“It is not Surprising that Cultural Diplomacy is Closely Linked to what Joseph Nye called Soft Power”

The former ambassador of Georgia Elguja Khokrishvili sums up his term of office from the perspective of Cultural Diplomacy and German-Georgian cultural relations

April 02nd, 2020
20200402_It is not Surprising.jpg

Georgian former ambassador to Germany, Elguja Khokrishvili acted as an ambassador from February 2018 until January 2020. In the following interview he talks about Cultural Diplomacy and its influence on the lively German-Georgian ties.

Could you please briefly talk about Cultural Diplomacy. Do you think that Cultural Diplomacy is the pivotal course of action which strengthen socio-cultural relationships, cooperation between nations and promote national interests ?
That’s right, Cultural Diplomacy is about the promotion of mutual understanding through cultural exchange. Although, the concept of cultural diplomacy is still relatively young, this practice has  always existed; it was used by both democratic and totalitarian regimes. The Cold War was also based on cultural and scientific proxy battles between East and West. Cultural diplomacy is based on the premise that culture has a fundamental function in international relations. In general, it is an integral part of diplomacy - from local embassy-led initiatives to international programs such as the various scholarships programs. It is not surprising that cultural diplomacy is closely linked to what Joseph Nye called soft power. In fact, cultural diplomacy could be described as a sub-category of soft power and Cultural diplomacy to a certain extent ensures that soft power can work. First, the most important manifestations of cultural diplomacy are state-financed cultural diplomacy; second, the cultural diplomacy of independent and semi-independent institutions, such as the Goethe Institute, the British Council and the European Union's Socrates and Erasmus programs; third, the cultural diplomacy of private actors, either companies as part of their corporate social responsibility strategy or their public relations, or non-profit and charity organisations. Cultural diplomacy is therefore an indispensable part of maintaining a nation's image in the minds of global citizens.

Mr. Elguja, as a former ambassador, please sum up your term of office in relation to Cultural Diplomacy. Please talk around the working specificity of Embassy and regarding to the basic actions in the field of Cultural Diplomacy. How important was this direction for you as for ambassador.
German-Georgian relations have grown historically, and bilateral relations have developed very dynamically since the end of the East-West conflict. Cultural relations between Germany and Georgia are very close. Two years ago, the Georgian-German year has begun officially in Berlin, an 18-month-long series of cultural and political events celebrating the 200 years of friendship and 25 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Lively cultural exchange took place between the German and Georgian art scenes, which could be seen in Germany, where exhibitions of Georgian artists, as well as various cultural events was regularly organized. The bilateral cultural agreement and the cultural commission form the important framework for the tight cultural cooperation in different formats.  This new bilateral cultural agreement between Georgia and Germany was initiated last year during a visit of German President Schteinmeier to Georgia. Last year Georgia was a Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It was a culmination of Georgian-German friendship year and this event made a tremendous contribution to the bilateral cultural exchange and shaped the image of Georgia even more positively not only in the German society but this forum also contributed to the promotion of the Georgian literature and culture to the wide international audience.
Germany is currently the most popular destination for Georgian students who wish to obtain an academic degree abroad. The number of Georgian students enrolled at German universities has remained relatively constant since 2003 and currently stands at around 2500. The Georgian government maintains several scholarship and exchange programs for studies abroad. In the field of higher education, we rejoice in about 60 cooperation projects, which confirms that both countries highly value bilateral educational relations. The Embassy of Georgia offered its premises once a month to young artists to display their art and was also very active in promoting mutual cultural exchange.

Please discuss the existing social, political and cultural relationships between Georgia and Germany, to what extent is the tight cooperation between them ?
The fact that an intensive exchange between the Germans and Georgians already began at the beginning of the 19th century underlines the close ties. Close German-Georgian relations made a significant contribution to the founding of the First Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1918. The good partnership relations between the German Empire and the Georgian Republic were defined in numerous bilateral agreements. Since the early 1990s, Germany has become one of Georgia's most important partners in Europe and worldwide.  After the USA, Germany is also the second largest bilateral donor to Georgia, providing intensive development cooperation support to Georgia. This includes not only strengthening good governance and the rule of law, but also supporting small, micro and medium-sized enterprises, expanding the electricity grid, facilitating the biodiversity and environmental protection.
Bilateral cooperation between the two countries is currently as intense as never before and encompasses a wide range of areas, including close political partnership, economic contacts and social, cultural and scientific exchange.
This is confirmed by the increasing number of reciprocal visits by government representatives. In August 2018, Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Georgia. Her last officially visit to Georgia is dated back to 2008.  In October 2019, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid a visit to Georgia. Last time, a Federal President travelled to Georgia was 23 years ago, then Roman Herzog. In addition, the current Federal Minister and then Foreign Minister, Mr. Steinmeier, was in our country numerous times as Foreign Minister.
Economic relations remain constantly stable and some positive changes especially in the tourism sector have been recorded. The number of German tourists travelling to Georgia is increasing yearly and reached 83.261 in 2019.
However, I see even more space and potential for further development of these relationships. Georgia and Germany are linked by common interests and strive to upgrade the existing partnership as well as long-term security in the EU and its eastern neighborhood. I believe that the extensive cooperation between the two countries could be translated into an institutionalised, structured format for dialogue. This would be a step towards a qualitatively completely new level of cooperation and would have both a political impetus and a practical advantage for the two countries.

Based on your experience, what do you think in which direction has the Georgian Embassy to work to strengthen Cultural Diplomacy with Germany and to promote more close and tight links ?
The most important challenge for me is to facilitate that the Georgia stays on the political agenda of Germany along with the Euro-Atlantic institutions and that the issues important to Georgia, such as Georgia's territorial integrity.
Due to the particularly close and friendly relations between Germany and Georgia, public awareness of Georgia is higher here than in other EU member states. Georgia's appearance as a Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair also contributed to this, with the diverse Georgian culture and literature being presented. It would be important for the future providing platforms for an exchange of ideas and opinions and create networks of shared interest and information exchange. The support of German think tanks and political foundations would be crucial. We  should work intensively with these organisations to initiate discussions (panels / round tables) with a focus on Georgia and to attract the attention of the German public as far as possible.
We live in a world that is almost completely incomprehensible. It is also a world in which, as Joseph Nye puts it, "the country with the best story wins". There are few countries in the world that can boast such a magnificent culture and history as Georgia and as Georgians, we should trust that we have a captivating story to tell.

Source: Direct mail interview.

News from Berlin