Diplomat meets with Dr Maia Panjikidze, Georgia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and discusses European and Euro-Atlantic integration, football and developing relations with Russia
Dr Maia Panjikidze was appointed Georgia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs on 25 October 2012. Following the electoral victory of Georgia’s coalition party, the Georgian Dream, in the 2012 parliamentary election. The victory represents the first ever transfer of power through the ballot box in Georgian history.
Prior to Dr Panjikidze’s life in national politics, she enjoyed an extensive diplomatic career serving as Georgia’s Ambassador to Germany (2004-07) and the Netherlands (2007-10). Dr Panjikidze ascended through the ranks of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, starting as a First Secretary in 1994 and rising to Deputy Minister in 2004.
Prior to Georgia’s Independence in 1991, and indeed until this day, Dr Panjikidze’s has actively pursued an academic career. In 1988 she worked as a Professor and Lecturer of Philology, and progressed to become a full professor at the Guram Tavartkiladze University, where she taught from 2010-11. Dr Panjikidze holds a PhD in Philology and founded and chaired the Union of German Language Teachers of Georgia, and authored several works on German Language and Literature. In addition to German, the Minister speaks Dutch, English and Russian. Dr Panjikidze is married and has two sons.
1. Did your upbringing influence your choice of career? Have any of your family members had a background in politics or diplomacy?
Nobody in my family has had a political or diplomatic career, but my upbringing did influence my choice of career to some extent. I became a specialist in German studies, and when Georgia began to open embassies around the world in 1994 [following the country’s independence from the Soviet Union,] I was invited to work at the Georgian Embassy in Germany.
2. In brief, what were the main issues you dealt with as Georgia’s Ambassador in Germany (2004-07) and in the Netherlands (2007-10)?
During my term as Ambassador to Germany and the Netherlands, I had to deal with many issues of great importance to Georgia in terms of both bilateral and multilateral relations. Alongside intense political work, we maintained close economic and cultural relations with both countries. Georgia announced its aspiration to integrate with NATO and the European Union many years ago. Germany and the Netherlands, as members of both organisations, have had a tremendous influence upon the process of making global decisions. That said, my main task as Ambassador in these countries was to obtain support for Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
3. What are your major plans and priorities for your role as Georgia’s Foreign Minister going forward?
My main plan is to implement Georgia’s foreign policy priorities: European and Euro-Atlantic integration; the restoration of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; the de-occupation of Georgian territories; and the development of relations with Russia.
4. Since your appointment, what are Georgia’s new foreign policy priorities, especially in relation to Georgia’s course towards NATO membership and integration with the EU?
Georgia has specific expectations for 2013 and 2014 with respect to NATO and the European Union. In 2013, we expect to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union; the establishment of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area will be an important and integral component of this Agreement. Also important is the conclusion of the first stage of the visa liberalisation process with the EU and the NATO summit in 2014, when the progress Georgia has made will possibly lead to NATO deciding to grant Georgia a Membership Action Plan. One of the most important events in 2013 concerning Georgia-NATO relations was the North Atlantic Council’s visit to Georgia, which took place in late June.
5. What steps are being taken to improve relations with Russia? Is there some kind of state strategy towards de-occupation of these territories?
Steps towards improving relations with Russia are being taken under the guidance of the Georgian Prime Minister, Mr Bidzina Ivanishvili. One of these steps was the appointment of Georgia’s special representative, who regularly holds meetings with Russia’s representative to discuss various issues which fall outside the ambit of the Geneva Talks, though these nevertheless remain the most important forum for discussion in terms of relations with Russia. As for a national strategy on the de-occupation of territories, Georgia does have such a strategy, but it is a long-term one as no-one is under the illusion that achieving Georgia’s de-occupation can be done in a year or two. It is in fact a strategy for the development of Georgia as a whole, and its main aim is to make the country interesting and attractive to all.
6. What do you think is Georgia’s greatest diplomatic challenge?
Georgia’s biggest diplomatic challenge is currently achieving de-occupation and restoring its sovereignty and territorial integrity, but the country’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration is another key challenge.
7. What do you think has been the most memorable day or event of your career to date?
(Good or bad.)
The hardest and most negative moments of my career were without doubt the war between Georgia and Russia in 2008 and my dismissal [from the position of Ambassador to the Netherlands] in 2010, which I believe was totally unfair and ungrounded. [Controversy surrounds Dr Panjikidze’s dismissal as it is alleged that the decision was made for political reasons after her brother-in-law, Irakli Alasania, resigned as Georgia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, withdrawing into opposition to the administration of President Mikheil Saakashvili in 2008. The Foreign Ministry at the time maintained that the decision had nothing to do with politics, concluding that the Ambassador had failed ‘to properly perform her duties.’ Dr Panjikidze maintains that the real reason was her relation to Alasania.]
The two most positive moments of my career were my appointment to the Georgian Embassy in Germany, ie the first day of my diplomatic career, as well as 1 October 2012 – electoral victory and my appointment as Foreign Minister.
8. Are there any particular hobbies that you enjoy and why?
I enjoy reading books, art, cinema and flowers. Literature is, in fact, my profession, and could hardly be described as my hobby. I also love football (watching, not playing!)