“Georgia is not Ukraine…“
06 March, 2014
“Georgia is not Ukraine…“
Exclusive interview with German Ambassador to Georgia

Georgian-German ties date back to 12th century. In the realm of science, and this is shared by the Director-General of the Georgian National Museum, the Caucasian Museum was founded in 1865 under the leadership of Gustav Radde. He put up the first building for the museum. Besides science and culture, Germans have played an important role in the development of Georgia’s economy as well. It is merely enough to name the Siemens brothers.
Germans built museums, theaters. Arthur Leist translated the Rustaveli’s Knight in a Tiger’s Skin in German for the first time. The Georgian Museum of Fine Arts keeps quite a worthy collection of works of German-Georgian artists. Georgian Journal has once again has met with his Excellence Mr. Ortwin Hennig, German Ambassador to Georgia. We talked about a range of issues that we hope our reader will find interesting to read.
G.J: You have just presented a beautiful calendar to me. Here it says that German-Georgian ties date back centuries...
O. H: Our first contacts date back to 12th century. During the battle of Didgori in 1121, which the Georgians won against selchuks and which laid the foundation for the great Georgian Kingdom, German crusaders fought side by side with Georgians. The medieval German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who is still very popular in Germany today, wrote a letter around 1180 to Giorgi the Third, King of Georgia, and proposed his son’s marriage with princess Tamar, who later became Queen Tamar (note: In Georgian history, she is known as King Tamar). This shows the influence Georgia used to enjoy in those days already and the good relationship Georgia used to have with Western Europe. In 1817, the first German”colonists” as you call them, arrived from Southern Germany to live here. In 2017, we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of their arrival. Those Germans founded a number of hotels, pharmacies and the first cinema in Tbilisi. In 1900, their number had already increased to 12 000. In October 1941, upon the Stalin’s orders, all people with German roots, at that time roughly 40.000, were deported to Central Asia. There are still many traces of those first settlers, with their typically German buildings but they are in a very poor condition now. Only a couple of “Georgian Germans” came back in 1960s. Today, their number in Georgia is approximately 900 and they have formed their association of German-Georgians called “Einung”. Entrepreneurs, painters, architects, scientists, and artists, have enriched Georgia’s economic, cultural, and intellectual life. By the way, the Siemens brothers, the founding fathers of the renowned German company used to live and work in Georgia. They were also first German diplomats to Georgia, representing the North-German Union from 1867 -1871, the forerunner of the German Reich. What is also interesting is the fact that many young Georgian intellectuals - as an expression of political discontent - intentionally went to Munich, Berlin or Leipzig for their studies, rather than to Moscow or St. Petersburg. They returned [to Georgia] in the second half of 19th century with some new ideas, to stand at the origins of the Georgian National Movement.
G.J: What about the current people-to-people relations?
O.H: Upon the initiative of the Embassy and with the support from the Georgian governmental authorities, Georgians and Germans have just founded Club for the Preservation of the German Cultural Heritage in Georgia. This club has been registered under the Georgian law. It is of great importance because now we can attract potential German and other sponsors who wish to contribute to preserving and restoring old buildings, monuments etc. We will present this newly founded club to a broader public on 6 March at 6pm at the National Museum. The Vice-Director of the National Museum Mr. Michael Tsereteli will open the event together with the Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maia Panjikidze. After a short presentation of the exhibition catalogue Germans and Georgians - from Middle Ages until Today the event will continue with the presentation of the Club for the Preservation of the German Cultural Heritage in Georgia.
In 2010, the German International School Tbilisi was opened, and it is developing well, with both German and Georgian pupils attending. For Georgian kids and their parents it is attractive because of the fact that the children not only learn German but also their native Georgian language and Georgian history etc. In addition, they will pass the German school leaving examination, which is internationally recognized and opens the door to universities worldwide. We also have close ties and partnerships between universities, and a lively exchange of students and scientists. We have quite a few exchange programs. We have the Goethe Institute and the German Academic Exchange Service. Every year I have the pleasure to say farewell to around 100 young Georgians students and post-graduates, who leave for Germany with a DAAD – German Academic Exchange scholarship. I would like to add, though, that my wish is to see more young German students come to spend some time at Georgian universities to make our exchange a more balanced one. But I understand that the language is a big barrier in this respect.
G.J: How popular is the German language?
O.H: German is spoken by roughly 100 million people in Europe. A German speaker can communicate with around 20% of all Europeans. The German language has a 200 years old history in this country, beginning with the first German colonists. The first foreign language was German. I hope this tradition will be kept and continued in the future. The decision for German is also a political decision for Europe because the German language plays an important role in the European institutions. I would like to tell all Georgian youngsters: English today is a must but German or any other third language is a plus. Languages are part of education. Influence and reputation which Georgia enjoys in the world depends on brains of her young people. I have mentioned it already in the past and I will repeat myself: Georgians and Germans have a different mentality but their cultural mentality is similar. Like Germans, Georgians have a liking for philosophy, music, literature, science. They have had great achievements over the decades. If I were to express a wish, my wish were to see more young Germans come to Georgia because there is an imbalance in the number of Georgians going to Germany and Germans coming here. This is, of course, due to the lack of knowledge of the Georgian language but if we manage to encourage the learning of the Georgian language in Germany this would be very good. We do have university institutes where the Georgian language is taught – we have this long and outstanding tradition of Caucasiology faculties at German universities – a tradition that, unfortunately, is declining.
G.J: Talks are going on for Georgia to be a host for the Frankfurt Book Fair. How would you comment?
O.H: Yes indeed, Georgia will be the partner country at the renowned yearly Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018. Negotiations between the Georgian Minister of Culture and management of the Frankfurt Book Fair have just been successfully concluded. This will be very important for Georgia, culturally as well as politically. It will boost the translation of Georgian literature into German and make Georgia and its cultural treasure known to a broader German and international public.
G.J: Do you think that there still exist some threats to Georgia after the Ukrainian scenario?
O.H: Your government says that Russia does not have real levers to put pressure on Georgia at her disposal any more, neither economic or political, nor military ones, as the Russians have already conquered 20% or your territory. You have survived the economic embargo. I think your question, therefore, describes a hypothetical scenario, which I do not expect to happen here. Georgia is not Ukraine. But I am afraid that Russia might use more subtle, soft instruments playing on centuries-old cultural and religious ties. If there is a lesson, though, that I draw from the Ukrainian events it is the following one: in this part of the world nothing can be achieved against Russia. What is called for now is a cooperative, not a confrontational approach between all interested parties in order to calm down the situation and avoid spill-over effects. But let me be crystal-clear: calling for a dialogue with Russia does not mean to grant Russia a “droit de regard” in our affairs.
G.J: Thank you.
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