Diplomacy And Business Together
19 July, 2012
Diplomacy And Business Together

 

Interview with Honorary Consul General of the Kingdom of Denmark

He is one of the longest-serving Honorary Consuls of Georgia. He arrived 13 years ago in Georgia. Don’t miss this article, as he is going to be one of the most interesting respondents among the Diplomats. The Kingdom of Denmark has no ambassador stationed in Georgia - the Embassy handling Georgia is located in Kiev.  However, we have the Honorary Consul General Mr. Esben Emborg here; at the same time, he is

one of the youngest among the diplomats as well. Stay with us and you’ll learn more about him.

G.J:  It happened quite a long time ago. How did you actually end up in Georgia?

E.E: Yes, indeed. It was 13 years ago, in 1999, but time has passed so quickly that it does not feel that it was a long time ago; though I guess, I have been here for a long time. I came with a private corporate business. I worked for the now British cooperation called Cadbury, Schweppes, Adams. They bought a Danish company called Dandy Chewing Gum. As a consumer you would not recognize the company name as the brands like Dirol, for example. After several years I moved to Nestle, I was the Director General for Nestle in the region for about 7 years. After Nestle, I changed job and started working for investment funds and that is what I do now. The company is called SEAF (Small Enterprise Assistance Fund); it is a Washington-based fund managing firm that operates about 30 funds over the world  primarily in transition economies and emerging markets. We have two funds in this region – one in Georgia, (Georgian Regional Development Fund GRDF) and one Caucasus-based investment fund - Caucasus Growth Fund CGF. My job has changed quite a lot from working with big corporate companies, to investing in small and medium enterprises in Georgia. It is a very exciting job and I am very happy that I have been able to practice it in my career as well. I am seriously committed to what I usually do so I have always been closely concerned with Georgia apart from my regular job. For some time I was the President of Amcham (American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia); I am still actively engaged there -  I have been its board member for many years.

G.J: This may sound an awkward question but is it allowed to be a Consul and a businessman at the same time?

E.E:  On the contrary, my government expects me to be actively engaged in business because an honorary Consul or Consul General does not get paid for his job. The honorary position means that it is pro bona. In fact I am appointed by the Queen, not the Foreign Ministry. Naturally, I keep daily contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but I am not hired as a regular, paid career diplomat and consequently, they expect me to have a job. I am free to do business.

G.J:  Let’s talk about your office duties. How do they differ from the ones of an Ambassador, who is accredited to the country?

E.E: They’re quite different. First of all, my office is not an Embassy. We don’t deal with visas, or political issues. Basically, what an Honorary Consul is supposed to do is to strengthen the relations between his host country and the country he or she represents. For example, we seek to establish commercial or cultural relations. I promote Georgia as good place for Danish companies to do business and also for Georgian business or goods to enter Danish market. From time to time I work with the Georgian Embassy in Copenhagen and vice versa. I have other function as well: I assist my compatriots if Danish people come to Georgia and they get into trouble; if they lose their documents, for example. Or they get involved in the accident or need help in general – as a rule,  in the summer we have many tourists and family reunions. Actually, there are quite a few Danes who have married Georgians. An interesting observation is that it is mostly Danish men marrying Georgian women and not the other way around! I will leave it up to others to speculate why it happens that way. Currently, we are about 35 Danes residing in Georgia. So, it is still a small community but it’s growing.

G.J: What do the Danes living in Georgia do?

E.E: We have different types of Danes. We have Danes who work and live here for a long term, like me and my wife. Then we have Danes who come here on a mission. We have Danes in EUMM (European Union Monitoring Mission). Hopefully, we will also have some Danish observers for the elections. We also have Danes working in different NGOs, Red Cross, UNDP and other places. We have Danes who come under contracts; for instance, civil engineering and then we have the business people who come and go and we have tourists, whose number is growing.

G.J:  What can you say about your family?

E.E: I live here with my family. My wife and I have two kids. Our youngest is Isabella, a girl of 6 and our oldest is a boy named Sebastian, who is 8. They go to school here and enjoy Georgia a lot. They are getting quite a lot of attention because they are blond and fair – looking like typical Scandinavians. Even though I have dark hair (red grey) they look quite a bit like both of us. The school they attend is an international school but naturally, they have a lot of Georgian friends. They speak a little bit Georgian but mostly they communicate in English or Danish. My wife Charlotte is Danish. She joined me just a year after I moved here so she has also been here for a long time. She is also actively involved in Georgian affairs so we have been in touch with many people over the years. She also works full time and has done so ever since she came to join me. Now she works for Batumi Oil Terminal here in Tbilisi.

G.J: Have you learnt some Georgian?

E.E: Yes, some; but I feel most comfortable listening. I can get by with my broken Georgian. Actually, my Russian is better because I have always worked in the Caucasus region and for me it has always been more useful to practice Russian and easier than learning three languages. Russian is a useful language - when we talk to people from other east European markets and we have a lot of contacts with them. All in all it makes more sense but I often regret that I didn’t spend more energy learning Georgian. Who knows, it is never too late.

G.J: You must be one of the best observers of the ongoing processes in Georgia as you have a long experience of living here and being a foreigner, you are an objective assessor of events. What are your observations - how is our country evolving?

E.E: Sometimes we forget and especially Georgians forget, how much this country has changed. Since I came in 1999, the progress and change has been remarkable. The country has changed so much. I think we are inclined to forget it. For some reason our memory does not go far back; it is difficult for us to remember how things were, for example, 2 years ago; so we compare everything to a more recent past, which is not really fair as many things take longer to change. If you had asked any other nation of the world to go through such a transition in such a short time, everybody would have told you that it was impossible. But Georgia did it anyway. I think it should get a lot of credit for that. And Georgia is getting credit internationally; at least that’s what I hear from the people who hold senior positions in foreign missions or in NGO’s. It’s very seldom that people are not amazed by  your progress. Actually, things are not only black and white and Georgia still has problems to be solved. There is more focus on the things that still need to improve than the other way  round, that is the nature of the process. Georgians are critical and impatient and I think they should be. For many years there was no progress and now finally the way is paved for a better life for an average Georgina. I get pretty critical when I talk about my own country too. I understand that your expectation as a nation is different because it’s sometimes difficult to stand back and look at your country objectively. There is a tendency to get very emotional when you are talking about your own country. Therefore, many Georgians don’t give enough credit to the progress that Georgia has achieved over the last years; at least after the Rose Revolution the changes have been quite significant.

G.J: They take it for granted – everything that’s positive.

E.E: It’s to some extend a human nature. We always seem to be looking for the things that don’t work. Maybe this is not always right but I think it’s important to remember that all foreign missions here try to improve the conditions in Georgia – politically, economically, etc. Over the years there has been a significant flow - in of knowhow and support; through the people on-site, embassies, missions, money, loans, grants, etc. from the EU, the USA, the Americas, and Asia as well. Probably, I even forgot some of them. It wouldn’t have been done if there was no great support for the development of Georgia in the right direction. That is why there are so many diplomats in Georgia compared to its size. The world cares about Georgia and now it is the task for Georgia to develop the points that still need to be handled. The job of the diplomats working here is to bring countries together, not to make them go apart.

G.J: Like the Swedish ambassador said, it is unlike the old-fashioned opinion about the diplomats, who only had to go to the cocktail parties. Before coming to Georgia, her mission was in Afghanistan where she realized that it is a hard job. I think that it is difficult to be expressive but at the same time never lose the manner of behavior, which is called diplomacy.

E.E:  Well, I am not an ambassador, but what I can say is that in the capacity of a Consul General I meet a lot of diplomats and ambassadors. I think the Swedish Ambassador is right. It is hard work and not always easy to balance it. I guess it is about guidance in a constructive way to help Georgia move forward. I have great faith in the Diplomatic corps in general. The people who have been, and are currently posted  here, are very knowledgeable and capable; they’re  very smart.

G.J: As a rule, they are not very young.

E.E: We have a very interesting diplomatic corps in Tbilisi. I think they are younger (or young at heart). It is definitely a very interesting group of people who are active and interested in moving around in Georgia, assessing the country. Many are in their early careers but they are very smart and energetic, a bit like the Georgian government.

G.J: Maybe it is our general problem because our government focuses on young people and neglects others, when middle aged must be the best age for work?

E.E:  It seems the dilemma for the government. They have spent and still need a lot of energy to get rid of all these remnants of the Soviet Union. And that’s done by young,  energetic, new people. I think everyone understands that the young people haven’t got so much experience compared to older people but it’s a dilemma and they have to choose what is more important. But now it’s time to build the institutions within the government. Your new Prime Minister came to politics in 1999 as I remember; he was very young but now he is a seasoned politician with a lot of institutional knowledge. I think that’s it. Rome was not built in one day. There are many other politicians including former Prime Minister Nika Gilauri, who has been in politics since the very beginning. You see more and more people in the government who have over the years developed a much more sophisticated understanding of governance. Were mistakes made on the way? Of course, and still will be. But that does not affect the fact that their work has been successful. What the diplomatic missions are trying to do is that they’re trying to somehow remedy and guide the things that were not completely overcome on this incredibly fast journey. They will support Georgia’s movement in the right direction and adhering to the same principles and values as the western world does. There is still a lot of work to do and who would work 365 days a year, 7 days a week and 24 hours a day, other than energetic, idealistic and visionary young people?  It rubs off on your job too; at least, I feel it. Basically, I am always at work. Even if you are having dinner, you are somehow doing your work.

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

E.E: I enjoy that you are always in contact with culture here. There is always some singing or some exhibition - there is a lot of stuff going on. I like some Georgian paintings and there is a lot of interesting contemporary art. We have collected paintings, icons and long time ago I started a collection of Caucasian carpets. I have quite a lot of them. I enjoy it. My wife is not as thrilled by it as I am; she is sometimes complaining about the abundance of carpets I have. We don’t know where to put them. Now I am talking to a museum and maybe I will make an exhibition if they are interesting enough. I think it will be interesting instead of keeping them in the corner of my house to display them for people to see them.

G.J:  What is your favorite Georgian dish?

E.E: Oh, I like Khinkali on special occasions. My kids are crazy about it.

G.J: What’s your favorite pastime here?

E.E: I try to do something which has absolutely nothing to do with my work. I enjoy life outside Tbilisi. I love to go to regions for hiking, camping, skiing. Georgia has a wonderful nature. Unfortunately, we have not much time for that. We try to get back to Denmark on holiday, on Christmas. But our family members  are scattered all over the world. Still, we try to get together with my brother and his family and my wife’s family.

G.J: What can you say about the Georgian political culture and its course?

E.E: If you compare it to the western European countries including Denmark, it is still young, of cause. The next years’ Parliamentary and Presidential elections will testify how the development is moving ahead. It has been said so many times that it is important for Georgia to show that it is unerringly on the right track.

G.J: What do you think about the Georgian media?

E.E: I must be careful because I am talking with a journalist. Anyone who has been interviewed for a newspaper or a television; at least, whom I know, they all say that the level of journalism is something to be desired.  I would like to see more professionalism, and also some higher ethical norms, while conducting interviews. There is definitely room for improvement. But you see good journalists as well; so there is a hope. As journalists, you are supposed to research, check your sources, etc. I have done interviews with foreign press; for instance, in Denmark, and I was equally frustrated. It’s not the problem of Georgia but it concerns the media in general. There is a tendency to look for the controversial story and portray it as a public opinion. The current political situation is a good example – there are polls and so called public opinions and they don’t coincide very often.

G.J:  What is your opinion of judiciary and penitentiary system?

E.E: I don’t know the details. But there are ongoing reforms. I can tell you one thing: in the correction system in my country they resort to great efforts to help people who happen to be on the wrong side of the law and put them back to the right side. We try to keep first time minor offenders out of jail because it is not a good environment for anyone to be in. Nordic countries are often criticized for our  jails being more comfortable than hotels but the main idea is to get them back on the right track. If you put a guy who has stolen a mobile phone with hardened criminals, he will face a high risk of finding himself in a worse position when he is released.  We try to keep minor offenders away from hardened offenders. Maybe, it is a matter of resources that may not be available so far in Georgia. Some of us make mistakes when we are young but I don’t think they must follow us for the rest of our lives. In Denmark we try not to send minor offenders to jail, we give them a warning and tell them, if they do it again, they will be sent to jail. To some people it sounds naive. Maybe one country is more apt than another; they just have different cultures. Judiciary is still under reform here and that is a positive tendency. An independent and fair judiciary is the most important thing for businesses operating in Georgia. I frequently hear this from the investors. The general terms of tax and legislation, registration, licenses, etc. are already favorable. Those are the hard facts that you meet almost on a daily basis. Hopefully, judiciary is something you never deal with as a business; so the reputation is all you can go by as an investor and that needs to be impeccable to attract the big money.

G.J: What do you think of the event organized by Georgian Journal, which was called “Ambassador of the Year” at the end of 2012?

E.E: Honestly, I have never understood how can you judge the work of Diplomats in Georgia. Most of what they do is not public. Perhaps, it would be more fair to give this award according to some lighter credits, like: the ambassador who best promoted his/her country’s culture in Georgia or who celebrated the best National Day of the year, or the one who was actively involved in charity; or how about the most smiling diplomat of the year :)?

 

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