During one of his recent campaign rallies, ahead of Georgia's autumn legislative elections and presidential elections in the spring, Mikhail Saakashvili said that Georgia would soon begin talks to simplify, and eventually eliminate, the visa regulations with the European Union.

The issue affects hundreds of thousands of Georgians who live and work in the EU, or who visit for business or pleasure.

However, it is almost certain that these were empty words, because "Misha" [a diminutive of Mikhail] cannot ignore the fact that Europe will not be opening its borders to Georgia in the coming decades for any reason. If I might express a subversive thought, I dare say as well that, in Georgia's own interest, the visas for Europe must remain in place.

The reason why the EU does not intend to do away with the visas seems obvious. We could keep saying that we are a “beacon of democracy”, talk about our progress in implementing radical reforms, – but on the ground, attitudes are slow to change, and many of our citizens see Europe as a huge supermarket just waiting to be plundered.

The daily arrests of Georgians in France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Austria show that the touching and delightful fables of our politicians about “these people, the best in the country, forced to leave to earn their living abroad, where they work hard,” do not always correspond to reality.

Mafia legacy

As to the reasons why visas are in our interest, I would like to demonstrate with an example that might seem outlandish: the example of the inhabitants of southern Italy, whose mentality is similar to ours. I've always wondered why Sicily, Campania, (near Naples), Calabria or Puglia could never rid themselves of the destructive influence of the Mafia

These regions are in a state that belongs to the G7, that has a developed economy, high technology, and a judicial system. So why do we still find these medieval practices and these absurd codes?

In my view, the problem of southern Italy is the powerful engine in the north, which prevents people from feeling the imperative to change things. The tragic situation of the Neapolitans and Sicilians is aggravated by the fact that they always have a place to run to. Whoever rejects the omerta, the code of silence and honour, can walk away from it all, get on a train and, a few hours later, step off in another world, in Rome, Milan or Turin.

Critical mass

This is what keeps the South from forming a critical mass of mobilised people that one day would rise up and say: “Basta! We can't go on living like this!”

The moral of the tale: if we want Georgia to become a normal country, we must have no way out. The majority of the population, with their Georgian passports, must have nowhere to flee, so that the only road left open to us is to struggle against ourselves, against our own vices. Sometimes a people with its collective back to the wall discovers a wonderful resourcefulness.

And so I urge the EU officials not to rush to abolish visas for Georgians. It is in our own interest.

This article is also published in Courrier International.