Tinatin BREGVADZE: "We have to diligently work to build the political culture in this country"

27.09.2022 (Caucasian Journal) We continue with the interviews with Georgia's leading political experts, heads of think-tanks, and other non-governmental organizations. 

Our today’s guest is Tinatin BREGVADZE, Chair of the Board of Georgian Center for Strategy and Development (GCSD). 

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ: Dear Tinatin, you are very welcome to Caucasian Journal! May I start by asking you to briefly introduce the Georgian Center for Strategy and Development? How did you get into working there? 

Tinatin BREGVADZE: GCSD is a non-partisan and neutral organization. Our goals are to support Georgia’s national security, strengthening the principles of effective and democratic governance of the country, supporting its European and Euro-Atlantic integration and creating the conditions for Georgia’s sustainable development. We are not a watchdog organization and based on the goals, our activities include: research, policy analysis, consulting and development. 

My connection with the GCSD goes back to the very first days of its establishment. In 2015, my close friend and longtime professional partner, Georgia’s former Ambassador to NATO Levan Dolidze upon his return from Brussels founded the organization. I joined him right away and we, together, started this endeavor. At the very initial stage we defined the scope and mode of our future operation and strictly agreed that the organization should be neutral and adhere to the principles of the think-tank and development work. 

Till present we remain rigorously loyal to the rule of neutrality and I think that this is one of the major factors in organization’s success. At the moment we have 15 permanent staff. The real dream team! And we also cooperate with many local and international experts. As you may know, I left the GCSD for a while, as I was offered a position of the Director of the Levan Mikeladze Diplomatic Institute at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. Although, I’ve never lost the links with the organization and continued my engagement in different capacities. Once the reform of the Institute was over, I full-time returned to my, so-called, natural habitat.   

AK: You have a practical experience in educating the Georgia’s diplomats at Levan Mikeladze Diplomatic Training and Research Institute. I think it’s very important that CSOs as well the academia have influence on the state policies and the decision-makers at various levels. What’s the model of your Center’s interaction with Georgia’s government structures?

TB: Thank you very much for your interest. I agree with you that for successful development of all areas and the democratic society, interaction and cooperation of CSOs and especially academia is of crucial importance. The Diplomatic Institute has its concrete mission and objectives, which is qualification enhancement and capacity building of Georgia’s diplomatic corps. Therefore, my responsibility at the Diplomatic Institute was to bring the best academicians and practitioners to train the future generation of diplomats. In this regard, we closely cooperated with the representatives of academia, but it was limited only to teaching and training purposes. As for the GCSD, we have a broader mandate and more avenues for cooperation. We are strong believers in the power of education and knowledge, as major instruments for behavioral and thinking transformation. Accordingly, the major pillars of our work approach are consultancy, capacity-building and knowledge-sharing. We work by this approach with all sectors – CSOs, media, academia, grass root actors as well as government structures. We identify the gaps and needs in capacities or expertise and plan the intervention accordingly. 

For example, with the financial support of the US Embassy in Tbilisi, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Embassy of the Netherlands in Georgia and other donors we implement projects in various fields – such as oversight of security sector, countering all forms of violent extremism, supporting the community policing system, strategic communication, improving access of underserved groups to economic opportunities and many more. Our work includes bringing best international practices for policy design, various capacity building activities and facilitating strategy development process. This is the character of our intervention.

AK: May I ask how do you assess the state of interaction between the government and the CSO actors, or the government and the expert community, in general? 

It’s complicated to incorporate unmodified proposals of expert community or academia into policy design due to specificities of policy making process. 

TB: As mentioned in previous question, I truly believe that intensification of the dialogue and cooperation between the decision makers and the expert community is of key importance. Unfortunately, we face challenging situation in this regard and, based on my observation, the gap between these agents is clearly noticeable. Representatives of CSOs and academia are the stakeholders who do research, write, influence public opinion and create new knowledge in various areas. They play a very special and important role in the development of the country. We all understand that sometimes it’s complicated to incorporate unmodified proposals of expert community or academia into the policy design due to the specificities of the policy making process.

However, the process of policy making becomes healthier when the deliverables provided by expert community or the academia are thoroughly discussed and adapted to the realities of policy formation. I still believe that there is the huge space for these actors to collaborate more effectively. In my opinion, it would make a huge contribution in designing evidence-based policies and would ensure their successful implementation. I would say, we face a vivid lack of such interaction. 

AK: You have a wide professional experience in education – can we talk about it a little bit? Can you share some of your brightest moments from your work in this field?

TB: I always admit that I’m a very lucky person, as I always had an opportunity to engage in the work I loved, and for last decade it is connected to education. In this regard, I’m fortunate to have lived many bright moments and it’s hard for me now to name the single occasion. For example, when we first started the GCSD back in 2015 and we obtained first projects, started to implement the initiatives, which we strongly believed that would have significant positive impact, expanded our team and capacities, these were truly the blissful moments. When working on the reform of the Diplomatic Institute and it became observable that some improvements were taking place, I had a feeling that together with the Institute’s fantastic team, we were contributing in something very big, something that would have an important impact on Georgia’s positioning on international arena. To be short, everything we do with love and energy and eventually see that our efforts were not in vain, cause really beautiful feelings. 

AK: Let’s move to the real life - can we touch briefly upon some of the concrete foreign policy problems, or perhaps internal policy as well? You decide what you would like to comment upon, but maybe start with the Georgia’s EU perspective, under the current circumstances?

We have to diligently work to build the political culture in this country, if not, we may face a prolonged period of stagnation and I don’t think we have a luxury of that.

TB: I believe that there’s nothing catastrophic that the EU indicated to us that we still have some homework to do. The 12 key priorities that Georgia needs to address are not the areas we must improve because the EU imposes on us. First of all, the EU requires the fulfillment of those commitments that we, ourselves, took the responsibility to meet and we have to carry them out in order to contribute in advancing the living standards of our fellow citizens. Of course, the government and the decision-makers bear the major responsibility in this process. For Georgia its foreign policy aspirations are not only the matter of orientation reasoning from the historic experience. It has an existential character for us and is connected not only to the development, but to the questions of country’s occupation, sovereignty and security.  This is why the societal and political consolidation is vital. I truly think that we all have a role to play, especially when it comes to the matter of polarization. You may know that Umberto Eco, the great European intellectual, once was asked on what was the major European language and his response was “translation”. To me, this response very much entails the essence of Europe. We have to start to understand each other’s language, otherwise how are we going to find common language with Germans, Latvians or Bulgarians? We have to diligently work to build the political culture in this country, if not, we may face a prolonged period of stagnation and I don’t think we have a luxury of that.

AK: Speaking about the European perspective and European identity, do you think the public expectations from accession to EU are justified? Do you think the public is well informed – for instance about the actual meaning of the "European values”?

TB: Speaking about this issue from the historical perspective, Georgians were always seeking the ways to consolidate the country’s development with Europe. Unfortunately, Georgia’s history took different turn and we deviated from the European way. We often hear that Europe is our civilizational choice and I think it’s absolutely true. Georgians see their prosperity and security within the European family. However, EU is an institution, with its rules, rigid procedures and hierarchies. The adherence to rules ensures functioning of those institutions that in turn guarantee the protection of human rights, equal opportunities, decent and prosperous life of European citizens. I think in this direction we lack understanding, what sometimes causes a disappointment of Georgian citizens. We need to do a diligent work to deliver reforms, build sustainable institutions that are in line with European rules, procedures and standards. Besides the emotional will and rhetoric, political will, strategic policy decisions and loads of technical work is required in frames of this process. As for the values and world views, these are not the standalone aspects. For example, if we want to bring up a new generation with European values, we need to develop our education strategy based on those pillars. Consequently, the schools should design the curricula in line with those pillars. In this regard, we still have a lot of work to do. The synthesis of right policies and knowledge-building will result in concrete well-being of Georgian citizens and good understanding of the essence of EU and the benefits of its values.

If we want to bring up a new generation with European values, we need to develop our education strategy based on those pillars. Consequently, the schools should design the curricula in line with those pillars.

AK: Can we perhaps touch upon the Georgia-Ukraine relations? What do your experts say, and what is your vision? 

TB: Ukraine and Georgia have mutual strategic interests and challenges and therefore, I believe that existing flaws in our relations or communication need to be overcome by devoting more attention to our common strategic interests. I think there is still a vast space for the countries to concentrate on common key affairs and eliminate any hindrances that prevent strong, strategic partnership.  

AK: My “favorite” question: Do you consider South Caucasus a “region”, or just three countries with different vectors? Is there a future for substantial regional cooperation in the South Caucasian format, or in a wider Black Sea format?

TB: It depends from which perspective to look at this question. Geographically, of course, it is a region and I believe there is a future for regional cooperation within the specific contexts. Within other dimensions the countries are characterized with similarities and differences as well. We confess different religions, but culturally Caucasians have many elements in common. In terms of politics, I think, once the peaceful times come and I want to believe that we’ll face it soon, Georgia may play an important role in the process. 

Therefore, I think there’s no one-dimensional answer to your question. It is clear that the South Caucasus has vivid regional traits, but at the same time due to the contrasts in their aspirations are becoming assimilated to different regions as well.    

It’s of key importance for Georgia to strengthen cooperation with Ukraine and Moldova, so that all three countries maximize support and interest of EU towards the Black Sea region. It will be very damaging for Georgia to lag behind in this process.

All three countries are linked to different capitals in terms of tსheir foreign policy goals. Georgia is strengthening its positioning as an Eastern Partnership country and we have a solid ground for that. Reasoning from our foreign policy objectives, it’s important to consider that in terms of enlargement, EU's interest in generally formed towards the regions. As it was in regards to the Balkans or the Baltic states. Therefore, it’s of key importance for Georgia to strengthen its cooperation with Ukraine and Moldova, so that all three countries, with united efforts, maximize the support and interest of the EU towards the Black Sea region. It will be very damaging for Georgia to lag behind in this process. Accordingly, that is why obtaining the candidate status is so critical for us.

AK: Lastly, can we go back to the non-governmental organizations, as both GCSD and Caucasian Journal are in fact NGOs? Georgia’s NGO sector is rather strong, but how do you assess their overall importance? And the funding of non-profits - it is rarely coming from the local donors in Georgia. What can be done to motivate local corporate sector and individuals to pay more attention to supporting the civil society?

TB: Thank you for this question, you have raised a very important topic. As said above, I truly believe that NGO sector plays a vital role in the development of the country, in terms of monitoring the governments work, provision of alternative policy visions and creating expertise and knowledge. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of understanding of importance of independent organizations work, especially within the corporate sector. 

As far as I remember, there have been initiatives for designing a legal basis to provide incentives to businesses for philanthropic activities. However, these initiatives didn’t have any substantial effect. 

In my opinion, the problem of inactive corporate sector, along with lack of understanding lays in lack of trust and reluctance to interfere in politics or governmental affairs. In this regard it is of utmost importance to enhance our communication with the corporate sector. The situation may not be transformed overnight, but it’s crucial to start active work in that direction. On the other hand, the NGOs should very strictly remain faithful to the principles of non-partisanship and independence in order to assure the corporate sector that their participation is important for public good and not for the benefits of particular political parties. 

AK: Thank you very much for answers.

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