One only has to search for EU membership status for Georgia and you will realize that the answer is short, NOT MUCH. Even since the timely untimely death, more likely murder, of Zurab Zhvania, the former Georgian PM under unusual circumstances, and his I am Georgia; therefore I am European speech.
These words spoken by the late Georgian Prime Minister, Zurab Zhvania, in front of the Council of Europe in 1999. During the speech, he expressed Georgia’s EU aspirations and outlined the country’s foreign policy agenda for the next decade.
Sometimes the only thing that is worse than getting what you think you want is to get it and realize that you really didn’t want it in the first place, as too much more is involved than you were willing to or had bargained for.
To look around in Georgia with all the EU flags flying of late, you would think Georgia’s wish had come true, stores, apartment buildings, restaurants, bars and homes decorated with both EU and Ukrainian flags, so much so you wonder if it is all for show, however, whose show?
The European Council has only just decided to “open accession negotiations with Ukraine & Moldova” And you would not know it, BUT it has onlygranted candidate status not only to Georgia but with several countries. The EU will first open up negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, but only once the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria is reached by them, and that is an open-ended question that will likely remain open for a long time.
Good luck to the EU…I hope they take care of Ukraine first.
That entails much; this includes changes of laws, values, education norms, food safety and to demonstrate that a county is doing more than making things look good on paper but without any real buy-in to what compliance with European standards, the rule of law, even food safety standards, actually mean.
The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban did not vote on the collective decision. Instead, he walked out of the meeting, but did not block the decision. The decision taken by 26 member states, however, is legally binding.
And just how European is Europe, in location and in mentality?
There are also issues as to degree and shades of Europeans, as to the degree of European identity compared to other nations that have been held, or will be held, in abeyance indefinitely, having to wait, such as Turkey, or Ukraine, as efforts are being made to fast track the latter country, in spite of the lack of anything democratic about it—even elections are cancelled, priests arrested and newspapers put out of business, while modern-day press gangs roam the shopping centers and gymnasiums dragging the unwilling to the front lines of an unwinnable war.
It comes only naturally that the EU announcement was a bit of a “sideshow” for Georgia’s status, whereas Ukraine is the primary focus; the Commission’s recommendation is indeed of huge consequence for a country where EU membership is seen as a solution to many economic, especially democratic and security woes, as if it will give Ukraine some semblance of legitimacy.
But this may be a day late and a dollar short for Ukraine, billions of dollars later, and not only the US is growing weary of never-ending assistance, military and economic, and the decision to fast track Ukraine may be more compared to tossing a bone for a dog to gnaw on, and making a mockery of the EU project as a whole.
Who gets put on the waiting list does not depend entirely upon European or democratic values, better elections, and more open governance, but on how much Europe values a given country, or “what-that-country-to-be-close” it can do for it (the EU and collective West).
It is almost as bad as to keep my friends close but my enemies closer, an end-of-the-day commentary as to the scoring matrix for European aspirations. It is not as if any of the countries being fast-tracked for candidacy status actually deserves it, despite many pundits proffering an array of positive claims otherwise.
But when compared to Ukraine, Georgia deserves EU membership and to be allowed to jump the line, as it is far more open and democratic, and comes much closer to European values in general. For Europe, giving Georgia hope is a BIG thing, however, Georgia is still is too stuck to its ancient values, holds too tightly to its rich culture, and will not compromise on its religious beliefs.
Closing ranks on such things is too much for many in the West to swallow, especially the Georgian publics’ disdain for Rome as the Center of Christianity for many western believers. Now Pope Francis is allowing Catholic Priests to bless same-sex couples.
Georgia’s uncompromising position on opposing gay rights and supporting traditional family values will not be appreciated by the EU leadership or Rome, as cultural values are held so close to the heart and fabric of Georgian society, as they are NOT held in high esteem in the woke West, especially in the most powerful of the countries of the EU.
But if “devalued” is what it means to be a candidate country by awarding this status to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of 2022, Georgia will find its place at the head of the new list of wannabes members of the EU.
Most Georgians understand they are on the right track, and considering political winds in Europe, likely they will get status, sooner or later. However, they too know they don’t hold such claimed European or alien values as close to the heart as they are given credit for by the polling organization, and they see EU membership as being the cure all for all ills and sins, especially of omission.
Georgians have held up high aspirations for EU membership ever since the “I am therefore European speech”. But what does that actually mean, and what is a realistic timetable for full-fledged membership, if that will ever come to pass?
For me, these kinds of rhetorical questions are not illuminating. We all know what the real situation is. Georgia is a pawn in larger geopolitical games. The high-flowering rhetoric about Western ideals is all soft-imperialism ideology. Soft power massaging of this area for future conflicts and no one in their right mind should take any of it seriously—it is all a distraction
Getting candidacy status for most Georgians is a direct political divided, as to be denied, would have push most Georgians even closer into the arms of Russia – and the West understands this only too well.
It’s important to note that the specifics of what Georgia might be willing to compromise on or give up can change based on the political climate, religious views, who and what power blocks are in the leadership, and other unfolding developments in the region, especially in light of how the Russian special operation turns out in Ukraine and the Gaza-Palestinian standoff—for starters.
It should also be noted, that, like most countries that emerged from the collapse of the USSR, Georgians often hold public and private opinions strongly at odds with each other. They will say one thing in public, and another in private. This is especially true of issues such as NATO and EU membership.
Georgia’s Proverbial “European Path”
The public pronouncements of Georgia’s “European Path” and supposed mass public support are often not borne out in private conversations, where there is real concern about the unacceptable ideas that Europe and the US are trying to impose on Georgian society. Then there is also the divide between the “elites” in central Tbilisi and the wider country.
The Vake princesses and Ortachala “good boys” are cheerleaders for the EU integration of Georgia, with their clubbing and western style party culture. The Church going youth of the regions, and also the working-class areas of Gldani and Saburtalo in Tblisi, on the other hand, view the prospect far less favorably. The difference is, that polling agencies seldom ask the latter.
Finally, I have found that the best barometer of public opinion is the much overlooked taxi drivers of the city of Tbilisi, who, regardless of age and rural vs city origin, are becoming increasingly anti-European as the real face of the EU is revealed in its never ceasing demands for Gender studies and
What is the real opinion of the Georgian public? Will they choose Europe or not when it comes to the crunch, and will violence ensure wither way? Only time will tell.
In the final analysis, it reminds me of the Groucho Marx’s famous lines, “I would not want to be a member of any club that would let me be a member”, or “I refuse to join any club that would have me…”
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.