Ambassador Hubert KNIRSCH: "Georgians are a brilliant color on the European palette"

02.08.2022 (Caucasian Journal) Our guest today is His Excellency Hubert KNIRSCH, the Ambassador of Germany to Georgia.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ: Your Excellency, welcome to Caucasian Journal.  We know that your diplomatic service term in Georgia is about to finish, but sometimes the journalists believe such moments are even better for an interview. Your time in Georgia coincided with some turbulent developments both in Georgia and internationally. From a personal standpoint, have you enjoyed working in the middle of such turbulence, or would you prefer a stable and more predictable diplomatic routine?

Hubert KNIRSCH: My work here was based on the old and strong friendship that exists between Georgia and Germany. Friendship is not only for celebrating success together, but for helping each other in overcoming difficult times and reaching high objectives. I do not mind when life become intense, but I would have wished to see a greater sense of responsibility in the political and the media elites, more focus on the issues instead of the daily quarrels.

AK:  The ambassador’s work has many dimensions; how did you set your own priorities?  How do you evaluate the overall efficiency of your work in Georgia generally, and along separate dimensions such as political, economic, cultural? My apology if this requires a somewhat lengthy answer. 

HK: I have tried to do my best to advance German-Georgian cooperation, with a certain focus on the general area of education. Much of this cooperation is carried out by specialized German organizations. I am especially happy about the programme to introduce German-style vocational education, carried out by GIZ and the Skills Agency. Strengthening the teaching of the German language in Georgian schools. Adult Education Centres. The cooperation of the Technical University of Munich with Kutaisi International University. I was satisfied to see that the network of national parks is growing, with German assistance. A completely different field is defense, where we have strong cooperation in the framework of the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package. Economic relations have seen a bit of up and down during the pandemic, but the general direction is positive and the German Business Association is very active. Dealing with election laws and other political disputes was not my initial priority, but when I saw a chance to help I did not want to stand aside. Finally, we all hope that some progress could be made, some form of détente achieved in the relationship of Georgia with its torn-away region, in spite of the dominating influence of Russia.   

AK:  Looking back at your 4 years’ work in Georgia, can you name some of the most memorable and brightest episodes or impressions you had? Perhaps the most unexpected, funny, or eye-opening situations?

HK: Many things will stay in my mind forever. It was a special experience to arrive in Georgia driving up Dariali Gorge. Of all my introductory meetings, being received by his Holiness, Patriarch Ilia II, left a deep impression. Then came the Frankfurt Book Fair with the brilliant Georgian showcase presentation. The visit of Federal President Frank Walter Steinmeier was the foremost political event. There was the moment when I showed him and his spouse the closed ABL crossing point at Odzisi. Another glorious day was 8 March 2020. It will remain an extraordinary memory to me to see all political leaders united around one table, signing an agreement about major political reforms in Georgia. 

Our embassy had two anniversary celebrations, one for thirty years since the fall of the Berlin wall and later one of thirty years of diplomatic relations. I was really thrilled to see President Zourabishvili swing a heavy hammer against the replica Berlin wall that we had put up! Another special moment for me was when I had the honor to hand over the literary award entitled “Idea of Unity” to the author Lado Pochkhua for his book that deals with the war in Abkhazia. We had announced this prize as a way of celebrating German Unity Day, a way that would relate to Georgia and its conflicts. It was a highlight to welcome back from Afghanistan the Georgian soldiers who had worked and fought side by side with ours. But just as much as these big brilliant events I treasure the memories of visits in villages, in monasteries, in national parks, of being invited to a supra in the middle of the forest, or on the banks of the Alazani or of seeing the Atengenoba feast in Shatili. And the joy when Georgian students received their hard-earned German language certificates. 

AK:  Caucasian Journal tries to contribute to development of a civil society, so this is yet another important question for us.  If you can comment on what is good about civil society and democracy in Georgia, and what requires further work, I am sure many readers would be very interested in your opinion.

Georgian politics should address 12 EU recommendations... One field that is not mentioned in them is strengthening the quality of education, so that it does not lag behind Europe.

HK: The work of non-governmental organizations is extremely important in Georgia. It is carried on by so many people with high motivation, with great creativity. I have seen real grass-roots work, for instance education centres organized by young people in minority areas, and also the amazing work of the Georgian Red Cross. At the same time, very few organizations could work without their main funding coming from international donors and very few have a solid membership base. There are important social groups in Georgia who are not represented by some kind of association that works for their interests and aspirations. I feel there is a lot of room for creating big and strong membership-based organizations which can be strong partners to the government, to parliament and to the international community.

I sometimes wonder if the consciousness of being Georgian and therefore European includes all the national and religious minorities which are part of Georgian society.

AK:  The self-identification of almost every Georgian is strictly European, which is a very valuable asset of the society. However, there also a lot of controversy about Georgia’s chances to join EU. I know that diplomats must be diplomatic, but anyway I thought this is an important question to ask. What are the needed steps to move forward?

HK: Very obviously, Georgian politics should address the twelve recommendations of the EU and should show that it can work successfully to bring about desirable reforms and improvements. One field that is not mentioned in the recommendations is strengthening the quality of education, so that it does not lag behind Europe or other parts of the world. Finally, speaking about self-identification, I sometimes wonder if the consciousness of being Georgian and therefore European includes all the national and religious minorities which are part of Georgian society. The EU was born out of the experience of World War II, of many wars, and its founding idea is to overcome national and ethnic boundaries in a spirit of togetherness with neighbors and with minorities.

AK: Economy and sustainability are important directions in the bilateral relations. How do you assess the economic developments in this region? The average Georgians are not feeling much progress or improvement in a daily life, but do you think there is light in the end of tunnel? 

HK: In some areas, progress is very visible – let´s just take the construction of new roads. In other fields, it is difficult to perceive, but a lot of work is being done. One example would be the complex reforms in the energy market. Georgian agriculture has developed well in these last years. True enough, for many people, progress is slow and mixed with setbacks. I have a feeling, however, that small and medium businesses are gaining ground and that many people are better prepared when they set up businesses than was the case in the past. 

AK: Last year the Georgian Government and the Germany’s KfW Development Bank agreed on promotion of “Green Hydrogen” in Georgia, as a part of the clean and renewable energy plan. I guess such energy diversification projects have become even more important in the current situation. Can you share any updates on Green Hydrogen progress in Georgia, or any other initiatives with a German participation?

HK: Hydrogen technology is very interesting – not as a source of energy, but as a way to store it or to transport it, even to export it to foreign countries. The KfW project should be seen as one step in promoting alternative energies in Georgia, such as wind and solar power. The future energy market will create incentives to produce and also to conserve energy, to improve energy efficiency. Among all the other things we do in our cooperation, I see one as revolutionary, in a certain sense. This is the effort to introduce stronger vocational education as an attractive alternative to academic studies. The new Skills Agency is an important partner. In Germany, we speak of “dual” education, because it takes place in parallel at the workplace and in the college. Trainees are paid by their employers. This can be the way to provide valuable education to young people and a well-prepared workforce to Georgian and international businesses that invest in the country.  

AK: What is happening with the seasonal employment program for Georgian citizens in Germany? I think it was the first such program for non-EU citizens approved in Germany. Is it operating successfully?

HK: Indeed, Georgia is the first non-EU country to have concluded an agreement on the recruiting of seasonal workers with Germany. The scale is one of a couple of hundreds of workers per year and the German and Georgian employment agencies work on increasing the number of Georgian workers that go to Germany. In this process, it is a priority for us to ensure the compliance with German labour law for every single Georgian programme participant. From what I hear, cooperation between the German and Georgian authorities involved is going very well in this regard.

AK: If there is anything else that you want to share with our readers, the floor is yours. 

HK: Well, together with my wife and daughter, I just want to thank everyone we met in Georgia. We want to thank them for all the conversations, for their overwhelming hospitality, for all the warmth and friendship. Georgians, wherever they live, are fantastic people. They are a brilliant color on the European palette - and before long, I hope, they will make the European Union richer and even more beautiful. 

AK: Thank you very much for answers.

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