On 26 May 1918, Georgia gained its independence from the Russian Empire. Now, 30 years after reclaiming it from the Soviet Union, a sovereign Georgia remains committed to restoring its territorial integrity and taking its place in the Euro-Atlantic community, writes Giorgi Nakashidze in this op-ed for commonspace.eu.
26 May is one of the most significant days in Georgian history. On this date in 1918, Georgia gained independence from the Russian Empire. Yet this long-sought freedom turned out to be short-lived. Just three years later, in 1921, the Soviet Russian army invaded Georgia and incorporated it into the new Soviet state. It wasn’t until 70-years later that 99.5% of Georgians answered ‘yes’ when asked, ‘Do you support the restoration of the independence of Georgia in accordance with the Act of Declaration of Independence of Georgia of 26 May 1918?’. This was the question of the referendum held on the entire territory of Georgia, including the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, currently occupied by Russia. As a result, Georgia restored its independence 30 years ago in 1991, and as an independent and sovereign country, positioned itself as a full-fledged member of the international community.
Since regaining independence, Georgia has aspired to join – or rather rejoin – the European and Euro-Atlantic community, politically distancing itself from the brutal Soviet regime. In reality, Georgia has always been a part of European civilization. When Georgia joined the Council of Europe (CoE) in 1999, it came as no surprise that then Secretary-General of the CoE, Lord Russell-Johnston, greeted the Georgian delegations with the words, "Georgia, welcome back home!"; paving the way for Georgia’s presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE in 2020.
30 years after restoring independence from the Soviet Union, Georgia has had substantial success in multiple directions, including on its path towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Through its European agenda, Georgia has made significant progress in consolidating democracy, its economic transformation, upholding human rights protections and the rule of law, and strengthening institutions.
On 17 May this year, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova officially established the 'Association Trio’ as a format to enhance their political association and economic integration with the EU, as provided by the respective Association Agreements, and to promote new opportunities within the Eastern Partnership. Among the Associated Trio’s priorities for action include expanding their dialogue with the European Commission to areas such as transport, energy, the digital transformation, the green economy, and strategic communications; achieving maximum possible integration in the EU Single Market based on the DCFTA implementation; deepening co-operation with the EU in security and defence; and reinforcing co-operation within the Eastern Partnership.
Georgia has undertaken vast reforms aimed at transforming the country into a modern, democratic state with a liberal market economy. Today Georgia is an EU-associated country, preparing to submit its membership application in 2024; and a NATO-aspirant country, with NATO Allies agreeing at the 2008 Bucharest Summit that Georgia will become a NATO member. Georgia remains one of the reliable contributors to Euro-Atlantic security and, since 2014, has been recognised as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner – one of its closest and most interoperable partners. In the recent years, the Black Sea has become especially important for the Alliance, and Georgia, as a littoral country plays strategic role in ensuring the security and stability of the Black Sea. The NATO 2030 strategic concept stresses the need for the Alliance to seek to expand and strengthen partnerships with vulnerable democracies like Georgia, which seek membership and are under constant external and internal pressure from Russia.
Due to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic course, maintaining its independence has turned out to be harder than gaining it. With 20% of Georgia’s territory under occupation by the Russian Federation, Georgia pays high price for its independence, and steps are being taken towards the annexation of Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, with aggression growing on daily basis. However, no such threats can overturn Georgia’s aspirations to become a democratic and developed state. On 21 January 2021, in a judgment of historic significance, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights legally found Russia as the occupying power in these regions, responsible for numerous human rights violations committed against ethnic Georgians since 8 August 2008.
Today, more than ever, Georgia has many partners and friends. With their support, it will continue to aspire towards its Western values and ideals, it will fully return to its European roots and restore its territorial integrity.
Source: This op-ed was prepared for commonspace.eu by Giorgi Nakashidze, Chargé d'Affaires a.i., Embassy of Georgia to the Kingdom of the Netherlands
Photo: Georgia, EU and NATO flags (archive)