Georgia: EU report highlights the need for political compromise to continue the reform momentum
A widely praised peace initiative in Georgia has launched an appeal for vitally needed fresh investment. The international peace project on the Georgian conflict zone has been lauded for helping to reconcile all sides in a dispute dubbed Europe’s “forgotten war.” In an effort to bring long term peace to the area, an ambitious project was launched to set up football infrastructure in the conflict zone of Gori municipality.
Spearheading the initiative is Giorgi Samkharadze, originally a football referee (pictured center) who has now made an appeal for international donors to help finance his plans.
He said, “Our project has been partly financed by several business companies but it is definitely not enough to tackle our tasks. On the contrary the situation became worse, tension is just increasing since the beginning of a conflict.”
Some $250,000 has been raised so far from a couple of investors and this has gone on drainage and an artificial pitch but more investment from donors is urgently needed for his proposals to come to full fruition. Backing has also come from the EU/Georgia Business Council and Samkharadze hopes aid may come from both the public and private sectors.
Support for what is still a charity has come from the Georgian Parliament which has written an open letter, appealing for investment for what is seen as a vitally important local peace initiative.
The Parliament of Georgia has given priority to the international peace project Ergneti, a state document was drawn up to seek donor organizations, the finances needed to develop children in the conflict zone with the help of appropriate infrastructure and to promote the systematic development of peace through sport and culture.
The letter, written by the Chairman of the parliament’s Committee of European Integration, senior Georgian MP David Songulashvili, strongly recommends the project which, he says, “touches on reconciliation of the societies of Georgia and Tskhinvali Region – a very prominent issue for Georgia, as well as its international partners.”
Development of the existing project, he says, “would facilitate people-to-people contact, dialogue processes, and reconciliation of the youth from both sides of the Administrative Boundary Line.”
He writes that the Committee “firmly believes that the goals and expected outcomes of this project are truly in line with the western direction of the country’s development, as peaceful resolution of conflicts and territorial integrity within the internationally recognized borders are values we and our international partners are strongly committed to.”
Songulashvili reaffirms the Parliament’s support to the project and recommends Samkharadze as a “valuable potential partner.”
He concludes, “We truly hope to see this project develop and progress in line with the country’s interests.”
Samkharadze told this site he welcomes the intervention by the Georgian parliament, adding, “Georgia is a country of parliamentary rule and, when the Parliament of Georgia and the European Integration Committee supports such an international peace project, I would hope that the European Commission will feel compelled to provide some financial backing for our project.”
He said he now hopes to see “practical help” from the EU for the initiative.
He says such efforts are all the more important now because of a worrying recent upsurge in tensions in the region.
Ergneti is one of the numerous villages located next to the administrative boundary line (ABL), the demarcation between Georgia and Tskhinvali region or South Ossetia. Following the Georgia-Russia War in August 2008, barbed wire fences were installed on the ABL hindering the freedom of movement of people and goods.
In the past, the EU has applauded the efforts of the project but the hope is that this support will translate into financial aid.
Georgian TVs have broadcast news about the project while the President of the European Commission, Ms. Ursula von der Leyen, and the leadership of the European Parliament have sent letters of support.
Samkharadze said, “This international peace project needs the practical involvement of investors”
One obvious success so far has been the construction of a temporary football stadium for use by locals, located 300 meters from the temporary demarcation line in Ergnet. Recently, there was a friendly football match composed of the locals from the conflict zone. It took place near the Ossetian border and 300 hundred meters from Tskhinvali and local families of those taking part all chipped in to pay the costs of staging the event.
The event itself was highly symbolic and, so too, was the date when it took place, in August – it was in August 2008 that the bitter, albeit short, war started. Representatives from local government and the EU monitoring mission in Georgia (EUMM) were among those present.
Samkharadze said, “They told us many warm wards and encouraged all of us to continue our activities.”
He told EU Reporter the aim now is to coordinate with different partners “to build the necessary infrastructure in the conflict zone so as to engage young people in sports and cultural activities.”
He adds, “it is necessary to have a good infrastructure for all events and an environment conducive to teachers and children, so as not to lose the enthusiasm they now have but to develop in search of a better future.”
Ergenti was severely damaged in 2008 and a temporary dividing line runs through the village.
“That,” he adds, “ is why we need to create a good infrastructure for all. We do not want war, on the contrary, we are committed to peace.”
He adds, “We are people of different professions committed to one big goal – to develop both young people and employment in the conflict zone.”
In the longer term he wants to see other sports and activities take place such as rugby, athletics and cultural, artistic and religious events.
“It is necessary to have a good infrastructure for all such events, and an environment conducive to teachers of sports and cultural events and children, so as not to lose the enthusiasm they now have but to develop in search of a better future,” he states.
The exciting project – located on one just hectare of land – that he heads will, he says, also continue to facilitate the reconciliation between Ossetians and Georgians along with the development of villages close to the neighbourhood.
The area, as snow, has been a source of tension since the break-up of the Soviet Union. After a short war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, Moscow subsequently recognised South Ossetia as an independent state and began a process of closer ties that Georgia views as effective annexation.
Some 20% of Georgian territory is occupied by the Russian Federation, and the European Union does not recognize the territories occupied by Russia.
Before the war, many persons in Ergneti used to trade their agricultural products with the nearby territory now under occupation. Moreover, the market in Ergneti represented a crucial socio-economic meeting point where both Georgians and Ossetians used to meet each other to do business.
Samkharadze hopes, with his pioneering project, to bring the good times back, at least to this part of his native country. The project is, he argues, a model for other similar conflicts around the globe.
It is to be hoped now that, despite the world being gripped by a global health pandemic and the corresponding financial impact, the positive soundings coming out of this small but troubled part of Europe will have some resonance in the corridors of power in Brussels – and beyond.