Several days ago, government offices published statistical indicators, that, at a glance, seem encouraging. Namely, despite negative forecasts and swine flu, in January 2019, the tourist inflow to Georgia rose by 18% year on year.
Moreover, it is reported that agriculture product exports have grown, and exports totaled 935 million USD. This list also includes wine. Wine exports increased by 20% in 2017.
We have excellent indicators, do we not? These figures indicate that currency revenues grow, new job places are created, and finally, that the economy is recovering. However, these figures do not make me happy; on the contrary, I find serious grounds for embarrassment.
The point is that the main part of this economic growth relies on Russia – exports of agriculture products, including wines: Russia’s share of Georgian wine exports makes up 62%, peach – 76% and citrus – 65%.
Georgia has less dependence in the tourism sector, but we have emergency conditions anyway, and figures also prove this. 8.4 million foreign visitors arrived in Georgia in 2018, including 1.4 million tourists who arrived from Russia. Anyway, we do not need to refer to statistics. It is enough to walk the streets of Tbilisi, Batumi, ski resorts and you will realize which language prevails among tourists.
At the same time, we witness another unpleasant process – the inflow of tourists is declining from such alternative and rapidly-growing market as Iran. Georgian nationalists have free rein – their aggression was concentrated on Iranians, and this aggression has brought results. Georgian Dream, which has an excellent feeling for the streets, has done its best to restrict the inflow of undesirable Asian visitors.
As a result, the inflow of Iranian visitors to Georgia declined by 40%… and this loss was compensated by what? Naturally, Russians, as the inflow of Russian tourists grew by 18%.
In a word – if something grows in Georgia, you will find only a Russian element.
But I beg you not to interpret this incorrectly. I have nothing against Russian tourists and the Russian market – Georgia is a tourism country, and it welcomes all tourists, including Russians. Even more so, you will rarely meet Putin supporters among Russian tourists visiting Georgia and the so-called Vatniks. And they are very polite and law-abiding, unlike their compatriots who, for example, visit from Turkey.
Only problem is that we talk about Russia, which can block all the aforementioned opportunities in a second.
We can see even psychological problem in this. For many centuries, Georgians could not even imagine that the earth could turn without Russia. The economy, exports, tourists – all these directions were associated with Russia for many centuries, and naturally, a similar perception has affected the mindset too.
Very important things have taken place under the previous administration – for the first time, after many centuries, Georgians saw that the earth can turn without Russia, that we can build and develop an economy without the Russian market, and we can attract tourists from other countries too, not only from Russia.
In 2012 Georgia’s dependence on Russia was o%.
Recently, this ratio has disappeared, and today Russia is a key importer of Georgian products and key source of tourists. Georgians gradually return to the traditional psychological clichés – the earth does not turn without Russia.
The new authorities of Georgia accepted the new rules of the game without a second thought, and unreasonably. Easy money brings about such effects – the country may get into a trap, and it will be closed at a certain moment.
At this stage, the Georgian economy does not depend critically on Russia, but the country rushes in this direction unconsciously; and when we cross this critical verge, the trap will be closed.
It is irrefutable that one day the Kremlin will use this leverage, and will demand something impossible to fulfill; or the authorities will change in Georgia, and someone in Georgia will come to power that the Kremlin wants to see, or Russia may use one seemingly unimportant reason – for example Lugar Laboratory.
And who knows what else. There could be a lot of reasons and grounds for Russia.
Russia will close the market and restrict tourism flows, and our country will suffer from disastrous results. And we will have to start everything from zero, like in 2005. All efforts and achievements will be thrown in the trash, and the country will have to realize anew that the earth turns without Russia.
Therefore, I am not happy to see these positive figures… I prefer the earlier 0%.
Blog by Tengiz Ablotia