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The government of Georgia has asked Israel to stop referring to the country as "Gruzia," the Russian pronunciation of its name that has crept into official use in recent years amid the influx of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, Georgian Ambassador to Israel Lasha Zhvania said on Tuesday. Instead, Zhvania told The Jerusalem Post, it wants Israel to revert to the official Hebrew name - "Georgia" with a hard first and second "g" and a stress on the "or" - which was commonly used until the 1980s.
The unusual request was made to Mark Sofer, the Foreign Ministry deputy director-general who visited Georgia last week. Israeli diplomatic sources said the ministry would indeed now strive to switch "Gruzia" for "Georgia" in official correspondence, but it was explained to the Georgians that "Gruzia" had now entered the Hebrew vernacular and would be hard to oust from everyday usage.
Official Georgian displeasure at the use of a Russian pronunciation of its name here mirrors a much wider and more substantive Georgian discontent with Russia, and vice versa, as evidenced by trade frictions between the two nations and the start of processes under which Georgia is to both reassess the benefits of its continued membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and move toward hoped-for EU membership.
This week, under the terms of a treaty signed last year, Russia has begun to remove military bases from its southern neighbor as part of an internationally backed process under which Georgia is increasingly asserting its independence.
At the same time, the ambassador said, Russia had barred key wine and mineral water imports from Georgia, together worth some $90 million per year - a key market. He charged that this was a breach of CIS regulations, which prohibit member nations from taking measures that economically damage other member states.
"If there were a referendum," Zhvania said, "the majority of Georgians would vote to leave the CIS."
He stressed that no such referendum was planned, but that the Georgian government would shortly initiate a parliamentary discussion on "whether it is economically worth it for Georgia to stay in the CIS or leave." There would be no problem for Georgia to maintain its trade with other CIS nations via bilateral agreements outside that forum, he said.
Meanwhile, Georgia has begun a three-year action plan designed to harmonize its legislation with that of the EU ahead of a hoped-for move toward EU membership. "Our country has a European direction," said Zhvania. "Our society sees our historic place as being in Europe."
Russia, he noted, was "our neighbor, and we raise our hand in friendship and partnership with it. But the response is often inadequate."
On May 26, Georgia is to mark the 15th anniversary of its independence. The date, he noted, also marks 88 years of independence from the Russian Empire.
About 100,000 Jews of Georgian origin live in Israel today, with most of the community having left in the 1970s. A new Georgian government effort to encourage bilateral tourism was starting to bear fruit, with two flights now plying the route each week, up from one last year, said Zhvania, who is himself Jewish and a Hebrew speaker.â€¢