Meet Maia Panjikidze from Georgia
In 2010, Maia Panjikidze resigned her position as head of the Georgian mission to the Netherlands over a disagreement with her government’s domestic policy. She went back to her first profession – teaching literature and German language to high school and university students – and did not think she would ever join the ranks of the diplomatic corps again.
Yet she did – just two years later – on what seemed at the time a ticket to change her country for the better, the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia coalition. “A new era started in Georgia and everybody wanted to be part of this new wave that offered a new perspective and new opportunities for the country,” she says. In a whirlwind of events, Panjikidze first became the spokesperson of the coalition, then a MP when it won the elections, and immediately afterwards, Foreign Minister.
For Maia Panjikidze, who proudly holds the claim to be not only Georgia’s first female diplomat, but also a very early joiner of her country’s budding foreign service, the direction has always been towards Europe. When she felt that the government of her country were straying from this path, she was not afraid to leave the diplomatic scene.
“In 2010 I was fired from my position as ambassador to the Netherlands for political reasons – I did not agree with the government’s domestic policy. I have always believed that diplomacy is not policy, that they are different fields, but you can never divide one from the other completely,” she recalls.
To her, it appeared that both the Saakashvili government after 2010 and the subsequent Georgian Dream coalition from 2014 onwards backtracked from this primary goal. “Here in Georgia, you only hear declarations – “we want to be part of the EU, we want to be part of NATO, we will apply by 2024 to the EU.” When you say something like this, you need to do your homework very, very well. Saying that these are our priorities yet simultaneously doing the opposite of what we were supposed to was something very difficult to explain to our foreign colleagues,” Panjikidze says.
The diplomat does not shy away from talking about the luck she had on the way. “I always said I was very fortunate in my life. I had the chance when I was 18 to go to study in Germany. This is where I got the fundamental knowledge that helped me excel in my profession. I was very fortunate to have very good parents who gave me everything they could and a very good education. Education is fundamental to everything else in life. And that is what I always tell young women: try to get a good education and you will be free, and if you are free, you can move things. To know at least one thing in your life very well is very important.”
Like most politicians, Panjikidze suffered her fair share of public attacks while holding office. But she did not flinch, because she knew what she was working for and she had the self-confidence not to give in. “If there ever were at least some people that understood what your mission was when you worked with your whole heart and energy, then that is enough. You don't need to have complete public acceptance; you are not a film star – you don't need a big audience to know that you've done something for your country,” she says.
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