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Georgia Really, Really Wanted a Visa-Free Agreement with the EU, and Now It's Party Time

The Georgian flag. Own work based on ‘File:Brdzanebuleba 31.pdf’ by the author SKopp. Creative commons listed.

Ex-Soviet Georgia began on March 28 a two-day celebration marking the successful conclusion of the country's long-running bid for citizens to enjoy visa-free travel to the countries of the European Union.

As the Georgia-focussed website Democracy and Freedom Watch reported:

There were celebrations in the capital Tbilisi on Monday as Georgian nationals may travel without a visa to Europe’s vast borderless Schengen area from March 28.

Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili was among government officials who attended a two hour long gala concert on Europe Square marking the end of two days of celebrations. The concert included performances by bands, an orchestra and the opera choir and ended with fireworks and the Georgian national anthem.

From Tuesday, Georgian nationals may visit Europe’s vast borderless Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180 day period. Also Georgian passport holders living in the breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia qualify for the visa waiver system.
Customs personnel have been given special instruction to give advice about procedures and check people’s documents, the interior minister said at a special briefing.

Although negotiations started as far back as 2013 with a so-called visa liberalization action plan (VLAP), it took until March this year until Georgia finally signed the agreement. The document was published in the EU journal on March 8 and enters into force on Tuesday.

The agreement was a long time in coming, as several countries in the EU suffering from “migration fatigue” looked to stall, DFW reported. But the end result is being greeted with jubilation in a society that has become evermore oriented on the West amid political tensions with Russia that peaked during a military conflict over the breakaway regions in 2008.

Former Global Voices Caucasus editor and Tbilisi-based journalist Onnik Krikorian tweeted a much-shared image on social media depicting classic Georgian fare khinkhali (meat dumplings) on a blue plate, echoing the EU flag.

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili‏, meanwhile, was keen to bill the new status as representative of a “return” to Europe, rather than a first welcome.

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