COLUMBIA — It wasn’t a regular wine tasting at the University Club in the Reynolds Alumni Center on Thursday night. Guests dined on Mtsvadi — a steak kebab, and Khinkali, which resemble large dumplings. They drank wines called Saperavi and Kindzmarauli. Everything was traditional to the Republic of Georgia.
In the middle of the room, four Georgian government officials and their facilitator drank wine from a horn and posed for pictures with Truman the Tiger.
The government officials have been in Columbia since Saturday as part of the Open World Program meeting with local officials and attending workshops to learn about local government, finance, education and infrastructure. The focus of their program is decentralization and accountable governance.
The group consists of Konstantine Kavtaradze, deputy of the financial department of Kutaisi; Davit Shaburishvili, chief specialist of budget planning of Dusheti; George Petruzashvili, deputy city manager of Gurjaani; Ioseb Buadze, head of the economic and infrastructure development department of Khashuri; and facilitator Bakur Kvaratskhelia. They were nominated by the local governments and selected by the U.S. embassy.
As a former Soviet republic, Georgia has been working toward becoming a democratic society.
“It is a new democracy, and there is a lot to learn,” Kavtaradze said through an interpreter. “The main principles are still in formation.”
He was greatly impressed by the democratic system, especially the decentralization between the local and state government. He also witnessed the synchronized work different groups do together on every level within the state and noted how professional education and volunteerism work together with the government to help improve the city. He also liked how the private sector is strongly represented in the community.
The first thing he will try to implement when he returns next week is volunteerism. He will explain what he saw and experienced in Columbia to the decision makers in the government and hope they are willing to proceed.
He is aware that the democratization process will not happen immediatelyin Georgia, and he will not try to rush things.
“I have no illusions that what we saw here will be implemented right away, but step-by-step,” Kavtaradze said. “It took your government 200 years to do this, and considering the new technology, we may need less than that.”
Shaburishvili enjoyed the warm reception Columbia gave him.
“I didn’t expect so much love and respect,” he said through an interpreter.
He learned about how finances are run here, such as city utilities and budget planning. He thinks that these goals are realistic, and sees similarities between the U.S. and Georgia.
“We are close, and we will be closer,” he said.
The event was organized by Columbia Rotary South as a fundraiser for Georgian refugees displaced by the recent war with Russia. Money from the fundraiser will go to help distribute medical supplies to Georgia, according to club member Dean Gregory.
Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world, having continuously produced wine for the past 5,000 to 7,000 years, according to Aleksandre Lobzhanidze, an MU doctoral student in computer science who gave an introduction to the Georgian wines.
The horn the Georgian officials were drinking from is an important accessory for the wine culture in Georgia and is used for special toasts at events, according to Lobzhanidze.