In late March of 2017, the EU granted visa-free travel to Georgia. Amid overall triumphant rejoicing, inherently sane experts have predicted problems in the relations with EU.
For the impoverished population of Georgia, Europe was not a touristic paradise, not a chance to visit great museums and historical monuments, but an elementary way out of poverty. EU tried to control the flow of migrants from Georgia beforehand by serious restrictions and requirements such as only 90 days of stay in the country, spending money, booked hotel rooms and tickets, and official work permit. For wealthy citizens, it is not a problem, but for future migrant workers the only opportunity to stay in EU was through violation of these rules.
All the Georgian governments replacing each other have successfully fought crime in the country. Yet, there are direct and indirect methods of fighting crime. For instance, a poverty-stricken country is not interesting to criminals. So they migrate to Europe where laws are more liberal and prisons are more comfortable. Will Europe like this all? Here is the answer: government of Northern Rhein Westfalen, Germany, has recently urged cancellation of visa-free travel for Georgian citizens. In fact, it would not be a reason for concern, but for the statement by Interior Minister of German Thomas De Maizière at the 54th Munich Conference.
“I have recently had a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, I expressed my position. Finally, we have achieved consensus, including the suspension mechanism. If the number of visa violators increases, we will launch [suspension] mechanism. So everything depends on Georgia. We hope that visa liberalization will be maintained, we are not going to launch a suspension mechanism yet, but the increase in the number of visa violators is alarming. Another important issue is the growth of the crime. Georgia is actively involved in solving this problem," said German interior minister.
Such statements speak volumes. German regional governments are not happy with the growing number of asylum seekers from Georgia. The situation is critical at the refugee shelter in Recklinghausen. Earlier, Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign affairs and Security Policy said over 170,000 Georgian citizens have used visa-free travel opportunity and the number of asylum-seekers from Georgia in Europe has increased for 35%. Violations have resulted in deportation of over 2,000 Georgian citizens under readmission agreement. Noteworthy that Georgian government covers the readmission costs.
Georgian government should take control of the situation. Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani explained that violators of European rules change their names and make new documents in Georgia to cross the EU border again. The minister assured the EU and Georgian people that the ministry is taking all possible measures to increase controls and prevent such frauds in the country.
Foreign Minister of Georgia Mikheil Janelidze, in turn, says there is no specific date of launching the suspension mechanism: “We do our utmost to prevent it and stop this tendency…We will take active measures, but much depends on the citizens, indeed.”
Of course, it is important to comfort the people, but it is even more important to explain them the reasons of such behavior by Europe. President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili whose political drift towards Russophobia has been observed for several years already decided to give explanations personally. Speaking at Telavi University, the president blamed “Russia propaganda” for the current situation. He claimed that Russia has drafted several “criminal cases” to set the European public and mass media against Georgians and put a focus on this issue.
According to the Georgian leader, Russia takes painfully Georgia’s success as leader of EU Eastern Partnership Project. Russia has not only “had his men elected as presidents in all countries, but also tries to damage Georgia’s image abroad!”
It turns out that Russian propaganda “has forced” Georgian criminals to migrate to Europe to discredit Georgia. “Influenced by Russian propaganda”, Georgia’s citizens leave their “wealthy and prosperous country, where they enjoy all possible rights and freedoms and high living-standards,” to live in poor and insecure Europe and do all kind of dirty work for miserable money.
Can you imagine what kind of brilliant comic novels Gogol, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Mark Twain and O. Henry would create basing on this article, if they were alive. Nikolai Gogol would recall his famous quote: "You can't blame the mirror for your ugly face." I would add another popular phrase: “The idiocy is getting stronger.”
Irakli Chkheidze (Tbilisi) for EADaily