Suggesting an inclusive and multi-party democracy
09 February, 2012
Suggesting an inclusive and multi-party democracy

H.E. Pieter J. Langenberg  the ambassador of Kingdom of the Netherlands in Georgia. The country, which is widely known for its incomparable flower culture, happens to be the homeland of the Georgian First Lady. Let’s meet him up and find out how it is reflected on the bilateral relations of Georgia and Holland. Recently, Mr. Langenberg has become a grandfather of triplets – what a rare joy! Georgian Journal congratulates Mr. Ambassador on this wonderful occasion!

 

G.J: When did you arrive to

Georgia?
P. L: I arrived in summer of 2009, roughly one year after the war between Georgia and Russia. Georgia, being peaceful, was a pleasant surprise, because all the articles and newspapers were still covering the war events of 2008. In2009, in the aftermath of the war, the general perception of Georgia was still grim, aggravated by the killing of Dutch journalist Stan Storimans. So, coming out of the plane in August of  2009 when the sun was shining and the birds were singing, and peaceful settings, the contrast couldn’t have been bigger.I applied for the post in Georgia because as a former part of the Soviet Union it is a country in transformation and also because Georgia is trying to approximate towards Europe and is a partner for NATO. My background is well rooted into European Affairs and I was interested in seeing how this process of transformation is developing and how effective it is.
The first thing that did strike me when in Georgia was the stunning nature. As you may know, Holland is a very flat country – therefore, your mountains are very special. Holland is roughly four times Georgia, which makes Holland almost like a city state.It always feels crowded.  I find it here that people are a little bit more relaxed, they take life more as it comes. Georgians are living more in the here and now. And, people are very hospitable- I think that’s a quality here that Georgia should cherish and I think that in the process of approximation to the European Union this will work too. Don’t lose it in the process of modernization!
G.J: What do you think as a person of living in Georgia?
P.L: I find it a very pleasant place to live. People are very out-going and they easily take you in, although the language for me is quite a barrier. But I try my best to learn some Georgian. I always feel very safe when travelling or trekking, and people are very accessible. As a diplomat, trained in the Cold War period, I find it an interesting place to work as Georgia is a former part of the Soviet Union, finding its own destiny, orienting itself more and more on Europe, none withstanding the on-going conflict with your northern neighbor, but this is why it is an interesting part of the world from the perspective of international relations. It is also interesting to be in the position of an observer and try to play your part in finding solutions for the conflict.
G.J: I believe that the awareness of Georgia might be a bit higher in the Netherlands than in its neighboring countries due to the fact that we have the Dutch first lady. Is that so?
P.L: Although lots of people in the Netherlands have heard about Georgia, there are still some who don’t know much about the new-born independent countries that used to be parts of the former Soviet Union. The awareness is growing and this is partly because people are traveling a lot more and you see more and more tourists coming here. Travelling groups of tourists are telling a lot about this country to their friends and families after coming back. And of course one of the best ambassadors that the Netherlands has had in Georgia is your First Lady who has always been bringing people together in many areas of life –in music, medical, humanitarian, etc. This is very helpful for me too as she helps to create a positive image of the Dutch people and society. I feel that people have generally a positive association towards our Embassy and the Dutch.
G.J: What is your opinion about the Georgian cuisine?
P.L: If we compare Georgian cuisine to the Dutch cuisine, the former is much better than the latter(smiles). Cuisine is not very much developed in Holland whereas Georgian cuisine I think is much more part of your culture. Wine and food , and supra’sare  part of your identity. We eat at 6 o’clock sharp and that’s it – people basically eat there quickly and rather basic because they feel the need to get new energy, so there is a very different concept. Georgian cuisine is very interesting too because of its being a historical crossroad between North and South, East and West, which is reflected in the kitchen. We don’t have that many and various dishes at the table like you have, using nuts, coriander and the like. And, if you are a vegetarian, you can survive here very well.
G.J: Which is your favorite sphere of Georgian culture?
P.L: Georgian culture is a very broad concept as it is a carrier of your identity as well. In Georgia, cultural life is very developed. You can experience everything –  movies, literature, traditional dance, ballet,  classical music; there are lots of talented people, for instance, the musicians Nino Gvetadze, Liza Batiashvili, or ballerina Nino Ananiashvili and  many others who are  good ambassadors for Georgia abroad. I like Lasha Bughadze – Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili as writers and Shota Iatashvili – the poet; it’s very interesting conceptually how he shapes his poetry and short pieces. Also you have many good photograp hers like young Kakha Kakhianiwith whom we organized an exhibition in Europe House. We had a cultural exchange between the Netherlands and Georgia, with Dutch and Flemish writers in residence in Tbilisi – it is called Tbilisi Citybooks. I am very proud of this project that demonstrates that Tbilisi is part of wider European cultural life. The contributions of Dutch artists and Georgian participants have been translated into Georgian, Dutch, English and French and are accessible on the Internet (www.city-books.eu)The project has been organized with the support of Tbilisi City Hall and the Georgian museum of literature. It was nice to see Tbilisi becoming a part of this exchange program, which involves lots of other European cities. 
G.J: What about your one ordinary day?
P.L: It is a difficult question, but I can tell you what is on my schedule today. I had a breakfast meeting with colleagues to brainstorm on how to best engage with the occupied territories. After that we had a staff meeting at the Embassy. Then I met with Council of Europe representatives to discuss how we can best make possible contributions to the upcoming elections. Now, I am having the interview with Georgia Journal. Tonight a reception hosted by the new head of the NATO liaison office. My days are almost always busy, never knowing when I will be in and out of the office. My favorite pastime is going out of the city, doing some trekking.
G.J: What about the Georgian political culture?
P.L: I think that Georgian political culture is very different from the Dutch which is very logical because every nation has its own identity, history and particularities. I come from a country with a long uninterrupted democratic history. We have had a very long history of different groups living peacefully together, a tradition of democracy. We are inclined to the compromise  – to sit together and to try talking it out as long as necessary. Georgia is more like a reborn nation, finding its way, still shaping its institutions. Politics are much more polarized than in Holland. I feel that people are very impatient which is natural as you want to modernize quickly and make up for lost time. Your politicians are often very maximalist in their approach, being very successful sometimes but sometimes losing out as well. It is always good to have checks and balances in your political system, and to be as inclusive as possible. It is important from the Dutch perspective to have a competitive multi-party democracy, and as much choice for the people as possible. From that perspective, your upcoming election swill be a kind of litmus test of where you stand as a Western style democracy. Through its civil society program MATRA, the Embassy is planning to support a number of initiatives to contribute to a proper conduct of the elections. The proof of pudding is in the eating!

 

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