NGOs in Adjara Slowly Come to Life


<p>In May 2004, the authoritarian regime in Georgia's Adjara Autonomous Republic was overthrown through non-violent protests. Locals say, these events have opened the possiblities for advancing the local civil activism, but the changes are still slow to take root.</p> <p>Guranda Tavartkiladze , head of the Batumi Office of the UN Association of Georgia confirms the development is still slow development "the non-governmental sector was weakly developed in the region. However, significant changes are not observed in this regard after coming new authorities to power," she says.</p> <p>The general state of depression local NGOs were in during the previous authorities makes it difficult to engineer radical blossoming of civil activism, but the local representatives of the civil societ argue, the most important thing that has changed is the approach of the authorities towards the sector, which has become more positive.</p> <p>"The non-governmental organizations avoided establishing cooperation with the previous authorities [led by Aslan Abashidze], since the old authorities tried to assume control over the non-governmental sector," says Geno Tebidze, chairman of the Young Journalists Association of Adjara.</p> <p>The representatives of the Adjarian non-governmental sector also claim that because of the policy of previous authorities, civil organizations lost the vision of their main functions.</p> <p>"During the previous authorities, the third sector was actually dead, if we do not take into account the Adjarian offices of the Tbilisi-based organizations and several local NGOs. Under conditions of Abashidze's governance, their activities were equal to heroism," Geno Tebidze adds. In the present, the situation has essentially changed. The non-governmental organizations do not find it difficult to undergo registration; they also can freely implement various projects and civil initiatives without any political pressure.</p> <p>The Adjarian non-governmental organizations expect that international donors and organizations will spare no effort to promote further development of the sector. However, a year after the revolution, no radical changes have been observed in this direction. "The donor organizations are limited only with research, fact-finding measures and refrain from implementing large-scale initiatives," Guranda Tavartkiladze points out.</p> <p>The joint program of the UN Association of Georgia and the Catholic Relief Services named New Adjara - New Challenges is one notable exception. The program is oriented to development of the civil sector in Adjara and includes a training component, small grant competition, a probation program at the Tbilisi-based non-governmental organizations, as well as information provision of the Batumi-based non-governmental organizations regarding the novelties and new projects ongoing in the civil sector of Georgia.</p> <p>However, the number of such initiatives is very small, while the Adjarian non-governmental organizations are in acute need institutional development. "The non-governmental sector needs assistance, institutional development, establishment of democratic-liberal values," says Sopo Pataraia of the Young Journalists Association.</p> <p>Representatives of the Adjarian non-governmental organizations claim that small and short-term initiatives will be insufficient for the sector's development. Along with trainings and other development-oriented measures, it is necessary that the non-governmental organizations perform a watchdog function as well, a function nearly impossible under the previous authorities.</p> <p>"Currently, the Adjarian non-governmental organizations are also implementing the projects oriented to legal assistance and human rights. Despite their readiness, they are not able to perform a watchdog function. They are limited by a lack of knowledge and experience, as well as lack of relevant financial resources," Sopo Pataraia claims.</p> <p>The problem of staff outflow is very important for the Adjarian non-governmental organizations as well. Many moved from the non-governmental sector to the government, a trend observed in Adjara as well.</p> <p>"Although in Adjara the non-governmental sector performs its functions, the process of staff outflow from the non-governmental sector to the authorities is still observed," Sopo Pataraia said.</p> <p>The cooperation with the new government is still impeded by old habits, "most non-governmental organizations consider that the less they cooperate with the authorities, the better their activities will be. In reality, I think that a constructive dialogue with the government is necessary. For example, our organization, together with the Municipality, organized an exhibition-sale of the works of homeless children. The measure aimed at attracting public attention towards the problems of homeless children," Geno Tibadze argues.</p> <p>At the same time, Nana Manjgaladze, the representative of the Service for Relations with Religious and Non-governmental Organizations, claims that a desire of the governmental structures to establish cooperation with the non-governmental organizations is clearly observed. "In its time, this Service was set up just for this purpose. Cooperation was the main goal of the Service. After the revolution, we implemented specific acquaintance measures and held meetings with the representatives of the non-governmental sector. The next stage envisages discussion of the pressing problems and launching a dialogue with the non-governmental sector," Nana Manjgaladze said.</p> <p>Although still under shadow of the old times, Adjara CSOs are poised to become an integral part of Georgia's civil society. What is needed is closer attention from the international donors, as well as more active sharing of experience with the colleagues in Tbilisi and Georgia's other provinces.</p>