Compromise Versus Polarization
14 June, 2012

Interview with Diana Janse, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden in Georgia and Armenia

June 6 is the National Day of the Kingdom of Sweden. Georgian Journal congratulates the country on this wonderful occasion that was also marked in Tbilisi, Georgia. Not long ago, we have covered International Book Festival during which one of the attention-grabbing presentations caught our attention - a charming young fair-haired lady was introduced as an author of the book titled “Afghan Diaries”. The lady proved to be the ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden, H.E. Ms. Diana Janse who is our guest today. She has been working and living in Georgia since September of 2010 and she says that it is much better and much more comfortable to live in Georgia than in Afghanistan, though we have quite well-grounded doubts that this is not the comfort she has been used to – Ms. Janse comes from one of the richest countries of the world. She has encountered a lot of inconveniences here, but still thinks that guests wish to visit this country again and again. The ambassador cherishes Georgian cuisine, she is fond of reading and thinks that one day she will be able to read Shota Rustaveli’s Knight in the Panther’s Skin in the original.

G.J: What were your first impressions of Georgia?
D.J:  I think my first impressions of Georgia were formed when I was a student in Moscow in the 1990s and I tasted Georgian food. It was a dream!! My favorite restaurant was Guria by the Park Kultury (Park of Culture) and I would happily queue there for an hour to get a table. A few years later – in 1996 - I went to Georgia on vacation, to celebrate the New Year’s Day there. I loved it, though it was quite a chaotic place at the time, and me and my friend were freezing for the full week, except the hour or two that we spent in the sulfur baths in the old town.
G.J: What can you say about this country as a person and not as a diplomat?
D.J: It is an interesting and beautiful country and it is worth not only of a visit, but of many other things as well. I sincerely support the terrific progress that has been made here over the recent years – and wholeheartedly believe that Georgia’s success is very important not only for Georgia and its people, but for Europe as a whole.
G.J: What can you say about the Georgian cuisine? Could you compare it to the cuisines of the countries that you have visited as a tourist or as a diplomat or to the cuisine of your homeland?
D.J: I remain its great fan, though I can no longer eat a whole Khachapuri at one go. I have also a lot of more favorite dishes –Tkemali (Georgian national sauce) being one of them.
G.J: What is your favorite sphere of Georgian culture?
D.J: Dance! Maybe, if I’ll be able to read a Georgian book in Georgian, I could change my mind since I like reading; but Georgian dance is just fantastic. Such an energy! I compare it with Swedish folk dancing; I think anyone can learn its basics in ten minutes. You see where I come from?
G.J: Who is your favorite Georgian artist/writer?
D.J: Shota Rustaveli on a strictly theoretical basis; I have a beautiful copy of Shota Rustaveli’s The Knight in the Panther’s skin at home, and maybe, one day, I will be able to actually read it, not only look at it.
G.J: How does your everyday schedule look like? Is it very busy? Please, describe one ordinary day….
D.J: Very few days look the same; it depends on so many things. I work at a rather small embassy, and we all have to be prepared to deal with a great variety of issues. It is busy, sure, but I try not to get snagged up in the busy-being-busy vicious circle. I make sure to focus on the issues, where I think that I – or Sweden - have a particular importance. It compels me to turn down a lot of interesting invitations, but a day has only 24 hours and I’m obliged to do some things – like managing the embassy and the staff, reporting, and actively participate when we have visiting Swedish delegations, to cite a few examples. Also, I strive to carve out a few hours for myself. In addition, my work involves quite a lot of travelling, including to Armenia, which I also cover. So, it is never the same – and I never have a single boring minute.
G.J: How different are your weekends from your weekdays?
D.J: Sometimes they don’t differ at all – since quite often I have some work to do on weekends as well. If I have a weekend off, I am quite pleased to just hang out at home with my husband, watch a film, read a bit and go out for a nice dinner somewhere. I also travel a lot privately; I just love visiting new places, but also being on the move.
G.J: What is your favorite pastime in Georgia?
D.J: To sit in a nice cafe with a book or a few newspapers. Also, I am fond of being with my husband and friends, traveling, reading, riding and running.
G.J: Now, let’s talk about the Georgian political culture. What are its main vices and how would your recommendations sound? 
D.J: One thing that is obvious for an outside observer from Sweden like me is the polarization of political life. In Sweden we are very consensus-oriented, we are ready to compromise and agree on almost everything. Here it is often more like black and white, either this or that. Where a lot of Georgians would see compromise as a sign of weakness, many Swedes would consider it as a sign of strength, since it means that decisions are more likely to last for much longer and have a broader support base (even if you did not get exactly what you wanted). Our political cultures are just different.
G.J: What is your opinion about the Georgian media and what are its weak points?
D.J: I have noticed that when I get interviewed, no one ever questions my answers. Maybe it is because the journalists are being nice and respectful to me, but I think journalism in Georgia would probably use a bit of more critical approach on the part of its journalists. And by that I do not necessarily mean to take a political standpoint and have it as a platform, but the broader public interest as the starting point. 
G.J: What about the Georgian judicial authorities?
D.J: My impression is that a lot has changed for the better over the last years, but there are still areas that need further reforms and improvements, in order to safeguard the independence and professionalism of entire judicial system, and thereby safeguard the fundamental principle of the right of a free and fair trial.
G.J: What can you say about the Georgian penitential system?
D.J: I understand that a lot has been done to improve it – I think Georgia is one of the few countries in the former Soviet space that has invested in new prisons with far better standards. It is encouraging that the relevant authorities address these issues in a serious manner. However, there is still a long way to go, as I understand it, particularly when it comes to the health care for the prisoners, and the fact that prisons are often over-crowed.
G.J: What should the Georgian authorities do first and foremost in order to develop the country in the right direction?
D.J: A lot of factors are to be taken into consideration to move the country in the right direction, and I think a lot of positive things are done in this regard. Strengthening of democratic institutions is one of such factors. I think the government’s focus on economic growth and employment is a crucial albeit not easy task - unemployment is a global challenge. Also, I find that impressive investments are made in infrastructure and the efforts to spread development and modernization outside the capital seem very important, as well as the greater attention given to the agricultural sector.
G.J: Have you heard of the event recently organized by the Georgian Journal called ‘the Ambassador of the Year’? And if you have, what is your opinion about it?
D.J: Yes, I have read about it. It seems like a creative way of livening up of the  diplomatic corps!
Ms. Janse agrees that being a diplomat is a challenging profession. Working in Afghanistan had such a great impact on her that it urged her to write a book. Who knows, one day Diana may write a book about Georgia too. Let’s live and see!