On the 30th of March twelve UF Malmö members embarked on a seven day trip to Georgia. The country’s capital city of Tbilisi is often considered to form the vibrant, bustling and eclectic central city of the Caucasus region and this was indeed an image presented to us as we explored the new sights and culture in awe. We noted the traces of Georgia’s time under Soviet Rule in the city streets, symbols of the unique and ancient cultural heritage, the heavy presence and influence of the Georgian Orthodox Church as well as elements of Eastern and indeed Orientalist culture. We found the culture and environment to be like nothing we had encountered before and unique to this vital location at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. However, the contrast between traces of the Soviet era and efforts towards modernisation define the struggle to develop a modern country since emerging from the Soviet Union as an independent state in 1991 and amidst ongoing tensions in the Caucasus region.
The main theme of the trip focused on Georgia’s political landscape. Georgia is said to be considered by many to be “the balcony of Europe”. This came under evaluation through discussion of the country’s aspirations to join NATO and the EU. Visits to various political and educational organisations and institutions lead to us experiencing a multiplicity of perspectives and opinions on subjects of Georgia’s economic and political development. The week began with a visit to Tbilisi State University where we received a lecture on the past and current political landscape from Professor Alexandre Kukhianidze. The educational visit painted a clear and vital backdrop to the contemporary issues of the nation’s threats and challenges further discussed and debated throughout the week.
A visit to the Embassy of Sweden in Georgia was fruitful in defining the links and relations between Georgia and UF Malmö’s own country of origin as well as prospects for Georgia’s growth, development and potential EU membership from the Swedish political perspective. Moreover, we discussed the value and history of Georgia’s relations to Sweden based on economic and strategic reasons. Upon our visit to the Embassy of Germany in Georgia we encountered the same wealth of knowledge and opinion on Georgia’s joining the EU and NATO, but from a perspective aligned with Germany’s own interests in and relations with Georgia and the greater Caucasus region. Furthermore, the United Nations Development Programme in Georgia hosted us and the Head of UN Georgia, Mr. Niels Scott, discussed with us the vision of the UN in relations to Georgia as well as its own perspective on the country’s development and challenges in achieving this.
We gained an additional insight into the experiences of the youth in Georgia as well as the degree of public involvement and social and political motivation in civil society upon our visit to the Future Diplomats’ Club and the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs. This was vital in providing us a view of the social aspect of the nation’s development, in contrast to the discussions solely focused upon the political and economic spheres. Moreover, the Information Center on NATO and EU provided a perspective widely held in Georgia which is in favour of joining the EU as well as NATO. This is based on Georgia’s aims toward political and economic growth and development as well as its perceived need for strong and effective national security. However, there remained a looming question in discussions of this topic of whether Georgia truly knows the meaning of being an EU member state in terms of commonly held values and social standards (such as on topics of LGBT rights and gender equality) and whether the nation can compromise its conservative political nature in this regard.
We also jumped at any opportunity to experience and explore important Georgian sites and culture. During the week we gladly indulged in the delicious local cuisine consisting of Georgian dishes like“Khachapuri”, “Lobiani”, and “Khinkali”, as well as visiting the Dry Bridge Bazaar flea market and exploring the streets of Tbilisi’s Freedom Square and old Town to grasp the flow of daily life in the city. Additionally, on a trip to the beautiful nearby city of Mtskheta, which received the title of the “Holy City” by the Georgian Orthodox Church, we visited the church of Svetitskhoveli during the Georgian Christian Orthodox celebrations of Palm Sunday. A further example of religious sites we visited is the Jvari Monastery, which is a Georgian Orthodox monastery from the sixth century listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. It was an additional awe inspiring sight. Situated on a rocky mountain top, it offered a panoramic view of the city of Mtskheta close by as well as the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragavi rivers and snow-capped mountains in the distance. Within Tbilisi we visited the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi (commonly known as Sameba), which is known as the main Georgian Orthodox Cathedral and is the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox Cathedral in the world.
Finally, upon the final day of our trip, a meeting with the Delegation of the European Union to Georgia’s Mr.Radoslaw Darski (Head of Political, Press and Information Section) and his Deputy Ms. Dorota Dlouchy-Suliga proved to be a valuable summation of the information and opinions we had encountered throughout the trip. Often times the parties portray differing viewpoints but more poignantly they portray different economic, political and social interests- which inspired critical thinking and analyst on the part of the UF delegation. However, essentially what we noted was the existence of an identity crisis played out in the geopolitical sphere, in a country which is aiming to define and establish itself in the world both economically and politically between the two worlds of the East and the West.
Overall, we each learned greatly from the trip and had an unforgettable experience. The relatively small Caucasian country mostly famed for its traditions, hospitality and cuisine and currently in the throes of interstate tensions, frozen conflicts and the looming threat of Russia won over our hearts and served to inspire further passion for each of our areas of academia, political sciences and international relations.
By Mia Shoua
Carolin Jamusch for UF Malmö