On the occasion of her country’s Independence Day, 26 May, Ambassador of Georgia Tamar Beruchashvili discusses Georgia’s way to Freedom and Independence
This year marks the 100th anniversary of parliamentarism in Georgia. However, the idea of parliament was born as early as the twelfth century, during the reign of King Tamar, when a group of Georgian noblemen tried to establish an institution called Karavito to supervise the activities of the king. Despite its failure, this very fact is evidence that Georgia has always been a country of democratic ideas and values.
In February 1919, Georgia held the first universal, democratic and multi-party election of its legislative body – the Constituent Assembly. Twenty-three members of the Assembly – composed of six parties – represented the ethnic minority groups, and five women were elected as members at a time when women didn’t have the right to vote in the majority of European states.
The Constituent Assembly adopted a number of significant legislative acts, initiated the inception of judicial reform and carried out crucial efforts in implementing its foreign policy. In February 1921, the Assembly accomplished its main task: the adoption of the Constitution of Georgia, which contained all the progressive democratic norms, including the political and social-economic rights of citizens, gender equality and ethnic minority rights, among others. The Assembly also implemented education reform, introducing free and accessible education for everyone.
After the Bolshevik regime was established in Georgia in 1921, some members of the Constituent Assembly emigrated and continued to fight for Georgia’s independence from abroad. Most of those remaining in the country faced severe repression; 51 of them were exiled or executed. However, the first Democratic Republic created a solid political and legal basis for the restoration of Georgia’s independence.
Despite the Soviet Occupation, Georgians never gave up the idea of freedom, independence and sovereignty. The independence movement became active again in late 1980s, reaching its culmination in April 1989, when 21 people died, and hundreds of activists were seriously injured when Soviet troops brutally dispersed a peaceful rally. These events greatly accelerated Georgia’s quest for independence. On 9 April 1991, the second anniversary of the tragedy, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia proclaimed Georgian sovereignty and independence from the Soviet Union based on the results of a nationwide referendum of 31 March 1991.
So, the night of 9 April remains a tragic and heroic date in Georgia’s history, a moment when the whole country was united to fight for Georgia’s independence. The date is indelibly etched into the minds of Georgians as the day of National Unity.
Georgia’s way to independence and freedom was full of challenges. However, Georgia has been investing in building a strong European democracy with effective democratic institutions and open governance system, political pluralism, free media and independent judiciary, strong rule of law and human rights protection, a functioning market economy, a favourable business environment and attractive tourism opportunities.
All these impressive achievements are happening against the background of Russian occupation of 20 per cent of Georgia’s territories since 2008. Georgia is firmly committed to the peaceful resolution of the Russia-Georgia conflict with strong international engagement based on full respect of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders.
The future of Georgia lies squarely in the European realm, in the western civilization where the country belongs politically and culturally. Along with the sovereignty and territorial integrity, the European and Euro-Atlantic integration is the only foreign policy priority that is cemented by the Georgian Constitution.
Georgia’s pursuit of freedom and independence has delivered concrete and tangible results. Georgia has never been as close to the EU as it is today. Through joint efforts and commitments, the country has built a strong and ambitious relationship. Implementation of the fully operational Association Agreement is in an active phase and well on track. Alignment with EU norms and standards has significantly stimulated trade relations with the EU, making it Georgia’s largest trading partner with a 17.7 per cent increase in exports in 2018. Since its introduction in March 2017, the visa-free travel regime with the EU stands as a strong political message and the most tangible deliverable for our citizens. Georgia is a responsible and reliable partner contributing to peace and stability worldwide, particularly in Central Africa and Afghanistan, as the largest non-NATO contributor.
The UK is among Georgia’s most trusted friends and supporters of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as European and Euro-Atlantic integration. In view of the new realities of Brexit, Georgia attaches great importance to further deepening and strengthening already existing strategic relations with the UK.
Georgia and the UK – two countries from the western and eastern geographical extremities of Europe, sharing common values, interests and challenges – each demonstrate a full commitment to these values though a mutually beneficial and strategic partnership.