Since gaining independence in 1991, Georgia’s journey to become a modern, European-facing democracy has been long.
It reached a crucial turning point last month when, after intense negotiation, Georgia along with Ukraine and Moldova signed an Association Agreement with the European Union. This accord underlines the determination of the people of Georgia to follow a democratic path, as a guarantee of freedom, prosperity and national unity. It fosters closer relations and integration with the European Union across a raft of economic, social and security policies, serving as a landmark moment for Georgia that firmly places its trajectory as one facing Europe and the Western world.
The election in Tbilisi, given Georgia’s recent history, is therefore of considerable importance. This city of more than one million people is not only the business and political center of modern Georgia, but also a place of crucial geopolitical interests. An oil pipeline from Azerbaijan transits through Tbilisi to Turkey, and onto Europe, providing a key source of fossil fuels. Therefore, who takes the office to govern this city, at the crossroads between east and west trade, matters far beyond the borders of Georgia.
Freedom and stability allow us to progress and build Tbilisi as an example to other cities and countries seeking closer ties with the European Union and the West. International companies would hardly consider Georgia as a place to create jobs if they had doubts that the events of the past, and in particular the war of 2008, might occur again. Georgians, who with the assistance of the city government of Tbilisi can contribute to creating small businesses and to the growth of the middle class - so crucial to job creation - need that stability just as much.
We have a mission and an ambition to make Tbilisi a modern cultural and economic center that will open a gate for the whole region to the western world. We need to bring the best practices of the European and US cities to Tbilisi that will help trigger business development and facilitate strengthening Tbilisi’s regional role, which will lead to increased economic activity and creation of new jobs. If elected mayor, my program includes increased investment and training for small businesses so they can lead the process of creating these jobs. We want to develop smart business incubators that will promote early involvement of youth in the process of mastering new technologies. We see the importance of closer cooperation with US cities and the need of sharing their experiences as decisive in delivering this change.
Boosting tourism is another crucial component for our development. Tbilisi’s unique cultural and historical heritage with a fusion of art and style from the crossroads of the Western and Eastern worlds already attracts an increasing number of tourists from all over the world. However, we must ensure that the increase in numbers does not, over time, damage our heritage and attractions. We therefore must create an effective mechanism for its protection. Our first task must be maintenance of heritage sites in Old Tbilisi and restoration of its appearance. At the same time, we need to build new tourist infrastructure that does not impede the old.
For this to happen, our city must be governed better that it has been in recent years. Only transparency, and active citizen-participation, can deliver this. In only the last few months we have been working in partnership with local civil society networks and citizens campaigning to defend access to public open spaces and lobby for action on sustainable urban development.
However, the Association Agreement with the European Union is our chance to make Tbilisi a truly citizen-led democracy. With the EU’s support and along with backing from central government, Tbilisi can reach its potential to become the leading center of culture and tourism business in the region.
Tbilisi is once more finding its historical role as the bridge between Europe and Asia and rediscovering its place at the heart of Europe, where we belong.
Narmania is candidate for Mayor of Tbilisi for the Georgian Dream Coalition. He was formerly minister for Regional Development and Infrastructure in the government of Georgia.