‘Georgian and German Cultural Mentalities Are Very Close to Each Other’
12 January, 2012
‘Georgian and German Cultural  Mentalities Are Very Close to Each Other’

Exclusive interview with H.E. Mr. Ortwin Henning, Ambassador of Germany in Georgia

This is Germany that we are hosting today, one of the greatest and most important countries of Western Europe. Only the fact that German is an official language in seven countries denotes its significance. Germany and Georgia have close political and cultural interchange. Follow us and find out what Mr. Hennig thinks about his host country.



G.J: We - Germans and Georgians – are somehow connected with our

past history. Our previous president Shevardnadze was one who had played a vital part in uniting our country. Maybe because of this, all Germans know about Georgia and they know it better than other Europeans.


O.H: For Germans, Georgia is not only Shevardnadze’s country, although it’s true that he is very popular with Germans because he was instrumental in getting Germany united again. Germans will never forget his contribution. But Germans have been in touch with Georgia and Georgians for quite some time already: our cultural, scientific, literary exchanges go back to the times of your last kings, long before we had diplomatic relations. Transcaucasia and especially Georgia has always been a study of interest for Germans, and vice-versa.. We have a very interesting story of German immigration to Georgia, starting in the early 19th century… You can still find the traces of early German settlers in Tbilisi, Bolnisi, Asureti, and other places.
G.J: What can you say about Georgia as a person and as a diplomat?


O.H: Georgia is a country that is easy to get into; it is open-minded and it has many young educated, smart people as its main resource to cope with the challenges of the 21st century. A country that, rightly so, is back on its way to Europe. Europe, historically and culturally, is very visible when you walk the streets of any of Georgian cities; and when you travel in the countryside you come across Georgia’s rich cultural and religious heritage, reminiscent of what we call “European” culture.
G.J: German cuisine is very rich. What do you think about Georgian cooking?


O.H: Frankly speaking, I love Georgian cuisine and I am fascinated by the Georgian supra tradition that goes with it. Everybody knows that Georgia is the cradle of wine, but not many are aware of the fact that highland Georgia has a centuries-old tradition of brewing beer, which is not bad at all.  It’s surprising that Georgia with its rich agrarian tradition and fertile soil today imports roughly 80% or more of its products from abroad. One has to search for good , fresh, and natural Georgian-made or Georgian-grown products in the supermarkets.


Georgians’ cultural life is very rich indeed. It is a great treasure that I appreciate a lot. I am always fascinated by the traditional Georgian dance. Performances of Georgian Dance Ensembles make me better understand where Georgians come from. They tell about the strength, feelings and emotions of ordinary Georgians. Also, I am very much impressed with the Georgian Polyphonic music; Georgian choirs are unique and renowned. Georgian achievements in film-making, music, ballet, arts, and sciences are remarkable. During my stay here I have come to the conclusion that Georgian and German cultural mentalities are very close to each other.
G.J: But our civil mentality is quite different. How did you get accustomed to the Georgian lifestyle?


O.H: When I arrived one of my colleagues asked me: do you know, what GMT  means? I said: No idea. He said: it is “Greenwich Mean Time”. Of course , I said. Do you know what GMT means in the Georgian context, he continued to question me. Again I said: I have no idea , whereupon he explained: “Georgian Maybe Time”… But frankly speaking, my experience tells me that Georgians stick to appointments, they don’t really make people wait. I think it’s one of those prejudices that Georgians are always late. Pretty much like driving: contrary to what many people say, my impression is that they don’t drive aggressively or dangerously; they just drive unconventionally. Georgia has come a long way on its march towards a western style, modern society… Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi look and feel very European. Of course, it is not the same in the highlands, but differences between cities and the countryside do exist in Germany and other European countries. I hope that Georgia and Georgians will safeguard their traditions and be proud of their past. You should stick to your traditions as part of your national identity.


G.J: Who are your favorite Georgian artists or writers?
O.H: During the preparation period for my job, I took a keen interest in reading Shota Rustaveli and I know how important he is for Georgia. I also read some historical books by Konstantine Gamsakhurdia , who, I think, is a great Georgian writer, the father of your first President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and who used to live in Germany for some time. I have also read a couple of works by Grigol Robakidze, another great writer who immigrated to Germany. Just recently, one Georgian gave me a little gift – it was a disc of compositions by Revaz Lagidze, and which turned out to be a great new discovery for me. I knew Vakhtang Machavariani, composer and conductor, for quite some time. There are so many brilliant artists, but these are those who come immediately to my mind.

G.J: When you have free time how do you spend it in Georgia?
O.H: My job keeps me pretty busy, But sometimes I do have more quiet weekends. Whenever I can, I love traveling in the country. I think it’s worthwhile and always interesting. My wife and I usually go together to discover Georgia’s natural, cultural, and religious heritage which is overwhelmingly rich.

G.J: What can you say about Georgia’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures?
O.H: Just a couple of weeks ago, Prime Minister Gilauri attended the official signing ceremony of the start of DFCTA – (Deep, Free, and Comprehensive Trade Agreement) - negotiations between the European Union and Georgia. We have been engaged on the European level with Georgia in the negotiations on an Association Agreements since July 2010. These negotiations are important, because they signal that Georgia is politically and economically on the right track. This might attract also more potential investors. These are steps for Georgia in the approximation towards Europe. And that Georgia is very much a European country, as I mentioned earlier. As for the entry of Georgia into the European Union, I think for the time-being this issue is not on the agenda. The European Union is going through a critical stage; it is trying to consolidate and stabilize the existing situation. To talk loudly about Georgia’s or some other country‘s entry into the EU is not timely right now. As for NATO, Germany pursues an open door policy on its expansion. The decisions of Bucharest and Lisbon summits remain valid. We recognize Georgia’s contribution to the ISAF operation in Afghanistan. The NATO-Georgia Commission is working well.

G.J: What can you say about the Georgian political culture in general?
O.H: We need to assess Georgia and Georgian political culture authentically, from within. Georgia has its own century-old historical, social, religious, judicial, political traditions and experiences, plus on top of it 70 years of Soviet Communist rule. The Rose Revolution is young. Georgia has come a long way in developing a more democratic, western-oriented political system, and together with it, developing of its political culture. Things won’t happen overnight. Building of democracy and developing of corresponding political culture take time, including the culture of dialogue, which includes the culture of social dialogue and political compromise. Georgia is a country with an old history, but a young statehood. Maybe that’s why Georgian politicians, as I see it, don’t seem to have time, don’t lean back and look at things quietly and in strategic perspective. The lack of strategic patience also seems to be a trait of Georgian political culture.
G.J: How likely is it that we will soon get reintegrated again?
O.H: When it comes to reintegration, I believe it will be crucial for Georgia to engage more substantially with the occupied territories. The international community cannot substitute such an engagement, but can support, complement, and strengthen it. People-to-people-contacts is an important precondition to reach political goals and to reintegrate the occupied territories. Of course, Georgia should not give up its legal and moral positions. I remember from the history of my own country that pragmatic, small steps of legally not recognizing the former GDR, strengthened the feeling of unity among the people. .It is true, it took us 20 years to understand this. In Georgia only 3 years and a half has passed after the war; the situation is still emotionalized, the scars of the war are not healed yet. Georgians need to believe in the unity of their county, because history has shown that you cannot keep a country artificially divided against the will of the majority of its people. This holds true for Georgia as well. This is what I sincerely wish to happen.

G.J: What do you think about the Georgian media?
O.H: Media is a part of political culture of a given country. Media reflects political culture. Free and investigative journalism is young in Georgia; it needs to be developed and I am sure it will develop. Media is a precondition for a viable and vibrant political system. A political system to be democratic presupposes transparent, reliable, manifold and divergent media means, which compete with each other. There is room for improvement here in this respect, although I am aware of recent law amendments ensuring greater transparency on media ownership.

G.J: What about the juridical authorities?
O.H: We support Georgia on its way to really transparent judicial authorities, independent from political authorities which are trusted by the people. The independence of the courts of justice are of vital importance. This is another pillar to build a truly democratic state upon.

G.J: from your perspective, what is the step that Georgian authorities should take in order to set the development of the country in the right direction?
O.H: let me start by saying that Georgia’s achievements in the last years have been amazing. These achievements deserve everybody’s respect and recognition. For the future, I see five major challenges: the first is that modernization efforts need to continue and they need to be transformed into real democratization processes. The second is that Georgia is still an agrarian country. The fight against poverty starts in the countryside; the reduction of the poverty level in the rural areas is pre-condition for an overall and sustainable economic development. So, from my perspective, a top priority should be the development of the village, the improvement of the living standards of rural population. To achieve this you need to make micro-credits available to individual farmers and you need to develop infrastructure in the rural areas. That way, you can hope to overcome the exodus of people from the villages - either to the cities or abroad. The third challenge, therefore, is to create the conditions so that the poorest members of society will want to stay. The fourth challenge that needs to be tackled is the integration of IDPs into Georgian society. I don’t think to build settlements for them is conducive to attaining ultimate political goal of reintegration of occupied territories. The social and economic integration of IDP´s into Georgian society proper would counter tendencies to keep these people hostage of the political situation; it would also be a confidence-building measure towards Abkhazia and Tsinkhvali Region. If you keep these people in closed settlements, they can be perceived by Abkhazians and South Ossetians as a potential threat. And finally, the last challenge, I see, is: in the history of all three South Caucasian States since 1991 there has not been a single instance when political power has been transferred peacefully between government and opposition through an election. Therefore, creating an environment where this transfer of power is possible peacefully- should also be at the top of the agenda of all those who care for the development of this country in the right direction.

 

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