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Building Bridges: The 23rd Georgian Studies Day.
The University of Wales,Newport.





23-e yovelwliuri qarTvelologiis dRe 
23ain Diwrnod Astudiaethau Georgaidd Blynyddol


Sonia Fisher as Chair of the Newport Kutaisi Twinning Association opened proceedings with a welcome to all attending and introduced the Mayor of Newport, Cllr Bill Langsford, joint President with the Mayor of Kutaisi of the Association.  The Mayor expressed his pleasure in being present and welcomed especially a senior member of the government from Georgia and representatives from the Bristol Tbilisi Association.  He felt it an honour to have received a delegation from Kutaisi in September and open Kutaisi Walk in Newport and hoped that the friendship between the two countries would continue to prosper.

Rosemary Butler AM Deputy Presiding Officer of the Welsh National Assembly was then welcomed.  She referred to the honour she felt when, as Mayor of Newport, she had signed the original twinning agreement with Kutaisi.  Both Wales and Georgia had been through devastating circumstances in the 21 years since then but both countries were now thriving.  She had, in her very recent visit to Kutaisi, seen great changes; both present and previous governments in Georgia had much of which to be proud.

Sonia Fisher, Chair of Newport Kutaisi Association welcomes delegates to Newport

Georgia had much of which to be proud.

Graham Rogers, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Wales Newport also welcomed the guests present.  He commented on the many links between the University and Kutaisi.  Notably following the Memorandum of Understanding with Kutaisi State University, each year a student from Kutaisi attends a course of study in Newport. 

Following these introductions, Dr. Tamara Dragadze as Convenor who chaired the rest of the programme, thanked the sponsors of the Day, notably the Newport Kutaisi Twinning Association, the British Georgian Society and the airline BMI, including the latter’s generous donation of two airline tickets to Tbilisi as a raffle prize.  As the Annual Georgian Studies Day has no funding of its own, such sponsorship is valuable if not essential.  She also thanked Catherine Philpott, Vice-Chair of the Newport Kutaisi Twinning Association, for her magnificent work in the organisation of the day.

His Excellency Giorgi Badridze, Georgian Ambassador to Great Britain was next to speak.  When commending the practice from time to time of locating the Georgian Studies Day away from London, he told of how the location in Newport had a personal meaning for him since his own roots were in Kutaisi.  The Ambassador gave an overview of 2010 from the viewpoint of the Georgian Embassy.  He especially emphasised the excellent ties with the previous and current British Governments and thanked Stephen Nash, outgoing Chairman of the British Georgian Society, for making Georgia known. This was important and during the year Georgian culture and sport had been widely demonstrated in Great Britain, for example through the appearance at Covent Garden of a Georgian soprano and the victory as European champions of the under-18 rugby team.  The Ambassador now desired the incorporation of Georgia into Europe as a democratic nation.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia, Mr. Temuri Yakobashvili, spoke next.  His speech began on an optimistic note by demonstrating that, two years after the war, Georgia was still the same country with the same government.  So it had survived both an economic crisis and a domestic political one.  The economy was growing with the possibility of a double-digit rate next year.

Rt Hon. Councillor Bill Langsford, Mayor of the
 City of Newport

Georgia was currently ranked at No.8 on the scale of countries ‘easy to do business with’ – a leap up from 120 when first ranked.  He listed reforms being made in various fields, all aimed at producing speed in improvement – slow growth was not regarded as sufficient.   These included the political system (drastic changes here) and the tax and education systems.  A new constitutional court will be located in Batumi, so demonstrating that government is not all, as he put it ‘concentrated in one street’.  Georgia showed its self-confidence in making these reforms that were resulting in a durable but flexible society and were now being studied by Armenia and Russia.  As an interesting final point, Mr Yakobashvili said that English speaking was regarded as essential and 10,000 English language speakers were engaged to teach English in primary schools.

There were some questions from the floor to which his responses were:

 Investment in Georgia was both through Georgian bonds, and also by non-American and non-European countries such as those in North Africa;

 Establishing a national health and social security system was currently embryonic; revising the social security system would involve means-testing;

 There was no action between Georgia and Russia at any level over South Ossetia: it was up to Russia to lift embargoes;

 The Ambassador had described Georgia as being one of the least corrupt countries in Europe.  Criteria for measuring corruption came from the World Bank, one criteria being how often bribes were paid; in Georgia it is 3%;

 The development of Georgia as an energy transit state lay in 2 new pipeline projects.  Georgia aimed to be an independent supplier as independence is important.

 For Georgia, there is no need for establishment of a South Caucasus region since her final identity aim is to be part of the European family.

Rosemary Butler AM.
Deputy Presiding Officer, Welsh Assembly Government

Next, Rebecca Matthews as Director of the British Council in Wales described the work of the British Council in Georgia.  She first gave an overview of the role of the British Council in working in over 100 countries to connect various organisations such as arts and sports.  The Council has created some 2,700 school links and teaches English in centres world-wide.  In Wales, where the Council works with the Welsh Assembly, over 500 links and exchanges have taken place.  The Council opened in 1993 in Georgia, where it is nurturing active citizenship and promoting access to English education.  She described a number of projects:

 A joint action between the Council and the Welsh Assembly to promote gender equality.  A huge part of its success had been due to Rosemary Butler, who was shadowed in the Assembly and then herself went to Kutaisi to bring together women from Georgia and Armenia;

 Promotion of intercultural dialogue in a ‘Living Together’ programme in 2007 as the Council’s response to the enlargement of Europe.  This programme connected young people in Georgia and Wales and focussed on children displaced by the war;

 GOL – Welsh football supporters group -visited Kutaisi in 2009;

Active Citizens’, a current programme, connecting young Internally Displaced Persons in Georgia;

 In art and culture, a play ‘Do We Look Like Refugees’ was performed at the Edinburgh Festival, the Oriel Gallery in Llandudno had developed links with a gallery in Tbilisi, and in Slovakia there was a recent translation workshop between Welsh and Georgian writers.

She summed up the role of the Council and its work, so graphically demonstrated in her talk, as all about ‘people to people diplomacy’.

Stephen Nash, as outgoing Chair of the British Georgian Society outlined the work of the British Georgian Society.  Established 6 years ago, it continued to flourish and support its objective of providing a programme of events and information relating to Georgia.  A prime theme in the previous year had been Georgian Film from the Soviet Era to 2002 and events had included: a Georgian Film Festival organised by the Society.  In addition there had been a day on Georgian archaeology at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford addressed by Professor Michael Vickers, and a talk on the architecture of Tbilisi and the need to raise consciousness in Georgia of the threat to its preservation.

No Georgian Studies Day would be complete without a Business Overview and this year it was very appropriate that the speaker in this section was Peter Lindsay of Mabey Bridge Ltd.  In his illustrated talk, much appreciated by all present, he described the types of steel bridge manufactured in Chepstow and Lydney and galvanised in Newport and how they had been utilised in Georgia.  He especially emphasised the speed of supply of suitable bridges from existing stock and the installation using trained local personnel.  Such bridges are especially useful for a mountainous country where there are deep and narrow gorges to cross.  He also mentioned The Central Asia and Transcaucasus Business Interest Group (CATBIG) which he chairs, a network of 9 countries such as Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan brought together to learn about each other’s economic, commercial and political developments.

Following lunch Dr. John Davies of the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport spoke of the developing medical partnership intended to revive some previous medical links between the two cities.  Two years ago he went with Drs. Brian Stephenson and Stephen Hunter to Kutaisi.   The aims of the visit were to establish professional relationships, to share knowledge and exchange ideas.  He acknowledged that facilities in some of the private hospitals would be the envy of many UK establishments and clinicians work extremely hard work with care and compassion.  However, from observation, there was need in Georgia for more investment in public health, family medicine and primary care, with nursing care and nurse education.   Outcomes of the visit showed that the Newport team could offer clinical attachment either way, training in specialist fields and electronic dialogue of clinicians was possible.   The outcomes were partly fulfilled in return visits to Newport made in March and June 2009 by doctors from Kutaisi to see work in the Cardiology and Respiratory departments of the Royal Gwent Hospital.

The next presentation, by Dr Shirley Egley and Caroline McLachlan of the Education Department in the University of Wales Newport, showed another Newport Kutaisi link, this time in the field of education between the University and Akaki Tsereteli State University in Kutaisi. This too had involved an exchange of visitors, first by Shirley Egley, Caroline McLachlan and their colleague Dr Lynn Foulston to Kutaisi to demonstrate a particular teaching technique and then a return visit of University teachers Eka Topuria and Zinaida Chachanidze from Kutaisi for further training.   The teaching technique, referred to as ‘Developing a Community of Philosophical Enquiry’, was intended to develop critical thinking and was undertaken in relation to the teaching of English in Kutaisi.   Currently such teaching is excellent so that formal English is spoken to a very high standard. Still, it was felt that the introduction of teaching methods with much greater involvement of students rather than pure reliance on the teacher at the front of the class would be beneficial, especially for international students who come to Newport with different levels of confidence and competence. So, for example, one aspect of the teaching technique proposed was that participants all formulated questions, then voted on one and discussed it.  The feedback from participants was very enthusiastic.  One final outcome of the exchange was the joint presentation of a research paper, based on the project, at Liverpool Hope University.

A change of scene – yet still linked with education and training - came with the talk from Kevin Barry, Deputy Chief Fire Officer of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.   He referred to the links which the fire service had with countries such as Serbia and being established with Rwanda but the link with Kutaisi began when approached by Rosemary Butler AM to suggest the possible donation of a fire engine.  He encouraged investigation of different ways to assist, such as development of the Kutaisi fire service.  This had taken place with the visit of Kutaisi firemen to Newport for training.  He outlined features of the training programme devised for them.  This had included a visit to the fire station at Malpas and to the main training centre at Moreton-in Marsh.  Not only had firemen in that initial party been given uniforms to take back to Kutaisi, subsequently a large consignment of uniforms and breathing apparatus had been sent.  The next challenges were to provide more training, particularly in the use of the breathing apparatus.  This would mean officers from the South Wales Service visiting Kutaisi, which in turn depended on Fire Authority support and funding.  It was also hoped to organise youth engagement.

Updates on twinning links: 

Derek Pickup, Chair of the Bristol Tbilisi Association, explained how, over the years since formation in 1988, the BTA has assisted in medical and health fields, and there are links between the University of the West of England and Tbilisi University.  There were various events during the year, including some held to coincide with the Bristol Harbour Festival to gain further publicity.  In his view, the most important aspect of the twinning link was personal contacts since projects emerge out of these.

Sonia Fisher, Chair of the Newport-Kutaisi Twinning Association, reviewed some outstanding events of the Association’s year, especially the visit of a delegation in September from Kutaisi illustrated by a clip of Malcolm Bloor’s film of the opening of Kutaisi Walk as seen on You Tube. The delegation had visited a Newport waste project and hoped to gain expertise from Newport Trade and Commerce in establishing new businesses.  
Sonia had only just returned from a visit to Kutaisi during which she had seen upgraded fire stations and the great regeneration in the city that now had a very optimistic atmosphere.  She heard that Kutaisi’s need now was for further training.  For example, the Mayor of Kutaisi had requested training for local government officers, and doctors wanted practical experience.  The new British Ambassador, during a meeting with Sonia in Tbilisi, had stressed the need for new businesses to be established.

Work in Progress:

The first item was something entirely new demonstrating cultural links:  a presentation of late Victorian Welsh poems that had been studied by students in Kutaisi. The poems, all very emotive of local Welsh landscapes were delivered by Catherine Philpott, Russell Travenen Jones and Ana Chankvetadze in, Georgian, Welsh and English, illustrated with pictures of the woodlands and mountains of Wales

Professor Peter Lydyard of the University of Westminster spoke about the development of e-learning and distance learning in Biomedicine.  This originated in a project between a consortium of the Universities of Westminster, Tbilisi and Kutaisi.  The current project was aimed at developing e-learning between European Union partner universities and leading ones in the South Caucasus with even the possibility of a dual degree.  The secondary objective was to train staff in e-learning techniques and the techniques being developed could be used for any subject.

There followed a talk by Ketevan Kalandadze on GAP – The Georgians Abroad Project.  In explaining the work of the project she gave the figure of 9,000 Georgians in Azerbaijan.  The GAP committee was formed after a church used as a community centre burned down.  Information was gathered on needs in that region and it was decided to aid children through holding competitions for English language.  Other events were held in London to raise funds such as doll-making workshops, poetry readings and a Festival of Life.  Finally Keti has written a book: ‘Georgia through its Legends, Folklore and People’.

George Guest, Chairman of St. Gregory’s Foundation, spoke about this charity established almost 20 years ago.  Unusually it operates both in Georgia and Russia and the project in Tbilisi called MKURNALI deals with street children, for example in finding them a place to stay for the night and teaching them skills to earn a living.  Currently there are difficulties associated with the lease on a house in Georgia used by the charity that could make it homeless, but the work goes on.

Michael Bloom than gave an overview of the year for the Maspinzeli choir, the Georgian choir based in London to which he belongs.  Events included concerts at Tate Modern, in Cambridge in aid of the St. Gregory’s Foundation’s MKURNALI Project, and in May in the National Portrait Gallery.  Further concerts followed in Cambridge and London in the autumn.  18 members of the choir took part in a symposium in Tbilisi in September.  Here they were filmed by Imedi Television and again through You Tube Michael was able to show a part of this, singers wearing traditional costumes.  Quite remarkably, a children’s choir had been formed in Scotland to sing Georgian songs and they had been invited to the symposium (here the costumes included tartan).  A final mention was made of Tabourni, the women’s choir in London.

Peter Nasmyth’s talk, showing pictures of both landscape and architecture in Georgia was, as usual, enthralling.  He amply demonstrated how much Georgia has to offer tourists of different interest, whether in wildlife, walking or history.  His pictures also reinforced something mentioned previously  - the need to preserve the historic buildings in the townscape. 

Following the closing remarks by Dr. Tamara Dragadze in thanking all speakers and sponsors, the day ended with the now traditional reception with Georgian wine generously provided by the Georgian Embassy – a final chance to look back over the day and look forward to the next Georgian Studies Day provisionally set for Wednesday 2nd November 2011 in London.

Vera Brown Sec. NKTA 
Tamara Dragadze GSD Convenor
Catherine Philpott Vice Chair NKTA GSD Coordinator


I would like to thank you for GSD as a whole.  A most enjoyable and informative event.  I was glad to have participated, and look forward to seeing you all again on a future occasion.
Stephen Nash

It was a pleasure to come and our journey back went very smoothly
George Guest Mkurti Street Project

An excellent GSD! Well done. Good to see so many familiar faces.
Peter Lindsay, Mabey Ltd

It was a very interesting morning
Rebecca Matthews British Council in Wales

Thank you very much for organizing and hosting yesterday’s event. Everything was excellent and you did a fabulous job.
Irina Dakhundaridze (Georgian Embassy)

Many many many many many many many many thanks for all the work you did to make GStudies Day such a very special event yesterday! I thought it had a special feel and will always be remembered as one of the best.
Tamara Dragadze Convenor GSD

Thank you for organising a marvellous day on Wednesday. You and your team did a wonderful job of making us all welcome in Newport. The range of speakers was excellent and in all it was a most interesting day.
Michael Bloom – Music
I am delighted that my involvement has assisted in moving things forward for colleague fire fighters in Georgia.  Some days you get a warm feeling when you realise that you have done something good. When I was told the news that the kit was in use, Wednesday was one of those days.
Kevin Barry SW Fire & Rescue

Thank you very much for organising such a successful GSD - it was one of the most interesting I have attended.
From Dr Nino Porakishvili

I was so lucky to have a chance to attend the GDS in Newport. Sitting in the conference hall and listening to the participants I was very happy. Why? Because so many people love and are thinking about my country - Georgia. Thank you to you all, my dear friends.Dr. Maggie Mandaria KNIA 

The Georgian Studies Day was yet another fabulous experience for me. To see and hear the Deputy President and all the other interesting speakers was wonderful. It was great to be back in Newport again after one of the most exciting and memorable days for me, as well as it might be for anybody, whose hometown is Kutaisi - the 8th of September 2010 - the day when the Kutaisi Walk was opened in Newport to celebrate 20 years of Newport – Kutaisi twinning.

Thanks to Newport- Kutaisi Twinning Association I had an opportunity to witness this historic event and attend the opening ceremony of the Kutaisi Walk. I must admit that no words can fully express the happiness, excitement and all my feelings and emotions when the Mayors of two cities unveiled a plaque, inscribed in Welsh, Georgian and English.

I should also note that besides the whole excitement about the opening of the Walk, I was overwhelmed by Vera Brown’s warm welcome. She also introduced me to all members of the NKTA. Despite the formality of the ceremony, a really friendly atmosphere could be felt throughout the day as Welsh and Georgians boast an exceptional friendship.

Arriving to Newport for the GSD and being warmly welcomed by Sonia Fisher, Catherine Philpott and all NKTA members, I once more had a chance to immerse myself in this limitless ocean of friendship and hospitality. Sitting in the conference hall and listening to participants' presentations, one could once more realise how much work has been carried out in different spheres in order to support my country and strengthen these invaluable links between Welsh and Georgian people.

It was a great honour for me to share the moments of happiness, celebrating 20 years of this historic link with the people, who have done their best to “give birth” to the friendship between our two nations and then to strengthen this friendship over these years. I am extremely grateful to all and each of them for this incredible job.

I am also especially thankful to Prof. Madonna Megrelishvili, who introduced me to the association, when I was her student at Tsereteli University. Since that time I had witnessed and taken part in many different KNIA’s initiatives that involved people of different walks of life, who were united by friendship and love.

Hence, I really hope that Georgian and Welsh people will deepen and strengthen this friendship, so that more and more people of our two nations could become a part of these warm relationships.

Kristina Khokhiashvili KNTA

Graham Rogers
Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Wales Newport

Dr. Tamara Dragadze, GSD Convenor

His Excellency Giorgi Badridze
Georgian Ambassador to Great Britain

Mr. Temuri Yakobashvili
The Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia,

Rebecca Matthews 
Director of the British Council in Wales

Stephen Nash, 
Outgoing Chair of the British Georgian Society

Peter Lindsay, Mabey Bridge Ltd

Dr. John Davies, Royal Gwent Hospital Newport

Dr Shirley Egley and Caroline McLachlan 
Education Department, University of Wales Newport

Kevin Barry, Deputy Chief Fire Officer 
South Wales Fire and Rescue Service