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SLOVAK RELATIONS WITH GEORGIA ARE VIRTUALLY NON-EXISTENT, SAY ANALYSTS

Slovakia unaffected by developments in Tbilisi

DESPITE the worldwide attention paid to the latest developments in Georgia, for the time being, it seems unlikely they will have much of a direct effect on Slovakia, according to experts.
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze stepped down on November 23, following popular protests against the validity of parliamentary elections held in the country earlier this month. Georgia's Supreme Court ruled on November 25 that the results of those elections were fabricated by pro-Shevardnadze forces, and annulled them.
The civic movement that ousted the Georgian president from power is widely seen as a step towards greater democracy in Georgia, and some world media have termed it a 'velvet revolution', a name also used for the November 1989 anti-Communist revolt in the former Czechoslovakia.

DESPITE the worldwide attention paid to the latest developments in Georgia, for the time being, it seems unlikely they will have much of a direct effect on Slovakia, according to experts.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze stepped down on November 23, following popular protests against the validity of parliamentary elections held in the country earlier this month. Georgia's Supreme Court ruled on November 25 that the results of those elections were fabricated by pro-Shevardnadze forces, and annulled them.

The civic movement that ousted the Georgian president from power is widely seen as a step towards greater democracy in Georgia, and some world media have termed it a 'velvet revolution', a name also used for the November 1989 anti-Communist revolt in the former Czechoslovakia.

Official Slovak representatives were cautious in their reactions. "The Foreign Ministry is carefully observing the developments in Georgia," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Juraj Tomaga told The Slovak Spectator.

"The latest developments in [the Georgian capital] Tbilisi have shown the democratic nature of the Georgian society, and we hope that the future political development and the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled to take place within 45 days, will be democratic and will lead this country to stability," he added.

Tomaga refused to make further comments on the issue, pointing out that other governments in the central-European region have also restricted themselves to short statements or have given no reaction at all. Peter Spišiak, press secretary with the Slovak embassy in Moscow, also responsible for dealing with Georgia, declined to comment.

Experts say it is natural that officials opt for a wait-and-see tactic, stressing that one man alone doesn't represent the entire system, and some resistance to change could yet appear.

"It cannot be ruled out that there will be an unexpected turn in developments; there could be turbulence because Georgia is not only Shevardnadze," said Alexander Duleba, head researcher with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association think-tank, an expert on the countries of the former Soviet Union.

According to Duleba, events in Georgia are unlikely to have an impact on Slovakia. "But this could have an impact on all of Europe," said Duleba, according to whom a successful process of democratisation in Georgia could serve as an inspiration for other countries of the region.

However, the impacts on regional dynamics may not all be good, he warned.

"[Opposition leader and only presidential candidate] Mikhail Saakashvili is a nationalist. There is some threat of ethnic conflicts with the separatist regions," he said.

Slovakia does not have very strong relations with the Asian country. "The relations have not been intense, because Georgia is very distant," said Duleba. Tbilisi is some 2,300 kilometres away from the Slovak capital.

Official sources confirm Duleba's claims. According to material provided by Tomaga, "the relations between the Slovak Republic and Georgia are not sufficiently developed in the political or economic field."

"Besides the foreign minister's and economy minister's visit in February of 2000, there have been no official visits at a higher level," reads the ministry document.

Although Georgia is one of the poorest countries of the former Communist bloc, there are a number of Slovak companies working on the development of its infrastructure. However, mutual trade results are low.

In the first nine months of 2003, total Slovak exports to Georgia amounted to Sk20 million (€489,000), while imports reached the value of Sk39.2 million (€959,000). Each year, Slovakia offers scholarships to Georgian students.

In the years 1995 through 1997, the business section of the Georgian embassy in Vienna had a branch in Bratislava. Since then, it has lacked official representation in Slovakia.

The Slovak Spectator was unable to get a comment on recent developments from the Georgian ambassador in Austria.

Experts say a shift towards true democracy in Georgia may give new momentum to the currently low-profile relations between the two nations. "The change will open new possibilities," said Duleba.

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