A Discussion on German-Georgian Cultural Relations

H.E. Amb. Khokrishvili talked about the role of cultural diplomacy in relation to German-Georgian and European relations

December 09th, 2019

His Excellency Amb. Khokrishvili has had numerous academic and professional experiences in Georgia and Germany. He studied not only in Georgia, but also in Germany, where he completed a Bachelor, Master and PhD at the Faculty of Public Finance in Potsdam. He has published several academic articles in the field of Social Sciences and Economics. Afterwards, His Excellency came back to Georgia where he was in charge of executive and ministerial posts. In 2015 he worked as Georgian Counselor in the Federal Republic of Germany and in January 2018 he became Georgian Ambassador in Berlin.

How have Georgian-German diplomatic, cultural and economic relations developed in recent years?

German-Georgian relations have grown historically, and bilateral relations have developed very dynamically since the end of the East-West conflict. Since the early 1990s, Germany has become one of Georgia's most important partners in Europe and worldwide. Over this timespan many changes occurred, but German-Georgian relations have experienced far more highs than lows. Especially the year 2013 marks a new, positive dynamic in bilateral relations, which is confirmed by the increasing number of reciprocal visits by government representatives. In August 2018, Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Georgia. In October 2019, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid a visit to Georgia. The last time a Federal President travelled to Georgia was 23 years ago, then Roman Herzog. In addition, the current Federal Minister, and then Foreign Minister, Mr. Steinmeier, was in our country numerous times as Foreign Minister.

Cultural relations between Germany and Georgia are very close. Two years ago, we celebrated our 200th anniversary of the establishment of first settlements by German colonists in Georgia. Lively cultural exchanges take place between the German and Georgian art scenes, which can also be seen in Berlin, where exhibitions of Georgian artists are regularly organized. The bilateral cultural agreement and the cultural commission form an important framework for tight cultural cooperation in different formats. Last year, Georgia was a Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and this event made a tremendous contribution to bilateral cultural exchange, and shaped the image of Georgia even more positively, not only in German society but also worldwide, in different cultural circles.

Economic relations remain constantly stable and some positive changes, especially in the tourism sector, have been recorded. The number of German tourists travelling to Georgia is increasing yearly and reached 83,261 in 10 months of 2019. All this demonstrates growing interest in Georgia. And we hope that in the spirit of European and Euro-Atlantic integration this interest will become even stronger in the future.

What was the biggest challenge Your Excellency had to face during your mission in the Federal Republic of Germany?

The most important challenge is to uphold the political interest of Germany in Georgia. As we know, currently, the EU faces major challenges in both domestic and foreign policy. These include inter alia Brexit, the strengthening of populist groups, Russia's involvement in the armed conflict against Ukraine, the changes in the Middle East, tense transatlantic relations. All these events naturally have an impact on the foreign policy of the EU and NATO, which form the cornerstones of the German foreign policy, because both institutions have to cope with different challenges and crises. Therefore, the greatest challenge for me is to ensure that Georgia stays on the political agenda of Germany along with the Euro-Atlantic institutions, and that the issues important to Georgia, such as the occupation of Georgian territories by the Russian Federation, the humanitarian situation in the occupied territories, Georgia's territorial integrity, the advancement of the European and Euro-Atlantic integration process and so on, maintain a certain degree of priority in the foreign policy of Germany.

In your opinion, Your Excellency, which are the historical facts between the two countries that played the most important role in their political, economic and diplomatic relations? How did the Soviet Union affect these relations?

The fact that an intensive exchange between the Germans and Georgians already began at the beginning of the 19th century underlines the close ties. Close German-Georgian relations made a significant contribution to the founding of the First Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1918. The good partnership relations between the German Empire and the Georgian Republic were defined in numerous bilateral agreements. At that time, several thousand ethnic Germans have already been living in Georgia, who had left their home country for, then the Russian Empire in the beginning of the 19th century to escape mainly religious persecution as pietists and famine. After having settled at several spots in Georgia, they successfully engaged in various social, economic and cultural activities. Only after the occupation of the First Democratic Republic of Georgia by Soviet Russia in the spring of 1921 started a very disagreeable period begin for the German minority. A considerable number of emigrant Germans living in Georgia fell victim to the Great Terror, and were murdered or forcibly resettled in Central Asia. During the Cold War, however, the town twinning between Tbilisi and Saarbrucken was the first partnership between a West German and a Soviet town. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Germany was the first state of the European Community, which recognized Georgia’s independence, and supported the young democracy politically and financially throughout the turbulent times of the 1990s and afterwards.

Germany was one of the first countries to recognise Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. How are Georgian-German relations supporting the economic and democratic development of Georgia and fostering the Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration?

After the USA, Germany is the second largest bilateral donor to Georgia, providing very intensive development cooperation support to Georgia since the early 1990s. This includes not only strengthening good governance and the rule of law, but also supporting small, micro and medium-sized enterprises, expanding the electricity grid, and facilitating biodiversity and environmental protection. Georgia is regarded as a beacon of democratization in the region within the EU's Eastern Partnership. In addition, Georgia assumes a significant geostrategic position in the shape of a corridor for trade routes and pipelines connecting Europe with the Central Asia and China as well as Iran, thus becoming increasingly relevant in geopolitically turbulent times. Georgia counts on Germany’s support regarding its European and Euro-Atlantic integration, in both a bilateral and multilateral context. Georgia pursues clearly stated foreign policy goals - complete integration into NATO and the EU. At the same time, we are aware that the EU faces multiple challenges. That is why we arm ourselves with strategic patience to achieve our goals one day.

Germany and Georgia have not only political and economic relations but also cultural. Do you consider cultural relations and soft power as important as diplomacy and politics? Which is your personal opinion about cultural diplomacy?

Foreign cultural policy is certainly an essential component of diplomatic relations and of diplomacy in general. It gives a country the opportunity to build bridges through cultural connections, to strengthen contacts and exchanges and thus, not only to contribute to the international understanding, but also to create a positive image in the population of the partner country. Foreign policy is usually the mirror of domestic policy. It is important to focus on culture in order to reach the broadest segments of society. Almost 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union the emerged republics are still regularly labelled as "post-soviet countries". It is time this attitude to be changed and the established clichés to be left behind. In this context, culture can play an incredibly convincing role, as we can see from the example of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Accordingly, I attach great importance to the cultural policy and, as my experience shows, it is an indispensable component of diplomatic relations.

Does the Georgian government and the Embassy of Georgia in Berlin encourage the cultural and educational exchange between Georgian and German students?

German and Georgian universities enjoy a very active and fruitful cooperation. Germany is currently the most popular destination for Georgian students who wish to obtain an academic degree abroad. The number of Georgian students enrolled at German universities has remained relatively constant since 2003 and currently stands at around 2,500. The Georgian government maintains several scholarship and exchange programmes for studies abroad. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has been active in Georgia for a long time and enables hundreds of young people to benefit from studying in Germany. In the field of higher education, we rejoice in about 60 cooperation projects, which confirms that both countries highly value bilateral educational relations. The Embassy of Georgia offers its premises once a month to young artists to display their art, and is also very active in promoting mutual cultural exchange.

Many Georgian artists collaborate in a temporary exhibition entitled “Macaroni” about the fall of the Wall and a Georgian movie has been included in the ‘Travelling Film Festival 2019’. Both events were promoted on the Georgian Embassy in Berlin’s Facebook page. In your opinion, Your Excellency, which role art and culture can play in improving relations between Georgia and German governments?

The Travelling Film Festival was not only promoted on our social media account, but we were among the organizers of the closing day dedicated to Georgia. The Georgian Embassy is always anxious to promote all Georgia-related events throughout Germany, irrespective of the fact, whether we are the organizers. I strongly believe that the culture unites and strengthens the relations between countries and nations.

In 2018, trade between Germany and Georgia was worth 417 million euros. Georgian imports from Germany – mainly cars and car parts, machinery and chemical products – amounted to 300 million euros. Georgia’s main exports to Germany were food and textiles. How can German investors be invited to invest even more in Georgia and support Georgian economic development?

Today, Georgia is more likely to reach greater economic heights as a key hub for global trade and as a foothold for international, including German, businesses. Being an entry point to the region, Georgia’s strategic location is an advantage to capitalize on increasing trade flows between Europe, Central Asia and China. International trade development, including trade diversification, is one of the priorities of our Government. Georgia is a small, yet an attractive country for international trade and investments with an open market, liberal economy and a strategic location. Georgia enjoys a vast and growing network of free trade deals spanning from the EU, EFTA, China, Hong-Kong, Turkey and the CIS countries. Also, we have finalized the joint feasibility study on Georgia-India FTA and initiated the same process with Israel. So, really, investors in Georgia can take advantage of the access to over 2.3 billion potential customer market without customs tariffs.

Speaking of the DCFTA with the EU, Georgia grants utmost importance to maximizing the potential provided by this agreement and we are eager to enhance our trade ties with Germany. Georgia is already exporting agricultural and industrial products onto German market. We would like to see the increase of trade in both directions, growing the volume and variety of export products on both German and Georgian markets, as Germany has been an important trade partner during recent years. Both countries are determined to establish a regular format aiming at bringing together private sector representatives from different fields, and the government officials annually. Georgia also has excellent records in terms of international rankings. For example, Georgia is ranked 7 among 190 economies in for ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings, which also gives an additional impetus to the foreign potential investors.

In the last few years, there has been a liberalization of the EU VISA process for Georgian citizens. In this way, many Georgians have easier access to the European job market. Which other measures can be undertaken to include Georgia inside the European market and develop its economy?

VISA exemption does not include access to the labour market, which is why the question cannot be answered so directly. In the long term, one of the EU's four fundamental freedoms, namely, the free movement of persons, should also apply to Georgia. Initially, this can take the form of short-term seasonal work, and this process is already under way. We expect even more unrestricted access to the German labour market in spring, as it is already possible in some EU countries, such as Poland.

What advice would you give to young people who are interested in pursuing a career in international relations or diplomacy?

I would recommend to young people interested in a diplomatic career to study intensively other cultures and foreign languages. Language is a gate to other cultures and people. The deeper understanding is, the better the culture, politics and society can be grasped and applied to draw the necessary and acceptable conclusions for diplomacy.


Marta Faraoni and Marina Natsia
News from Berlin