POLITICS
"What else should be done by Georgia to get NATO membership?"
24 March, 2017
Last week, the Foreign Minister of Hungary, Péter Szijjártó, visited Georgia to bolster the bilateral relations between the two countries and prepare the stage for PM Orban’s visit in April. In an exclusive interview with GEORGIA TODAY, the FM started off by highlighting the importance of mutual economic cooperation and trade, stating that they want to raise the level of economic ties to the level of political relations.

“We started by opening a EUR 85,000 million credit line from the
Hungarian Exim Bank to facilitate business to business, company to company partnership. We identified several flagship areas of cooperation, including water management- a leading Hungarian water management company is cooperating with the United Water Supply Company of Georgia. Hopefully, this cooperation will see the Hungarian side assuming operational control in several municipalities, for example, now we’re running in a tender for Kutaisi, where we already have a Hungarian presence. Wizzair has become a focal point in fostering bilateral travel- the amount of visa applications has risen nine times since the flight was introduced. Agriculture, food industry technologies, sports infrastructure – we’ll be building a stadium in Batumi - the pharmaceutical industry, where we already have 25 million worth of annual export and, finally, forestry, where Hungarian companies take part in modernizing the sector according to European Union standards.

Wine is one of Hungary’s specialty export items. In that respect, what’s your take on Georgian wine’s prospects on the European market?


I’ve already seen Georgian wine on the Hungarian market. I’ve not tasted it – I’ve never drunk alcohol in my life, so I can be an impartial judge in this. I think the best solution for Georgian wine would be to focus on quality, not quantity, just like we Hungarians do. The unique qualities of Georgian wine will be best suited to a niche market.

Nowadays, the first notion that comes to mind when speaking about Hungary is how hardline you are on migration issues. With visa liberalization fast approaching Georgia, a Hungarian perspective on migration would be interesting for our readers.


We made it very clear that entering the territory of our country is only acceptable if it’s legal. We can never accept anyone entering our territories illegally. We don’t like the European approach of encouraging people to travel vast distances illegally and violate a series of borders. We don’t think it should be a European policy. Our approach would be to help these people stay in the nearby safe, peaceful territories so that they can return when the conflict is over. That’s why our proposal has always been to give every kind of support to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and so on, so that they can take care of the refugees. Still, it’s not like the border entries are closed – they are open, and if somebody wants to come to Hungary, they can do it according to the regulations. So, instead of a hypocritical and politically correct approach to this issue, we merely urge them to be realistic, more honest and more straightforward.

Other criticism that Hungary has to bear from the international community lately revolves around its somewhat liberal and sympathetic stance towards Russia. How does cooperation with Russia work – any Hungarian know-how for Georgians?


We are central Europeans – we can’t afford not to talk with Russia. So, we are opting for a transparent and pragmatic relationship. And here again we have call out some of our criticizers for double standards and hypocrisy. We never criticized the fact that Germany bought a record high amount of Gas from Russia last year. We were very shocked by the fact that the Western European companies are dealing with Gazprom to build Nordstream 2 together. The European Commission has apparently no say on that; while at the same time they killed the South Stream project in which several Central and South East European countries would have been involved. Last summer, when I was in Saint Petersburg attending an economic forum, I saw many people speaking German than Russian there, and lo and behold, Italian Prime Minister Renzi took to the stage with presidents Putin and Nazarbayev. And I could go on listing many more such occurrences, yet we get criticized and called Pro-Russian!? That’s just double standards and is unacceptable.

There is also the matter of sanctions. Budapest doesn’t seem very fond of them.


We think sanctions are an unsuccessful policy, both economically and politically. Economically, it brought more troubles to Europe than to Russia. Politically, it fell short of its target to make Russia comply with the Minsk Agreement. It didn’t work out, so what should be done? First, we should discuss, at the level of heads of states, the impact, expectations and future strategy. The first stage is evaluation and the second is what to do. The latter cannot come before the former.

But even if there is an economic trade-off, don’t you think it’s worth it? What other leverage does the EU have over Russia?

That’s a good question. Whatever happened in Ukraine is very bad, and it should be handled competently, but we don’t think sanctions are the right solution to this. What is the right solution? Well, we cannot say that before we discuss the current situation over sanctions. Unfortunately, the politically correct consensus at Brussels seems that if you mention the impact of sanctions, if you say they were unsuccessful, you’re labeled pro-Russian.

What about complex relations between Russia and Georgia? What’s Hungary’s stance on this?


We have been always very vocal and involved in that regard. The territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia must be respected. International law is for everyone, regardless of size, GDP or strength… How can we help Georgia towards stability and progress? I think through EU and NATO integration. If there was a very vocal, very loud country in favor of granting Georgia the visa waiver, then that was Hungary. We pushed for it like no-one else and we were very frustrated when, after fulfilling all the requirements at least a year ago, new preconditions were set. On the other hand, regarding NATO: you have 870 troops in Afghanistan, you’re the largest non-member contributor, you’ve participated in every mission – what else should be done by Georgia to get NATO membership? What else?

Would it be fair to assume that Budapest believes that after the integration of the Balkans, on which there seems to be a loose consensus in Brussels, it should be Georgia and Ukraine’s turn?


I think it’s equally important to accelerate both processes. Realistically, though you should be next, sadly, in Europe now there is no will for enlargement. It’s a case of enlargement fatigue because of all these crises we’ve been facing: instead of looking beyond the horizon, everybody is dealing with daily issues. And I think that we might have forgotten the fact that the more we are, the stronger we are and I think that with Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership integrated, Europe would be a much safer place than it is now. We are in the minority in this position but still, this is what we believe and we’re not going to give it up. That’s why we’re pushing very hard for Montenegro’s and Macedonia’s membership and for Georgia’s MAP too, because we don’t see what else it should do to deserve it and receive it. When we speak about enlargement, be it NATO or the EU, we say that the membership of Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries (those who aspire to join, of course) must be put into consideration. I think we understand the importance of it a little bit better than Western European countries, which is largely a matter of history and geography. So, instead of slowing down and over-bureaucratizing this integration process, we should be accelerating it. It’s even a credibility issue for us. I remember last time, when I had an opportunity to chat with FM of Turkey, Mevlut Cavusoglu, he told me that, even if all those complicated issues between Brussels and Ankara where dealt with, which would require quite huge efforts, there were no assurances of them getting visa free access. He brought Ukraine and Georgia as an example as to how the visa liberalization process was dragged out– the way Brussels handled this process is the way that ends up in its losing credibility.

Since you mentioned Cavusoglu, what did you make of his prophecy after the recent spat with The Netherlands that there will soon be religious wars in Europe?


It’s a sensitive issue. It’s very strange to see such a conflict appearing between two NATO allies. When it comes to religions though, we are a Christian country. And we think that Christianity now is the most persecuted religion in the world. Statistics show that. Thousands of people are deprived of their lives because they are Christians. We should not be shy to speak out about it. Who would support and protect Christians if not the Christians? And frankly, I’m really fed up with the approach that whenever I speak about this in the European Union, we always end up talking about protecting the rights of [other] religious minorities. Sure, they are important and should be protected, but if I were to say protect Christian minorities, I shouldn’t be shamed and criticized for saying it. Speak about religious minorities? Very important, but as a Christian – speaking about the protection of Christians is more important, for me, as a Christian. But anyway, I very much hope there won’t be any religious wars in Europe. I think everyone has to respect that Europe is a Christian continent, but Christianity doesn’t tolerate any anti-something policies, so Christianity must not be anti-muslim or anti-anything else, for that matter. And I think that history has proven that a goodwill approach enables for major religions to live together in peace, but I think everyone has to admit that Europe is a Christian continent by history, and we have to be strong in our values because if we don’t respect our own values, own roots and own history, how can we learn to respect somebody else’s? So when I say that I’m proud to be Christian and I’d like to protect Christianity in Europe, I’m not saying that I’m against something else.

By Vazha Tavberidze

Source: Georgia Today
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