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Bakradze: US-Georgia relations matter more than ever

David Bakradze, Op-Ed Contributor

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In 1990, while most Georgians’ experiences of the U.S. were primarily limited to audio recordings and selected movies, I had the tremendous opportunity to study as a high school exchange student in Colorado. That experience gave me a glimpse into a new culture and motivated my desire to pursue a career in international diplomacy.

As a student from Georgia, a small country at the crossroads of Asia and Europe with quite different cultural traditions than the U.S., moving to the middle of Colorado was a massive shock. I came to see America as a land of opportunity, not only for those living in this beautiful country, but also as a model for the rest of the world.

Today, my view of America has not changed. The rest of the world still looks to the U.S. as a leader, representing the best of what can be achieved when hardworking people are inspired by democratic values and the possibility of real economic prosperity.

I am honored to be visiting Chicago this week, as an ambassador, to speak to Northwestern University and Chicago business communities about why the U.S.-Georgia relationship matters more now than ever. As Georgia’s Ambassador to the United States, I am focused on building stronger economic, political and cultural ties between our nations.

One hundred years ago this month, Georgia declared its independence and began building its democratic institutions. The U.S. has remained a loyal friend to us during this process. For most of the past century, up until the restoration of independence in 1991, we were occupied and ruled by the Soviet Union. Yet the U.S. never wavered in supporting our pursuit of freedom. Georgia has reciprocated by sending more soldiers per capita than any other NATO member nation or partner country to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with American servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are now poised for further integration into NATO, and our contributions to recent NATO-led operations outpace those of many of the alliance’s existing member countries.

Since regaining independence in 1991, Georgia has transformed itself from a country ravaged by civil war into a modern, democratic and dynamic state. Georgia is a small, strategically located country of nearly 4 million with enormous economic potential. We believe in a free, open and transparent business environment — according to the World Bank, we are one of the easiest countries in the world in which to do business.

In recent years, we have attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment. Under Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, our government is implementing an ambitious economic reform program that is modernizing Georgia’s economy, making it an even more attractive location for U.S. businesses to access the “New Silk Road” connecting Europe to Asia.

Getting to this point has not been easy, and we are grateful for generations of U.S. leaders and diplomats who have provided critical support to Georgia over the years. The U.S. has a great deal to offer Georgia, and Georgia has a great deal to offer the U.S. I believe that now is the time to build upon the strong foundation of our close political relationship and forge a trade agreement that will bring great economic and national security benefits to both our nations.

We also need to forge closer cultural ties through people-to-people exchange programs. It is my hope that, just as I fell in love with the U.S. as a young exchange student, a Northwestern student might visit Georgia, fall in love with my country and one day work to improve our bilateral relations.

We often say in Georgia that, when abroad, we become ambassadors of our country. But it is also true that Georgians who return home become cultural ambassadors of the countries in which they were living. That has certainly been the case for me.

David Bakradze is the Georgian Ambassador to the United States. He can be contacted at embgeo.usa@mfa.gov.ge. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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