Dear Conference Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to Georgia. I am happy that such an esteemed audience has gathered at a Conference dedicated to discussing the role and place of Georgia in our world. We are an integral part of the international community, we share the same problems and pains, victories and defeats felt throughout the planet. It has taken the efforts of many generations of Georgians to make this truth, so self-evident to every Georgian, apparent to the rest of the world. This is why we attach such a great importance to holding today's Conference where the presentation of the strategic document "Georgia and the World: a Vision and Strategy for the Future" will be held. This document sets forth in detail those necessary reforms and measures that are essential for strengthening Georgia's security and harmonizing our security system with international norms.
Georgia is one of the world's ancient countries. During our 30 centuries-long history of statehood, the Georgian people managed to preserve their unique language, culture and identity.
After gaining independence, Georgia set off on the irreversible track toward building a democratic society. During the initial years after independence, the course of Georgia's foreign policy was often discussed. Heated debate on this topic could be heard in all strata of Georgian society - including the halls of Parliament. Reasons for this are clear. We had to clarify our attitude toward the external world - one which would be in place for many years to come, and based on which the external world would then form its attitude toward us.
Georgia is a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional country. Orthodox Christian faith always played a leading role in our history and development. Each of us has internalized from the cradle that Georgian stability and well-being depends on the harmonious coexistence between different ethnic and religious groups, and protection of their reasonable interests. The finest years of Georgia's long history - our golden age so to speak - where characterized by this very same tolerance and harmony. The lessons of our domestic peaceful co-existence show that the foreign relations of today's Georgia would be similarly cloudless provided our country enjoys good relations with all countries, and therefore if our course is oriented towards friendship with all our neighbors both near and far - rather than toward any one geographic area. Today, we can say that we have achieved success in this direction.
Even as impoverished Georgia teetered on fragmentation and economic catastrophe, she began to implement this course since we believed that it would prove to be an enormous resource. Otherwise, the newly emerged Georgian state simply could not exist. We have so far put this resource to maximum use without loss to anyone, and we intend to stay the course. It was thanks to this course that the decisive support our friends gave us became possible. It is not difficult to imagine what we would have had there not being this assistance. Who can forget that through the decisive stage of our modern history the United States of America, in fact, practically gave us a grant of 650-700 million dollars, Germany - 320 million Deutsche mark, EU - 300 million Euro. Georgia, facing hunger and cold, was helped on several occasions by Turkey, UK, Japan, France, Italy, Netherlands, Greece, Ukraine, and others. This is not even including the food, training and technical assistance in the agriculture, energy, and military sectors. The role of our friends in establishing Georgia's transit function, opening the gateway to Europe, and the development and implementation of hydrocarbon projects has been invaluable. The help extended by international financial institutions must be given special note. Thanks to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Georgia has one of the essential necessary attributes of statehood - a national currency. The Lari, compared to the currencies of neighboring states, withstood the shock of the recent financial crisis relatively well.
As we seek good relations with all states, we remain committed to those fundamental principles which shape our identity - the closest and most dear to us being European, the Western values. We share very clearly democratic values and strive to attain a full fledged integration in European structures. We regard such integration and rapid economic growth based on market economy to be the key means of achieving our national goals as many our neighbours do in South and North, West and East.
Georgia actively participates in developing the model for European security architecture for the 21st century. Our accession to the Council of Europe is evidence of this. Under extremely difficult conditions, Georgia has managed to demonstrate to the international community that such universal values as the respect for human rights, pluralistic democracy, religions and ethnic tolerance represent Georgian state's policy priorities. We are sure that by joining the Council of Europe, a qualitatively new phase of Georgia's participation in European integration processes began.
Despite all this, however, Georgia's full participation in building our common future is unimaginable without finding its place in the process which is known today as globalization. This represents one of the cornerstones of our vision and foreign strategy. At the Millennium Summit, globalization was named among the primary shapers of the future. For us, globalization means Georgia's participation in global and regional alliances, international distribution of labor, development of modern information technologies, elaboration and management of the world economic system, equal participation in such charters and conventions which promote and facilitate Georgia's contribution to protecting human rights and those of ethnic minorities. One of the best exapmles of our participation in globalization is the New Silk Road, which is already functioning and embraces three main directions -Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA), the Strategic Energy Corridor, and the telecommunications network. I am sure that in the nearest future we will be able to speak about not only East-West but also North-South cooperation.
Globalization means mutual enrichment of cultures through permanent dialogue and contact between them, and by no means does it imply the diminishing of cultural distinctiveness or the leveling celebration of differences. This, too, is a significant part of our vision for the world's future, and Georgia's place in it.
Small Georgia can be proud that it has been among the pioneers of this movement. It was in Tbilisi that the first forum on the Dialogue of Cultures, held under the auspices of UNESCO, laid the foundation for the movement which found continuation during the course of the Millennium Summit. Georgia, as a crossroad between civilizations, is a good lab for researching these issues. It was for this reason that in New York we proposed that the Center for the Dialogue between Cultures be established in Tbilisi.
When talking about our role and place in the world, we take into account those obstacles which regrettably abound along the road - specifically, separatist regimes, unresolved conflicts, foreign military bases, and threats at our borders. The successful removal of these obstacles, which I am sure will happen, is a necessary precondition for providing a stable political, economic and social environment in the region.
In this context, the most severe wound over which we all agonize is the conflicts. The UN Secretary General noted that the total number of casualties from local conflicts can be compared to the numbers lost in both World Wars.
This is particularly relevant to us. Unresolved conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as in neighboring countries, impede economic development and growth in investment and trade, thereby endangering stability throughout the entire region.
We consider that deepening of regional cooperation in concert with the vigorous efforts of the international community will be an effective mean to address the challenges of our times. Elaboration of a regional approach to political, economic, and security matters is one of the necessary conditions for the prosperity of the region. Georgia is doing everything possible to promote regional cooperation across a wide spectrum of issues. The Peaceful Caucasus Initiative, co-authored by Azeri President Alyev and later supported by Armenia, was born five years ago and was followed by the historic Kislovodsk Declaration, and many other statements. It also prompted the involvement of the European Union in sponsoring the development of the Caucasus Stability Pact, the idea which was first voiced in Tbilisi by President Demirel of Turkey.
In terms of regional cooperation, we have several priorities. One of them is GUUAM aimed at facilitating economic projects, and enhancing cooperation in security field and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
We also attach great importance to the development of cooperation within the framework of BSEC, to which the EU shows growing interest.
Further development of the cooperation within the CIS framework remains significant. It must be well understood that the CIS is not a single country. I believe that it holds promise, both for bilateral and multilateral development. As many other organizations, CIS is experiencing both positive and negative trends, the latter exemplified by Russia's withdrawal from the Bishkek Treaty, the talks on the possible visa regime, and the fact that many important decisions remain merely on paper. This does not mean, however, that we should give up on this alliance of sovereign states. To the contrary. We should rather make every effort to tap into the positive potential that the organization undoubtedly has. We believe that priority must be given to the expansion of economic ties and creation of a free trade zone within the CIS. Also, we deem it necessary to activate the peacekeeping function of the CIS and facilitate its close cooperation with organizations having wider experience in these matters.
Georgia attaches the greatest importance to the further development of bilateral ties with individual countries, based on mutual respect and promotion of close collaboration in the area of bilateral interests. Our priorities are also deepening co-operation with the neighboring countries, including Russia and the countries of the Euroatlantic community, as well as developing close ties with the states of Central Asia, the Pacific and the Mediterranean basin.
In the process of ensuring national security, the country's economic strategy assumes major significance. In this area, too, Georgia must not be left outside the mainstream of globalization. Becoming a member of the World Trade Organization was only a beginning on the road. Our aim is to attract investment and enhance Georgia's viability as an arena for free competition of the latest scientific achievements and advanced technologies, as well as to establish our place on the international market for our competitive goods.
We will continue to work closely with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the EBRD, whose help and recommendations play a crucial role in the successful implementation of economic reforms. We also continue cooperating with the specialized agencies of the United Nations, who are also making a major contribution to the economic reforms in the country.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Georgia's goal is to establish her place in the family of free nations. Nobody can dispute that this course is correct. Democracy and the right of free choice are those fundamental principles that allow our citizens to fully realize their potential. As we seek our niche in the global community of nations, we are working hard to create a better future for our citizens, as well as make our contribution to universal well-being as we have always striven to do in the course of our centuries-old history.
In closing, let me wish every success to the participants of the conference, and thank you for your attention.
Address of the President of Georgia H.E. Eduard Shevardnadze to the Conference: "Georgia and its Partners: Directions for the New Millennium" - 5 October 2000
Dear Conference Participants,