Monday, July 01, 2013

1 July 2013: To NATO or not to NATO: it's not even a question

Georgia loves NATO but does NATO love Georgia?  We explored this topic today at the NATO Liaison Office with the Liaison himself, William Lahue.  Georgia wants stability and security and it thinks NATO can help it reach that objective.  As I have mentioned here before, Georgia fears another Russian occupation and seeks the protection NATO membership will provide.  To prove its resolve, Georgia has contributed a large number of troops to ISAF, second only to the US.  And yet Georgia has not yet managed to "buy" its way into the club.  Against Georgia is its distance from other NATO countries (while it borders NATO member Turkey, Georgia would be the most eastern nation in the organization), its recent instability, its poor relationship with Russia and, relatedly, Russia's fierce opposition to Georgia's acceptance into NATO (Russia may not be a NATO nation but it still has clout within the organization, especially with Germany).

Pursuant to my thesis research, I asked the liaison about Georgia-Iran relations.  He told us that Georgia has a visa free regime with Iran but this may not last for long as Georgia's relationship with Iran is being strained.  First of all, Iranians are buying up a large tracts of property in Georgia.  Georgia is also concerned with Iran's unfriendly policies against Azerbaijan; Azeris are rejecting Iran's attempt to build madrasahs (fundamentalist religious schools) and Iran is growing increasingly belligerent with Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan is a close neighbor to Georgia and the two enjoy historical and economic ties within the region.   A final concern: if Iran breaks out its nuclear weapons US-friendly Georgia could be a target.

A bit about my other research interest that ties in to my activities this afternoon.  Thanks to the director of American Councils I located a local hangout for Egyptian Copts (Orthodox Christians) and asked several about their stories.  I wanted to know why they had left Egypt, why they chose Georgia, how long they intended to stay, what they hoped to do here, and under which conditions would they return to Egypt.  Their answers were unsurprising: all spoke of the lack of human rights in Egypt, particularly under Morsi (the "lier")'s rule.  None of them condemned Egyptian Muslims as a group but the lack of policies guaranteeing Egyptians Christians the same rights as Muslims.  They gave story after story of the wrongs they suffered.  They universally wanted to immigrate to the US or Europe but visas, they vowed, are impossible to get.  Georgia, however, has an open visa policy and welcomes Egyptians.  They may legally work here and the men I interviewed all claimed that they do not feel marginalized or discriminated against in Georgia.  The interviews were fun--and I got to speak about my beloved Egypt in my beloved Arabic.  Jamila was happy.

So, which thesis to choose?  Reader, help!  Read on and if you can even UNDERSTAND my thoughts please feel free to comment:

1) Georgia and migrants (possible thesis: Do Georgia's immigration policies have positive implications for its economy/democratization/regional and/or global position?)

2) Georgia and Iran (possible thesis: Can Georgia balance its interests with America and Iran and/or remain neutral between America and Iran, and how can Georgia be an example to emerging nations of neutrality and/or independence from global power politics?)

The other events of my day were as follows:
-Early morning jog around the hippodrome.  
-Washed my hair!  Second time in nine days. :-)
-Arrived on time for a crash course in Georgian.  Wish we'd had it our first day but it was great nonetheless.
-Group lunch.  I really like Lobio--a delicious bean soup served in a large ceramic mug with very hard unsweetened cornbread.  Yum!
-Thea had something else she had to do at the last moment so Kristin and I decided to seek out Egyptian Copt handouts--and found some!  After I interviewed people in three different cafes I joined Kristin for some reflection and planning.  
-Returned to Thea's by 9pm.  We all worked together to cook up some Pilmeni (Russian dumplings) and salad.  And oh--lavash with Nutella.  Double yum!

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