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Romania and Georgia offer Europe a geoeconomic and cultural bridge to the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea

Recorded by VICTOR RONCEA (Translated by Cosmin Ghidoveanu)
English Section /

Romania and Georgia offer Europe a geoeconomic and cultural bridge to the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea

(Interview with His Excellency Nikoloz Nikolozishvili, Georgia's Ambassador to Romania, on the 300th anniversary of cultural and diplomatic relations between Georgians and Romanians) 

Georgia, the "land of wolves" or that of Saint George, officially pledged to the Virgin Mary, with a multi-millennial culture and with an alphabet and language unique in the world, with anti-communist saints, such as Metropolitan Nazar, killed by the Bolsheviks, or Holy Gabriel the Georgian, canonized in 2012, is a small but brave state, which did not hesitate to fight the Russian Moloch, when attacked. In 2019, Georgia and Romania celebrated 300 years of cultural and diplomatic relations, founded by the friendship of two holy scholars: Antim Ivireanu and Constantin Brâncoveanu, both martyred by the Turks. With mountains taller than the Mont Blanc, in the Caucasus Mountains where Greek legends say that Prometheus was bound in chains, Georgia is literally at the geographical and historic crossroads between Europe and Asia. Romania, aside from the cultural and religious links with the old Iveria, is a neighbor to the Georgian state via the Black Sea. His Excellency Nikoloz Nikolozishvili, Georgia's Ambassador to Romania is now going to tell us what that can mean for the two states that once had direct common routes. A philologist, journalist and historian, educated in the history of art and theology, the Georgian diplomat has served as ambassador to Armenia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland. Well versed in the shared history of our two countries, the Georgian ambassador aims to restore the bilateral economic ties, for the benefit of our countries and of Europe, on the energy and geopolitical coordinates of the three seas: the Caspian, Black and Adriatic.

The Romanian-Georgian friendship starts with two saints

Reporter: Your Excellency, Georgia and Romania are celebrating 300 years of diplomatic relations in 2019. This also attests to a great extent the cultural and common bond of faith we have. We are probably the only country in the world whose ties were established by two saints, both born and martyred on dates very close to each other. Can you explain to our readers how these relationships were established 300 years ago?

Nikoloz Nikolozishvili: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to talk to the readers of your newspaper. You have correctly noted that the anniversary of the 300 years of state relations between Georgia and Romania is a wonderful example of cooperation between the two countries on the basis of a shared culture, of faith and historical destinies.

The embodiment of this communion is represented by great people, canonized by our Orthodox churches. First of all, there is Antimoz Iverieli (Antim Ivireanul) and the Ruler of Wallachia, Constantin Brâncoveanu. These two saints are the starting point of the Georgian-Romanian friendship and cooperation. The similarity of their tragic destinies also symbolizes the unity of the historical destinies of our countries.

Saint Antim (Antimoz) was the one to bring enlightenment not just to Wallachia, to all of Romania, but also to Georgia. He managed to accomplish that work with the help of the ruler of Wallachia, a great patriot, the bringer of enlightenment and supporter of education, Constantin Brâncoveanu.

Saint Constantin Brâncoveanu also contributed to the founding of printing and to the enlightenment of Georgia, since with his support and help Antim Ivireanul was able to set up the first printing house in the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. On the other hand, it was the King of Georgia, Vakhtang the 6th Bagrationi, who had the initiative of founding the printing house in Tbilisi, a poet, man of science and learned scholar. He was a leader of the faithful and also a man with a difficult and tragic fate.

Here we must mention another great Romanian - subdeacon Mihai Ştefan, originally from Transylvania, who personally arrived in Tbilisi sent by Saint Constantine Brâncoveanu and was involved in the printing of the first Georgian books. Traditions founded in that distant historical era endure into the 21st century.

Reporter: What are the cultural and diplomatic events that Romania and Georgia have hosted to celebrate their unique anniversary throughout the year?

Nikoloz Nikolozishvili: Considering the significance of the date for the Georgian-Romanian bilateral relations, together with our Romanian colleagues, we have planned and conducted a series of events: book fairs, including about the history of Georgia and Georgian-Romanian relations - The history of Georgia has already been translated and will be published in Romanian; there is also a bilateral commission of the science academies of our countries, with the participation of the State University of Tbilisi and the University of Bucharest. The commission's mission is to study archival and press materials in order to prepare the publication of a monograph on the 300 years of relations between Georgia and Romania. In addition, at the diplomatic level, both countries express their wish to draw up a document on strategic cooperation during the high-level visit, in order to successfully develop our links in the field of economy, transport and tourism.

In Romania like at home - in the footsteps of Saint Antim Ivireanul and other Georgians

Reporter: You have often attended religious events held at the Monastery set up by Saint Antim Ivireanul, in Bucharest - where the actual oak doors of the Church are sculpted by the Georgian saint -, as well as in cultural events, in Iaşi, where you have unveiled the statue of Georgian poet Besarion Gabashvili. How have you adjusted in that space? Have you acquainted yourselves with the representatives of the monastic and cultural life in Romania?

Nikoloz Nikolozishvili: We have made many friends, including people from the areas of culture and the clergy. We have been very warmly welcomed everywhere. Especially in those places where St. Antimoz has lived and worked. Me and my wife, we take every opportunity to visit the monasteries and other monuments of Romania's cultural heritage, to communicate with the representatives of the Romanian clergy, to find the connecting threads between our peoples and churches.

Recently, in the county of Neamţ, I visited the Pângăraţi Monastery, which between 1790-1792 was overseen by another well-known Georgian personality, Metropolitan Iona Gedevanishvili.

A memorial plaque for famous Georgian architect Longinoz Sumbadze was unveiled in the city of Victoria, in the county of Braşov. In the 1950s, the houses in Victoria were rebuilt according to his project, in Georgian folk architectural style.

I admit that, due to the hospitality of my Romanian friends, I feel at home in all regions of Romania, where my Georgian compatriots have lived and worked, but not just there. Romanians everywhere accept me as one of their own.

"In Georgia, Russia is violating every fundamental rule of international law

Reporter: It has been 11 years since the invasion of Russian troops in Georgia, an attack that resulted in numerous losses of human lives, over 1,700 wounded and hundreds of thousands of refugees. 20% of Georgia's territory is still occupied. You fought a giant enemy, compared to Georgia. And yet, you didn't give up. How do you see the solution of this situation today as Russia continues to violate commitments made to European forums?

Nikoloz Nikolozishvili: Unfortunately, Russia's negative tendency to violate every fundamental norm of international law in Georgia, which was first manifested openly through the aggression of 2008, not only continues today, but is expected to intensify.

11 years ago, while Moscow "tested" the Western community's reaction to the precedent created by the invasion of a neighboring country, not all European politicians observed and acknowledged that we are dealing with a "one-off case", but with a long-term policy. Therefore, today we are seeing an intensification of this tendency, with an increasing arrogance in other regions. First of all in Ukraine.

In my opinion, the only way out and the only correct policy is consolidation. The Euro-Atlantic community must speak to Russia "in one voice". Otherwise, the negative trend will intensify, spreading to new regions.

To many it seems impossible, but 15-20 years ago, they considered impossible much of what has become a sad reality today. For example, the annexation of Crimea is the first case of occupation, annexation and full incorporation of the territory of a European country into another neighboring state, after the Second World War.

Reporter: Romania has problems similar to those of Georgia, in the context where Russia threatens through its military presence in Transnistria the border of the EU and NATO defended and represented by Romania. Conflicts which were, for a time, considered "frozen" were triggered simultaneously in Georgia and in the Republic of Moldova, many Romanians being killed at the time by the troops of the Russian 14th Army. Do you think there could be a common solution, at the UN level, for conflicts of this kind kept alive by the Russian Federation?

Nikoloz Nikolozishvili: Surely, there can be a general solution, especially if the opponents of a legitimate world order fail to divide the Western community, using contradictions and internal problems, as well as activating radical, populist, essentially anti-European forces, both right- and left-wing. If Europe were to speak "with one voice," no one would dare to attack the world order suffered by humanity as a result of World War II. Of particular importance to us is cooperation on security issues in the Black Sea. Here Romania plays a crucial role.

Reporter: Why do you think Russia doesn't want peace in the region?

Nikoloz Nikolozishvili: According to a very popular phrase in some circles of post-Soviet Russia, "Power has no borders. It has only outskirts." Unfortunately, these circles are trying to turn the wheel of history back. They have developed a project that absolutely does not match the interests of the Russian people. Until aggressive circles will get rid of the legacy of the past, we will have to face dangerous challenges.

Romania and Georgia, central hubs of the Three Seas Initiative: Caspian, Black and Adriatic

Reporter: Bucharest and Tbilisi finally enjoy a direct air connection. And also the resumption of the former one between Constanta and Batumi or other Georgian ports. Do you think that a feasible link can be established for both parties?

Nikoloz Nikolozishvili: Thank you for this question. Currently, we are working hard to resume the Constanţa - Poti / Batumi ferry connection. Both the government structures of our countries and the private business sectors are involved in the work on this project. I think in a few months we will have direct communication and this will be the shortest route from Georgia to the EU. In addition, the ferry service will pave the way for freight in Europe, not only from the Caucasus region, but also from Central Asia, and vice versa.

In multilateral format: on March 4, in Bucharest, a quadrilateral declaration (Romania, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan) concerning the transport corridor of the Caspian Sea - Black Sea was signed. Experts from the four countries are now working to make freight along this "corridor" competitive compared to other routes. The first meeting has already taken place in the Romanian capital. The second is planned in Tbilisi in the near future. In addition, we are actively developing cooperation in the field of tourism and the more directions and opportunities there will be, the better.

Reporter: President Salome Zurabishvili has invited Romanian president to visit Georgia. Beyond the support by Romania of the territorial integrity of the Georgian state and its sovereignty, as well as of the firm path towards NATO accession, what other joint projects do we have, at the geopolitical and geoeconomic level, in the area of the Black Sea, respectively of the Caspian Sea?

Nikoloz Nikolozishvili: We are actively preparing for the highest level visit. Together with our Romanian colleagues, we are preparing an extended program covering all aspects of our cooperation, including in the field of economics, culture, humanitarian and scientific cooperation. Romania, as a key state of the Black Sea region and of Southern Europe, is capable of playing a decisive role in the implementation of the Three Seas Initiative and concept - the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea, becoming part of the bridge which connects Europe and Asia through Georgia as an integral part of Eastern Europe.

Georgia is waiting for its Romanian guests

Reporter: What tourist attractions and holy places would you recommend for a trip and a pilgrimage to Georgia?

Nikoloz Nikolozishvili: Like Romania, Georgia is extremely rich in historical monuments. First of all, one main point of attraction is, of course, the old capital of our country Mtskheta, the church of St. Svetitskhoveli and the Jvari monastery, the Holy Cross monastery, the rocky complex of the Vardzia monastery in the south of the country, the sanctuaries of the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia, - the Alaverdi church, the first historical capital of united Georgia - Kutaisi and the Gelati monastery complex in the Imereti region.

There are numerous tourist attractions both in our capital, Tbilisi and throughout the country, from Kakheti, wine-making area, to Adzjaria at the Black Sea and the high mountains of Svaneti or Tusheti. Noteworthy are Georgia's well-known ski resorts - Gudauri, Bakuriani and others, which are attracting more and more European winter sports enthusiasts. In all these regions, tourists can enjoy the delicacies of Georgian cuisine and world-famous Georgian wines; after all, Georgia is known as the cradle of winemaking.

Romanian visitors will be able to find in every region of our country material evidence of the millennial history of Georgia, from the pre-Christian era, the Middle Ages to the new and modern periods.

Reporter: In closing, please allow me to ask you how you feel in Romania and what is it you like the most about us?

Nikoloz Nikolozishvili: I am happy that I can serve my country precisely in our sister country Romania, with which Georgia is united by so many historical and modern threads. I feel like I am visiting my loved ones, good friends, who tend to propagate the centuries-old traditions of Romanian-Georgian relations. I am glad that I can personally contribute to these joint efforts.

Reporter: Thank you very much and I think we can wish each other, Many Happy Returns!

Nikoloz Nikolozishvili: Mravaljamier! Many Happy Returns!

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