Advice Based on Swiss Experience
12 July, 2012
Advice Based on Swiss Experience

Interview with Guenther Baechler, Ambassador of Swiss Confederation in Georgia

His Excellency Guenther Baechler comes from the cold part of the Western Europe. The full name of this country is Swiss Confederation. A lot of people say that its mountains resemble ours. Let’s see what this politician who comes from the most moderate country of the world, recommends our Administration.  Most probably, he is the most sporting ambassador I have interviewed so far, as he goes jogging every day. Apart from

the similar mountains, it transpires from Mr. Baechler’s story that Swiss people are like Georgians in terms of great devotion to their motherland and to their friends and relatives – Mr. ambassador talks via skype to his wife and daughter for 1-2 hours per day and reads Swiss newspapers every morning in his I-pad. This must be the Swiss patriotism.   

 

G.J: When did you arrive in Georgia?

G.B: I arrived on September 1, 2010 – thus, almost 2 years ago.

G.J: What were your fist impressions of Georgia?

G.B: As I remember, I arrived during a very hot summer day; coming from cold Western Europe I immediately started to enjoy it. However, what impressed me most at the beginning, was the dynamic style of the car drivers in Tbilisi; I got the impression that some of them must have a license to kill peaceful pedestrians.

G.J: What can you say – as a private person – about the country in general?

G.B: A small country with a great variety of landscapes and eco-zones, with a rich and diverse culture and with a noticeable plurality of ethnos, languages, customs and beliefs – that’s what I like most – maybe because I am from a country with comparable traits and varieties.

G.J: How do you like the Georgian cuisine – in particular in comparison with the cuisine of those countries you have visited or the cuisine of your own country?

G.B: During winter time I definitely adhere to the Indian cuisine, whereas in hot summer days I prefer Georgian supra. You must know that I spent three years in Nepal. Due to the rich and spicy Indian style of meals I enjoyed in Kathmandu or the high Himalaya, I always felt good, strong, and healthy – and I did not eat much meat during those years. In Switzerland basically you have the choice between two types of food: the traditional one stemming from the rural and mountainous areas. Although it is quite tasty (cheese fondue; “rosti”, raclette, backed ham, etc.) it is far too heavy and fatty for an urban dweller. Hence, there is the light “modern cuisine” which is of a great variety and influenced by different cultures. In your country I love the big variety of salads, the countless choice of first dishes with nuts, eggplants, wine leaves and the like as well as, of course, the tasty Georgian potatoes; I must admit, that particularly, I love “chicken chkhmeruli” – although not prior  an official meeting…

G.J:  Which is your favorite sphere of Georgian culture and art?

G.B: It is hard to make up a priority list. It depends on the specific event as well as the artists you have in mind. Personally, I feel very much attracted to modern visual art; this has to do with my first education at the Art Academy in Basel. Having said this, I must mention the Georgian “voice” as well: singing in a group or a choir is so deeply rooted in your culture; I would wish to bring more of this to Switzerland.

G.J: Who are your favorite writers and painters  in Georgia?

G.B: Historically speaking, I admire very much Shota Rustaveli as a poet and Helene Akhvlediani as a painter. ‘The Man in the Panther’s Skin” is just an extraordinary work and it is hard to compare it with any other work. The house museum of Helene is one of the most inspiring places and spaces I had ever known. Of course, I like a lot of contemporary Georgian artists as well. E.g., I regularly organize art exhibitions of Georgian painters in my residence. I just had a “Finissage cum reception” (closing of the exhibition with reception) with six artists and about 75 of their paintings. And I spend a lot of evenings at Rusiko Petviashvili’s art cafe on top of Sololaki, where I meet a lot of Georgian friends and artists; you should definitely join me one day.

G.J: How does your everyday schedule look like? Please tell us more about your ordinary day in Tbilisi.

G.B: Actually, an ordinary day can be quite long indeed: it may last from 6:30 in the morning till late night. I may start the day with jogging from my residence in Vake up the Turtle Lake and back. After a long shower, I normally enjoy a good breakfast along with reading the Swiss Newspapers on my i-pad. Then I start my office hours with the meeting with my assistant. Since I introduced “open doors policy”,  all my staff can meet me any time to discuss matters. During the morning I prefer to work quietly in order to write a report, to read articles and analyses or do my e-mails. As a rule, I only take a light lunch – muesli or chocolate – with a strong coffee before I start the marathon of afternoon meetings at the Embassy or downtown. Most of the evenings are taken by dinners, receptions, concerts, cultural activities and so on. When I come home, I “skype” with my wife or my daughter or both – sometimes for an hour or two. Once or twice a week I try to travel to different districts of Georgia in order to learn more about the country as a whole. If I go to bed very late – say, at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning (thanks to watching a TV drama or zapping the news channels) I skip the Turtle Lake the next morning; instead I go jogging in the evening in the old hippodrome.

G.J: How do the weekends differ from your working days during the week?

G.B: Oh, they differ very much! I try to avoid serious work during weekends. I did this during my academic career before I joined the diplomatic service. I think it’s not healthy at all and not interesting either. I reserve the weekends for reading books, listening to the music, inviting friends, and the like. I like to take a trip from Batumi to Vashlovani and from Bolnisi to Stepandsminda,-  visiting historic sites, enjoying the wonderful nature.

G.J: What is your most favorite pastime in Georgia?

G.B: Hiking, skiing, and swimming belong to some of my favorite outdoor activities. At the same time, I hate fitness centers and small swimming pools. After many years of personal training and self-discipline I try to follow an ancient Latin wisdom: “Mens sana in corpore sano!” Sometimes, a glass of natural kvevri (Georgian national wine vessel) wine from Kakheti may facilitate the wisdom to come true.

G.J: Let’s talk about Georgian political culture. What are its main vices and what would your recommendations be?

G.B: In my country the most important aspects of political culture are: dialogues, negotiations, debates, and compromise and consent – constantly and permanently, based on broad participation of parties and public at large. Secondly, the institutionalization of political processes and procedures is extremely important in order to avoid polarization and personalization. The democratic institutions are quite stable – even a very undemocratic politician would not be able to crack them. As of Georgia, I have one request: do not behave like enemies! A political opponent is not an enemy. Accept different opinions in the media, at the workplace, at the parliament, during political seminars. Do not dismiss a person because of the expression of an individual opinion; it is not only immoral but it is an expression of political weakness, not of strength.

G.J: What is your opinion about Georgian media?

G.B: What do you like to hear? Yours is the best.

G.J: Please, say a few words about Georgian penitential system.

G.B: Luckily, I don’t know it from inside. Seriously, I think the authorities try to improve as much as they can. From many different and independent reports – including the reports of the Ombudsman – we all know about still existing shortcomings that should be overcome: healthcare conditions, big number of prisoners, reintegration, resorting to physical violence, etc.

G.J: What should the Georgian authorities do first and foremost in order to develop the country in the right direction?

G.B: Well, I think the chosen direction is perfectly right: uphill, towards the West. However, growth without development is not going to lead to sustainable structures in the long run. Just take the agricultural sector: we learned from the experiences around the globe that sound rural development can only be achieved employing the local people. It is a small-scale farmer who is well trained, who has access to resources, credits, and markets that is going to establish food security at a national and consequently, global scale. Only environmentally sound, resource-sensitive (if not organic) farming methods are going to guarantee high productivity and prosperity in the long run. Georgia is well advised to look deeper into the matter and avoid mistakes of others – including European friends – who have suffered many years ago or still do.

G.J: Have you heard of the event, recently organized by the Georgian Journal, which was called “the Ambassador of the Year”? What is your opinion about it?

G.B: I really don’t know who of us deserves it most. I do hope that this year the nominee will be “une ambassadrice”!

 

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