I know that it was agreed that we would have no speeches tonight, only toasts. But I cannot let such a happy and interesting day in your Republic pass without saying a few words to express my appreciation.
I have a confession to make to you. When it was first suggested to me that I might spend a part of my visit to the Soviet Union outside Moscow, I was not sure where to go. So I asked my colleague and deputy, Lord Whitelaw, who led a parliamentary delegation here last year. And he told me there was only one place where I absolutely must go and that was Georgia.
So here I am. And how right he was.
I know that the ‘tbili’ in the name of your city means warm. And you have certainly demonstrated that by your hospitality today, and by this magnificent dinner.
I have been able to see for myself the spectacular beauty of your country and your capital city.
You are, of course, the most ancient of Soviet peoples, with a culture which is famous throughout the world. I am told that there was a famous school of rhetoric established here in the fourth century, that is more than a thousand five hundred years ago. And that many Greeks were among its pupils.
Well, anyone who is even better at making speeches than Greeks has to be very special indeed. And of course I now understand from where the distinguished Soviet Foreign Minister, Mr. Shevardnadze, gets his silver tongue.
Your famous epic poem of the twelfth century—The knight in the Tiger’s Skin—was written some 200 years before our own Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales. And that cultural tradition is carried on today by your film makers.
This afternoon I visited Mtskheta and saw, if I may so put it, that for us today the road does indeed lead to the church.
I am pleased to say that British contacts with Georgia go back many years. Both our countries have proud and individual traditions to which we remain firmly attached. We are both great drinkers of tea. We even share the same patron saint, St. George.
Sadly he has been unable to protect either of us from recent disasters, in your case on land, and in ours at sea. May I extend deep sympathy to you and especially to the families of those who have died or lost their homes in the avalanches and floods in your Republic. Our thoughts are with you as you tackle the enormous tasks of repairing the damage, and starting life anew.
My visit to the Soviet Union has been absorbing. It has been challenging. And it has been enjoyable—not least here, Mr. Chairman.
My talks with the Soviet leadership have addressed questions vital to our security; to creating for our children a more stable and a more peaceful world.
I have heard with interest about the process of ‘restructuring’ on which the Soviet Union has embarked. I have learned the words Perestroika and glasnost, and come to understand better their significance.
Of course there have been subjects on which we have not agreed. But your leaders and I have agreed on some fundamentals. We want a safer world. Both our countries want security, at lower levels of weapons. We want a relationship of mutual respect and understanding.
Tonight I fly home. With a feeling of satisfaction at progress made. With a better understanding of the Soviet Union, and with considerable admiration for the achievements of its people. And with particularly warm memories of the legendary hospitality and friendliness which I have experienced here in your Republic.
I ask you to raise your glasses to a future of cooperation between your country and mine; and to you, Mr. Chairman, for your hospitality, and through you to the great nation and people which you lead. To Georgia.
1987 Apr 1 We