My priority is to have Georgia recognized as a European country and civilization

Salome Zourabichvili, the first woman to be elected President of Georgia, shares her Cultural and Diplomatic ambitions for the Caucasian state

Last September, during the occasion of my trip for the inaugural season of the Tsinandali Festival of classical music, I was fortunate to meet the President of Georgia in Tbilisi, the capital and largest city. After a short conversation and laughter over how a Franco-Laotian Cultural Diplomacy fan had landed in Georgia to interview a former French ambassador, now become President of Georgia, she answered my questions with both clarity and grace.

Could you clarify for our readers the role of the President of Georgia as defined by your constitution, specifically regarding diplomatic matters?

The new Constitution of Georgia has redefined the powers of the President because we moved to a parliamentary regime which is a classical one, where the President has representative powers and the Prime Minister is the one that has the governing power. But at the same time, the powers of the President are a bit different in Georgia because the President, unlike in other parliamentary regimes, has this time, and it will change in the future, been elected by the people for a mandate of 6 years, so it gives the President some legitimacy and claim to be quite influential in society matters and in diplomatic matters.

In diplomacy, the president, as it is the case for other parliamentary regimes, is the main representative outside the country and for a small country like Georgia, diplomacy is very important as for all small countries. We need to have a very active president on the outside scene and that has been my task since I was elected, for the last 8 months. I’ve been extremely active both in the direction of our European partners, the European Union and all our other partners because the priorities of Georgia are perspectives of European and Atlantic integration and in fact, this activity has led to have Georgia back much more on the European map. I think today everybody is very interested in Georgia.

We have also our occupied territories which is a very important problem and that means that we have to be very active with our partners to try to find an appeasement for the plight of the people living in the occupied lands and find solutions for this conflict. We are very coordinated with the government, with the Prime Minister and with the Minister of Foreign Affairs but the President is still the most active.

That is a very important part of my tasks but there are also very important internal aspects of the president’s role and one of them is culture, especially lately, because the government has become smaller with one minister in charge of education, sport, culture and science, which means there were not enough people with status to talk about Georgian culture both inside and outside. So my role, that was part of my electoral program, is really to give Georgian culture importance in the internal political development because Georgian culture is what made Georgia and what is really its main strength inside and also in projecting Georgia outside. Georgia can only be projected through its culture.

The first priority now is to have Georgia recognized in Europe as a European culture and civilization and also to have much more presence of European countries here, because that’s a way the Georgian population will feel the proximity with Europe. So culture is very fundamental. I’m also working closely with UNESCO for our cultural heritage and we will continue in that direction.

If you look at Georgia, you will see that the cultural heritage of Georgia is really enormous, we have more ancient churches than there are cheeses in France and that constitutes our touristic attractions but also the richness on which Georgia is grounded, which gives us the strength to resist everything that has been happening to Georgia over the centuries, with invasions, occupations, not that we accept or like it but being able to survive and recompose itself. It gives historical perspective and hope for the future.

You are the first woman in this office. What does this say about the evolution of the position of women in Georgian society?

I think it’s very important for the international standing of Georgia to have a woman president, to be one of the only woman presidents in the world and show how progressive Georgia is. But for Georgia itself, it’s not new. One of the most prosperous times of Georgia was with a queen. Georgia became Christian through a woman saint and we had numerous women in power in the kingdoms of Georgia when they were divided. So the fact that there is a woman with a high state function is something that does not surprise anyone here and it is very well accepted. There is part of our mythology that says that having a woman as the head of state means that Georgia is going to go back to one of its prosperous periods in history, so that creates a lot of strength and responsibility at the same time — but I want to point out that nowhere during my electoral campaign nor since, have I received opposition or criticism due to the fact of being a woman. Everywhere else we are very polarized so there are a lot of attacks, but generally the Georgian population has a high respect for women and high expectations. That being said, I think it’s important being a woman in Georgia today and also a European woman because I was born and raised abroad in Europe. That is very important because one of the things that society has to do now in the coming years and where I feel I have a special responsibility, is to achieve the end of the transformation of Georgian society. We have been moving out of the 70 years of totalitarian regime gradually — it has now been 27 years — and we still need a number of years to achieve what I call the liberation of the mentality from the old totalitarian remanence in society with habits, lack of initiatives, lack sometimes of freedom. I think as a woman, and the fact that I come from Europe and I look at things with a different educational background, that is very important to help with this transformation.

You had dual nationality and culture, French and Georgian in your heart. How does this influence your approach in your function and particularly in international relations?

No, as I said, of course I’m completely Georgian because I was raised in a Georgian family. Keeping Georgian identity was most important, more when you are outside than in the country, but at the same time I received a French education and was for a long time a French career diplomat and so I’m also completely part of this European mind-set and education. I think that is important so that I can look at Georgia from the inside and see what we need to do to transform our society and bring Georgia into the 21st century and be part of the international community with all our strength and potential. But at the same time I can look at Georgia from the outside with the eyes of a foreigner and see where some of the weaknesses that we have to overcome, are. I’m not renouncing any part of it and in today’s world we are now about a million and a half Georgians outside our borders and 3,7 million living in Georgia, so I think we are going to see more and more people that will have both a strong Georgian identity and I hope will return to Georgia with experiences of other cultures — both professional ones and personal ones — and that will in my view enrich Georgia and not weaken it.

How is Georgia leveraging Art and Culture in its diplomatic policy?

I think, as I have mentioned, since I’m part of the diplomatic policy, that culture is our main instrument for foreign policy. We don’t have a strong army and the military part is to defend ourselves and we are a small country, so the economic policy for us is indispensable but it is not an instrument by which we can really leverage other countries or use our influence, so our main instrument in diplomatic policy is culture.

That’s where we are both different and similar to the Europeans; it’s where we can bring what are the old traditions of Georgia that have sometimes been forgotten in Europe. We have a very long tradition of tolerance through the centuries. The way Georgians apprehend the outside world, neither religion nor ethnicity was a factor for discrimination and that’s something that was gradually forgotten in Europe.

It was one of the founding values of Europe but it has been forgotten, so I think Georgian culture is not only something to discover that is exotic but it’s also going back to the roots of what European and Christian values are, and for that we are a very good reservoir.

There are also old traditions of wine and we have also many archaeological artifacts, which make Georgia a reservoir and a center of ancient history.

So we have a lot to offer.

Dr Pick Keobandith

Founder and International Director, Inspiring Culture

 

 

Salome Zourabichvili
President of Georgia 

Born on 18 March 1952 in Paris, France.

Speaks fluently Georgian, French, and English and converses in basic Italian.

Education

Institute of Political Studies (1969-1972 – Paris, France).

Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs (1972-1973 – New York, U.S.A.)

Diplomatic and Political Career

1974 – 2004 She worked in the diplomatic service for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France in several embassies
(Italy, United States, and Chad) and with French representations to international organizations
(UN, NATO, Western European Union, OSCE).

2003 She was appointed as Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of France to Georgia.

2004 – 2005 She served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia.
After leaving the post, she founded on 11 March 2006 the political party “The Way of Georgia”.

2006 – 2015 She was an Associate Professor of International Relations at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, France.

2010 – 2015 Until December 2015, she led the United Nations Security Council monitoring group on sanctions
against Iran.

2016 She won her election as an independent Deputy in the Parliament of Georgia.

2018 She won her election as the fifth President of Georgia


Publications

Que sais-je? La Géorgie, Edition PUF, Paris, 1986.

Une femme pour deux pays, Edition Grasset, Paris, 2006.

Les cicatrices des nations, Edition Francois Bourin, Paris, 2008.

La tragédie géorgienne, Edition Grasset, Paris, 2009.  

L’exigence démocratique, Edition Francois Bourin, Paris, 2010.

Cahiers CERI Sciences Po N°4: La démocratisation en Géorgie à l’épreuve des élections, Paris, 2007

Penser l’Europe: What borders for Europe?, Paris, 2007.

Cahier de Chaillot, Institute for security studies of the European Union (N° 102), Paris, 2007.