POLITICS
“Georgians Often Present Success in Superlatives”
21 June, 2012

Interview with the Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to Georgia

Our Euro-Atlantic aspirations are widely known. Our President and Administration have frequently declared it openly and we are backed by the international community on this rough and challenging road to the integration in the world alliances. However, there are some really experienced and impartial observers whose primary function is to estimate and say what we are doing correctly and what we are doing incorrectly.

It is always interesting to

listen to these experts, consider their views and opinions and try to follow the time-tested examples. Such expertise is most likely owned  by the Delegation of the European Union that has its representation office in Tbilisi and currently we are meeting H.E. Philip Dimitrov, the Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to Georgia to talk about many interesting issues apart from our habitual personal questions, including the initial signs of reforms of the Georgian court of justice, pros and cons of Georgian media, problems that penitentiary system faces today, week points of local political culture, manner of ‘pleasing’ subordinates and so on.    

G.J: When did you arrive in Georgia?
Ph. D: It was in December of 2010. I had a privilege of visiting Georgia several times in 2004, when the traces of pre-Rose Revolution times were rather visible. So, I can make a comparison and estimate what has been achieved during these years. 
G.J: What were your first impressions of Georgia?
Ph. D: Hotel Iveria, full of refugees; dark streets, dark Rustaveli avenue; overwhelmingly idealistic ambition of those young people, who all spoke English, their target to have their country changed for the good.
G.J: What can you say about this country in general as a person and not as a diplomat?
Ph.D: I like the country and the people. You know, some experience helps. I admire the mountains but I am not as impressed as a Dutchman, German or Belgian. Mountains in my country are a few hundred meters lower but they are as impressive; when you are accustomed to them, you can pay more attention to more subtleties of their beauty. In fact, it’s the same with people and coming from a country which has passed through the similar period recently, I can better understand how the Georgians feel and, of course, I better understand why some people from European institutions were sometimes so vexed with me.
G.J: What can you say about the Georgian cuisine? Please, compare it to cuisines of the countries you have visited as a tourist or as a diplomat or with the dishes of your homeland.
Ph.D: I like Georgian cuisine. It is rich and tasty and, at the same time, its repetitiveness confirms the feeling that we get together not just for food but for exchanging opinions. I have only one problem which is ‘Kartuli Puri’ (Georgian bread). I can’s stop eating it and I’m afraid it will terribly affect my weight.
G.J: What is your favourite sphere of Georgian culture?
Ph.D: I am not a great reader of Georgian literature, so, by definition, I can consume music and performing arts much easier. My father was very good at Eastern chant and he has managed to sensibilize me to many-voiced choir singing; but being a lover of classical music, I admire the Georgian performance immensely. Every time I go to a classical concert, I ask myself – may it happen that this time they’ll disappoint me? But it never happens.
G.J: Who is your favourite Georgian artist/writer?
PH.D: It is difficult to estimate poetry in translation and my knowledge of Georgian literature is limited. I would say that my interest rests mostly on historical pieces; starting from the Knight in the Panther’s Skin to Data Tutashkhia. As for painting as a rule, I am not a fan of modernist works. On the other hand, when I look at Pirosmani’s pictures , I am indeed surprised how much character and subtle emotion can be transmitted by his technique.
G.J: How does your everyday schedule look like? Is it very busy? Please, describe your ordinary day.
PH.D: What shall I say. The general notion is –diplomats don’t work much if they work at all, especially Ambassadors. I don’t’ know how it happens. I always have something to do and it is usually very urgent. It can be some kind of personality disorder.
G.J: How different are your weekends from your weekdays?
Ph.D: It depends. If there is a conference in Batumi or an event in Kutaisi, you can forget about a weekend; otherwise, it is like everywhere in the world, you go to places, read books, watch TV, have guests or visit people.
G.J: What is your favourite pastime in Georgia?
Ph.D: Talking to people.
G.J: Now, let’s talk about the Georgian political culture. What are its main vices and how would your recommendations sound? 
Ph.D: There is probably a bit too much passion which is understandable for a country that is emerging from a revolutionary change. When criticizing, people feel obliged to talk in catastrophic terms. When estimating the successes they often describe them in superlatives.
The truth is that Georgia is maintaining a steady and impressively fast pace of aligning with the Western standards and at the same time (as a well known saying has it) bad habits die hard.
However, I find the long treatises on political culture that imply the inferiority of some countries vis-a-vis others as somewhat arrogant. One of the achievements of the EU is that it not only tolerates but also benefits from the differences inherent in its member states. So, I have no recommendations, only a reminder. I sometimes tell my colleagues at home: “There will still be life on Earth after the elections. And people will be seeing each other again and again.”
G.J: What is your opinion about Georgian media? Where are its weak points?
Ph.D: I hate the question: What do you think of /Why is it important/ the event you are attending now/etc. I would be happier with some more precision and focus in reporting. Apart from this the media in Georgia is rather free (you can say and write practically everything), extremely polarized and as far as the TV is concerned, it needs to be equally accessible – only then it will be confirmed by the viewers that some channels are being watched more than others.
G.J: What about the Georgian Judiciary?
Ph.D: The Judicial reform in Georgia was so profound that it is impossible to make it meet all standards at once. You cannot change 90 % of the judges (which had its reasons) and have in their place other judges who are highly experienced, self-confident and popular. On the other hand, if you find excuses, you may put all the effort in the wrong direction, so here comes the obligation of people like me – to criticize you as severely as we can, so that you can develop the potential of your system and not let it fade away.
There are many problems that need to be overcome: harshness of punishment, the sentence too often following the Act of Indictment. There is also the problem of administrative detention, which needs both political will and general acceptance in order to change it substantially.
On the other hand, there are signs that the judiciary is gaining self-confidence (an absolute requirement for independence). They have recently shown openness for consultations with different NGOs with vested interests and freely discussed issues (not decisions) with them. We had a positive report by the Council of Europe last December and this year came some improvements in the laws on the Judiciary.
G.J:  Please talk about the Georgian penitentiary system.
Ph.D: It’s a difficult problem. Governing is a tough thing. Sometimes you have to choose not between good and bad, but between bad and worse. There are a lot of pending issues now, connected with the zero tolerance policy, which has changed profoundly the quality of life for a large majority of people but has led to overcrowding of prisons and undue anguish of those who inhabit them; they suffer of basic health problems and have existential problems. These problems – let’s face the truth – cannot be solved overnight. The Public Defender had a very serious report on these issues and the Ministry of Correction and Legal Defence is working on them. The EU has particular contribution to financing the projects dealing with these issues. They will remain for some time and it is important that the efforts to solve them don’t stop and that there is no feeling of self-indulgence.
G.J: What should the Georgian authorities do first and foremost in order to develop the country in the right direction?
Ph.D: I can’t give instructions. The Georgian government knows what they want, i.e. coming completely in line with the Western and especially European standards. However, I think it is important to mention that some people seem to be on different levels; they still stick to the old way of pleasing the boss by being tough with opponents, harsh with those who are below them and implementing what in their view is desired by the boss. Such people do more harm than good and often embarrass the central administration,  putting it in the position of defending the issues that is unacceptable for it too.

 

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