Why are statues of Stalin returning to Russia

Georgia - between Europe and Russia

Does the road lead to the EU?

Many young Georgians see it very clearly: the country is western, even if geographically it is in Asia and borders on Russia. That is why the young generation hopes that Georgia will one day belong to the European Union (EU).

But not all residents of the state hold this opinion. Many do not believe that the small country with just under four million inhabitants can turn its back on its "big brother" Russia so easily.

Failure to come to terms with the Georgian Soviet era

The Georgians have hardly come to terms with their time as a former Soviet republic. Even today, for example, the dictator Josef Stalin is celebrated as a hero in a Georgian museum in Gori. The older generation in particular prefers to see the positive effects that Stalin brought about in the South Caucasus than his reign of terror.

"Efforts to close the museum and build a new one were thwarted," reports Georgia expert Silvia Stöber. Only the Stalin statue was dismantled. Even this took a long time, emphasizes Stöber. Many people did not dare to come to terms with it. Stöber: "In a family there is usually always both: Stalin supporters and victims. Coming up with what happened would be very painful."

Russian power game in the Caucasus War 2008

Russia last demonstrated its power in 2008 - 17 years after Georgia gained independence. The conflict between Georgia and Russia lasted for five days and revolved around the two Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are striving for independence. The European Union (EU) was finally able to negotiate a ceasefire in the Caucasus War.

In the end, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent from Georgia and urged other states to follow suit. So far, however, only four countries have done this, explains Silvia Stöber: "Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru and recently also Syria. All states that are politically closely allied with Russia."

Compared to the situation before 2008, it is much quieter in the country today, says Stöber. The limits are set, there is not much left to shake. There is also an EU mission that is on site as an observer. That way, what happens in the two regions is better controlled. Nevertheless, there are always incidents.

Georgia is getting closer to the EU

Despite the domestic tensions, Georgia took the first steps towards possible EU membership a few years ago. The country has been linked to the EU via the so-called Eastern Partnership, a sub-project of the European Neighborhood Policy, since 2009 and has been a member of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) since 2014.

An association agreement with the European Union has been in place since 2016, which has significantly boosted exports from Georgia. The country in the Caucasus mainly sells copper and agricultural products, including hazelnuts and walnuts. Georgian wine is also in demand abroad.

Although full EU membership currently seems a long way off for Georgia, the people in the country are already benefiting from the association agreement, explains Georgia expert Silvia Stöber. Many EU standards have been introduced, such as a TÜV for cars and guidelines for food. These would have brought significant improvements.

Trade with European countries is also growing. The EU is an interesting market for Georgians because they have more confidence in these products than, for example, in Chinese, says Silvia Stöber. So far there have been good economic contacts with Germany, and exports can still be expanded across the EU.

The dream of Georgia joining the EU

Georgian entrepreneurs and young Georgians in particular dream of stronger ties with the EU. The visa waiver, which has been in force since 2017, was a first step, but many Georgians are hoping for more. You point out that Georgia is already significantly more progressive in terms of freedom of the press and economic efficiency than the EU accession candidates Albania and Serbia.

Corruption is even lower in Georgia than in the EU members Italy and Greece, reports Georgia expert Silvia Stöber. Good reasons to pay close attention to Georgia in the future.