Realistic and ambitious: Georgia's push toward Europe
As the breakaway region of Abkhazia holds de facto presidential elections, Georgia's President Salomé Zourabichvili has dismissed the vote as a "sham" and says she looks forward to "one very close day" when citizens of the region will participate in free elections that determine the future of their region within Georgia.
Abkhazia and the other disputed region of South Ossetia have been under what Georgia considers to be Russian military occupation since the 2008 war between the Georgia and Russia. The two regions consider themselves independent nations but are only recognised by a handful of countries, including Russia, Venezuela and Syria.
"It's a human tragedy for the people that are living [in Abkhazia] because they are not allowed to have access to their language, to their identity is really threatened, there is a policy of Russification, so it's a very difficult situation," President Zourabichvili told Euronews' Anelise Borges during an interview in Paris.
She said that if the aim of the 2008 conflict was to deter Tbilisi from its push toward closer ties to Europe, that's a fight Moscow is losing:
"Fifteen years ago, nobody would have predicted that Georgia would first be in the [European] Neighbourhood Policy, second would be a partner in the partnership of the European Union. No one would have predicted that we would become an associate member that we would have a free regime, free trade - all of that."
Georgia's European mindset
In stark contrast to Britain's contentious divorce proceedings with Brussels, and many other difficult conversations currently taking place within the EU, a recent poll says some 83 percent of Georgians want to be part of Europe. Why are they so keen to join the bloc?
"It is something very deeply entrenched in the Georgian mind and mentality that Georgians feel that they are Europeans. It's not something they are striving for, they are European. They are also very optimistic about Europe because they think that the European attraction has no alternative, which is something from the inside sometimes, Europeans do not see," Zourabichvili explained.
Rather than presage the demise of the European project, President Zourabichvili says Brexit could signal long-term progress for the bloc - and a future that includes a greater role for Georgia.
"One very, I think, interesting principle is that all the progress of Europe has been made because of crisis - again, not despite crisis but because of crisis and as a result of crisis. Brexit is certainly a very big challenge but I'm sure that it will give way to new opportunities, to new obligations of Europe to reform itself. Being an optimist, I'm sure it will open new doors for us."
Very realistic and very ambitious
For now, President Zourabichvili says Georgia is closely watching what's happening across Europe:
"Very, very closely. We need to continue the movement [towards Europe]. Within Europe we need to know exactly where we put our feet in the new context of Europe. We have to know it very well and be very realistic and very ambitious at the same time."
Watch the full interview with Georgian President Salomé Zourabichvili in the media player above.