; b) Has merit before Georgia for his work; c) Is willing and able to work for national interests.”

The Vienna Convention was adopted in 1963, in which clauses 58 and 67, with a few exceptions, granted the same privileges and immunities to Honorary Consuls and Consuls in Government Service. Also adopted in the Vienna Convention on April 24, 1963, Honorary Consuls are equalled with Career Diplomats. Georgia acceded to the Vienna Convention in 1993.

As such, the country’s resident businessmen are appointed as Honorary Consuls because they regulate the business relationship between two countries, aiming to attract investment and improve the business environment.

Honorary Consuls do not receive salaries from the receiving State budget, nor from the sending State, carrying out diplomatic activities at their own expense. In return, they enjoy diplomatic privileges, such as, for example, diplomatic immunity.

The institution of Honorary Consul is recognized globally, but Georgia being the distinct country it is, tends to taint even diplomacy with personal attitudes. When Maia Panjikidze headed the main embassy of Georgia, she is said to have completely ignored international regulations and, due to a personal confrontation with one of the foreign Honorary Consuls, made a “reform" related to the Honorary Consuls on August 20, 2014. Consequently, about 20 friends of Georgia, among them the Honorary Consul from an EU member country, were unilaterally deprived of diplomatic privileges without any consultation or explanation, something akin to a diplomatic scandal which would never have been allowed elsewhere. As such, all Honorary Consuls acting in Georgia have been paralyzed the last two years, meaning they can no longer establish communication with state agencies, the Diplomatic Corps, and international organizations; they can't enjoy diplomatic mail, they can't help their fellow citizens, and are restricted in the information they can receive and provide. This situation is incomprehensible for sending States, because, after all, the principle of proportionality has been violated as Georgian Honorary Consuls continue to enjoy diplomatic privileges in other countries despite the fact that Maia Panjikidze claimed they do not.

While looking into the situation, we spoke with several diplomats. They were unable to explain Panjikidze’s decision, but noted that even Mikhail Saakashvili would not have made such a “stupid move” before the elections, even when he was fighting against Bidzina Ivanishvili and deprived him of his citizenship. At the time Ivanishvili was the San Marino Honorary Consul and Saakashvili could have then limited the authority of the Honorary Consuls but chose not to incite such international scandal. Yet Panjikidze, it seems, was more “daring” in this respect.

Certain people in diplomatic circles think that nobody in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cares about the decision of the ex-Minister and that they are doing nothing to improve at least the subsequent diplomatic embarrassment, seeing her resignation as sufficient. The Foreign Relations Committee intervened and sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry to try and clarify why Honorary Consuls are deprived of their authority, but the legislative body receive a senseless reply, with the Deputy Foreign Minister, Khatuna Tortladze, explaining vaguely the reasons for Panjikidze's decision.

Despite this, the Honorary Consuls made no unnecessary noise and asked their sending States to simply clarify the situation, not wanting problems on the Georgian international arena, especially with the country waiting for a visa-liberalization. However, as foreign diplomats say, “the reform of Panjikidze” is truly incomprehensible in its essence. Honorary Consuls and their sending countries are still waiting patiently for the restoration of their rights, watching carefully the development of the situation and only limiting themselves to diplomatic comments on the topic.

“Honorary Consuls did nothing to aggravate the situation in our sending States even if Panjikidze deserved it. We respect the diplomatic image of Georgia and prefer to wait. Fortunately, the authorities in the Ministry are changed and I hope, after the Honorary Consuls next appeal, the new minister, who is an experienced diplomat, will take an adequate decision regarding the Honorary Consuls,” said Consuls Associations President, Elene Lezhava.

When Mikhail Janelidze was appointed as the Minister, the parliamentary majority leader, Zviad Kvachantiradze, appealed him from the public podium and advised him to at the very least review Panjikidze’s policy.

“As a result of a very rigid policy that our government's first Minister of Foreign Affairs introduced, the Honorary Consuls were restricted. Such an attitude was absolutely unacceptable to our Committee. Our attitude was expressed to those involved but we held back from turning it into a full blown conflict, not wanting to exacerbate the issue. I would urge you, Minister Janelidze, to take particular interest in this issue and should you require our consultation, we stand ready to help you,” Kvachantiradze said.

As mentioned above, Georgian Dreamer, Gia Volsky said that this issue has not been removed from the agenda and that it will be more actively focused upon after the up-coming elections. We hope that “Panjikidze’s reform” will be corrected in the autumn and the Honorary Consuls will again be able to use their rights and obligations properly.

Otherwise, our country, which is waiting for visa-liberalization in autumn, will be unable to avoid an international diplomatic scandal, sure to negatively affect our European image.

Davit Abashidze

28 July 2016 20:51