It’s impossible not to fall in love with Belgrade
We spoke with the Head of the Belgrade office of the Embassy of Georgia to Serbia, Ilia Koberidze, about how close historic bonds and friendship have transformed the relations between the two countries into a progressive partnership and strengthened mutual trust. Koberidze also talked about how similar our two nations are, the spectacular Georgian cuisine, and what it’s like living in Serbia’s capital.
Two countries, Georgia and Serbia, still don’t have embassies on a resident basis. The Georgian embassy in Athens covers Serbia, while the Serbian embassy in Armenia covers Georgia. Are there any plans to upgrade diplomatic relations?
Georgia–Serbian relations have roots throughout the history of European culture, complemented by the common faith of Orthodox Christianity. Close historic bonds and friendship have transformed the relations between the two countries into a progressive partnership and strengthened mutual trust. Frequent exchange of high-level visits as well as regular dialogue and consultations between the representatives of the two countries, provide an excellent opportunity for comprehensive discussions on the current state of cooperation in the bilateral and multilateral forum as well as on prospects of future interaction.
The bilateral relations between the two countries were upgraded to a qualitatively new level in 2019 after the opening of the Embassy Office and Honorary Consulates of Georgia and the Republic of Serbia, respectively, in Belgrade and Tbilisi. We are working hard to prepare the ground for the next step, as having resident embassies in both countries will successfully contribute to further strengthening bilateral dialogue and, at the same time, will broaden the perspective of exploring the wider Region thoroughly.
It seems that you succeed in raising public knowledge about Georgia. What is your mission here in Serbia?
Relations between two friendly countries usually develop naturally and are facilitated by bilateral trade and tourism, student exchanges, mixed marriages, and frequent people-to-people interaction, especially in the times of social networks. The task of the diplomats is to give the right direction to this natural flow to promote their country and advance its national interests.
Intensification of diplomatic relations between Georgia and the Republic of Serbia during the last years has been naturally followed by the positive dynamics to deepen political, economic, cultural, religious, and people-to-people ties. At the same time, it should be underlined with great regret that despite our common religious and cultural proximities, public awareness, and practical knowledge of each other’s history, modernity and traditions are not sufficiently upheld.
Our mission is to fill this gap and promote Georgia in the Republic of Serbia as much as possible. With the support of Honorary Consuls of Georgia and the Republic of Serbia and in close cooperation with relevant Georgian and Serbian institutions, we have organised several business forums in Tbilisi and in Belgrade and thus created an important platform for the business community of two countries to meet each other and discuss perspectives of possible cooperation. Furthermore, we follow different international and local exhibitions with great interest and invite Georgian companies to participate and present their products. We support other business, tourist, and information visits from Serbia to Georgia to help Serbian citizens establish contacts with their Georgian counterparts or just enjoy Georgian hospitality. At the same time, we are always happy to facilitate the visits of Georgian cultural representatives to share our rich culture with the Serbian public.
Establishing direct flights between Georgia and the Republic of Serbia would give a big boost to our relations
Are there plans to establish a direct air link between Georgia and Serbia? Have you talked with airlines that could do that?
We are witnessing the post-pandemic recovery of the aviation industry and positive dynamics in Georgia and the Republic of Serbia, which we are seeing giving us additional perspective to reactivate our communication with different airlines operating in our respective regions. The Embassy office had active contact with them before Covid-19, discussing several options and modalities. For sure, establishing direct flights between Georgia and the Republic of Serbia would boost the development of economic cooperation and tourism.
How can you see the potential for economic, tourism, and cultural cooperation between two countries?
In times of global turbulence and uncertainties, strengthening economic ties and increasing trade volume between countries is vitally important. In this respect, Georgia is highly interested in consolidating joint efforts to further advance trade and economic cooperation with the Republic of Serbia because the potentials are still untapped.
Despite the adverse effects of multidimensional shocks from the international environment, there are positive developments in the two countries economies. For example, the Georgian economy grew by 10.1% in 2022, and double-digit growth was recorded over the past two years. We have to use this opportunity and help businesses implement new projects that will bring significant benefits to our people and further deepen ties between the two countries.
When it comes to tourism, before the pandemic crisis, the tourism sector in Georgia had grown dynamically with record results in 2019, when the country had up to 9.4 million international visitors, thus generating foreign exchange income of over $3.3 billion. After the coronavirus pandemic, Georgia recovered its tourism income and received $3.5 billion in 2022. At the same time, the number of international tourist visits retrieved by 71.9% in 2022. We hope that the complete opening of borders and restarting of tourism services will facilitate boosting tourist flows between our countries.
Undoubtedly, there is significant potential to enhance cultural ties between two countries and people. Our embassy office will organise several high-level cultural events in the coming months. The Serbian public will have the opportunity to enjoy traditional Georgian polyphonic songs and dances, different exhibitions, and artifacts of rich cultural heritage, with the elements of famous Georgian cuisine and wine.
Spectacular Georgian cuisine came closer to Serbian food lovers. What is the secret ingredient of your national cuisine?
Georgia has absorbed neighboring culinary influences over the centuries by geographical and political design. Throughout history, Georgia has been a territory of interest to many foreign countries, primarily due to its strategic location between the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains, and the Caspian Sea. Georgia has been invaded by many, all bringing their influences to the Georgian table and creating a unique and exciting cuisine unlike any other.
At the same time, as part of the Silk Road, Georgia served as a stop on East-West trade routes for centuries. As traders passed through, the Georgians borrowed and assimilated the flavors and aromas of visitors’ culinary traditions. Georgian dishes now incorporate flavors and influences from the foods of our neighboring countries and regions. Furthermore, each Georgian region has developed its own distinctive contribution to the country’s culinary identity over time.
And, of course, Georgian cuisine is not complete without Georgian wine and polyphonic singing and dancing. We are a proud Country to be recognized as the birthplace of wine, with 8 000 years of wine-making traditions.
The guest is considered a gift from God in Georgia. In this respect, we can easily compete with Serbia
There are many similarities between the two nations. We consider ourselves brothers. Do you feel that way?
Similarities between Georgia and the Republic of Serbia are due to their strategic geopolitical location, challenging but diverse history, Orthodox religion, unique culture, rich traditions, and common foreign policy priority to become a full member of the European Union. Georgia and the Republic of Serbia have been historically and culturally integral parts of Europe, and logically, they want to establish their place in the big European family.
According to my observation, there is probably a rare nation in the world with which Georgians have as much in common as we have with Serbs. This is expressed in the daily lifestyle, attitude towards the family, relations with friends, and celebration of various holidays and important dates, which of course, is primarily determined by our common Orthodox religion. Furthermore, the world recognizes Georgia and the Republic of Serbia as the most hospitable countries. Guest is considered a gift from God in Georgia. In this respect, we can easily compete with Serbia, which is also famous for its hospitality, and my family and I feel it every day during our stay in Belgrade.
What do you think about life in Belgrade? Is there anything you miss from your homeland?
It’s impossible not to fall in love with the city that is the birthplace of your two sons. Our family will have unforgettable memories of Belgrade and will always be happy to revisit this wonderful city.
Considering the famous Serbian hospitality and similarities between Georgians and Serbs, everything is very familiar to us, and we never felt like strangers in Belgrade. Living and working in this city and country is very comfortable for us.
In addition, Belgrade is distinguished by the fact that in this city you can suddenly discover a new exciting place where you can spend time well and enjoy.
Mainly for this reason, I would like as many Georgians as possible to visit this city, and I am doing my best to bring my family and friends to Serbia frequently. Probably, it is the closeness to them that I miss the most in Belgrade, although the friends I made in Serbia compensate to some extent for being away from my loved ones.