Opinion: ‘Friendship between nations is absolutely critical, especially in the age of nuclear weapons’
Original article written by Stephen Fear for the Bristol Post on 4th October 2017 (also featured on SouthWestBusiness.co.uk on 10th October 2017).
The spirit of friendship is an important emotion, without it our world would seem hollow and pointless.
This was made obvious to me during my recent visit to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. The twinning of Bristol with Tbilisi took place in 1988 when Georgia was still firmly part of the Soviet Union, but the real friendship between our two great cities began in 1993, when the leader of Bristol City Council received a letter from his counterpart in Tbilisi.
The letter asked for help as Georgia had been set free following the collapse of the Soviet Union and was facing an economic crisis as a result. All the old Soviet states were in disarray following the collapse of communism but none more so than Georgia. A place where, in Soviet times, communist politburo members would holiday and build large dachas due to its wonderful climate.
Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea and has important land borders with Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The capital, Tbilisi, has a population approaching 1.5m which is nearly half that (3.7m) of the entire country.
I was astounded at how many people in Tbilisi identify with Bristol. Many have studied at UWE and Bristol University and speak fondly of their time living in places like Bishopston, Bedminster and Clifton.
Friendship between individuals is important but the development of friendship between nations is absolutely critical, especially in the age of nuclear weapons.
As the world faces many dangerous challenges, such as the current standoff between President Trump and Kim Jong-un of North Korea, it is essential that more countries and cities link in a twinning spirit of friendship and cooperation, rather than needless aggression and posturing.
If New York and Pyongyang had been twinned 70 years ago, as did Bristol & Hannover and Bristol & Bordeaux, perhaps there would be people behind the scenes in those cities encouraging their respective leaders not to threaten harm to friends.
During my visit to Georgia it was great to catch up with street artist, Dr Love, Georgia’s very own version of Banksy. I also managed dinner and a couple of further meetings with current Mayor of Tbilisi, Dr Davit Narmania and a meeting in the Georgian Parliament with Deputy Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Giorgi Cherkezishvili. Both were keen to develop further links with the UK and of course Bristol.
Georgia is famous for its wine, most of which was supplied to Russia before Georgia became an independent nation once again but is now being increasingly drank in the west.
A visit to Bristol’s twin city of Tbilisi will reveal much more than delicious wine. It will reveal a genuine fondness by the Georgian people for the City of Bristol and the United Kingdom generally.
Developing trade alliances and experiencing other cultures mix well, so I hope to return to Georgia soon so that I can sample some more of that famous Georgian hospitality.
Georgia is definitely on my mind!