Georgia may be roughly the size of West Virginia, but the eastern European nation has continent-sized aspirations, Irakli Alasania, the Georgian ambassador to the United Nations, told an audience of about 20 at a Saybrook College Master’s Tea on Tuesday.
After a decade-and-a-half of chaos and instability following its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Republic of Georgia is looking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and establish its legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the world — a difficult but achievable task, Alasania said.
“It’s the aspiration of the whole nation,” he said.
The United States was the first nation to respond to Georgia’s call for help in building a functioning infrastructure following Georgian independence, Alasania said. After a bloodless revolution in 2003 ushered in a new government, the country’s economy has picked up and national leaders have led an effort to integrate Georgia into the international community of states.
“Salaries were raised, there was a crackdown on corruption, and new, young people were brought into the government,” Alasania said of the change of control five years ago.
On Jan. 5, Georgia held presidential elections, in which incumbent Mikhail Saakashvili was re-elected to a second term. In the same election, Georgians also voted in support of their country’s joining NATO.
But Alasania said he thinks there are greater difficulties in being allowed into the international community than many outsiders might realize. As an example, he cited the inter-ethnic violence that consumed Georgia in the early 1990s, which resulted in the removal of more than 250,000 Georgians from their homes in the areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to other areas of Georgia. More than 100,000 Georgians moved out of the country to places such as the United States as a result of the violence, he said.
Russia’s political elite aided the separatists in these areas, with the ultimate goal of keeping Georgia from entering the international sphere, Alasania said. If Georgia succeeds in joining NATO and the European Union, he said, it will provide a model for other countries still grappling with their post-Soviet legacy.
In response to a question about Georgians’ attitude toward the war in Iraq, Alasania said there is widespread support for the war in Georgia because the country wants to lend a hand to the United States as a gesture of gratitude for America’s help following the crumbling of the Soviet Union. Georgia now has the third-highest number of soldiers on the ground in Iraq, he said.
Juli Huang ’08, who spent her winter break working in Georgia for the student-run non-governmental organization AIESEC, which facilitates international cooperation, said she was excited upon returning to campus to discover that Alasania was scheduled to speak.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the talk,” Huang said. “I have been following the elections closely and talking to students there. It was interesting to learn about the government perspective.”
Other students said Alasania’s talk broadened their knowledge of a topic to which they had previously had little exposure.
“I did a lot of Model UN in high school, and I was Georgia,” Clara Lucio ’11 said. “It is different to read about it and hearing what the ambassador has to say.”