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President Zurabishvili Pays Official Visit to Austria

By Khatia Bzhalava
Wednesday, October 13
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has paid the first official visit to Austria, where she met with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen and members of the Georgian diaspora in Vienna.

During the meeting with the Georgian diaspora yesterday, which included leading Georgian cultural and medical figures working in Austria, the president stressed that culture is one of Georgia’s key resources that need to be popularized abroad.

The meeting focused on the creation and financing of new student exchange programs and equalizing tuition fees of Georgian students in EU countries with tuition fees of EU citizens.

The Austrian President hosted Zurabishvili at the Hofburg Palace and later gave a joint press conference for the media, where Zurabishvili thanked the Austrian president for the opportunity to be the first Georgian president to visit Austria after 100 years.

President Alexander Van der Bellen focused on the political situation in Georgia and stressed that the Georgian president has ‘a very difficult’ task in terms of weakening the polarization and in terms of mediation. He also stressed the importance of the sustainable development of democratic institutions and the rule of law.

“Georgia has recently held local elections. The international observer mission assessed the elections as generally good, but they want to end political polarization and we join that hope," he noted.

As Zurabishvili stressed at the conference, it is the duty and role of the president to be non-partisan and to try in every way to overcome polarization. According to her, the tension between the parties creates a problem of governance, “therefore a coalition government may be needed in some form.”

The Austrian president also touched upon Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations, noting that the inter-party consensus in this direction is very important in Georgia. According to Zurabishvili, European integration along with de-occupation are the very directions on which all political parties in Georgia agree. She noted that relations with the European Union are moving forward and stressed the importance of Charles Michel’s involvement in overcoming Georgia’s political crisis, which, as she asses, "is the sign of ‘EU's interest in maintaining stability in this country."

“We need to move more actively in the direction of reforms that we know are necessary. Judicial reform is one of the areas in which our progress is inevitable,” she said.

The Austrian president reaffirmed his support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. He stressed that Austria is a member of the EU Monitoring Mission, which is the only on-site international mission that is not able to operate in the territories occupied by the Russian Federation, and urged Russia to allow the EU Monitoring Mission to work in both Abkhazia and Tskhinvali.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries next year, Zurabishvili invited the Austrian President to Georgia.

Within the framework of the Georgian president’s visit to Austria, she opened the Austria-Georgia business forum and met with OSCE Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid and OSCE female Ambassadors to promote women’s involvement in peaceful conflict resolution.