A “sanitary cordon” around Georgia?19.02.2009 | 09:50
This week Georgian citizens were put into a gloomy mood by reports that even friendly Ukraine and Turkey were closing their borders to them. What initially seemed to be good news about the start of consultations yesterday on simplifying the visa regime with the European Union also left a bitter after-taste. Why is that?
Late last week the Ukrainian Interior Ministry asked the country's Foreign Ministry to look into the possibility of introducing a visa regime with Georgia and Moldova. What was the reason? Many criminal groups made up of Georgian citizens are involved in committing residential burglaries, and immigrants from Moldova use Ukrainian territory to enter Poland and Slovakia.
Literally the following day Turkey declared its intention to re-examine its visa regime with Georgia, making it harder from 1st March onwards for people crossing the border on foot to enter the country. The official explanation is that this decision followed on from Ankara's intention to re-examine the system of border checkpoints for pedestrians as a whole.
The Tbilisi regime has tried as hard as it could to change the situation. They seem to have talked Ukraine round. As Interfax-Ukraina reports, the press secretary for their Foreign Ministry Vasily Kirilich announced at a briefing on 16 February that a visa regime with Georgia would not be introduced. For the time being, Turkey is keeping quiet. However, as nregion reports, according to the Turkish side, Georgia and Azerbaijan are among those countries whose citizens most frequently try to enter Turkey illegally.
Even if Georgian diplomats do manage to preserve visa-free travel to Ukraine and a simplified visa regime with Turkey, a clear blow has once again been struck at the country's image. A problem which people in Tbilisi usually talk about in their kitchens is now rising to the surface: if you have a Georgian passport, nowhere wants you.
The thing is that the view is developing abroad that many immigrants from this sunny republic have a tendency not to make their living doing normal everyday work. Of course, no-one is accusing Georgians of having a genetic predisposition to criminal activities. God forbid! Famous actors, musicians, directors and businessmen who were born in Georgia are the pride and joy of many countries around the world. Nevertheless, criminal news briefings, and not only in Russia, constantly abound with reports of the arrest of yet another "thief in law" with a melodious surname ending in "dze" or "shvili".
They say that Russia has "special feelings" towards obstinate Georgia. In 2001 it became the only country in the post-Soviet sphere to have introduced a visa regime with Georgia. Since the August events, diplomatic relations between the countries have been broken off completely.
But it turns out that even countries that are friendly to Georgia are in no hurry to throw open their borders to its citizens. Turkey complains that it has been inundated, just as it was in the 1990s, with prostitutes from the neighbouring country. An acquaintance of mine who, incidentally, emigrated to France using fake documents, has told me that he earns some decent extra money by interpreting: the Paris police hire him to talk to Georgian offenders in their native language. It's now difficult for Georgian migrant workers to find work in Greece. Their capacity to shirk off the job and quickly "take off with anything that is lying around to tempt them" is already the stuff of legend here.
There is actually an explanation for this. The endless social and political cataclysms have forced many Georgian citizens to leave their homes and instead try to build a life for themselves in nearby, or more distant, countries abroad. We should remember, however, that one of the distinguishing national characteristics of the migrants coming from this sunny republic, whose inhabitants thought of themselves as "darlings of fortune" throughout the previous century, is their wilfulness. Incidentally, the famous Georgian writer Grigol Robakidze writes about this when analysing the ancient Georgian myth about Amirani. The famous social psychologist Gaga Nizharadze also comes to the same conclusion. In his article "We the Georgians" published in "Friendship of the peoples", he writes: "One of our distinguishing national characteristics is our wilfulness. Wilfulness, the primacy of one's own wishes over generally-accepted norms of behaviour, and as a result, a nihilistic attitude towards lawfulness, is a completely integral part of the Georgian character. Wilfulness is a genuine and significant value in Georgian culture, hence particularly "wilful" individuals are afforded clear reverence in the Georgian mass consciousness."
But times change, and the Georgian wilfulness, which was appealing for many years, is now no longer attractive for most people. Going abroad to earn their money is now a big problem for Georgian citizens.