RFE/RL Rubrics: Liberty Diaries, 7 Days of Keti Khutsishvili - Executive Director of the Open Society Georgia Foundation

5 Dec, 2011

Rubrics / Liberty Diaries

Keti Khutsishvili – Open Society Georgia Foundation Director


13 November, Sunday

I woke up late and decided not to go anywhere today.  I cleaned the house slowly, without making any haste and slowly again started thinking what to read in my kindle. I bought this e-book reader in the US a year ago; I remember how differently my family reacted to it. My sister was delighted. ‘What an amazing thing’, she said.  ‘I can download all newly published things in a minute and take it everywhere I go’.   But my 11-year old niece who has grown up in the computer era and does not find electronic innovations surprising, declared: ‘You know what? I prefer real books and I enjoy turning their pages’.

A book by Tony Judt on the history of Postwar Europe has proved rather interesting.  It made me see many things from a new angle. For instance, after the war was over, Germany alone was blamed for all war crimes, while other countries, like Austria and Hungary, were considered victims; that Europe opted to forget many things, otherwise it would never be able to move forward. It is also interesting how the US developed the Marshall Plan for Europe, how naively it believed at first that the USSR  would also wish to join it and backed by the program would gradually embark on reforms. By the way, I see now that 1947 Marshall Plan has proven to be the most effective of all international programs developed in the 20th and 21st centuries.  It helped impoverished and war-devastated western European states to recover in several years and become strong, peaceful states.

14 November, Monday
I came a little bit late to the office in the morning to find a queue of employees waiting for me: signing new grants, transfers, reviewing commission protocols.  Apart from presenting documentation, some came up with early morning initiatives and new ideas: ‘I guess they are already going to submit draft constitutional amendments, should we organize a round table meeting?’ ‘Keti, let’s conduct a survey of the image of our organization’.

Meanwhile lunchtime has come.  I have an interesting meeting ahead  – Thomas de Waal, an expert of the South Caucasus, who lives in the USA.  He published a book about Georgia several months ago. In his opinion, currently there are three imaginary models of Georgia’s development: The first model is ‘old Georgia’ based on traditions and less integrated into the modern world, the second one represents a libertarian method enshrined in the so called Singapore model, while the last one is integration with Europe.  These three models run counter to each other, and it is still unknown which of the choices will be favoured by the country. Thomas also warns against the formation of a one-party system in Georgia. 
Although I wanted to ask many question to Thomas, he promptly moved to the topic of the month.  He asked our opinion as to whether  Bidzina Ivanishvili planned to enter politics or not. I had to reiterate that he apparently had  not firm plans but that he had to make this decision urgently.  ‘Our American’ Mark Mullen, who leads a cool blog on the Liberali website, also attended the lunch.   He too was rather interested in the topic.

I returned to the office to find again some urgent errands to do.

15 November, Tuesday
It is especially pleasant for me to sign one small grant.  Several days ago, a young person, who was raised in a children’s home, came to our office.  He told us he had learned reading at the age of 13; but he wanted to enroll in a higher educational institution very much.  He even passed examinations successfully last year, but now he does not have any money to pay his/her tuition fees or rent (he does not have anyone in the world, he has not been able to find a program that would support him).   Although we do not usually provide such grants, we decided to find some solution. Malkhaz, our staff member, explained to him how to write an application; he told me later: “I wish that my successful students grasped the things I say as well as he does and were able to write so logically”.

Children’s homes have a negative reputation in Georgia; it is good that the process of decentralization has been launched in Georgia.  Progress has been slow, but still noticeable. Our organization is also involved in the process.  Supported by us several organizations have been working on the creation of family-type homes for children and programs to return children to their families.

However, there are not any programs for those who used to live in children’s homes, or still live there but have to leave the place at the age of 18.  These young people are left to fend for themselves without flats, relatives, experience, or education.   Both the state and donors must take care of them in time.

16 November, Wednesday

I have been at a regional conference organized by the OSGF Fellowship Program all  morning.  The Fellowship Program in Georgia is run by our affiliate organization – The Center for International Education.  The center interviews students and conducts tests.  It sends on average 100-120 students to European universities to obtain Master’s and Bachelor’s degree.  It has made me happy to read in their report that Georgia is the leading country among post Soviet states by the percentage of students that return to their countries.
The topic of today’s conference is the way higher education promotes changes in our countries and the relationship between universities and civil society.  I made a brief visit to the conference to lead one of the discussions, though I would love to stay for the whole day.  The debates centered on the university as a type of micro society.  As it appeared, Georgian, Azeri and Armenian professors have similar views on the current situation in their countries.  They see universities as conservative and closed spaces rather than a place for vigorous debate and exchange of ideas.

On the way back to the office I was thinking that our foundation should probably build closer relationships with universities, because without a free university space the development of civil society in the country will remain mere empty words…
And there is a concert in the evening! A charitable concert, where Tatuza Kurashvili’s band will be playing and Mariko Ebralidze and Vazha Mania will be singing.  The concert has been organized jointly by our foundation, the Rustaveli Theatre and our partner Irakli Imnaishvili’s organization. Irakli launched a campaign ‘Our Families without Pain’ together with us.  The campaign aims to promote modern standards of treatment and pain relief.

The income from the concert will be donated to the hospice at the Peristsvaleba Convent  for patients with terminal illnesses. My employees have been terribly worried for the past several days.  They have tried hard to sell as many tickets as possible to fill the concert hall: they called their friends, relatives, grantees, disseminated information by Facebook, e-mail.  In brief they reached everyone and sold them tickets.  They bought many tickets themselves. This proved to be a really wonderful evening and a high level concert.  The hall was full while the audience – diverse  and interesting.  My velvet jacket, which I had bought earlier, came in really handy (my friends were laughing at me and asking “are you going to wear that on the stage? “- well, I had to!).

After the concert I went to a bar together with several friends.  It is so good to be with friends, enjoy a beer and complete relaxation!..

17 November, Thursday
Our regional Director Michael Hall has come from New York to visit us.  We are meeting together representatives of various international and local organizations active in Georgia.  Michael is interested in everything: priorities of our foundation, what our grant recipients do, activities financed by other donors and generally what is going on in the country. During one meeting he suddenly said: ‘I see that we are trying as you and many others are, but how come every time I am here I find the same key problems – violation of human rights, lack of free media, low level of independence of court?’ Neither I nor my guest had any convincing answer to that question…

We are preparing materials to send them to Board members.   The Board will meet on Monday.  It will have to consider a number of issues.  The meeting of the Board is always interesting.  Board members always start debating about projects, performance of commissions, future work and of course, the situation in the country. When the debates become rather “Georgian like”  (everybody talking together trying to prove their point) Gaga Nizharadze reminds us that he is the chairman and calls for order.   I always worry a little bit: I know that when we confirm commissions’ protocols and projects we will make many people and groups happy and give them a chance to do something – to protect rights, develop new projects, implement new initiatives.  At the same time, I bear in mind that many – those whose projects we have had to reject – will be disappointed.  I remember once telling to my friends that probably nobody would come to my memorial service because I would have rejected at least one project of each of theirs by the time I died. My friends told me cheerfully not to worry about it and promised they would come without fail.

18 November, Friday
I am at a presentation of Child and Environment, a non-governmental organization.  The presentation is made by Nana Iashvili, the NGO’s irreplaceable and energetic director.   Supported by the EU, the organization opened day care centers for socially vulnerable and street children in three Georgian towns.  With support from our organization, the NGO took teachers to the Czech Republic to visit  similar centers.   During the presentation the audience experienced a full range of emotions: How pleasant it is to see people that are motivated to create a normal environment for children.  But many of the stories they have heard from children are alarming; it is distressing to learn that after rehabilitation some children have to return to the same families where they are exposed to violence.

In the evening, a film made by an organization of people with limited abilities is shown in our office. The film was produced in the summer when they organized a sports competition at Turtle Lake.

The film will be followed by discussions led by my deputy, Tamuna Kaldani: How to convince the government and society that people with limited abilities do not have access to many things, that they should be able to move freely in the city and use means of transportation, that the state will only gain by giving jobs to these people.  They do not know yet that they have won “Advocacy of Interests”, a competition which has been organized by us… here I break the rule I urge others to abide by and tell them that the commission has approved their project and hopefully, the Board will approve it shortly.  I see Tamuna looking at me strictly…

19 November, Saturday
One more meeting and then a rest (but I have to finish my diary first!)

Online version can be viewed in Georgian at www.RADIOTAVISUPLEBA.ge.