Georgian delegation solicits Latvian assistance
By Aaron Eglitis

Baltic Times

RIGA - A delegation from Georgia arrived in Riga on May 13 for a
full-day conference aimed to propel the dynamic Caucasus country
along the road to European integration.

Since coming to power after the Rose Revolution in December 2003,
the government of Georgia has oriented itself toward Washington and
Brussels and raised heckles in Moscow. The apogee of the country's
transformation came just one week ago when George W. Bush visited
the capital of Tbilisi and became the first U.S. president ever to
visit Georgia.

Reinvigorated by the visit, Georgian leaders turned to Latvian
experts to gain insight into the long and difficult road traveled to
EU and NATO membership. Out of the 15 former Soviet republics, only
the three Baltic states can claim success in European integration,
and therefore have become a model of development for nations such as
Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia.

"Here I feel myself among friends and among people who can understand
our aspiration better than anyone else," David Bakradze, head of
the Georgian Parliament's EU integration committee told The Baltic
Times. Georgia and Latvia have similar pasts, he explained: "We were
both invaded by the Soviet Union."

"We are located in a very difficult part of the world, either we are
a democracy or we are in chaos," he added.

Other than their common Soviet past, Georgia, like the Baltics, has
a complex situation with minorities and is bedeviled by the presence
of Russian troops on its soil. Russia, however, has other plans.

"When we negotiate with Russia, they always cite the Baltic example
of troop withdrawal as something negative," Bakradze said. "They say
that they will never repeat the same mistake of withdrawing Russian
troops so quickly as they did in the Baltic states - that is an
example that we would like to repeat."

Like Lithuania and Estonia's leaders, Georgian President Mikhail
Saakashvili stayed home from the May 9 festivities in Moscow, citing
a lack of progress in negotiations for troop removal. But he let his
sentiments be known during this week's summit of the Council of Europe
in Warsaw.

"Latvia is a great friend of ours, and your experience in strengthening
the democracy of state and integration in the EU is vital to us,"
he told Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

In Riga, Nino Burdzhanadze, speaker of Georgia's Parliament, was quoted
by the Leta news agency as saying, "We don't want to be neighbors
forever, but we ourselves want to become members of the organizations."

The response from Latvian leaders was unequivocal: "We will support
Georgia on its way to the EU and NATO on all possible levels and in
every possible way," Parliamentary Speaker Ingrida Udre said May
13 while opening the Latvian-Georgian parliamentary cooperation

"We know how useful advice from a friend is just when you need it
most," she said.

Other Baltic aid for Georgia was forthcoming. On May 16, another
Georgian delegation was scheduled to visit Latvia to examine how
they deal with their minority situation and see if there are some
areas they could learn from. The idea came from the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Latvia's Parliament is also considering providing aid to a flood
damaged region in Georgia.

Other countries in the former Soviet space will likely continue
to be on the agenda of the Baltic states and other East European
countries. When Ukraine was in the midst of their Orange Revolution,
leaders from Poland and Lithuania were on the scene faster than the
EU's Javiar Solana.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said international support for
political forces fighting for democracy in Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia
is of particular importance, and thus the Baltic states should help
bring these countries' problems to the top of the agenda.

Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis will travel to Georgia at
the end of this month as a "political gesture" of support for the
emerging democracy.