President Saakashvili welcomes Estonian President

I welcome our Estonian guest here. Estonia and Georgia have strong historical bonds of friendship. I am pleased that our friend, the Estonian president, celebrated his birthday [on 10 May] in Tbilisi. This reminded me of the time when many newly-wed Georgian couples would spend their honeymoon in Tallinn and generally when many Georgians visited Tallinn. I am sure that this time will return and we will make much more progress in this area.

For us Estonia is a very important example because what is happening with respect to Georgia today is something Estonia went through several years ago - an economic embargo, blockade, undeclared economic sanctions, an attempt to destroy the economy and create problems for every family. But for us Estonia is also a beacon of hope because Estonia, which faced a total economic blockade and had all its exports to Russia blocked at a time when Russia accounted for more than 90 per cent of its exports and Estonia was almost totally dependent on the Russian market, now exports just 4-5 per cent of its total exports to Russia and is the most developed economy in Eastern Europe. Estonia, which does not have oil and gas, today has per-capita income almost three times as high as Russia's, which has oil, gas and other natural resources but where living standards are nevertheless just a third of that they are in Estonia, which Russian politicians of the time tried to bring to its knees, destroy and effectively raze to the ground economically.

We must understand that our future is in our own hands. Estonia also had difficulties but it succeeded in the end. Today Estonia is a victorious, successful and one of the most dynamically developing world economies. An economic miracle has taken place in Estonia because its people believed that they should not give up and accept their fate but should instead work to overcome economic hardship and overtake those, among others, who wanted them to be in economic hardship.

I also want to say that Mart Laar, the first prime minister of Estonia after independence, who was the main author of the Estonian economic miracle, has officially become the Georgian president's adviser on economic issues. In a few days' time he will move to Tbilisi and be permanently stationed at the Chancellery to work together with us on reforming and improving the Georgian economy and overcoming the hardship and problems which they are currently creating for us but which I am sure are of a temporary nature.

Just as you did in Estonia, we are also implementing a programme of providing schools with computers and access to the Internet. It took Estonia five years to do that, but we will complete this process within two and a half years. Kakha Lomaia [Georgian education minister] recently visited Khulo, Keda and Shuakhevi [towns in Ajaria's highland region] and I was pleased to hear that all schools in Khulo have computers, the Internet and new heating systems. What you have managed to do in Tallinn and Tartu is now entirely possible and is being done much faster in Khulo, Keda, Shuakhevi, Chkhorotsqu, Batumi, Tbilisi and elsewhere in Georgia.

Today we had a discussion about the Estonian Justice Ministry and government helping us to ensure that no Svanchkara [misspelt name of popular Georgian wine Khvanchkara on the bottle of counterfeit wine Saakashvili served Georgian ministers at a government meeting on 10 May] or a thousand other wines with dubious names are sold in Estonia and other European markets and that dealers in Spain and other countries do not enrich themselves by using Georgian wine brands, but to make it possible for genuine Georgian wine produced from grapes grown by Georgian peasants to enter all European markets, including the markets of the Baltic countries. In order to make this possible, we need to remove these counterfeit products from there and a group of our producers to take their wine there, put it on a stall and reach agreement with sellers, and they are ready to sell it. I am sure that if they get off their backsides and get their act together, we will have no difficulty diverting all the wine intended for Russia - which is not such a large quantity on the world scale - to other markets, if not this year, then in the course of the next two years. However, I repeat, for that to happen, everyone should get their act together.

The Georgian government is doing its utmost to support this. We are covering advertising costs, we are funding conferences and exhibitions, we are facilitating the launch of direct air services to all destinations. The first such service to the Baltic countries, operated by Air Baltic, has started to Riga, from where the other Baltic countries can be reached. We are also opening embassies everywhere. We will have our diplomatic representative in Tallinn later this year, and access to markets will be his direct responsibility. In a word, the government will do all it can.

However, everyone should understand that, after we spend millions on an advertising campaign, after our billboards, TV commercials and newspaper advertisements appear across Europe, if Georgian winemakers do not get their act together and supply Georgian wine, then it will again be Svanchkara and Kingmarauli [corruption of the name of Georgian wine Kindzmarauli] dealers who enrich themselves.

So, we will achieve everything we have set out to achieve if Georgian business circles and the state have a genuinely equal partnership, daily exchange of ideas and cooperation, and work tirelessly day and night, work tirelessly day and night. We simply no longer have time for rest and some kind of relaxation.

So, we again welcome our great friend, Mr Ruutel, who is a very important figure in the history of Estonia and also other post-Soviet countries. I am sure that our countries, which did not lose each other even in the most difficult years, now that we have finally found each other, will get much closer and will defend each other's interests much more vociferously and actively in the European Union, NATO, the post-Soviet area and the international arena. There is a lot we can do in that respect.

You know that we are currently in a transitional period. Since Georgia announced that we are starting thinking about withdrawing from the CIS - this is not an aim in itself and we are considering this issue together with various ministries - Ukraine has also announced that it is considering this issue. We, Ukraine and Georgia, are also holding consultations at Foreign Ministry level.

In this situation, countries that have successfully gone through transitional periods and are currently very successful economies standing firm on their own two feet are our guiding light. At the same time, naturally, our main priority is to improve relations with Russia, return to the Russian market, and normalize and improve relations as much as possible. These two tasks are perfectly compatible with each other.

This translation is published with permission from BBC Monitoring, Reading UK

Communications Office
of the President of Georgia

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