By Henry Kamens for VT and New Eastern Outlook, Moscow
There is always a price to pay for gaining the benefits of EU membership, and even the hope of eventual EU membership. When Spain first applied in the early 1980s it was obliged to cut agricultural production but only given a short time to make industry catch up to make up the shortfall. Somehow it muddled through, but the message was clear – “We are the club, and new members have to jump through hoops if they want to join.”
Despite the UK’s attempt to leave the EU, or perhaps because its mishandling of this is rapidly making the UK an international laughing stock, there are still many aspirant countries who want to join this powerful politico-economic union. Many of these countries come from Eastern Europe, and think the EU offers them a new identity as a “Western” country. To obtain this identity they are prepared to do almost anything, and the EU is taking full advantage of this.
The EU is always claiming it has a migrant crisis, when in fact it has failed to address the domestic problems arising from factors such as globalisation, greater automation and the transition from industry to services. Rather than admit its failure, the EU has encouraged its member states to blame migrants for the resulting problems. In any democracy, those who can’t vote are the easiest target, so a snowballing anti-immigrant rhetoric has emerged, which domestic governments have been keen to take advantage of to keep themselves in power.
Therefore the EU has to be seen to be “taking action” over migrants, despite all the services and industries which depend on them. Unsurprisingly, there is evidence that they have become the latest hoop new members have to jump through to gain any benefits from the EU. The new message is, “You can join if you have European values, and that means we are going to dump our migrants in your country to suit ourselves and tell you how you have to be inclusive.” But the EU itself, knowing this is a lie, can’t even come out and openly ‘speak-it-to-the-people-who should-be-hearing.’’
Tell it to someone else
The European Commission is funding a programme in Georgia which will promote positive messages about migration – in other words, begin conditioning Georgians that their future depends on accepting migrants. But this programme is not being conducted in Tbilisi, where the media is based, or Kutaisi, where parliament has sat since Saakashili tried to gain a regional support base having lost Tbilisi. It is poor people in the villages of Lagodekhi who will be the first “beneficiaries” – presumably because that area has been identified as a place where migrants can be settled.
There are many Georgian victims of the Abkhazian war of the early 1990s who still don’t have homes. A lot of agricultural land is unused because no one wants to work it anymore. Ongoing political instability makes life in forgotten rural areas more precarious by the day, as village dwellers are always bottom of the priority list. But here is the EU going into Lagodekhi to tell people that all this is because they are backward, and need to be educated and compassionate enough to accept migrants in their midst.
Georgians are famously hospitable, and no more anti-foreign than any other people. But they may well ask: why us? If this programme is so necessary, why not conduct it in Tbilisi or Kutaisi, where there is much more accommodation and many more opportunities for these migrants than out in Lagodekhi?
There are three reasons. First, people in the cities have more experience of migration. They have seen all the Chinese sex workers, the diplomats and aid workers who come and go and the businessmen who start up in Georgia because they can pay people next to nothing and run away if things go wrong. These are the people who migrate to Georgia by choice, because the generality see that Georgia has little to offer them. People in villages, who are less impacted by these migrants, might be more receptive to the idea that migration will help them, regardless of why the migrants are really being sent there.
Second, the EU has lost a lot of credibility in Georgia’s centres of power. Although Georgians want Europe, they don’t think the EU has the monopoly on what being “European” is. Georgia thinks the rest of Europe should bend to it once in a while, not constantly tell it what to do, because Georgia is already part of the European continent. It may not be a member of the club, but that membership is its birthright.
For many years, under successive governments, Georgia has slavishly followed every US and EU suggestion in order to “harmonise” its laws and practices with those of Europe. This harmonisation has been done through the proper channels, the government and parliament. The result has been that the public has accused governments of introducing anti-Georgian practices, which are not necessary to make Georgians European. The EU is pursuing this programme in the villages to go over the heads of government and parliament, hoping they will create a new climate of public opinion the authorities must accept.
The world is aware of what happened when the Georgian parliament introduced new anti-homophobia laws at the request of the EU. The harmonisation didn’t alter the existing Georgian law much, but the process was seen as promoting homosexuality in a country which is very resistant to it. The annual Day Against Homophobia, introduced in consequence, is poorly observed because a large Christian Family march takes place on the same day to counter it. The villagers of Lagodekhi are unlikely to march through the streets so publicly, and few would notice or care if they did, so even if the EU’s message is ignored this won’t have the same effect on the general population.
Third, the formally educated people live in the cities. Their resistance to EU dictates gives the EU an excuse to call Georgia backward, and to claim this resistance is due to some inherent trait in the population. Having failed to persuade the “educated”, it now targets those it considers “ignorant” to address this “deviation” at source. What the EU wanted to do all along – dump migrants on aspirant members to relieve pressures on governments in the older member states – is being presented as an educational process, despite Georgians having been well-educated in what the West wants to inflict on them ever since they regained their independence.
If people want to migrate to Georgia they can. There are few, if any, restrictions on EU citizens entering Georgia and living and working there. There are very few stories of migrants returning home because they were treated badly by Georgians, and the cost of living is much lower than it is in most of the EU.
If EU citizens want to migrate to Georgia little prevents them, and such migration has long been encouraged by businesses who want Western skills and investment, no matter what sort of investment it is. If they are not doing so in great numbers, but the EU is training people to accept migration, this migration will be forced upon those who undertake it.
Since the fall of Communism there has been little interaction between Georgia and Cuba. Few Georgians therefore remember the Mariel Boatlift of 1980, one of the more notorious examples of disguised forced migration, which was likewise presented as a positive thing at the time.
After some disgruntled Cubans drove a car into the Peruvian Embassy compound and demanded asylum, which was granted, Castro surprised the world by announcing that anyone who wanted to leave Cuba could just climb over the embassy wall. Over 100,000 did, and then fled in a series of boats from the port Castro had opened for the purpose, eagerly assisted by “freedom lovers” everywhere. Only later did the US discover that Castro had simply emptied the mental hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters and transported all his problems to the US, which was still busy educating its populace on the benefit of accepting these migrants, whilst closing the door to millions of others.
So who exactly are the migrants the EU is preparing Lagodekhi villagers to accept in their midst? They are highly unlikely to be able to speak Georgian, few will be Orthodox Christians and fewer will have any knowledge of Georgian traditions or culture. If a few such people are going to arrive, there is no need to spend a lot of money educating people about migrants, as each person would be treated as an individual. The EU is clearly thinking in terms of dumping job lots of its migrants on Georgia, and when identifying those you wish to remove, the worst examples are the first in the queue.
Not in our backyard
Georgia is suffering a demographic crisis, having a low birth rate and ageing population. The ‘best and brightest’ are running to the West in search of jobs, even though most would be happier if their skills could be put to use at home, in a job or business which could support them and their families, and give hope for the future. The main thing Georgia has always wanted out of the EU has never been trade but visa-free travel to the West, as this suits Georgians back home too. EU citizens already have visa-free travel to Georgia, but few are aware of this because few want to take advantage of this arrangement.
If the EU wanted people to migrate to Georgia for positive reasons it would ensure its aid actually helped people rather than funding geopolitical games. In a small country like Georgia it is much easier to spot things like misuse of public funds than it is in big Western countries, and they impact more directly on people’s lives. Georgians know that “educational programmes” such as these are all part and parcel of a wider programme of subversion which leads to servitude, even though they are happy to partake of them for their own ends, having few other choices.
The programme in Lagodekhi will feature a number of speakers, including Zurab Balanchivadze, who will “speak about the influence of social media and mentor the participants in shooting short videos which will promote positive messages regarding migration”. Zurab Balanchivadze writes for a website called Chai Khana (Tea House). It is currently advertising for interns by offering them Impact Hub membership. The Impact Hub IP and Brand are owned by the “Impact Hub Association”, which is in turn the sole owner of “HUB GmbH (Impact Hub Company)”, a charitable company with the mandate to manage global operations and facilitate the development of the network as a whole.
This company is based in Vienna, which is also home to one of the global organisation’s main investors, the Erste Stiftung (aka “Erste Foundation”). The Erste Foundation appears to work hand-in-hand with George Soros. Though offered as part of Erasmus+, this programme is not even an EU project but a Soros Foundation one – the price the EU itself has to pay for getting its hands on Soros funds for better-intentioned endeavours, and prevent him wrecking more currencies with his speculations.
If the EU wanted the best and brightest in Europe to migrate to Georgia it would build them better houses and establish new businesses, not lecture villagers in Lagodekhi about how backward and chauvinistic they are. Whoever ends up migrating to Georgia, neither side is likely to benefit from the arrangement, and Georgians are right to complain that the EU should show them greater respect than this.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.