Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
Gabriela von Habsburg (Ambassador of Georgia to Germany)

11.03.2011 - Interview conducted by Ashley S. Fitzpatrick & Kim Cornett

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Q1.† As we all know, Georgia was forcibly included into the Soviet Union, and remained there until 1991. How, in the last 20 years, has Georgia been able to reinvent itself and redevelop its own national brand?

That is an excellent question. First of all, Georgia has never had to reinvent itself, because Georgia is the most individual country you can imagine. It has got its own language and its own alphabet - there are only 13 alphabets in the world, and little Georgia has one of its own, which is one of the oldest active alphabets in the world. And Georgian has managed to remain the official language throughout centuries of occupation - even during Soviet rule. Not only does Georgia have its own language and writing, but it is also famous for its polyphonic music. The information on human voice that was in voyages sent to space is Georgian singing. So tiny little Georgia - not more than 5 million people - has always been very individual.†

Q2.† You spoke about corruption and bribery, and about Georgiaís work with Transparency International. Obviously, crime and corruption are problems every government deals with.† In terms of foreign investment, however, what would you say is the largest barrier for foreign investors in Georgia at the moment?

There are actually no borders for investors who are interested in Georgia. Itís really a very open country, with a very good climate for investment. Many people think that, because itís a small country, itís a small market, and they are therefore not interested. This is not true, because, when you look at the location of Georgia, you see that it has access to the Black Sea and all the countries in the region, including members of the EU. Access to energy resources play a crucial role in making Georgia fully independent from Russia. Georgia is also in a very good location for free trade - we have several free ports and free trade centres which can be accessed by all the Black Sea countries, such as Turkey, Ukraine, and now countries in the EU, as well as Central Asia. We have very good relations with the majority of our neighbours.†

Q3. Regarding tourism, how is it best marketed within the region? Do the majority of tourism revenues come from within the regional market?

Yes, we do have a lot of tourists from our neighbouring countries - Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan account for the highest numbers of tourists. But we are also seeing high numbers of tourists from countries like Germany, and these numbers are rising. Of course, before the Rose Revolution, Georgia had little to offer, as there was no infrastructure - it was a miserable place, though the people were still as they are today. We first had to invest in infrastructure to be able to host tourists. Now we have all the major hotel chains in Tbilisi, Batumi, and Kutaisi and so on. And now with the new resorts on the Black Sea, we will become a very important tourist destination. We had to make it possible first.

Q4. Georgian culture is heavily tied to the language, the landscape, the wine, and such, and remained strong during Soviet Occupation. What efforts are being made to promote Georgian culture, both within and outside its borders?

Outside its borders, not enough has been done so far, but we are developing efforts. Within Georgia, however, a lot has been done. When I first visited Georgia in the late 1990s, the civil war had just taken place, and everything had been destroyed. There was no money and levels of unemployment were high. However, the first thing they restored were the opera houses, the state museums - not the homes, but the cultural institutions. That showed what was truly important to the people.†

Q5.† You have previous experience as an artist and a professor of the arts. What are you doing to facilitate art relations between Germany and Georgia?

I am doing a lot. I facilitate student exchanges between Germany and Georgia, because I think exchange is really the secret. The best ambassadors we have are the students and au pairs - yes, really! You cannot imagine how strong culture is. These young people bring so much culture and history with them. They know about their culture, and are aware of it, which is wonderful. There are now several projects on both the state and EU levels, and of course, we have a lot of artists here, and people who are well-educated in culture. They know what they want to preserve, and so a lot of money is going towards the preservation of culture. There are hundreds of amazing historical and cultural sites that still exist in the country, and that has not changed.†

Q6.† In the US, there is a problem of high culture and low culture. Many teenagers have not read American or British classics, but in Ireland, you can talk to anyone on the street about James Joyce. Do you think it is similar in Georgia?

Itís amazing, itís truly amazing. The youth are so proud of our writers. We have so many works dating back to the 5th century, and I have not found a single Georgian who has not read the national epochs, even if they are dirt poor, and cannot afford anything else. Itís really a paradise in that sense. They are so proud and passionate about their culture.

Thank you very much for your time and input.