Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to launch the German-Georgian year 2017
My colleague Mr Janelidze, Mikheil,
Ms Haratishwili, Mr Kobiashvili, Mr Voss,
Colleagues from the German Bundestag,
Ladies and gentlemen,
A warm welcome to the Federal Foreign Office for the launch of the German-Georgian year!
Thank you very much for this musical greeting with wonderful Georgian singing! I have learned that the text of the song we just heard tells us that we should not be afraid of the future, because the future is in our hands. That made me think that the song would also be a good hymn for Europe!
And it shows the optimism with which our friends from Georgia are looking to the future – and it is also an indication of why they are so welcome in Europe.
The launch of our joint year of culture is a happy occasion, for it shows that the sceptical view of Europe held by long-time members of the European Union is not the only perspective. And if we want to know why Europe is a unique project that gives people cause for optimism, we need to look towards Georgia.
Because sometimes it is the people observing us from the outside who are better able to appreciate the value of Europe. For Georgia’s assessment of Europe is correct: there is no region in the world where people can enjoy as much peace, democracy and security as they can in the European Union.
I think that Europeans, and specifically we Germans, need to become more mindful of this unique quality.
Thank you for coming here today. We have the right motto for the German‑Georgian year: “Inheriting the future”. That means something has been placed into our hands that we have not ourselves created. So we need to make sure that we handle this treasure with appropriate care.
This witty motto clearly shows that time is a relative concept. That is why we had the idea of stretching the German-Georgian year to span 1½ years! It will last from April 2017 to its culmination in October 2018, when Georgia will be the Guest of Honour at the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt.
Nino Haratishwili, I am delighted that you are here today and that you will also be involved in the preparations for Georgia’s guest appearance in Frankfurt. For no one else in recent years, ladies and gentlemen, has brought Georgia so close to Germany as Ms Haratishwili, who lives in Hamburg. And the 100 years of Georgian family history that she shares with us in her breathless novel “Das achte Leben” (The eighth life) are also a “timeless time”.
This broad, open concept of time is a recurring theme of our German-Georgian year.
Together, we will trace the footsteps of the first German settlers in the Caucasus, Swabian pietists who established colonies 200 years ago at the invitation of Tsar Alexander I and who were subsequently to play a key role in Georgia’s cultural history.
We will remember Germany’s support for the founding of the first Georgian Republic in 1918. That is another reason why it is good that the German‑Georgian year runs until 2018.
We will commemorate Eduard Shevardnadze, who played a significant role in German reunification together with Hans‑Dietrich Genscher and others in his role as Soviet Foreign Minister.
We will honour the trustful and intensive cooperation between our two countries, particularly in difficult situations, when every minute counts. One such situation was the terrible terrorist attack on our Consulate General in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan last autumn, where Georgian soldiers were the first to come to the aid of our colleagues.
This year we are also celebrating the 25th anniversary of the commencement of our diplomatic relations. On 13 April 1992, Germany was the first country to recognise Georgia after it had regained its sovereignty, and opened the first embassy there. And I want to take this opportunity to state loud and clear that we support the undivided sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.
In a nutshell, our excellent German-Georgian relations are timeless.
Foreign Minister, ladies and gentlemen,
We want to build on our relations and our rich shared cultural heritage, and focus on developing them for the future. A future in which we will be able to offer Georgians even more productive exchange with the European Union – also thanks to the association and free trade agreement that has been in force since last year.
In our bilateral relations we are focusing on an area in which the “time” dimension often plays a crucial role – the area of education and training.
In Georgia, education does indeed seem to be a timeless resource, for even in Soviet times, Georgia was the country with the highest number of doctoral theses per capita.
In our cooperation we are building on the outstanding German skills of many Georgians, often acquired at the legendary School No. 6 in Tbilisi – and these days also at the German School in Tbilisi, the Goethe-Institut and our 13 partner schools.
At the same time, we want to use grants from the German Academic Exchange Service to extend our cooperation in the sphere of education to encompass Georgia’s breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, so that more and more young people on both sides of this administrative boundary line, which is causing so much suffering, realise that only through reconciliation will they be able to experience further development and international mobility.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Since Einstein we know that not only time but also space is relative.
That is why I am pleased that we also feel that we are moving closer together geographically now that Georgians can enjoy visa-free travel to Germany and all Schengen countries – this arrangement finally came into force a few weeks ago.
At the same time, we are constantly engaged in measuring the area and defining where it starts and finishes.
Where are Europe’s borders? Which countries belong to Europe? And who belongs to the so‑called “West”?
My response to that isn’t geographical but political. Europe is where there is a common history and where people and states stand up for shared European values, human rights, freedom, democracy. The historian Heinrich August Winkler speaks of the “normative project of the West”: the West is where the separation of powers, inviolable human rights, the rule of law and representative democracy reign.
And Georgia is moving along this normative path towards the West more than perhaps any other country in the European Union’s neighbourhood. And not merely as a technocratic government project, but with the consistent support of more than 80 percent of the population. That is despite the fact that it is neither a short nor an easy path. That is what is remarkable.
That is why Germany has been accompanying this transformation course very intensively for two decades now. Ambassador Chanturia, who is also a German professor of law and thus another example of the effectiveness of German-Georgian cooperation in the field of education, worked for a long time as a successful advisor to the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit in the area of judicial reform in his homeland, and later himself became Georgia’s Justice Minister. He has first‑hand experience of this joint engagement. We want to continue to support Georgia’s remarkable reform efforts within the government and society, and will do so.
Yet Georgia is not only taking determined steps towards the West. It is also very successfully rediscovering its Asian side, its role as a bridge-builder between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea – politically, economically and in the realm of energy policy. That just shows that the idea of the West is not a geographical, but a political one. Georgia is also building on its centuries-old relations with Iran and on the asset that Russian language skills still represent for the wider cultural and economic region.
Georgia’s future also lies in this bridge‑building function between the East and the West. We in Germany have a strong political interest in the restoration of the Black Sea region and the Caucasus as a region of interaction, stability and economic upswing – and we are delighted that Georgia in particular is doing its part to help achieve this.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are “inheriting” an extremely vibrant Georgian-German future!
Here today we have been able to enjoy a little sample of just how vibrant this future – and indeed our shared present – is, given the optimism of the Georgian flash mob we just heard.
And that was only the beginning! The beginning of 130 projects and events which will take place not only in Tbilisi and Berlin, but also throughout Georgia and Germany. Events which reflect the diversity of our relations: music, literature, film, language, economic cooperation and, last but not least, wine!
And if I had a glass of Georgian wine, I would raise a toast to the German-Georgian year in accordance with old Georgian tradition: Gaumarjos!
Thank you very much!