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22nd Georgian Studies Day
04 November 2009, London

Georgia Carries On ( report by Vera Brown, Secretary NKTA)





The programme for the 22nd Annual Georgian Studies Day, held on 4 November at the University of Westminster was, as usual, varied and absorbing.

Six members of the Association came away with individual impressions of the event. Perhaps one of the most striking was how every speaker was able to prove the title for the day: ‘Georgia Carries On’.

Dr. Mysaka Guzkowska, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Westminster University, welcomed convener, Dr. Tamara Dragadze. Dr. Guzkowska, paid tribute to the strength of the Georgian identity, she felt that this had helped ensure its survival. She also described how the University valued its involvement in Georgia with projects under the TEMPUS programme. Professor Jane Lewis, Dean of the Life Sciences School, as the next speaker, also emphasised the long and productive association with Georgia.

H. E. Giorgi Badridze, Georgian Ambassador to Great Britain, gave a keynote speech covering both the past year and Georgia’s present position. He acknowledged that the invasion had left Georgia scarred, with infrastructure destroyed and effective annexation of two provinces by Russia. Yet Georgia had not surrendered. She was building a European democracy and peaceful reunification was possible though this would take time. He pointed out that the country had been partitioned in the past yet had survived; for example Tbilisi had been destroyed no less that 28 times. There were many positive signs. Since the summer the Georgian economy had been growing with significant progress in fighting corruption. The World Bank rated Georgia in 11th place of ‘business-friendly’ countries for investment. No Georgian bank had collapsed or had to be bailed out - point appreciated by the audience! There had been the largest number of tourists since independence.

Georgia was now a major electricity exporter with 80% of energy generated through the climate-friendly means of hydropower and more hydropower stations were being built. His Excellency was aware of the problems still facing his country but could be altogether hopeful for the future.

Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Nalbandov reported that the attitude of Russia is still difficult, based on the model from the Soviet era and using such means as control of energy, the 2008 invasion and continued military building in Georgia’s occupied territories. Yet the Georgian people have chosen democracy. Georgia sees its place in Europe. Since the European Union is seen as a major promoter of democracy, its support is crucial and the European Partnership programme is important.

He described measures being taken to strengthen democracy. These include a Constitutional Commission to draw up a new constitution with checks and balances, electoral reform, civilian control of the military and adoption of a new criminal code. In answer to a question from the floor on the view of the USA following the election of President Obama, he said that the USA had stated that the status and geographical integrity of Georgia was considered of high importance.

NKTA Vice Chair Catherine Philpott & Peter Lindsay, Regional Sales Manager, Mabey Bridge Limited

NKTA Chair Sonia Fisher

Keeping up the Newport-Georgia connection, was Peter Lindsay, Regional Sales Manager for Mabey Bridge Ltd. His company built Newport's newest bridge over the River Usk as part of the Southern Distributor Road. Mabey are involved in many bridge building projects in the Caucasus. It is hoped that the company will be involved in the 20th anniversary of NKTA events in April 2010.

H.E. Denis Keefe, British Ambassador to Georgia, in his speech ‘Georgia: an Ambassador’s View’, like the previous speakers, referred to the potential for tourism, praised the beauty of the country and the generosity and resilience of the people despite the upheavals of the last eighteen months. He did though warn of the hurdles to be overcome before the goal of entry to the EU could be achieved.

Professor Lia Melikishvili from the Georgian Academy of Sciences spoke on ‘Ethnic Relations in post August war in Georgia’ described some ethnic groupings, and the causes of some xenophobia. Yet despite this, the historic openness of Georgia to different ethnic groupings generally made for good relationships. It was possible that some neighbouring countries, such as Russia were willing to promote any divisions that occurred for their own advantage. Yet such was the generally harmonious atmosphere that such xenophobia which occurred was directed more towards such states as entitities than towards the ethnic individuals themselves.

NKTA members Sylvia Mason L and Russell Trevenen-Jones

Dr. Simon Surguladze, based at the Maudsley Hospital, dealt with collaboration between the UK and Georgia on mental health research. Outlining a number of mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, he described research into various treatments in the two countries. From statistics, it seems that the prevalence of mental health problems is broadly the same across countries; it is just that treatment methods are different.

Professors Nino Poraskishvili and Peter Lydyard, both of the University of Westminster, spoke individually of collaborative projects with Georgia. The first explained how distance-learning developments could be used to promote education and knowledge transfer while the second applied this to the field of teaching in immunology.

Professor Revaz Adamia of the PHAGE Eliava Institute described what for most of the audience must have been the unknown field of bacteriophage therapy. This form of treatment for infections, developed in Georgia, predated but was then sidelined by the use of penicillin. Surviving only in a few institutions, it is now being rediscovered and promoted as a very useful and valid treatment of which Professor Adamia was able to give some practical examples.

Archbishop Zenon was introduced to the audience as the first archbishop to the UK of the whole of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Speaking through a translator, he outlined the history of the church from its foundation to the present.

Under the title ‘A Bridge Between Cultures’ Keti Kalandadze, the director of Caucasus Arts, described some of the traditional products, which the company supplied such as the enamelled jewellery worn by a number of those attending. As one of many Georgians living in London, she could report on the informal activities occurring, and her hopes of bringing more Georgian performers in different art fields to Britain.

Peter Nasmyth gave an illustrated talk showing his own photographs of the beauty of the Georgian landscape at all seasons of the year with all the opportunity for a flourishing tourist trade. By contrast, he voiced the concern of many over the loss of historic and beautiful buildings in Tbilisi, either through neglect or unsympathetic modern development nearby.

Under ‘Work in Progress’ an update on twinning activities from Bristol by BTA Chair Derek Pickup

NKTA Chair Sonia Fisher gave a very well received report of what had been a full and successful year for the Newport Kutaisi Twinning Association. Events included the medical visits to Newport and the GOL football supporters’ trip to Kutaisi on the way to Baku.

Michael Bloom gave an illustrated account of Georgian musical events.

Sir Stephen Nash gave an overview of the British Georgian Society’s events.

The different speeches provided wide ranging interest but the refreshment breaks, especially the now traditional wine reception at the close, were a welcome chance both to meet old friends, to make new ones or sometimes to follow up a question or comment from the floor at the end of a speech.

Dr. Dragadze announced the date of the next Georgian Studies Day to be held in Newport, South Wales on 3 November 2010.

Newport Kutaisi Twinning Association look forward to greeting everyone there.

Impressions of the Day

Sonia Fisher - Chair NKTA

‘This being only my second Georgian Studies Day I was not sure what to expect. The added value of attending this event is in the networking and communication face to face with other delegates. Many invaluable contacts are made and it is good for us to see and be seen.’

Catherine Philpott - Vice Chair NKTA

‘I appreciate hugely the overwhelming welcome we always receive. An excellent programme covering a wide range of topics concerning Georgian politics, culture and economics.’

Vera Brown Secretary NKTA

‘The best of all opportunities to hear first hand news and views of Georgia from many different aspects - a fascinating day as always’.

Colin Mason - Treasurer NKTA; Sylvia Mason – Member NKTA -

‘To attend the Georgian Studies Day is to hear familiar points being reiterated and new ones made, but most of all it is to renew friendships, especially with those who have visited us in Newport.

For us a particular pleasure on the day was being able to hear our Ambassador to Georgia, Denis Keefe, speak to us again. He brilliantly summarised in three points Georgia’s present challenges:

• The worldwide economic downturn

• The aftermath of the 2008 war

• The introduction of ‘modern’ government, which can represent minority views without confrontation on the streets.

A special treat, too, was when another of our visitors to Newport, Peter Naysmith, showed us his latest, wonderful photographs. His point about the importance of preserving the built heritage in Georgia cannot be made too often.’

Russell Travenen Jones - member, NKTA:

"An incredibly varied day, packed with stimulating, challenging, informative presentations which kept me riveted to my seat until the last word from the final speaker.  Like the Olympic Games, each Georgian Studies Day promises to be the best yet, and this, the twenty-second annual convention, was no exception.  Where else could you rub shoulders with leading figures from the Georgian political stage, expert Kartvelologists, three ambassadors, a bishop, and scientists at the cutting edge of research, all in the space of seven hours?  An absolute must for all serious students of Georgia and Georgian culture.  I've already got 3rd November, 2010, circled in my diary: the date of the twenty-third Georgian Studies Day!"