As one of the founding dates of the European Union 9th May is celebrated in several European countries. As Georgia holds close political and economical ties to the EU, there was also a big event in Tbilisi’s Rike Park. With food, information and a bunch of stereotypes so colourful like the balloons in the kid’s hands, the European Day was celebrated already one day before the official date and marked the beginning of the European Days 2016.
In many EU member states the enthusiasm about the European project decreases: Populist parties, which in some cases have a right-wing orientation, are on the rise; Great Britain’s citizens will decide in June if they want to remain in the EU or prefer to leave it; and the so called refugee crisis and the financial crisis in Greece are challenging the idea of a common European identity, as well. On Sunday 8 May in Tbilisi’s Rike Park you can’t feel anything like this. The park was crowded by people – citizens, expats and tourists celebrating the European Day. This date relates to 9 May 1950, when Robert Schumann set out his vision of a united Europe.
Three-quarters of Georgians support EU-path
The event was organized by the European Delegation to Georgia, embassies of some EU-countries and the Tbilisi Mayor’s office. The question why Georgians are so interested about the European Union was answered by a spokesperson of the EU-Delegation to Georgia: “Recent polls show that 77% of Georgians support the country’s course on EU. Therefore, Georgia’s citizens‘ interest in the EU, the Member States and opportunities through the increasingly closer partnership is a logical consequence and much appreciated on our side.”
17 out of 28 EU member states presented their countries and provided the guests with information about tourist destinations or just with typical food from their home countries. Although it was surprisingly that Poland is famous for it’s cheese, in general it was also about playing with stereotypes: Becherovka at the Czech tent and painting wooden shoes at the Dutch tent. The only exception was Sweden: Deputy Head of Mission Gustaf Winstrand informed in the Swedish tent about the dangers and risks related to traffic in urban centres. Pollution, traffic jams and of course injuries or death in traffic are serious problems, which should also be tackled in Tbilisi.
Visitor’s interest not only about food
In general the tents which offered food, were the most crowded ones. Between the tents and booths there were kids running collecting flags and stamps in a “passport” from each EU member state. The German tent offered information about studying in Germany and surprisingly many guests took a picture of themselves with a life-sized picture of German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Different EU institutions like the EU Delegation to Georgia provided their guests with information about the EU. A spokesperson of the EU-Delegation told the Rec Magazine: “Many people kept visiting the tents and engaging in conversations after promotional items were gone and even after informational materials had finished. Equally, the day program with a variety of European and Georgian performances attracted a large audience, as did the evening concert. So having colourful balloons doesn’t mean there wasn’t interest in studying abroad in the EU or simply increasing knowledge and understanding about the European Union and enjoying the spirit of Europe Day in particular. As we account for more than 10 000 visitors in this year’s Europe Day in Tbilisi, we believe the activities were complementary and not exclusive.“
High interest in agricultural products
But also other EU bodies presented themselves. The EUMM was not very frequented. The reason might be that it is not very popular in Georgia, but maybe it was due to the fact that they didn’t offer any give-aways. In contrary the tent of ENPARD received a lot of interested guest. The European Union Programme to Agricultural and Rural Development presented different products like jam, wine or bread from different rural areas in Georgia. And of course it was not only possible to buy, but also to just taste.
There was a high media interest, as well, especially in front of the big stage at the front, which hosted several cultural performances. The whole day was finished on the main stage by a concert of Georgian and international artists and musicians. Although on political level it isn’t very likely that Georgia will join the EU in the near future, the visitors in the Rike Park proofed to identify with the idea of a common European identity.