Nordic Ministers: Human rights and democracy key to leaving no one behind in global fight against COVID-19


17.09.2020 (Caucasian Journal In the framework of our journal's  "BEST NORDIC AND BALTIC PRACTICE" Program we are glad to publish the following statement of the ministers of the Nordic countries:

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to accelerate the global trends of democratic backsliding and weakening respect for human rights. It is intensifying existing inequalities, hitting those who are already marginalised, subjected to discrimination and living in poverty the hardest.

ICC and Caucasian Journal inaugurate EURICA video channel at Board Meeting attended by ICC Secretary General

11.09.2020 (Caucasian Journal)  Today is a big  day for us, since Caucasian Journal is officially launching our EURICA video channel - with our three first videos. 
Since EURICA  (Eurasia Investment Channel and Analytics) is a joint project with ICC Georgia, our inauguration coincided with the visit of John W.H. DENTON, Secretary General of International Chamber of Commerce. 

Today in Tbilisi the Secretary General of ICC attended the ICC Georgia's Consultative Board Meeting and met with the leaders of the major business organizations in the country. 

Fady ASLY, Chairman of ICC Georgia, presented EURICA with a special address:



To be the first to view all EURICA's exclusive videos, please subscribe here to our YouTube Channel.

At today's ICC event in Stamba Hotel, Tbilisi, EURICA also has demonstrated a video with series of exclusive interviews titled "Why Georgia?" In this video, the leading business representatives as well as heads of World Bank, EBRD, AmCham and other chambers of commerce answer why Georgia is attractive to investors:



The last EURICA's premiere today was a trailer of our new Series called "Movers and Shakers". EURICA’s “Movers and Shakers” Series cover people and companies who make a difference in Georgia and move things forward. In the focus of our first video is the Zedazeni Group, one of Georgia's leading diversified industrial groups:




In case you missed it: Interview with Gunda TIRE on school reform and PISA ratings of school children

01.09.2020 (Caucasian Journal).  As September 1st is first day of school in many countries, Caucasian Journal decided to re-post our article on education, which we consider quite important. So, in case you missed it in winter, below we talk not only about the best school reform experience, but also why South Caucasus is lagging behind. This type of articles do not lose their value with time, alas.

Education is basic for achieving progress in any other direction.  But how do South Caucasian students compare with peers? How well can they read?

It is our pleasure to introduce Ms. Gunda TIRE, PISA National Project Manager at Foundation Innove. PISA is the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment, and Innove is an education competence center in Estonia. The reason why we invited an expert from Estonia is simple: Because Estonian students are the best in Europe

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ:  Indeed, according to recent PISA worldwide student assessment results, the Estonian 15-year olds have the Europe’s highest scores in all disciplines. First of all, please accept our sincere congratulations to Estonian friends with this excellent achievement! I know it was not unexpected, since Estonia’s results have been going up for some time, but anyway how was the top achievement perceived - by ordinary people and by professionals?

Gunda TIRE:  Thank you very much for the kind words, and we really appreciate your invitation to share the Estonian PISA experience with your readers!

Sebastian MOLINEUS (video): "Digital economy is key driver for growth and a critical aspect of response to COVID"

25.08.2020 (Caucasian Journal What is the main focus of World Bank's activities in the South Caucasus? What type of investment projects are in especial demand in our region? How did Georgia's COVID response influence the  business environment?

Our today's video discussion with Mr. Sebastian MOLINEUS centers around these questions. Mr. Molineus, World Bank Regional Director for the South Caucasus, is already well known to readers of Caucasian Journal

Today for the first time we are pleased to offer his interview in a video format.

Watch video interview with Sebastian MOLINEUS below.

To be first to view all our exclusive video interviews, please subscribe here to our YouTube Channel.



Meni BENISH (video): "I never had in any country such a supportive government"

16.08.2020 (Caucasian Journal What factors make Georgia attractive to foreign investors, especially to the Israeli businesspeople? Which industry and agriculture sectors offer the most promising business opportunities? 

Mr. Meni BENISH is founder of Israel-Georgian Chamber of Commerce (IGCC), Honorary Consul of Georgia in Israel, and the head of several successful enterprises in Georgia, including the Archi Group. 

Last month he gave an interview to us focusing on establishment of IGCC. In his today's video talk Mr. Benish shares views on business environment in Georgia.

Watch video interview with Meni BENISH below.

To be first to view all our exclusive video interviews, please subscribe here to our YouTube Channel.



Giorgi PERTAIA (video): "Ideal investor is the one who brings knowledge to this country"

03.08.2020 (Caucasian Journal How do we see Georgia in 10 years, and which investment projects does it welcome? Is Georgia a post-Soviet country? Who are "ideal investors"?

Mr. Giorgi PERTAIA, President of Georgian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), is answering the questions of Caucasian Journal. 

With the today's interview, Caucasian Journal starts to publish video interviews, which is a new format for us. We hope you like it!

Watch video interview with Giorgi PERTAIA below.

To be first to view all our exclusive video interviews, please subscribe here to our YouTube Channel.



Zaza BIBILASHVILI: "Democratic backsliding is evident"

27.07.2020 (Caucasian Journal)  How is the political and economic situation in Georgia seen from a viewpoint of one of the country's leading  professional lawyers?  

Today Caucasian Journal is pleased to present the answers given by  Zaza BIBILASHVILI, Senior Partner at BGI Legal, Georgia’s leading independent law firm, and founder of the Chavchavadze Center for European Studies and Civic Education. 

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of Caucasian Journal: Dear Zaza, thank you for being with us, and for your attention to Caucasian Journal – we are privileged to have you among our Board members. Let me start with what I consider central. You possess a rare - if not ideal - combination of professional and personal qualities, which make you equal to political challenge of any caliber. Recently you left UNM - the party, which you joined in 2013, and where you held a senior position. You said you would not associate with any other political force or take part in the 2020 elections. I am sure you had important reasons, but what will remain on the plate for the voter, if all the very best professionals would decide to step away?

Zaza BIBILASHVILI: Alex, thank you for inviting me for this interview. The honor is all mine to be on CJ board along with such distinguished group of individuals. Let me start by wishing you and Caucasian Journal all the best. I know there are quite a few new ideas and plans for the immediate future. Look forward to seeing the Journal grow! On to your question: 

I joined UNM in 2013. Georgia’s former ruling party had already lost the 2012 parliamentary elections. It was widely demonized, its members were targeted politically and persecuted by all branches of government. Hundreds were jailed or forced to flee Georgia, and thousands were pressured in various ways. Against this background, many struggled to explain my move – in a country where people are quick to switch camps to join the winner, it is rare to see a successful citizen, who had never been part of the government and with no vested interest, to risk it all for no apparent gain. 

Seth CHAR: "It’s easy to start a business in Georgia but difficult to make it work"

23.07.2020 (Caucasian Journal)  Our guest today is Mr. Seth BLY-CHAR, CEO of ICONIA Capital, a real estate developer based in Tbilisi but owned by U.S. investors. (Read Georgian version here.)

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of Caucasian Journal:  Dear Seth, welcome to Caucasian Journal! Our guests often talk about the importance of foreign investments for Georgia, the”investment climate”, “ease of doing business”, and other pretty abstract notions.  But today we have a chance to touch the practical side of things:  The hands-on experience of an American investor in Georgia. The fact that your experience is “mixed” makes it even more valuable to readers. For a start, can you give a short answer: Do you regret about investing your money in Georgia? If you could go back to 2015, would you rather have taken your investment elsewhere?

Seth CHAR: Mr. Kaffka, firstly, thank you for this opportunity to interview with your prestigious publication.  You had mentioned that our investor experience in Georgia was “mixed,” but in reality, it is only “mixed” on the best of days: overall, our experience in Georgia over the past five years has been overwhelmingly negative. 

Dr. Andreas UMLAND on escalation of Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and Russia's role

20.07.2020 Dr. Andreas UMLAND is Senior Expert at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in Kyiv, Nonresident Fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague and Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm.  Speaking to Caucasus Watch, he shared his expert views on the escalation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and Russia's role in the territorial disputes of the Caucasus.

First of all, the obvious question, why is the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalating right now and why on the undisputed international border instead of the area of the actual territorial dispute?

Dr. Andreas UMLAND: This is indeed surprising since the official border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not being questioned by either side. The actual territorial dispute has been only about Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas. Murad Muradov and Rusif Huseynov of the Topchubashov Center at Baku have published an article on the influential Ukrainian website Ukrainska Pravda where they speculate about reasons for the escalation. They argue that only Armenia can be assumed to be responsible for the escalation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border because of the high risks the conflict contains for Azerbaijan, in view of Armenia’s membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Armenia and the official Armenian territory are protected by the CSTO – and especially so by Russia. Therefore, Muradov and Huseynov believe that this provocation originated in Armenia, and they outline some possible scenarios. Among others, Muradov and Huseynov argue that the escalation could have been driven by the current government in Armenia. However, they also do not exclude the possibility that the clash could have been initiated by some old elites in Armenia, particularly by the former pro-Russian presidents Kocharyan and Sarkisyan, who may be trying to cause trouble for the current government.

Caucasian Journal and ICC Georgia to set up the first Eurasia Investment Channel, for worldwide promotion of best investment projects



14.07.2020. Below we republish an ICC Georgia's press release.

ICC Georgia to set up the first Eurasia Investment Channel, for worldwide promotion of best investment projects

EURICA (Eurasia Investment Channel and Analytics) is a joint project of ICC GeorgiaCaucasian Journal and Channel Georgia Consulting.

Through EURICA, ICC Georgia will select and promote Georgia and the region’s best investment projects internationally, via global ICC network, YouTube, LinkedIn, printed mass medias and television.

EURICA will select the best investment projects and produce its own videos for them, to offer maximum promotion through international news distribution channels.

“The world is different in post -Covid era, and the winners will be those who are the first to adapt to new reality. Competition is increasing as many more companies are now seeking investments. At the same time, investors are also in dire need of lucrative new opportunities, after months of slowdown. Online and remote work is our new standard, resulting in faster communication and decision-making. We are introducing EURICA to offer unique investment promotion toolset not just to ICC members, but to all companies with sound, well-prepared investment projects,” – said Fady ASLY, Chairman of ICC Georgia.

Meni BENISH of Israel-Georgian Chamber of Commerce: "We can get financial support for any size of ventures"

13.07.2020 (Caucasian JournalIsrael is among the Georgia’s oldest and most reliable business partners. An essential support mechanism for healthy economic relations is a bilateral chamber of commerce, which, as a rule, must be established in both countries. 

Recently such a bilateral chamber has been finally introduced, after a lengthy period of registrations and endorsements in Israel and Georgia. Today Caucasian Journal talks with the head of new Israel-Georgian Chamber of Commerce (IGCC), Mr. Meni BENISH (Read Georgian version here.)

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of Caucasian Journal: Dear Mr. Benish, thank you for attention to Caucasian Journal. When I heard about the launch of your Chamber of Commerce (CoC), I thought that we must cover this news, because Israel is such an important country for Georgia, and also because we partner with International Chamber of Commerce and other organizations promoting business participation in civil society. For businesspeople in Georgia, what is going to change with installation of your CoC? What new opportunities will open for an ordinary entrepreneur, and when?

Meni BENISH: First, I would like to thank you for the warm wishes. As you may know, I was born in Poti, and I am a Georgian citizen. Georgian people are close to my heart and I can clearly say that I feel at home in Tbilisi.

A Rainy Night in Georgia

20.06.2020. Aspen Review is a Prague-based journal published by Aspen Institute Central Europe, which is an official partner of Caucasian Journal.  Last year CJ interviewed  Jiří Schneider - Executive Director of Aspen Institute Central Europe (read here), and this year Aspen Review published an article by Alexander Kaffka, editor-in-chief of Caucasian Journal. 

Today we repost Alexander KAFFKA's article "A Rainy Night in Georgia" with permission of our partner Aspen Review. Editor's note: This article was written before the pandemics.

If the ‘Anna Karenina principle’ could be applied to states, it would sound as follows: All the full democracies are alike, but every hybrid democracy is hybrid in its own way.

After 2004’s Rose Revolution led by Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia won the admiration of the international community as it went from the brink of a failed state to an exemplary leader of democracy and successful market reforms. Other post-Soviet nations looked with much excitement at what appeared to be a fantastic achievement in combating corruption at all levels, unthinkable in their own countries. Digitalization of government services brought online convenience to every household, placing Georgia in the world’s top countries in terms of its ease in doing business, and in fact even becoming exportable know-how.

Aspen Ministers Forum: 27 Foreign Ministers Issue Call for UN

June 14, 2020. Caucasian Journal is happy to share and support this Aspen Institute's initiative. We are proud to have two European Aspen Institutes among our official partnersThe statement below was released by members of the Aspen Ministers Forum on June 12, 2020. The signatories are acting in a personal capacity, and this statement does not represent an official position taken by the Aspen Ministers Forum or the Aspen Institute.

We are a group of former foreign ministers from every region of the world, who bring to bear decades of experience in conducting international diplomacy, responding to crises, and reforming international institutions. Never before have we seen a challenge as acute, complex, far-reaching, and potentially long-lasting as the COVID-19 pandemic. While many nations have been able to implement effective interventions through social distancing, testing and contact tracing, the first wave of the virus is not yet over and the pandemic continues to pose a risk to the lives and livelihoods of people in every nation on earth.
Photo: Aspen Institute

As with many of the threats we face, the virus does not respect boundaries and therefore cannot be defeated by any country acting alone. To respond to this pandemic and prevent future outbreaks, nations must combine their strengths.

We have seen the benefits that cooperative action can bring. During our careers, world leaders worked to build and strengthen regional and global institutions to spur development, prevent war, promote health, regulate trade, and prosecute crimes against humanity. Although certainly not every decision made was the right one, the mechanisms created helped resolve dangerous conflicts and brought about unprecedented gains in alleviating poverty, expanding literacy, and containing the ravages of communicable diseases.

Ambassador Ran GIDOR: "We’ve been spending too much time toasting each other"

13.06.2020 (Caucasian JournalToday Caucasian Journal has the honour to talk with the newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Georgia, Mr. Ran GIDOR. His term in Tbilisi started last January. 

Mr. Gidor is not a newcomer in Georgia: Being a career diplomat, he was appointed as deputy ambassador in Tbilisi (accredited to Georgia and Armenia) back in 1997. His subsequent experience included positions of Cultural and Academic attaché in Beijing, Political Counsellor in London, Director of UN Political Affairs Department, and Ambassador to Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Congo and Gabon.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of Caucasian Journal: Your Excellency, welcome to Caucasian Journal, we thank you for attention to our readers. I know it became commonplace to talk about the coronavirus, but in your case I cannot help asking: How does it feel to start an Ambassador’s term in an unprecedented lockdown? I understand that just weeks after arrival in Tbilisi you found yourself isolated at home and unable to travel, being cut from essential parts of every diplomat’s work.

Ran GIDOR: Thank you, Alexander, for the opportunity to address your readers. Yes, you’re absolutely right, COVID-19 has “turned the tables” (so to speak…) on all our original work plans for 2020 and forced us to cancel virtually every major project in the pipeline. However, now we’re ‘regrouping’ and learning how to implement some new ideas in innovative and unconventional ways. As always, what starts as a threat or a disaster – can be turned into an opportunity, if we’re prepared to rise to the challenge.

Valeri CHEKHERIA: "We are shaping new Georgia and placing it on world map"

05.06.2020 (Caucasian Journal) Is Georgia prepared to welcoming foreign tourists next month? How does the big business coordinate actions with the government in hospitality sector, which is strategic for Georgia? Do corporations play a role in formation of civil society?

Our today's guest is Valeri CHEKHERIA, CEO of Adjara Group. His name is not only behind some of the Georgia's newest and most iconic hotels, but also in many board lists of important non-profit organizations.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of Caucasian Journal: Dear Valeri, welcome to Caucasian Journal. Last year we planned to talk about your success story of interaction between business and civil society, and the Democracy Frontline Center, and I hope we will touch this today. But now the whole world is turned upside down by the pandemic, which is the top factor everywhere – and especially in tourism-dependent businesses such as yours. How severely your hospitality projects have been hit by COVID measures? 

Valeri CHEKHERIA: The tourism industry was hit the most with hospitality sector experiencing extensive losses globally. Certainly, we are no exception and we have suffered severely from the effects of the pandemic. We had to close down all our hotels and put on hold the development of the ongoing projects. 

Dr. Laurence BROERS: "There won’t be Armenian-Azerbaijani Dayton*" (with video)

27.05.2020 (Caucasian JournalCaucasian Journal talks with Dr. Laurence BROERS, well-known expert on conflicts in the South Caucasus with over 20 years’ experience, both as a researcher and a practitioner of peacebuilding initiatives in the region. 
Dr.  Broers is the Caucasus programme director at London-based NGO Conciliation Resources. He is Associate Fellow at Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), author or editor of several books, including Armenia and Azerbaijan: Anatomy of a Rivalry, and co-editor-in-chief of Caucasus Survey.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of Caucasian Journal:  Dear Dr. Broers, welcome to Caucasian Journal. We’ve wanted to talk with you since a long while, and today we have this lucky possibility thanks to an important development – the release of a new documentary about the Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan (to watch video, scroll down to page bottom). You have agreed to introduce this film for our readers. Allow my first question – how do you visualize the target viewers group of the documentary?

Laurence BROERS: On 12 May we released online a documentary film called Parts of a Circle: History of the Karabakh Conflict. The film chronicles the disputed history of more than 30 years of this conflict, in an Armenian-Azerbaijani co-production. It is a locally led project, in which the scripts were written, interviewees selected and films produced by local teams of Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists. The project actually began in 2011 but for a number of reasons it has taken until now to be ready for the public release. The film we have recently released is actually a shorter version, at 76 minutes, of a longer 3-hour trilogy. The short film is in English, and it is intended for an international audience that is not necessarily familiar with the Karabakh conflict. The longer trilogy has considerably more detail and is intended more for a local and a specialist audience.

Caucasian Journal offers free advertising as support for businesses, calls for other mass medias to join

We know that many businesses – both small and big – are impacted by the outbreak of Covid-19. Many companies face a long road ahead as they try to rebuild themselves following the lockdown. In this difficult time, we believe that businesses must show maximum support to each other.

We’ve listened to businesses to understand how we can support them. Caucasian Journal and its sister business news sites decided to give companies struggling in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic free advertising.

Today we are glad to announce that from 22 May all the companies in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan will be eligible to apply for free banner advertising to use across the Caucasian Journal and our sister business news sites. 

Professor Ramaz KURASHVILI: "Georgia is lucky to have world-class virologists with independent thinking"

20.05.2020 (Caucasian JournalProfessor Ramaz KURASHVILI is one of Georgia’s leading medical professionals, Director of Center for Diabetes Research in Tbilisi, Chairman of Union of Diabetic and Endocrinological Associations of Georgia, and a member of Caucasian Journal’s Board
We have asked Professor Kurashvili to share his views about Georgia’s response to COVID-19.

Caucasian Journal: You have large professional experience, not only medical, but also experience in the management and administration of medical institutions. How do you assess the medical and organizational level of the anti-pandemic activities in Georgia?

Ramaz KURASHVILI: The epidemic is far from over, however, we can evaluate the measures taken by the Georgian government and Georgian epidemiological virologists to date. We can say that the State Coronavirus Commission works highly efficiently: Epidemiologists, virologists, infectious disease specialists, family doctors, healthcare organizers, the police, military, media, television have actively joined in the fight against coronavirus infection; it should be noted that all television channels (in particular, Channel 1 of Georgian Television) and the media work smoothly, there are no cases of dissemination of false or panic information. Of particular note is the high authority, level of knowledge and experience of the Leading infectious diseases specialist prof. T. Tsertsvadze, Director General of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health of Georgia prof. A. Gamkrelidze, Deputy Director of the Center prof. P. Imnadze, all the doctors of those centers that today are treating the coronavirus patients. We should thank the leaders and staff of the Ministry of Health of Georgia and the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia Mr. D. Zalkaliani. Of particular note is the Prime Minister of Georgia, Mr. G. Gakharia, thanks to his efficiency, openness, and close mutually beneficial cooperation with doctors, it was possible to slow down the growth of the epidemic and to control the situation; time was used effectively to prepare healthcare for a pandemic, to create specialized centers, equip existing clinics and prepare them for patients, purchase and deliver the necessary number of tests, organize quarantine zones two-week quarantine, etc. - i.e. not to meet the blow unprepared.

Ambassador Per EKLUND: "COVID is unpredictable. I had a lucky escape"

12.05.2020 (Caucasian Journal).The Swedish response to COVID-19 is in the focus of the world's attention today. But how does it feel to recover from coronavirus in a Swedish hospital? And when the patient happens to be a former ambassador to Georgia, Caucasus Journal is especially keen about his comments.
Today we are honoured to introduce a very special guest – Ambassador Per EKLUND, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm, former EU Ambassador to Georgia – a person widely known and deeply respected in the South Caucasus. 

He planned to spend this May in Georgia and to meet with us in person, but as COVID interrupted, instead of Tbilisi he had to go to a Stockholm's hospital. Now, after the worst is over, Ambassador Eklund has got a very unique mix of experiences, which he is sharing with our readers.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ: Welcome to Caucasian Journal, Mr. Ambassador, and thank you for finding time for this interview. I am very glad to see you in good health after catching the notorious coronavirus infection. Allow me a somewhat personal question first. Earlier this year you celebrated your 75th birthday. Do you agree that senior citizens should follow stricter isolation rules? Should they be extra careful themselves, or is it a task for the authorities to establish different conditions for people over 60?

Per EKLUND: Well, persons who are 70+ should be careful, as we are, generally speaking, part of the risk group. And I was careful and yet got infected. And although I was in good shape, with no other diseases, no diabetes, no overweight and a non-smoker, I got severely ill. This was my second time in a hospital bed, the first was 1945, at my birth!

AK: Oh, really? And how does it feel to get through a COVID-19, especially in a severe case? Do you have a guess how you got infected?

Sebastian MOLINEUS of World Bank: "We've been working with the Governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia since day 1 of this crisis"

22.04.2020 (Caucasian JournalThe economies of South Caucasian countries will be severely hit in long time perspective due to global pandemic – from tourism decline and (in case of Azerbaijan) from oil price drop.  As World Bank is known for economic forecasting, Caucasian Journal asked for professional comment from Sebastian MOLINEUS -  WB Regional Director for the South Caucasus.

Caucasian Journal: How does World Bank assess the economic consequences of pandemic in the countries of South Caucasus?

Sebastian MOLINEUS: The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting an unprecedented economic challenge for the world and is certainly having an impact on the economies of all three countries in the South Caucasus Region.

Indeed, the pandemic is occurring at an already fragile time for the Europe and Central Asian region, including the South Caucasus. Growth in Europe and Central Asia had already decelerated to 2.2 percent in 2019. And since February 2020, the region has faced an increasingly uphill battle to cope with the pandemic as it interrupts daily activity, puts further downward pressure on commodity prices, disrupts tightly linked global and regional supply chains, reduces travel and tourist arrivals, and decreases demand for exports from and within the economies in the region.  As a consequence, most forecasts, including the WB’s Europe and Central Asia Economic (spring) Update, project a contraction in global and regional GDP in 2020.

By how much?  The projections this time around are subject to significant uncertainty. How long the recession will last, and its severity will depend on the duration of the pandemic. The scenarios in the ECA Economic Update suggest regional GDP could contract by 2.8 percent in case the outbreak is largely contained by the second half of the year and measures to stop the spread of the virus are lifted, but the contraction could reach as much as 4.4 percent in case efforts to contain the outbreak spill into the third quarter of 2020.

COVID update: Georgia follows Japan trajectory, for now

As COVID-19 infections in Georgia continue to grow slowly but steadily, it is time to take a closer look at how this development compares with the outbreaks in other countries. While Georgia is on the same trajectory as Japan, it currently falls short of the benchmark set by some other wealthy east Asian countries. 
14.04.2020. This is the  conclusion made by Dr. Lorenz HILFIKER, a Swiss mathematician based in Tbilisi. With his kind permission, Caucasian Journal is publishing the findings he posted in his blog, which provides data-focused coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in Georgia.

The first cases in Georgia were confirmed around the same time as in many European countries. Yet, the virus has so far spread considerably less than in most of the Western world.

For example, my native country Switzerland recorded its first case on February 25, just one day before Georgia. Today (April 10) the tally for Switzerland stands at about 24 thousand confirmed cases and one thousand fatalities, while Georgia has recorded merely 230 cases and three fatalities to date.

Here is a chart of all countries which have reached 100 cumulative confirmed cases at least a week ago (thin grey lines).

Сlick to enlarge.    Image (c) Lorenz Hilfiker
A straight line in this chart corresponds to exponential growth with a fixed transmission rate. The steeper the slope of a line, the faster the spread of the virus. The four dashed lines indicate exponential growth where cases double daily, every third day, every week and every two weeks, respectively.

Laura THORNTON: “How does democracy work six feet apart?“

The corona virus has disrupted virtually all aspects of our lives and there is much speculation about both the effectiveness of democracy to handle the crisis and the impact the virus will have on democratic institutions and processes in the short and long term.  

11.04.2020 (Caucasian Journal). For an expert opinion on this subject Caucasian Journal has turned to Laura THORNTON, Director for Global Programme at Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Until recently Laura has headed National Democratic Institute in Tbilisi, and is well known in our region. She is also a frequent guest of СJ (see her other interviews here).

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ: Much has been said about autocracies being “better equipped” to handle corona due to their ability to take draconian measures. How would you respond to this? 

LT: Yes, there is plenty of bemoaning the inability of democracies to quickly adopt the tough measures, including limiting freedoms, to address the virus, the assumption being that non- or hybrid- democracies do this more effectively as they are not hindered by checks or bureaucracy, like China and Singapore. This position is, of course, swiftly countered by those pointing out the successes of democracies like Germany, Taiwan, and South Korea, where immediate and efficient actions – including large scale testing, tracking, and isolating cases – have proven effective. There is also evidence of established democracies crippled by incompetence and bureaucracy. Successful responses reflect mostly the competence and efficacy of states and, in my view, provide a more compelling case than ever for good governance – efficient, nimble, responsive, transparent, and organized.

Anita LINDAHL TROSDAHL: "Citizens can raise any question at "speed dates" with Oslo government including Mayor"

08.04.2020 (Caucasian Journal). Caucasian Journal continues its new program of interviews with high-level practitioners from Western Europe who share knowledge in areas most relevant to our region.  Today we talk about big city problems.

How quickly an industrial city can transform into a leader in environment protection and clean hi-tech? Which secret city management mechanisms are needed? How do citizens participate?
Raymond JOHANSEN, Governing Mayor of Oslo - European Green Capital 2019, kindly agreed to give interview to us, but due to COVID crisis it was postponed. We are thankful to Anita LINDAHL TROSDAHL, Project Manager of Oslo European Green Capital 2019 at the Mayor's Office, who proposed to answer most of our questions.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ: In 2019 your city - Oslo - was awarded the title of Europe's Green Capital. Congratulations! Do you think that greening of Oslo is your most important achievement?

ANITA LINDAHL TROSDAHL: I am very proud of Oslo’s European Green Capital title. This is a result of a long-term effort from citizens, companies and public sector. I believe that politicians in Oslo have made many good decisions over two-three decades. Recently we continue to see good environmental results. The buses run more frequently, the car traffic is going down and the air is cleaner. Greenhouse gas emissions are going down, and investment are made to ensure that they continue to go down. In addition to green policies, I am very proud that Oslo is home to every fourth new green job created in Norway. A true sustainable city must be green, socially inclusive and economically viable.
Click to enlarge

AK:  Air quality is a very important concern for big cities in South Caucasian region. In the chart you can see how Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan rate in Global Environmental Performance Index (EPI) in comparison to each other and to Norway. Do I understand correctly that your Municipality is legally responsible for keeping good air quality in the city? If air pollution reaches a certain level, it means you commit a crime? 

ALT: Norway is legally responsible for keeping in line with the EU air quality directive. The municipalities are the implementing body for many of the measures relating to air quality. In 2015 the EFTA Court ruled that Norway has failed to comply with its obligations. There’s not a punishment as such, but the Government has to step up its actions to improve the situation. Since 2015, the combined national and local efforts have helped to improve  the air quality in Oslo significantly.

Norway is responsible vis-à-vis the EU/EFTA system, but the national law is applicable for all municipalities. Therefore Oslo is responsible to keep within the EU limits, but it will be Norway who has to answer to the EU/EFTA system is there is a breach. If Oslo’s air quality is getting too bad, the municipality breaks the law – but ultimately it is the state that has to answer for all breaches in Norway. Does that make sense?

AK:  Yes, it does, thank you. Could you summarize what exactly does it mean to be a green capital? What was done to win this title?

COVID-19 situation in South Caucasus

Caucasian Journal has added a special COVID Page to our main menu. On that page the readers can find real time statistical data on corona virus situation in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan.


You are welcome to use this COVID widget for your page. Contact us to get embedding code.

We will be adding more tools to visualize the COVID data, as well as links to useful resources.

Our COVID Page can be found at https://english.caucasianjournal.org/p/covid.html. 


Noubar Afeyan talks about his company's COVID-19 vaccine at webinar held by Armenian organizations

Global mass medias have reported the good news about the first coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna Therapeutics, a Cambridge-based biotech company. The company also became the first to start human trial testing of its novel vaccine. We are pleased to find a strong “Caucasian connection” at the very frontline of global struggle against COVID-19: Moderna’s founding father and chairman, Dr. Noubar Afeyan, is also co-founder of the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST), and an active participant of other Armenian projects related to science.

On March 28 Dr. Noubar Afeyan participated in the online webinar “COVID-19: Challenging General Fear”. Caucasian Journal is pleased to present the video of his presentation. The webinar, moderated by well-known entrepreneur and venture philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan, was co-organized by a number of Armenia-based organizations including Armenia2041.org, IDeA Foundation, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, UWC Dilijan College, Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST).



Below is the full version of webinar “COVID-19: Challenging General Fear”. The speakers include:

Bjorn BRANDTZAEG: "As Georgia develops, it needs more domestically generated electricity"

09.03.2020 (Caucasian Journal). Our journal continues its new program of interviews "BEST NORDIC AND BALTIC PRACTICE" with high-level practitioners from Western Europe who share their knowledge in areas most relevant to our region. 

Our today’s guest is not only highly competent in his area – renewable energy – but also has many years of hands-on practical experience in Georgia. 

Bjørn BRANDTZÆG (or Bjorn Brandtzaeg on devices without Norwegian characters) is founder and CEO at Clean Energy Group, the biggest Norwegian investor in Georgia. He has been involved in Georgia’s hydropower projects since the early 2000s.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ:  You have a rare experience as a Westerner who has started a successful large-scale business in Georgia “from zero”, and worked under several different governments. Do you sometimes feel that your experience is a very valuable asset, sharing which may be beneficial to many people, and to the country in general? 

Bjørn BRANDTZÆG: I have been working with the development of the Georgian hydropower resources for many years, first as a government adviser funded by the Norwegian government and later as a project developer. I have seen the sector and projects evolving. As we have experienced in the Shuakhevi project [Shuakhevi Hydro Power Plant (HPP) is a run-of-the-river plant in Adjara, completed in 2017 - CJ], large hydroprojects are very challenging to develop and it is not possible to predict all the challenges a project will face when you start them. You need a very strong commitment to see them through.
            
AK: If yes, what are the most important lessons, which you would like to “teach”?

BB: The key lesson is that sustainability aspects have to be incorporated from the start in the project development. Unless people affected by the project development and the environment are taken good care of from the start, it is very challenging to progress with a project.

Gunda TIRE: "Estonians believe in education, and this belief has been essential for centuries"

Caucasian Journal is starting new program of interviews "BEST NORDIC AND BALTIC PRACTICE" with high-level practitioners from Western Europe who share their knowledge in areas relevant to South Caucasian region, which can be used to improve quality of life in our countries. We welcome comments and will publish all views.

22.02.2020 (Caucasian Journal). It is symbolic that the first interview which we publish under this program is about education - something which is basic for achieving progress in other directions. How South Caucasian students compare with peers? How well can they read?

It is our pleasure to introduce Ms. Gunda TIRE, PISA National Project Manager at Foundation Innove. PISA is the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment, and Innove is an education competence center in Estonia. The reason why we invited an expert from Estonia is simple: Because Estonian students are the best in Europe

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ:  Indeed, according to recent PISA worldwide student assessment results, the Estonian 15-year olds have the Europe’s highest scores in all disciplines. First of all, please accept our sincere congratulations to Estonian friends with this excellent achievement! I know it was not unexpected, since Estonia’s results have been going up for some time, but anyway how was the top achievement perceived - by ordinary people and by professionals?

Gunda TIRE:  Thank you very much for the kind words, and we really appreciate your invitation to share the Estonian PISA experience with your readers!

Before the PISA data is released, it is very difficult to predict in what direction to expect the results. Our hope was not to show a decline to our prior results. As PISA is very poplar and well known in Estonia, the new data for 2018 was expected with certain amount of curiosity.

According to poll, 59 percent do not believe Georgia is a democracy

16.01.2020. With less than a year before elections, poll results released today by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and CRRC-Georgia show that Georgians continue to lose faith in the direction of their country, with 53 percent believing the country is going in the wrong direction and only 19 percent saying right direction. Further, 59 percent do not believe Georgia is a democracy now, a significant increase from 46 percent just one year ago in December 2018.

“It is alarming to see such low public approval of democratic institutions, and it does not bode well for the country’s future growth and stability,” said Laura Thornton, senior director. “It is incumbent upon all political leaders, but particularly those in power, to rebuild the public’s trust in the country’s governance and ensure the legitimacy of the upcoming election process, which is currently under question given the failure to adopt promised election system reform.”