Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends & colleagues, honorable speakers, guests of honor, participants and observers,

It is a great pleasure for me to greet you today here, in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, on the very first edition of the Future of the Black Sea Region conference.

This year the conference is held in an unusual hybrid format – with very few participants sitting here with us, and many more joining us online.

The goal of the conference this year is ambitious – to create a foundation for an international forum, an independent platform, to discuss the future of a huge region consisting of many nations pursuing different interests and willing to achieve different goals. But let’s also be realistic – we will definitely not be able to find specific solutions to the problems and challenges that we face in the region – but I believe that our gathering today will be a small, but yet an important step for all of us to build a solid foundation for this forum and start thinking about how to build a more peaceful and prosperous future for the Black Sea region.

The region today is in turmoil. The challenges that we face are immense and vivid.

Right now, this very day, we are fighting a dual crisis – the pandemics, and economic challenges caused by it. The pandemics affected even this gathering- many guests were not able to travel to Georgia, but we are happy that they will join us today digitally, and the number of participants sitting here with us was significantly reduced to comply with the COVID regulations.

But COVID is not the only challenge – the entire region is struggling to overcome different hybrid threats originating from different authoritarian regimes both at home and abroad. These regimes struggle to undermine the very foundation and core values of the nations in the region, tend to corrupt and discredit the very ideas of democracy, human rights and western aspirations. The people in Georgia and Ukraine face existential threats in our struggle for Liberty and Independence of our nations.

And last but not least in this trio of challenges is what our colleagues from Munich framed as West less ness, especially in the eastern part of the Black Sea.

A few days ago we commemorated the 28th anniversary since Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia fell – the most painful day in Georgia’s modern history. On this day 28 years ago hundreds of Georgians were slaughtered, and hundreds of thousands became IDPs – internally displaced persons- in their own country simply because they were ethnically Georgians. This day is a reminder for us what happens when the world, and especially the west, looks somewhere else. Tragedies like this are avoidable – and should never ever happen again.

And that’s why this conference is important. It is crucial for us to start thinking how to build a more peaceful and prosperous Black Sea region, to create a common vision and start implementing this vision –
and I am more than sure that we will make a small step in this direction today.

And since we are talking about the common Future, and the future of the Black Sea Region, I would like to greet the youth – the next generation of this region. This year we created a special FLEECE fellowship for university students interested in international relations, politics and security. These students developed their own works, their vision on very challenging topics and I am looking forward to their presentations tomorrow. And I was very proud to see that among 24 fellows there were more women than men. We do definitely need more women both in security and international relations studies and in high positions: and I hope that this fellowship will contribute to this goal.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom for your outstanding support of both the conference, and the Europe-Georgia Institute in general.
Unfortunately, Peter-Andreas Bochmann, the chairman of the Foundation here in the Caucasus is not here with us today, but it is hard to express our gratitude for his support and contribution both to this conference and to the shaping of the Europe-Georgia Institute. I wish herr Bochmann good health, and hope to see him very soon in Tbilisi.

I would also like to highlight the titanic work done by Shamil Shugaev from the FNF up until this very morning, without whom this conference today would simply not be possible. I would also like to thank the outstanding team of the Europe-Georgia Institute led by our executive director Shako Chkheidze – as well as our junior colleagues Rati Kobakhidze, who is unfortunately not here with us today, and Guram Jajanidze – for all your hard work for the conference. And last but not least I would like to thank Gia Japaridze – a brilliant diplomat and a wonderful person who is always supporting even the most ambitious of our ideas.

At the end, not to spend any more of our precious time, I hope that everyone here with us and watching us live on facebook and youtube, as well as our guests and panelists, will join us in this endeavour to create a foundation for an international and independent platform, to shape the Future of the Black Sea Region.

This year’s FLEECE 2021 is officially open.

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