Georgia – Where east meets west in a fusion of food, wine and culture

Georgia is a small country with a very big heart. It has a population of about 3.7m at the last count, most of whom are native Georgians.

The country is bordered by Kazakstan, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and of course Russia.

Since it left the now defunct Soviet Union, Georgia has evolved into a very modern, and forward thinking democracy.

When Leon and I visited Tbilisi a while ago we had a private meeting to discuss potential investment opportunities with the then Prime Minister, Mamuka Bakhtadze. We also met with various leading politicians, including the Mayor of Tbilisi at the time, Dr Davit Narmania.

Whoever we met, and wherever we went, we were treated with the utmost respect and civility, something for which the Georgians are renowned.

Sandwiched between the Black Sea, and the magnificent Caucasus Mountains, Georgia is strategically very important to the West and will surely one day become a full member state of the European Union.

Although not a NATO member yet, it supports NATO, and is one of its closest partners. Georgian troops train with troops of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Modern Georgia is determined to manage it’s own future as an independent sovereign nation, much as it did until 1921 when the soviets annexed it against it’s will, to the union of soviets, or Soviet Union, as it was better known. A literal translation of the word soviet into English translates as council.

The word Soviet is derived from a Russian word signifying a council or assembly, so effectively Soviet Union meant a union of councils.

Georgia is a very modern democracy which has adopted both the free market, and western democracy, as it’s future.

The current Prime Minister, Giorgi Gakharia, seems very capable, certainly if the way the government has managed the current pandemic is anything to go by.

Georgia has only registered 16 deaths and 1,131 cases of Covid 19 since the virus began to infect the world so is now opening up to international tourism again. If you get a chance you should go, but check with your own government because quarantine rules for when you return are changing every day.

Leon and I with the highly regarded Georgian diplomat H.E Tamar Beruchashvili who besides being a good friend, was also a former Foreign Minister of Georgia, and then until 2019, Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

H.E Tamar Beruchashvili is now Permanent Representative of Georgia to the International Maritime Organisation.

A quick look on the internet should give you the information you need about travel. If not contact your embassy. All embassy staff are helpful so a quick call should suffice.

As I understand it the country was put into immediate lockdown. The difference between Georgia and other countries around the world is that the population did exactly as their government asked, and stayed at home. Although there was the threat of fines being imposed they weren’t really needed because the people are largely law abiding.

In a recent Zoom meeting with the current Georgian ambassador to the UK, Her Excellency, Sophie Katsarava, I discussed how well her country was managing the pandemic. Clearly focused on maintaining her country’s excellent relationship with The United Kingdom, it was obvious to me that the tradition of high level diplomacy created during H.E Tamar Beruchashvili’s time as ambassador was in good hands.

At no time during any of my visits to the country have I felt threatened, despite the fact that my love of walking around cities has taken me into all sorts of unusual areas. I was once almost murdered in New York by a gang of youths which has since always made me observant of those around me, especially late at night!

The capital city, Tbilisi, which has a population about the size of Birmingham and Bristol combined is very safe when compared to many places around the world.

Such is the friendliness of the Georgian people that on one occasion when I got lost, a cafe owner invited me to sit and drink coffee with him. Not unusual you might say, he was just encouraging custom! Not so, because not only did he ‘give’ me coffee he insisted on buying me lunch too. We discussed ‘his’ country and why he considers it so special for three hours.

Needless to say we graduated from coffee to wine within a very short space of time. That’s parr for the course in the cradle of winemaking. The country has vines that are over 8000 years old. You can get white, red, and, unusually amber! All delicious and well priced.

My new friend dropped me back at Rooms Hotel in Tbilisi, many hours after our first meeting. I always think a stranger is initially just a new friend so we have stayed in touch.

During 2019 Leon and I were pleased to be invited to London to celebrate Georgia’s 26 years of the new constitution guaranteeing its independence. It really was a lovely evening and was attended by many VIPs, diplomats, and embassy staff, all of whom had one thing in common. A love of this small country where east meets west and where Europe fuses with Asia.

Joanna Lumley stayed at Rooms Hotel when she made a television programme about Georgia. We discussed our mutual love of the country. She even talked about buying an apartment in Tbilisi. I must catch up with her and ask if she has.

Check your travel requirements, including recent coronavirus announcements, get your passport out, and go as soon as you safely can. You won’t regret it, and will undoubtably return to your own country with Georgia firmly on your mind!

If you would like to raise an issue, or topic which is concerning you please drop me an email at stephen@feargroup.com and I will do my best in include it in a future publication.

 

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