“We try to make Georgia and its culture better known to the Swiss people”
12 November, 2018
“We try to make Georgia and its culture better known to the Swiss people”
The Swiss based society “Friends of Georgia” celebrates this year its 30 anniversary. Its new president is the 32-year old Mirjam Wenger. In an interview with Georgian Journal she explains, why the society was founded, what links Georgia and Switzerland and where the two countries can learn from each other.

Georgian Journal: Mirjam Wenger, you work for a Swiss foundation and yet in your free time you’re involved in the society “Friends of Georgia”. What is it that motivates you?

Mirjam
Wenger: There are mainly family reasons for this. I’m married to a Georgian but actually, my grandfather Suliko Darakhvelidse was from Georgia too. He fought in the Soviet army during World War II. Eventually, he fell into German hands and landed in a prisoner camp. After the war, he couldn’t return to Georgia as the Soviets would send him to a Gulag like they did with most soldiers who were captured during the war. Initially, he wanted to emigrate to America but because he was seriously ill, he was taken to a sanatorium in Switzerland to cure his tuberculosis. There he met my grandmother who was a Swiss nurse.

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The society organizes events about Georgian culture , Photo courtesy: Mirjam Wenger

And how did you meet your Georgian husband?
It was always my dream to spend some time in Georgia. After my studies, I went for half a year to Mingrelia where I worked with children refugees from Abkhazia on behalf of an NGO. During this time, I met him.

Do the other members of the society also have family relations with Georgia?
Not necessarily. We really aren’t a diaspora club or community. What connects us is the interest in Georgian culture, for instance, in the long history, the language or the Polyphone music. We want to bring those people together.

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“Friends of Georgia” supports the exchange between Switzerland and Georgia, Photo courtesy: Mirjam Wenger

Are there any other goals that the society pursues other than connect Georgian-lovers with each other?
We also try to make Georgia and its culture better known to the Swiss people. For this, we organize and promote events such as concerts or literature and film evenings. But we also support exchanges between Switzerland and Georgia.

How exactly?
It is not the society itself, but the members who organize exchange projects with the support of the society. For example the former president enables a couple of Georgian high school students to come to Switzerland every year, where they live with a host family and go to a Swiss high school.

What was the reason that the society was funded 30 years ago in Switzerland?
Back then, there were only very few people who knew Georgia and were interested in the country. So at some point – as they were already bouncing in into each other every now and then – those people decided to get organized in a kind of umbrella organization. Today, there are six people on the society’s board and we have 150 members.

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The president of the society loves Georgian mountains, Photo courtesy: www.apa.gov.ge

Do Swiss people know more about Georgia these days?
I think one year ago Georgia was still strange and unknown to most people in Switzerland. There were some insiders who appreciated Georgia as a place to travel, but they were only a few. However, after the book fair in Frankfurt were Georgia was the host country, the perception has changed. Also, because the media reported a lot about it. Furthermore, Georgian wine gets slightly more known in Switzerland as it is the host country at the Swiss wine fair called Expovina.

In your opinion, what could Swiss people learn from Georgia?
I admire how families, friends and even neighbors help and support each other when times are hard. Furthermore, I think most Georgians are very open-minded. Thus, they are open to new technologies such as mobile banking, cashless payment or getting in touch with authorities by the help of online contact forms. In this regard, Georgians are ahead of the Swiss.

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A holy place Mirjam Wenger loves to visit in Georgia: David Gareja monastery, Photo courtesy: Visit Georgia

And what can Georgia adapt from Switzerland?
The dual education system that combines apprenticeships in a company with a vocational education at a vocational school. Thanks to that system not everybody needs to go to university, but can learn a profession in a way that has a high practical relevance. It would be good if the Georgian government invested more in the education of professionals.

Finally, which is your favorite destination in Georgia?
Clearly the David Gareja monastery complex that is located in the half-desert. For me this is a holy place. And of course the Caucasian Mountains!

Related stories:

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First Georgian restaurant opened in Switzerland

Unknown medieval monastery ruins discovered in Georgia

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