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Georgian hospitality

Mark Mardell | 08:39 UK time, Thursday, 9 October 2008

The sun is blazing, the mountains hazy in the background, the vines are heavy with big bunches of small, sweet grapes and a wood fire laid on the ground is blazing away. A delicious smell of roasting meat wafts in the direction of the round stone table where I sit with my hosts. Georgian hosts

It is an idyllic setting to enjoy some of the best things in life, even if I am here because of some of the worst things in life - war and economic ruin. We have been filming in the vineyards, talking about the effect of the war with Russia and the rather more longstanding economic embargo, particularly against the extremely popular Georgian wine. I have heard a lot about Georgian hospitality, but experiencing it is quite another matter altogether.

After half a dozen toasts I feel it is time for me to propose one, on behalf of the away team, for the home: glass in hand I propose a toast to a good harvest, peace and prosperity. My hosts are kind but firm. I have already taken a sip from my rather large glass and that will never do. I have to drain it and have it filled again with the slightly sherry-like white before I can continue.

Squares of pork and lamb on green wood sticks join the good bread, fresh and salted tomatoes and peppers already on the table. The formal interviews are over, so I ask what our hosts, the owner of the vineyards, his brother and some friends really think about the Americans. His answer slightly surprises me. He talks about a nation born in bloodshed and theft of land from the native Americans: the US only understands conquest and military might. Are they worse than the Russians then, the country that has just fought a war with his country? They are all as bad as each other.

What about the European Union? I ask. Compared to the Americans or Russians aren't we just a bit weedy, a bit wet? I hope the translator knows what I mean.Georgians picking grapes

Listen, we love our guests. You can stay a week, two weeks, a month, but you are our guests. We want to be an independent country.

To me he puts his finger on an important argument. It is more than understandable why Russia doesn't want one of its old friends or vassals to slip into the arms of potential enemies. It is striking that Georgia, for all the talk of Europe, begins where the eastern edge of Turkey stops. It is further east than Moscow.

I have just been to Gori, where there stands a huge statue of Stalin, Georgia's most famous son. Georgia became part of the tsarist empire in 1800 and after a brief post-revolutionary period of independence became part of the Soviet Union. The problems of South Ossetia can be traced directly to Uncle Joe's strategy of divide and rule for his homeland.

To the Russian ambassador to Nato, Dmitry Rogozin, the arguments of history are powerful ones. He tells me that just because you like someone's wife it doesn't mean you can take her home. He quickly adds that Georgia and Ukraine may not be Russia's wife, but they are neighbours and if other countries want a partnership with Russia they should consult with Russia about its neighbours. He says unfortunately for Americans there is no saw in international politics: Georgia cannot be cut away from the region and placed in the Caribbean. How would America have liked it if Canada and Mexico had been invited to join the Warsaw Pact? he says.

But does - or more important, should - a country have the right to invite who it chooses to sup and toast, rather than be automatically placed in one camp or another by the vagaries of history or geography?


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