Getting to Know Georgia
It is hard to describe Georgia succinctly, because it varies in so many ways. The people range from jovial and wine-LOVING to somber when discussing Russian conflict, from peaceful to occasionally violent, and from pro-government to anti-government (see protest video in Rahul’s blog). The landscape includes green plains, semi-desert areas, and snow-capped mountains. Old Tbilisi, a part of the capital city that includes traditional streets and architecture, could also be described as New Tbilisi, as it also features trendy restaurants and bars. The architecture also varies from traditional to modern, as can be seen below.
Overall though, from the interviews that we have had with representatives of both government ministries and businesses as well as our general take on the mood in the capital city of Tbilisi, I would say Georgians are forward-looking, open, and friendly. The country has made strides in reducing corruption, limiting bureaucracy, and increasing transparency. For example, police officers used to be among the most corrupt in Georgia, and now they are generally among the most trusted. As a symbol of this change, police stations are now all-glass (i.e., they are literally transparent). Strides go beyond transparency and anti-corruption efforts. Seven years ago, there would only be a few hours of electricity each day in Georgia, now Georgia uses about 20% of its electricity and has become a net exporter. The wine industry is another industry that is being further developed. Georgia has been focused on improving wine quality to increase wine exports to new and existing global trading partners. We have conducted in-depth research in this area, and with our taste testing (for educational purposes) we can attest to the good quality of wines. Below is one of our favorites – Saperavi.
In the meetings we have had, people have been open about Georgia’s difficulties with Russia and the negative perceptions of corruption and political instability that the country must contend with. However, they manage these obstacles with humor. When we came back to the hotel from dinner one night during our first week to find the street lined with army tanks (we later found out this was preparation for the Georgian independence day parade), the hotel staff joked that it was “probably just another war with Russia, you know, no big deal” (this was not so funny to us at the time). In Old Tbilisi, one of the bars is named KGB. It’s slogan: “KGB…We’re still watching you.” It’s a popular spot.
It has been a very interesting experience to visit and spend time in Georgia. It would be great to visit again in a few years and see how the country has improved even further.