‘Bloody Awful’ Roads: Ogden on the Contradictory Route to the EU


It does not take any foreigner in Georgia long to realize that Georgians are, really, a contradictory folk. It’s a cliché to write it, of course, because such a description appears in just about every travel blog about every place on the planet; the type of thing that’s written by a young person in sandals hunched over a Turkish coffee who looks you in the eye and tells you how they’ve ‘found their niche’, ‘connected with the locals’ and ‘can’t live back home anymore’, giving the impression that they’re some kind of Bohemian Internet philosopher with the same jaundiced view of their homeland as a Vietnam War veteran.

Americans living in Britain describing the English as contradictory could not be more wrong. We’re an awfully simple folk. Give an Englishman beer to drink, football to watch and a string of young women who are composed of so much plastic they could be recycled and we’re as happy as can be. Yet with Georgians, the cliché rings true: they are very contradictory creatures.

Some would argue that this is true within society and evident in the way that Georgians interact with each other, but for me it’s far more apparent on the political level.

The vast majority of Georgians are still praying for membership in the European Union and NATO (or at least, I think they are. My Georgian isn’t good enough to understand what they’re saying in the churches when I walk past; they could be chanting ‘Chairs to mend!’ for all I know). Whether they want to be part of the Euro-Atlantic sphere due to a hope that they will henceforth be safe from Russian aggression (ha!), a desire to get a job within a more prosperous economy, or even a genuine belief in Western values (whatever those might be), the dream appears to be universal: Georgians want Georgia to be part of the West.

Yet curiously enough, many Georgians don’t seem to understand that if they want to become a member of these coveted international bodies, it does matter what the members of those bodies think of Georgia. I am not referring to the Sean Penn-style bleating of pedantic teachers; I’m referring to politicians and diplomats.

A few months ago, the British Ambassador to Georgia, Her Excellency Alexandra Hall Hall, commented on the state of Georgian roads and the standard of Georgian driving and declared that they were, basically, bloody awful (she put it far more eloquently than that, of course, but I’m giving you the gist, while torpedoing my own chances of a diplomatic career). The truth of her statement should be apparent to anyone who has ever been on a Georgian road (indeed, whoever built the road up to Kazbegi was clearly then hired by Disneyland Paris to build Space Mountain), and clearly Her Excellency thought it such an obvious observation that it would be safe ground to tread on. I should point out that Ambassador Hall Hall made her comments while speaking about Georgia’s progress towards EU membership, so her remarks were hardly unreasonable.

The backlash was extraordinary. How dare the Ambassador criticize Georgia in this way? Who was she to say such things? Interestingly enough, nobody actually contradicted her; I don’t blame them, since even O. J. Simpson’s lawyers would have had difficulty in persuading a jury that Georgia’s roads are decent. Worryingly enough, even Salome Zurabishvili - a former French diplomat turned Georgian politician – weighed in on the issue, saying it wasn’t Ambassador Hall Hall’s place to judge Georgia. This is rather worrying considering Zurabishvili served as a French diplomat in Italy, Belgium, the United States and Georgia itself; one might have thought she’d have been familiar with her own job description.

Despite repeated rhetoric of ‘deepening cooperation’ and ‘close international partnerships’, the former and current state leadership reacted badly to foreign criticism of internal events in Georgia, the Georgian attitude being that whatever happens in Georgia stays in Georgia, and should not affect its efforts to join the international community. This is, really, rather silly. Let’s hope for better things from the new state leader who nobody voted for (again), PM What’s-His-Name.

Tim Ogden


22 January 2016 10:01