|Ambassador Lomaia's Remarks at Symposium - Georgia at the Crossroads of European and Asian Cultures|
|May 30, 2009|
Remarks by H.E. Ambassador Alexander Lomaia
at symposium on
Georgia at the Crossroads of European and Asian Cultures
The Harriman Institute at Columbia University
It is a pleasure for me to welcome you here today, and a particular honor to share the stage with Professor Cathy Nepomnyashchy —as well as with the other American and Georgian scholars who are joining us and with Vice prime minister Yakobashvili.
Under Cathy’s direction, the Harriman Institute has contributed as much as almost any institution to our understanding of Georgia, and the broader region.
As a young democracy, it is invaluable for us to have some of the finest scholars turn their attention to Georgia—to hold a mirror up to our country and to examine it with passion, but without bias. What the symposium’s participants as well as Harriman’s scholars, fellows, and associates have to say might vary in scope and judgment, and sometime viewed as contradicting interpretation, and that is exactly why we always take it seriously. Your work often forces us to question our own assumptions and to reconsider our positions.
And I must say that this year it is a particular importance to be here to discuss something other than the foreign invasion of Georgia and its consequences. As you can imagine, this past year has been a particularly intense one—and that topic, the invasion, has dominated nearly all discussions related to Georgia. War tore Georgia apart. Not only it has claimed lives of almost 600 citizens of the country, it has torn apart communities that have lived side by side for centuries, not only physically, but psychologically as well.
So the topics we have on our agenda today, in the aftermath of the war, are especially important. If the invasion was meant to divide us, culture can unite. And as we consider how to stitch Georgia back together again, it will be crucial for us not only to remember how closely intertwined our lives and our identities have been for many generations, but to better understand how this historical heritage can be brought into contemporary political thinking.
It is Georgia’s history of inter-cultural community and tolerance that constitutes the rich, deep undersoil into which Georgia’s young democracy has taken root. Despite the conflicts that have scarred our recent history, Georgia today has emerged as economically stable, investment attracting , democratic, open, including in terms of scrutinizing its own self, reform minded, and Western-leaning nation among other regional nations.
I would be remiss if I were to close these brief remarks without a few reflections on the state of affairs today in Georgia. Allow me to point your attention to two developments in particular—the recent demonstrations, and the continuing Russian occupation.
As you may know, April 9 was meant to have been a momentous day in Tbilisi. A diverse alliance of mainly radical opposition groups had called for the public to come out into the streets—and stay there until the President resigned. But another thing happened: The crowds were much smaller than expected, and, the Government behaved with patience, restraint, and a call to dialogue. The Government has maintained this posture of allowing the widest possible berth for freedom of assembly and of expression, even if it’s only a few hundred people who continue to gather in protest.
This experience, I believe, says a lot about Georgia's democratic evolution—and even more about the public's unwavering will to break free of Soviet-era allegiance and bring Georgia closer to the West.
The public, while disgruntled by certain aspects of the current government, supports the fundamental changes it has wrought—the taming of corruption, a drastic infrastructural improvements, building of state institutions, economic growth, and democratic participation. Even more so, Georgians recognize that it was this government that broke with the communist and Soviet past and set the country back on track to integrate more closely into Europe and the West.
Which is why it is so cruelly ironic that not only have Russian troops occupied the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, they now stand less than 30 miles from Tbilisi. Meanwhile, they are dropping down an iron curtain across Georgia. Just last Thursday, Moscow signed treaties with the proxy governments in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali that allows Russian soldiers to permanently take control of the administrative borders. And on Saturday, two days later, Russian troops did in fact take up long-term positions along the administrative boundary lines with the rest of the country.
Meanwhile, of the six terms that Moscow agreed to when it signed onto the Sarkozy ceasefire agreement last August 12, it has adhered to exactly zero—zero out of six.
But let us turn now to the topic that has brought us here today. We can only hope that culture can indeed be a tool for the mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue—one that will help heal our nation and one day make it whole again with the help of our friends, here in the United States and elsewhere.
In conclusion, again, let me express my deep appreciation to Professor Nepomnyashchy for championing Georgia related studies here at Columbia University. We will miss you Cathy in your present capacity, but we also now that if the brilliant idea of establishing The Georgian Studies Center comes true, you will certainly be a central part of it.
I would also like to thank Tim Frye, an incoming director for being supportive to this symposium as well as to the idea of establishing The Center.
I would like to express my gratitude to the institutions that contributed to the symposium; these are the US Embassy to Tbilisi, Javakhishvili State University, Chavchavadze State University, and The Rustaveli Foundation.
And last but not the least I would also like to thank Maka Dvalishvili of the Georgian Arts and Culture Center for being a driving force behind the symposia for third consecutive year, for her hard work and dedication.
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