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At the crossroads

By Messenger Staff
Monday, February 23
The Georgian press has reported that President Saakashvili told businessmen in Barcelona during a recent meeting that it is more important for Georgia to enter the European Union than NATO.

This is a surprising statement. Until now Georgia has expressed an equal desire to join both organisations, as complementing each other, rather than giving one a higher priority. The problem has been that neither of these entities is very much eager to have Georgia as a member – a Georgia with instability, conflicts, Russian-occupied-and-recognised-territories and a pseudo-democratic regime: in short, a problem. However NATO has still promised that Georgia will eventually become a member, though not specifying when.

As for the EU, it keeps Georgia busily engaged in different types of stand by programmes which are designed to help the country move into compliance with the standards of European democracies. So Georgia likewise has to wait for an indefinite time, but first of all build democracy, ensure the freedom of the media, establish an independent court system, protect human rights and do many other things which we claim to be trying to achieve, but have by definition failed to do so far.

So why did the President reconfigure our/his preferences?

Maybe the President’s hopes concerning NATO have been frustrated and he is therefore trying to change to a more profitable course. The August war has made NATO an even more distant prospect: nobody wants to have a troublemaker in their company, in particular when it will get them into trouble with mighty Russia. The EU has offered practical support to Georgia since the war. But does it yet perceive Georgia as having more to offer than trouble?

Saakashvili’s surprises however did not end there. While the President was trying to persuade Spanish/Catalan businessmen to invest in Georgia, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Defence and Security Commission was airing his concerns on TV that the Russians might launch a repeat attack on Georgia in spring. It is one thing for a nasty journalist to promote sensational news but absolutely different for the head of a Parliamentary Commission to say the same. Under such circumstances it would appear that satisfying NATO requirements should be Georgia’s prime concern, but the President is now looking elsewhere just when he should be attending to what is in front of him.

However unlikely and difficult it will be to join NATO Georgia has nevertheless undertaken the commitment to send 100 soldiers to Afghanistan for a peacekeeping mission. This was announced at the NATO Ministerial in Krakow, Poland. Georgian Defence Minister David Sikharulidze confirmed the decision after a NATO –Georgia Commission meeting. When asked about the possibility of providing NATO a base on Georgian territory to replace the one in Kyrgyzstan which is about to be closed the Minister stated that there is a possibility of providing an air corridor to NATO. So on the one hand the President reorients the county and on the other his team members are contradicting him. What does this mean? Is the car breaking down?

Georgia started flirting with NATO only after it was brutally bullied by Russia in the 90s of the twentieth century, when it started to steal Georgia’s now-breakaway territories. Georgia sought to protect its sovereignty and integrity with the help of the alliance. Probably it was a naive hope but today there is no way back. Commitment to NATO must be total as there is nowhere else Georgia can turn, having thrown all its eggs into this basket. With the Georgian people also crying out for the same things NATO wants Georgia to do, now is not the time to start ignoring NATO for the sake of what is probably an equally ephemeral hope.

As the saying goes, hope dies last. However pathetic it may sound, we don’t want our hope to die at all.