“Do not just Wait to Be Invited to European Club”
14 November, 2013
“Do not just Wait to Be Invited to European Club”

Exclusive interview with Priit Turk, Ambassador of Estonia to Georgia

This is Estonia – the second Baltic country whose ambassador we have managed to interview. His Excellency Priit Turk is the Ambassador to Georgia. It is his second mission, but first as ambassador. He is the youngest of ambassadors accredited in our country. We talked about politics, and also culture, with the recent premier of the Georgian-Estonian co-production “Tangerines”. The film shows well that they were real peacemakers and even

saved the lives of many thanks to their impartiality.


For Estonians, as they were not for or against anybody, what mattered most were human beings.
The movie “Tangerines” emphasizes even with the title that they have no bombs, and tangerines are the only fruits that make them stay, as they fear for the harvest. It was assessed by some Georgian critics as a masterpiece. So our friendship started quite a long time ago, was reaffirmed in the early 1990s, and is still on in the form of the active support of Estonia for Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
G.J: Lately the premier of the joint Georgian-Estonian movie “Tangerines” took place in Tbilisi. Did the same happen in Estonia too? If it did, was it a success?
P.T: The film is a dedication also to those Estonians who came to live in Abkhazia around 130 years ago. At peak times there were around a few thousand Estonians living in Abkhazia, but the last big group fled to their historic home country during the Georgian Civil War, and now there are very few left in Abkhazia. They did not participate in military actions. To the contrary – they still keep very nice stories of both Georgians and Abkhazians, how they helped them, fed them, gave them shelter, etc., irrespective of their nationality. The film premier also took place in Estonia on 30th of October with a very positive feedback, and more than 10,000 people went to see it during the first week. As this co-production has been such a success, there are many more ideas for future projects. Let’s see.
G.J: Now - on the politics. Did you expect that the elections would be held so peacefully?
P.T: Actually, I did so. Already with the parliamentary elections of 2012 Georgia made, hopefully unchangeably, a clear jump towards a democratic society. The latest elections just confirmed that democratic elections have become a normal part of Georgian society. This time also the preparations were conducted in a free and constructive atmosphere, where all candidates could participate equally. Trust of the election procedure among competitors as well as among voters has increased considerably. As important has been the post-election period, when the winner was rather quickly congratulated by other candidates. It shows that society is more mature, and transforming power through elections is an integral part of this society. These were truly European elections and were of course assessed very positively from the European side. Now what matters is how the coalition and opposition will work together, especially as the role of parliament will increase after the new constitution takes effect. The results showed clear support for Margvelashvili (62.1%), but it also showed that there are other views too (Bakradze got 22% and Burjanadze 10% ), which is normal and even needed for a democratic society.
G.J: Do you agree that participation was quite low, and if so, what were the main reasons?
P.T: After a year of a political co-habitation period maybe people are a bit tired of political rhetoric, and want to focus on solving their everyday problems. Also, maybe one of the factors was that the campaigning was not as intense and the confrontation was not sharp as in 2012, and people considered that Margvelashvili would win without their participation. But I think that the rate is nothing abnormal and I hope that for local elections it will be higher again. Also in Estonia, we have had such rates.
G.J: What will change under the governance of the new political players?
P.T: I believe there will not be changes in foreign policy priorities as both major political forces are for integration with European Union and NATO. There is also a clear mandate from the public to continue towards the European Union, towards NATO. The Estonian government continues of course to support politically as well as practically your government’s commitment in this regard. Georgia might face a challenging period from initialing the association agreement to signing it - hopefully next autumn. It is crucial that the coalition and opposition support and work together for this course.
The main challenge for the government seems to be reviving the economic situation and increasing again confidence among investors.
G.J: Of course, there is vigorous public support for EU and NATO, but still there are a lot of questions among the people. In this regard, isn’t the role of media also very crucial?
P.T: It’s not the government integrating with Europe. It’s the whole society - all people, young and old, the private sector, civil society, media etc. We all should be more active in explaining to ordinary people - from the government side, from the NGO side, from the media side and from the EU side - what it is all about and what will change in their everyday lives after joining the EU. We, the embassy, are also ready from our side to share the Estonian experience and to cooperate with NGOs, media, schools etc. I personally have been talking about it in schools and universities, as I think we all have to work together to inform the people as much as possible. Moving towards EU can trigger a change in society, lift living standards. It also means new business opportunities. They are all there but without doubt it is not that easy. There is necessity for many reforms, for capacity building in Georgia, awareness-raising, etc. Media has a crucial role of course. (Georgian Journal expressed readiness to meet again on the integration issues, and received the consent.)Also, these elections were one big step forward, but there is still much to be done to reach the signing and ratification of the association agreement. To this end, Georgia’s impressive achievements regarding democratic development, rule of law and good governance have to continue.
G.J: What about the news … restricted power of the president, more power to the Prime Minister, almost no need for cohabitation? How are they going to be reflected in Georgian development?
P.T: This is a clear step to parliamentarianism. The matter of how the ruling coalition and the opposition will collaborate is crucial. Georgia will be a parliamentarian republic, like Estonia. I expect that more substantive political decisions are made in parliament; policy-creating and developing laws should be done more and more inside the legislative body. As for the cohabitation, Georgia’s leadership has been in my view too focused on it, and it also affected the image of the country. It is good that it is over. Now, the situation is quite different when Prime Minister and President are from the same party; even so, the president of course is expected to be president of all Georgians. On the other hand, the role of the opposition is important; both sides are needed for healthy debate. There will be different opinions, hot discussions. As I said, they have one thing in common – the European aspiration, and I think it should be like a driving force for them to achieve common understanding and to find solutions together, instead of focusing on differences. That has happened in Estonia. We have always had coalition governments in Estonia, and parties moving from opposition to coalition and back again, but national interest, the goal of EU integration, was kept always above all.
G.J: How interesting is it for you to work in this period of time in Georgia?
P.T: Extremely interesting. We have good and active relations in almost every field. It is not only the political level. We have, as mentioned above, very good cultural links and exchange. Recently we organized together with the US Embassy, your Ministry of Internal Affairs and the IOM a conference on domestic violence, which was the end of a year-long cooperation on the issue. There is also intense cooperation on cyber-crime issues, vocational training, business skills training, etc. We focus more and more of our support on youngsters, as they are the source for the future of the country but at the same time they are very vulnerable. What inspires us is that Georgians are very eager to learn, to change.
G.J: As far as we know, you met the newly elected President. Please tell us about it in few words.
P.T: It was more of a courtesy meeting – congratulating him on his victory, to assure again our support to Georgia. We also discussed what we can do to help Georgia to move faster towards Europe.
G.J: The issue of Russia … Some steps were taken by the Georgian side. What is your opinion?
P.T: A step-by-step approach is good and the will of Georgia to improve relations with your northern neighbor is a positive approach. Of course, there are many very difficult issues between the two countries which cannot be avoided. We have learned in Estonia that the expectations regarding bilateral relations with this neighbor should never be too high. But it does not mean that you should not show your positive readiness.
G.J: Will not Russia be a hampering factor to our joining NATO and EU?
P.T: Nobody believed in early 1990s that we, the three Baltic countries, members of the former Soviet Union, would join NATO and EU. But the world is changing. So, the key here is to never stop and continue to work to reach your international goals. You should not wait until a club invites you to join it, but it is you who has to make the club want to have you in.

 

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