In search of a friendly face

Four years after a war with Russia, thousands are still suffering in Georgia, Grigol Vashadz writes.

india Updated: Aug 13, 2012 00:11 IST
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Grigol Vashadze,Georgia,foreign minister

Pictures of war on major news networks mean destruction, devastation and despair for those embroiled in conflict. If the eye of an international reporter ever returns to those areas as the years pass, one usually sees a grim reality, where human suffering prevails. This was one possible scenario for Georgia as well, as it was invaded by Russia in August 2008. Still worse was the threat of obliteration of our very statehood and of our way of life.

Yet neither of these was to pass. The Georgian people defended their homeland. Georgia keeps its identity as a free nation and is moving ahead, though mindful of the threat still looming from the two Russian military bases that were set up on occupied territories, in violation of the ceasefire agreement and fundamental principles of international law.

Georgia withstood the shock and managed to rebound to achieve a steady economic growth, with real GDP growing at 6.4% in 2010 and 7% in 2011. As 2012 wanes, we expect to open a major railway route linking Central Asia with Turkey and onwards to Europe. The UN World Tourism Organisation singled out Georgia for its remarkable growth in tourism — arrivals have tripled from a million in 2006 to about 3 million in 2011. Georgia still remains one of the safest and least corrupt countries in Europe, where business is easy to do.

Our democratic choice remains unshaken. People will vote on October 1 to elect the new Parliament. Our public service halls — where citizens interact with the government on a daily basis — won a prize at the UN's worldwide, peer-nominated contest for its innovative design of services. Georgia is negotiating the Association Agreement and the free-trade agreement with the EU, implementing reforms to strengthen the justice system, local governance and penitentiary.

While we are proud of our successes, we call attention to the plight of the thousands who were displaced during the war and whose homes were often razed in an act of ethnic cleansing. Their rights are far from being acknowledged, their loss is far from compensated. Justice is yet to be done. As we work to advance our nation, we need the help and support of the international community to condemn and reverse the occupation, to make our successes available to those that reside on the 20% of Georgian territory occupied by Russian troops. In the 21st century, no power can afford to lock people behind barbed wire, raze villages to give way to military bases, deprive children the right to study in their mother tongue and make carrying guns the only employment option.

We have reached out to all those who reside in the occupied territories, wishing to engage them and restore the social fabric that linked our communities for centuries. Georgia keeps neighbourly relations with the Russian people — we have cancelled visa requirements for Russians from March onwards and, despite the propaganda of fear by the Kremlin, tourists have poured in. Georgia made a unilateral pledge not to use force. There has been no reciprocity, but we hope, often beyond hope, that the hearts and minds in Moscow will change slowly.

Georgia has achieved a lot, but we still need a friendly hand so that all our compat-riots may live in peace, dignity and security. The governments and civil society of the free world should continue delivering a loud and clear message to the government of the Russian Federation that the military occupation can't be tolerated, that the systematic abuse of human rights can't be window-dressed as nation-building and that ethnic cleansing has no place in modern society.

Four years after the war, Georgia stands tall, looking into the future and demanding justice for all of its residents.

(Grigol Vashadze is foreign minister, Georgia)

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Aug 12, 2012 23:52 IST