It has been almost three years that I have first visited Saarbruecken, Germany, within the frames of a study visit to Saarland University. Not sure what my great grandpa that nearly lost his life in 1944 fighting German Nazism (well, he was lucky to survive unlike 300 000 Georgian victims of Nazism) would feel about the fact that I loved Deutschland from the first sight.
Since 2013 I have crossed the EU border for different purposes dozens of times: for Erasmus exchange semester, to attend meetings of Erasmus Student Network or even to meet my beloved one for a date. The last summer Estonian consul granted me a visa just for 27 days instead of 45 that I asked. So after traveling around Europe for 27 days in August, I had to apply for another week long visa in September to reach Budapest and attend a meeting of Europe-wide student organization I volunteered for. As there was a long queue of visa applicants in a respective consulate, I could not manage to even make an appointment to hand in the visa documents, so could not get a visa and canceled my trip to Budapest.
In two months or so I will move to Hungary, this time for doing a year long Master degree in Budapest and to be honest, I am already getting worried. It is not a fear of not getting a long term study visa. I am rather nervous for facing possible negative stereotypes and judgments towards me because of my nationality. Thanks to some German politicians and anti-Georgian hysteria of German media I will now have to put a lot more efforts to avoid negative judgments and attitudes towards me because of my Georgianness.
For those not being aware of the events that pushed me writing this note: several days ago famous German magazine ‘Bild’ published the article ‘’Germany rejects visa-free regime for Georgia. Internal expert warns: “Georgian asylum seekers are criminals as no other group of foreigners.’’ As Mr. Armin Schuster (CDU) mentions ‘’there’s a high rate of criminal among Georgians’’ and added that ‘’this number is higher than in any foreigner nationals.’’ He assumed that more Georgians entering to Germany after visa-free would mean higher criminal rates in Germany. However, official data from Germany do not prove Mr. Schuster’s statements. His comments towards Georgian nationals were not just politically incorrect and disrespectful, but it is a lie, whether intentional or not.
Here is why: As German official statistics show Georgian nationals are responsible just for 4.0% of those crimes committed by foreign nationals in Germany. Georgians are far behind in this than not just those countries already enjoying visa-free regime to the EU, such as FYROM, Serbia, Albania or BiH, but also the number of crimes committed by Georgians are less than that of EU members, like Italy, Bulgaria, Greece or Romania. The number of Georgian theft suspects comprise just 7,6% of non-German offenders in Germany. Georgian smugglers are less than 3% of all smugglers in there.
The anti-Georgian hysteria in German media and politicians are not just incorrect. It is wrong on many levels. A strong exaggeration on Georgians’ criminality while intentionally forgetting the crimes committed by other EUropean nations reveal deep-set orientalism in German media and some of German decision-makers. It is not just orientalism however but racism as well to portray the entire nation as bunch of criminals.
Assuming the person will commit a crime just because of his nationality or ethnicity, gender, sexuality or whatsoever is nothing but racism. The saddest thing here though is that decision makers from Germany as a powerful country are able to exercise their power of naming. Applying these racist labels to Georgians and portraying us as criminals might influence constructed, emerging reality of situation. These racist notions about Georgia coming from Germany will create full set of negative stereotypes about my country around Europe. And, it will have considerable influence on Georgia’s European integration process.
German unwillingness to grant visa-free regime to Georgia most likely is linked to German decision makers’ loyalty towards Russia and/or possible Russian pressure on Germany to block Georgia’s western aspirations. As Russia still sees Georgia as its backyard and is fearful of the outcomes of Georgia’s irreversible pro-Western course, the German veto on Georgia’s step closer to the EU makes perfect sense.
The Georgian government and the civil society tried hard to fulfill the criteria for obtaining a visa-free regime. The country implemented numerous reforms in all possible spheres to meet the standards set by the EU. And despite the fact that all major actors on the Union’s supranational level and beyond acknowledge Georgia’s progress, couple of national governments led by Germany use racist rhetoric to block the decision. This move significantly damages the credibility of the EU as trustworthy partner not only in Georgia, but in the whole Caucasus region and wider Eastern Europe.
Visa-liberalisation for Georgia is rather a symbolic step. Those Georgians including myself that afford to travel to the EU to attend conferences, visit museums or attend concerts, are already doing so after obtaining visas. The ones that have no reason to visit Schengen area or have not got enough financial resources to make their holidays to the EU will not be able to go there anyway. Therefore, granting a visa-free regime to Georgia is not about refugee crises but about freer movement of students, youngsters, tourism and study trips.
I am fully agreeing with my Georgian fellows who think that anti-Georgian campaign and an attempt to exaggerate Georgian crime rates to Germany could be connected to some parties’ will to increase fear of refugee crises and gain votes in upcoming elections. (But what these crimes tell us is that visas cannot stop the flow of criminals).
Based on my good knowledge of the European history of the last 100 years, It is hardly new from German decision makers to show prejudice or discrimination to persons based on their race, ethnicity or nationality, but it is still sad to realize that the politicians that need to support the Europeanization process have not gone far from fascism.
And, after all, is not it bigotry to offend and deprive entire nation for your political goals? How can the EU promote tolerance, acceptance, human rights and other European values while some of its major decision makers are racists themselves?
Psychological Anthropology student from Tbilisi State University