Réunion informelle des Ministres de la culture: «Le nouveau rôle et les nouvelles responsabilités des ministres de la culture pour initier le dialogue interculturel» - Strasbourg, les 17 et 18 février 2003 

(version anglaise seulement)

Discours de Sesili Gogiberidge, Ministre de la Culture de la Georgie

There are many conflict zones in the World. Unfortunately, some of them are in our country. The conflicts are showing up in ethnic groups as well as among the countries.

Alongside this, the growth of international terrorism has a great impact on the stability of Caucasus region.

Hereafter, starting up a dialogue concerned with intercultural and inter-religious communication initiated by the Council of Europe is rather convenient for solving problems in existing conflicts. We absolutely agree with the issues of the draft declaration of the Ministerial Colloquy, that everyone has full rights, freedom of expression and are not expelled for having different belief, everyone has equal rights in cultural or religious sphere. Georgia could be taken as a good example of this.

The national and religious minorities have long history in Georgia. Different regions of Georgia as well as the capital Tbilisi, have always provided support to national minorities, cultures and folk traditions. 30% of population in Georgia consists of national minorities. According to 1989 records biggest percentage goes to people from south Caucasus Armenians (8.09%) and Azeris (5.69%), plus there are Russians, Ukrainians, Greek and Kurds. Noteworthy is the creative life of Jewish people in Georgia. In 1998 we celebrated 26th anniversary of Georgian/Jewish friendship.

Cultural diversity in Georgia has a full support from the state even on the basis of legal provisions. According to the constitution, presidential decree and the decisions made by the Ministry of Culture, Georgian Government, in order to maintain stability, implements supportive policy towards national minority, caring about their well-being, protecting their rights and freedom, helping them in many aspects such as preserving their language and cultural traditions.

During last 10 years many public organizations, networks, foundations and different centers have been established by Jewish, Azeri, Polish, Litvanian, Checks, Kurds, Greek, German, Kazak, Ukrainian and Armenian people. Interesting art works have been done by their art groups, unions and ensembles. There are Russian and Armenian theatres functioning in Tbilisi, Azerbaijanian Cultural Centre, Lecia Ukrainka’s house-museum and so forth.

Hereby, I would like to emphasize the fact that in Georgia successful work of other nationalities are always being regarded on the state level. It has been well exemplified in awarding my colleague Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan- Polad Bulbulogli by the order of honor for his active support in Georgia/Azerbaijan cultural cooperation and friendship. Imir Mamedov Azeri writer and translator, who lives in Georgia, in 2002 has been awarded by the State Prize for the translation of famous Georgian poem “Knight in the panther’s skin” by Shota Rustaveli into Azeri language.

The leading religion in Georgia is Orthodox Christian, and simultaneously there are the followers of Catholic as well as Gregorian religion. Remarkably, in Georgia we can see Orthodox church, Muslim temple and synagogue situated in a very close distance from each other. According to the historic reasons the part of Georgians are the followers of Muslim religion, there are some Catholics and very little of other religions.

Not long ago, a huge problem has been raised illegal refurbishment of Catholic church has taken place in Gori, in result of this some of the wall paintings were damaged, but by our Ministry’s interference the process was ceased. This is one of those circumstances which indicates on our respect and careful consideration of diversity in culture and religion.

Nevertheless, there are still some individuals that express their aggression towards religious minorities. On 24th of January the group of such terrorists have attacked the followers of Evangelist-Baptist church, while they were having special praying ceremony. The behavior of this group was condemned by the state and the Ministry of Culture of Georgia, as maintaining tolerance is our basic principle.

Tough discussion between art historians, historians and theologists with the involvement of the Ministry has successfully come to consensus, last year the agreement between State and church was signed. The leading problem was concerned by the Orthodox church objects being kept at the museum and making decisions on their ownership and protection.

In Georgia, art history is one of the obligatory subjects to be taught at all levels of art institutions. The subject gives knowledge of World art. On the other hand, Georgian Art history is taught at schools. Such subjects as general history, history of Georgia and religion are taught at all secondary schools and specialized art institutions. In result of the Soviet ideology’s influence history of religion is taught since short time, we suppose new generation will be more aware of religious variety and get involved in the dialogue between religions.

The role of culture in the process of conflict-settlement still remains one of the most important issues for our country. As you know, unfortunately, there are several conflict zones in Georgia, such as Abkhazia, Samachablo and Pankisi Gorge, populated with refugees from Chechnia. It is fairly important for us to preserve cultural monuments in these regions. We often talk about the relationship between the culture and conflict settlement. Sometimes culture seems to be able to solve such problems. It is well known that the level of political turbulence largely determines the possibility of resolving the problems by peaceful means. The experience shows that when the sides are radically intolerant to one another, bringing culture in settling the dispute is less effective.

The example of Abkhazia is the best demonstration. There the Georgian and international experts are still unable to monitor the present situation of damaged monuments and make future decisions. The issues of preserving and restoring the cultural monuments is of greater importance for us rather than identifying and declaring its national ownership.

The situation is opposite in Samachablo (south Osetia). Georgian and Ossetian people live very close to each other. Next to every Ossetian village there is a Georgian one. In this case, the culture can play indeed a very positive role. Recently, we performed an experimental project in this direction. We organized the European Heritage Days 2002 in the region of Georgian-Ossetian conflict. Georgian cultural players, members of parliament and journalists visited an architectural monument in one of the frontier villages of south Ossetia. The peacemaker forces of the OSCE were in charge of our security there. Nevertheless, the Ossetian government did not disturb us either when we had to pass through several Ossetian villages and the city of Tskhinvali itself. In Abkhazian region even this would not be possible. Probably the foreign friends should assist us in order to make it possible for us to at least monitor the monuments in this zone. As for Pankisi Gorge, populated with Chechen refugees, there we organized a fashion show, which was attended by hundreds of people of different ages and nationalities. The pleasure they received from this show was immense. It seemed as if no one remembered of this place being a quite dangerous conflict zone. This was not an ordinary fashion show. The concept of the show was to demonstrate how ugly and terrible the war is. This fact proves that cultural events can take place even in conflict zones, of course, if there is a relevant will.

In spite of complicated political relations between Georgia and Russia, our countries still maintain cultural contacts. The art players of the two countries arrange frequent visits. Our cooperation is successful in different cultural spheres; popular singer tours, concerts and round tables take place in both countries.

For example, several months ago in Tbilisi we organized a festival dedicated to 300 year anniversary of the founding of Saint Petersburg. The number of Russian theatres, famous actors/actresses and musicians visited Georgia. Georgian society met the festival with great interest.

During the recently held Russian film festival my colleague Michael Shvidkoy arrived in our country. In the framework of this festival was held a round table composed of Russian and Georgian film directors and public figures.
Usually similar cultural dialogues are very significant in terms of mutual understanding, as very often culture and politics are strongly linked to each other.

In spite of these warm cultural relations we were not able to send Georgian experts to Tkoba-erdi monastery situated on the territory of Russian Federation. The most deplorable thing is that Ingusheti, the place where this basilica is situated is not a conflict zone. We think that the Council of Europe’s Culture, Cultural and Natural Heritage Committee should take rather active role in supporting events, which are directed towards the preservation of our cultural heritage in conflict zones.

One of the true examples of showing how culture can actually lead towards preventing conflicts is the event, which was held couple of months ago by the initiative of famous Georgian painter Gia Bugadze, and several students from Tbilisi Art Academy with the help of building company “Arsi”, who have implemented the action of painting the wall in one of the areas of Tbilisi. The idea of this action was to bring students of different nationalities to paint a wall, which symbolically indicated onto braking ‘wall like” boundaries in themselves. In the nearest future, the group will start painting another wall in the center of Tbilisi and amongst the students will be 3 Abkhazian, 1 from Tskinvali and 1 from North Osetia (16-25 age). I Hope that the Council of Europe and member states of the Council of Europe will support this action by taking part in this event.

Deriving from the abovementioned, we have to conclude by saying that the culture is not a decisive instrument in conflict settlement process. Still, it can play a positive role in developing closer positions between the confronting parties. It can have a constructive influence on people who suffer most from any kind of conflicts.

There exist a great number of exchange programs between cultures of European countries, which encourages the implementation of intercultural dialogue.

I would like to express that I fully agree with the principles drawn by the Council of Europe in the draft declaration and try my best for supporting this initiative by the Government of my country.