28 Dec 2015
Georgia – December 2015
Visa liberalization with the EU, tensions in Russian-Georgian relations, first Silk Road cargo train, and New Year preparations
The central topic for the Georgian media this month was the visa liberalization with the EU. Initially the publication of the European Commission’s report on this issue was postponed from early December to mid-December, and the people of Georgia received the much-awaited good news. “InterPressNews” quotes the head of the EU Delegation in Georgia Janos Herman informing on the details of the agreement on visa liberalization: “It will take approximately 4-5 months before the full abolition of the visa regime between Georgia and the EU member states”.
In addition to strengthening relations with the EU, Georgia prioritizes also the strengthening of relations in the region. According to “InterPressNews” news agency, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili stressed this at a meeting with the First Vice President of Iran Eshaq Jahangiri, pointing out that Georgia attaches great importance to the development of good neighborly relations with Iran and the deepening of ties between the two countries. The agency cites the President talking at the same meeting about Georgian-Russian relations and the need of creating international mechanisms of monitoring in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
To continue the topic on Russian-Georgian relations “Georgia Today” reports that the Georgian Foreign Ministry gave a positive assessment to the Geneva talks that ended on December 9. During the Geneva talks, the sides discussed the situation on the administrative borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and noted the need for the resumption of bilateral dialogue at the meetings in Gali. The next 35th round of Geneva talks will be held on March 22-23, 2016.
Tensions in Russian-Georgian relations were caused by the violation of Georgian airspace by the Russian Air Force twice in two days, and the subsequent statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. “InterPressNews” reports that the MFA regarded the violation of the airspace under the control of the Georgian government as a “provocative act against a sovereign state”.
In addition, “Agenda.ge” reports that Georgian Minister of Defense Tinatin Khidasheli concluding her public speech at the Center of Strategic and International Studies in Washington stressed prospects of Georgia’s integration into NATO comparing it with Germany’s accession to the alliance.
Despite the difficulties in Georgian-Russian politics, President of Russia Vladimir Putin during his annual press conference noted the possible abolition of the visa regime for Georgian citizens. “Agenda.ge” cites the Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili who called this gesture “a step in the right direction”.
On the eve of the elections, in the third hearing the Georgian parliament approved the amendments to the Electoral Code initiated by the party “Georgian Dream”. This initiative means that the parliamentary elections in 2016 will be conducted in accordance with a mixed electoral system as defined by the Constitution, where 77 of the 150 deputies will be elected by proportional representation, and 73 deputies will be elected in single-mandate constituencies, reports “Civil.ge”.
It was announced that former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili will participate in the elections as part of the “Georgian Dream” coalition. “InterPressNews” quotes Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani saying “Bidzina Ivanishvili does not intend to return to politics and take any posts, but during the elections he will be besides the political parties included in the coalition”.
“Georgia Today” reported on the 61st meeting in Ergeneti in the framework of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism where security issues were raised. The South Ossetian representative David Sanakoev talked about possible provocations against the Russian border guards by Pankisi residents, the former ISIS fighters. At the same time, Head of the Information-Analytical Department of the State Security Service Irakli Beraia stated that “this information is false and Georgian law enforcement is in control of the situation in the Pankisi Gorge”.
The sudden resignation of the Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili came as a pre-New Year surprise. He announced his resignation on December 23 after serving in this position for two years. “Civil.ge” quotes Iraki Garibashvili saying, “Today I resign but I remain a dedicated soldier of my motherland”.
“Civil.ge” provides details on the state budget 2016 approved by the Georgian parliament. During the plenary session, 83 deputies supported the main financial document, and 11 voted against. Minister of Finance Nodar Khaduri said that the new budget is focused on the interests of the population. According to the document, the budget revenues increased by 200 million lari to 8.555 billion lari ($3.564 billion), while expenses increased by 170 million lari and are at the mark of 8.542 billion lari ($3.556 billion).
Despite the discontent of some part of the Georgian society, “Gazprom” and Georgia continued the discussions on the issues of transit and supply of gas. According to “InterPressNews”, a working meeting of Chairman of the Board of PJSC “Gazprom” Alexey Miller and Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Energy Kakha Kaladze took place in Luxemburg where the parties continued to discuss the issues of Russian gas transit through the territory of Georgia and its commercial supplies to the republic.
The highlight of the month was the arrival of the first “Silk Road” cargo train from China’s eastern port city of Lianyungang. The cargo train went through Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan and is en route to Turkey. According to “Civil.ge”, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili stated that the “Silk Road” project will attract more investments and will bring more stability. The “Silk Road” was the most important route connecting Europe and Asia. The idea of the historic “Silk Road” project belongs to the president of China. We started working on this issue two years ago”.
Society, Culture, and Sport
On the basis of a one-year program of the Georgian language for national minorities (program 1+4) a Youth Center was opened at Tbilisi State University. The Center will be focused on the needs of young people, promoting diversity of student life and improving the quality of civic engagement and integration of students. The activities of the Youth Center of TSU will include the creation of thematic groups on human rights education, intercultural dialogue, environmental protection, healthy lifestyle, advocacy and research, as well as in the direction of cooperation with the private sector.
“Georgia Online” writes about the presentation of a bilingual collection of poems by the Ossetian poet, writer, and public figure Kosta Khetagurov in Tbilisi. The collection was published by the initiative of the “Caucasian Mosaic” NGO with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection. The book is the first Georgian-Ossetian issue reflecting Kosta Khetagurov’s works. It includes old and new translations of the poet’s poems.
In the meantime, Tbilisi is getting ready for the New Year’s celebrations. Festivities will begin on December 25 and will feature more than 700 musicians, actors, and performers. 1 million 499 thousand lari (approx. $624.6 thousand) are allocated from the Tbilisi budget to for New Year festivities.
However, 2016 will bring not only festivities but also a new law, which has caused a strong reaction in the Georgian society. “InterPressNews” writes about protests in the capital by “right-hand steering drivers”. From March 1, 2016 registration of cars with the right-hand steering wheel and with changed steering wheel will be banned.
The artist representing Georgia in Eurovision 2016 song contests has been announced. The news came as a surprise to Niki Kocharov and his rock band “Young Georgian Lolitas”, writes “Eurovision-Georgia”.
This news review reflects the major events of the month and is based on media publications. The views expressed in the Review may be different from the views of the editors of the Caucasus Edition.
The guidelines applied to publications by the editors and authors of the Caucasus Edition can be found at: http://caucasusedition.net/glossary-and-guidelines/.