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21st Georgian Studies Day
15 November 2008 at Bristol





The 21st annual Georgian Studies Day took place this year in Bristol, (in the prestigious surroundings of the Wills Memorial Building of Bristol University) as part of the Bristol Tbilisi Association's celebration of 20 years of twinning. The day was, as usual, varied and informative even though particularly poignant in view of the sad conflicts during the year in Georgia.

Thirteen members of the Newport Kutaisi Association took advantage of the location of the event to attend, some for the first time. A brief report like this can only give a flavour of the programme, with everyone taking away their individual memories, all who attended will surely remember the genuine warmth of the atmosphere, the superb organisation from start to finish and the opportunities to meet old friends and make new ones.


Dr. Tamara Dragadze, (below, second from left) as GSD convenor and chair for the day, led a minute's silence for victims of the conflict. Dr. Ruth Coates (head of Russian Studies at Bristol University) then welcomed all present, naming in particular the Lord Mayor of Bristol, Ambassador Geli Charkviani and members of the Bristol Tbilisi Association and NKA.

The Lord Mayor of Bristol (Councillor Chris Davies) then spoke of the city's pride in the friendship with Tbilisi, which had been celebrated in 2008 with events such as an art exhibition, activities for children and Christmas singing. There had been environmental and educational projects in previous years. The importance of twinning links was again emphasised by the Leader of Bristol City Council.

The Deputy Mayor of Tbilisi (far left) - in Bristol as part of a delegation from his city - spoke of the fast-growing recovery of the economy in the city. His speech was full of encouraging references, for example to help for reconstruction from international financial institutions, and the great increase in tourism. However, the main problem for Tbilisi in the aftermath of the summer conflict was still the accommodation of internally displaced persons.

The next speaker was Gela Charkviani (left, third from left) Georgian Ambassador to Great Britain. The title of his talk, "Georgia today - A political and economic overview" indicated that while previous speakers had concentrated on single cities he would be taking the wider perspective. This was certainly the case. At the start of a powerful, most impressive and greatly applauded speech, he announced that - since Georgia was still occupied - this was no time for diplomacy. In a lucid and forceful statement of Georgia's position, he gave the context of Georgian-Russian relations since even before the conflict of 2008. (In 2005, for example, imports of Georgian wine, water and agricultural products were banned). He touched on some theories of Russia's thinking and motivation for taking such steps and ultimately attacking Georgia rather than perhaps another country in the region.

The Ambassador identified the most tragic consequence of the conflict as the death of civilians. There was at the moment an Inquiry Commission investigating which side started the conflict and what, if any, war crimes had taken place. As to the way forward, it was now important for international bodies such as NATO to help to heal the wounds. The European Union cease fire under President Sarkozy of France had been vital in curbing hostilities but Eastern European countries were also important in giving support. (Yet he also emphasized that it was for Georgians themselves to bring about democracy and greater transparency in government and business). His conclusion was that Russia had made a historic mistake in undertaking the invasion and the only hope of settlement is now through the Geneva Convention. A meeting in October had broken down; the next was scheduled for 19 November.

It was difficult to know what could adequately follow this wide-ranging account so perhaps it was appropriate to have a complete change of topic. Dr Hugh Annett, Director of Public Health for Bristol, spoke about a collaborative project being undertaken since 2003 with Tbilisi on reform of the health system particularly relating to primary healthcare. Those members of the Newport Kutaisi Association who heard the talk given to an NKA meeting by Dr. Stephen Hunter or read his report would have recognised many of the matters described by Dr. Annett - the breakdown of the old centralised healthcare system, the change from free healthcare to a funded system (but which type?), and the need for a Òslimmed downÓ version involving more use of GPs. Dr. Annett described some positive outcomes from the project, such as the training of doctors and nurses, and an increase in those accessing primary health care from 16% in 2001 to 40% in 2007. There was still a challenge and sadly had increased as a result of the 2008 conflict.

One more talk came before lunch. Again this was a complete contrast. Dr. Elina Steinerte of Bristol University described the University's research into the operation in Georgia of the European Convention against Torture. Under this Convention it is for each signatory country to set up its own mechanism (matching local conditions) to investigate torture including deprivation of liberty. OPCAT is the organisation which undertakes visits to signatory states to check on the how such mechanisms are working. She had visited Georgia in June 2007 and was glad to see that, though a national mechanism had not yet been established, a Council had been established to move forward on this.

Lunch followed - a magnificent spread of traditional Georgian dishes, with the Mzetmaze choir (left) providing the accompaniment of Georgian songs. With the food, music and convivial atmosphere, it was easy to imagine that the meal was taking place in Georgia itself.

There was a choice of sessions in the afternoon, on Business Opportunities in Georgia, the Media and Democracy, and Georgian Biodiversity (in the Kolkheti Wetlands). It was very difficult to choose between them. The Biodiversity session was led by Neil Maddison (Head of Conservation programmes at Bristol Zoo). It was clear from his talk that even in Georgia there are threats to biodiversity from increasing development. The projects undertaken by Bristol Zoo in various countries, not just Georgia, concentrate on collaboration with the resident population in finding solutions to environmental pressures.

Peter Nasmyth followed. In showing magnificent photographs of Georgian scenery, he demonstrated this pressure through two examples showing how much a mountain glacier had shrunk over a few years.

Back to whole group sessions to end the afternoon. Maka Bakradze reminded the audience of Georgian cultural events in the UK, ranging from a Georgian film festival held in Bristol, to art exhibitions and to ballet.

Finally came the session often entitled "Work in Progress" with updates on twinning activities and other projects such as Georgian musical events. Here Catherine as our Chair first paid tribute to everyone involved with the organisation of the GSD. Then she gave an account of what had been a very full and successful year for the Newport Kutaisi Association, illustrated with photographs including those from the firemen's training visit.

Although the day seemed to be over, there was another treat in store. The Bristol-Georgian choir sang as we were leaving - another echo of Georgia to take away from the day.

Comments from NKA Members

'I thought the NKA was a very friendly group, very 'inclusive' and I was made to feel most welcome. This seemed to be echoed throughout the day in the approach of all the other attendees/speakers/hosts. I'm most grateful for the opportunity to join you all for the day.

Carol Dawson S.I

'A delightful day out, having never visited Georgia I was left feeling that I'll have to go. Loved the singing, enjoyed the food, bowled over by the slides of the scenery & didn't fall asleep in any of the lectures-so it must have been interesting! Thanks for taking me.'

Cllr. Charles Ferris.

'An enjoyable day, both socially and informatively.'

Liz Luck

Members of Newport Kutaisi Association who attended

Catherine Philpott NKA

Bernard Tyson NKA

Vera Brown NKA

Joan Edwards NKA

Cllr. Charles Ferris NKA

Russell T. Jones NKA

Liz Luck NKA

Cllr. Dave Mayer NKA

Colin Mason NKA

Sylvia Mason NKA

Claire Watkins NKA

Pat Wright NKA

Newport& District International Soroptimists

Carol Dawson - SI