Ladies and Gentlemen,
Your Excellency, honorable guests and dear friends

We have gathered here today on a very important occasion – to witness and celebrate
Centennial of Georgia’s Independence and I have the privilege to host Ambassador of the Republic of Austria, His Excellency Arad Benkö.

Your Excellency, herzliche grüßen und willkommen, thank you for participation in the “Future of Europe” panel.

The reason why we are here today – The Centennial of Georgia’s Independence is important not only because this very day a hundred years ago our ancestors began the creation of the first modern, democratic and secular state in the Caucasus, where rights and liberties of ethnic and religious minorities were tolerated and secure, where women together with men had an equal opportunity to elect and be elected,
But also because today, while looking back and remembering the lessons of the past, we are looking towards the future.

And the future of Georgia seems quite bright – because the new generation of Georgians is emerging. The generation that was born not in the Empire of Evil, but in free, independent Georgia.

This new generation, born in dark and gloomy nineteen nineties, had survived civil war and foreign invasion, periods of total devastations and destruction, whose mothers and fathers were forced to leave their ancestral homes in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions. And this generation has already proven its loyalty towards freedom and the spirit of solidarity.

Today, on 100th anniversary of Georgian independence, we stand here. Together.

We stood together, as one in 2008, when our country was invaded by a foreign force.
We stood united on the 13th of June, when a horrible flood devastated the capital city.
And we stand united in grief – when Georgian heroes are kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the occupation regime.

And in these moments of sorrow and grief, we have to remember what we stand for. The most important values universal, simple and common, that are rooted deeply in Georgian culture and society, are being tested once more.

The values, that we share with our allies.

And it is a great honor and pleasure for me to host here today the Ambassador of our closest ally.

The country that believed in Georgia in our darkest hour. The country, whose businessmen were not afraid to invest in Georgia in 1990-ies – and the gorgeous building of the first modern European hotel – Metekhi – stands as a living monument to this friendship.

But it is not only business that unites us – relations between ordinary Georgians and ordinary Austrians, that began in 1990-ies, continue and flourish today, for the benefit of our countries. My grandmother, for example, skypes her Austrian friends who often come to Georgia and visit us.

But this friendship, between Georgians and Austrians didn’t begin in 1990-ies. And while speaking about friendship between Georgians and Austrians, I would like to mention one person, that has always served as an example of active citizenship and peacebuilding not only for Austrians or Georgians. A person, whose legacy should never be forgotten.

This person, an Austrian, who lived in Georgia for quite a while, is of course, Bertha von Suttner – the most outstanding peace activist of the early twentieth century, the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And I am very proud that her first significant political work, Inventarium einer Seele was written in Tbilisi.

So we see, that Georgians and Austrians share even more than a century of friendship. I wish to use this opportunity and to thank the people of Austria – and the Austrian Development Agency – for YOUR contribution towards economic development and democratization of Georgia. I hope that empowering the youth and supporting young Georgian leaders will also be one of the priorities of ADA in the future, because true democracy starts with young idealists ready to fight for their ideals.

I am sure that cooperation between our countries will deepen – and the recent opening of the Austrian Embassy increases my hope. As far as we all know, The Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union begins in July. This Presidency shall be a unique chance for our countries to work on a variety of important issues. The Austrian government has already published its priorities –  security (the fight against illegal immigration by securing external borders), maintaining Europe’s competitiveness through digitization, and stability in Austria’s neighboring countries (working towards EU accession for Western Balkan countries). The last one resonates deeply with Georgia’s aspirations – but unfortunately, Georgia and the Caucasus is not on the top-list, but I hope this won’t affect our mutual relations and cooperation between our countries will increase – and I hope that you, Mr. Ambassador, will play a crucial role in deepening our friendship.

Now I would like to get back to the topic of our panel – The Future of Europe. Since the outbreak of the euro crisis, Europe has been experiencing a host of contradictory trends and developments, we have witnessed a wave of nationalism in several European countries, challenging not only globalization, but the foundation of an open, liberal society.

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