There was a popular American television show in the early 1980s called Fantasy Island, in which the main character, Mr. Roarke, played by Ricardo Montalban, was known to tell everyone on the island: “Smiles, everyone … smiles.”
Flash forward to 2012 in Georgia, where President Mikheil Saakashvili is channeling the spirit of Mr. Roarke by the unveiling of the “Smiling Georgia” program. And just like the television show, the Georgian program is a hit.
Smiling Georgia boils down to dentist chairs on wheels: buses fitted with dental equipment travel to remote regions, offering free care to citizens. The first buses deployed under the program, which is less than two months old, visited the Guria Region.
Saakashvili reportedly got the idea last year when visiting a diner for the poor in the Black Sea city of Batumi. Chatting with an elderly woman over a bowl of soup, the Saakashvili declared that everyone in need should receive government-paid dental treatment. “Let’s put in the fillings, polish, implant,” the president said.
The price tag for Smiling Georgia is not publicly available. Just about the only people in Georgia who aren’t smiling over the program are opposition politicians, who see it as a campaign gimmick designed to benefit Saakashvili’s United National Front Party in upcoming parliamentary elections.