Marina Elbakidze is Project Coordinator at the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD). She is also a lecturer in psychology at the Department of Organisational Psychology, Tbilisi State University. Since 1997 she has participated in a range of peacebuilding activities and has played a key role in Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue processes, including in close partnership with Conciliation Resources.
How would you describe the partnership you have with Conciliation Resources?
The most important thing has always been that we are equal partners. All decisions are taken after in-depth discussions of the pros and cons. No decisions are taken without consultation.
Working in the Georgian-Abkhaz context, it can be very hard to achieve results when you have no support from others. And I don’t just mean financial support - I mean technical support, intellectual support. The results of my work would not be possible without the partnership with Conciliation Resources.
What has this partnership helped you achieve in terms of impact?
There is minimal contact across the Georgian-Abkhaz divide, and limited contact between Georgians and Abkhaz within Abkhazia. Conciliation Resources has shown us how useful it can be to increase contact and bring together people who do not usually meet.
This is why dialogue processes such as the Schlaining Process are so important. This process facilitated 20 dialogue workshops between Georgian and Abkhaz interlocutors between 2000 and 2007. It was important because there were so few places where officials, politicians and civil society actors from all sides could meet each other and talk openly. Some really critical issues were discussed during this process.
In the current dialogue format there is strong determination among participants to be constructive, rather than confrontational, in order to find solutions to specific problems, for instance in regard to issues around education or ecology, or dealing with the past. This is only possible because Conciliation Resources supports us: they create space for Georgian and Abkhaz participants to communicate directly. Otherwise we are not able to meet or visit one another.
How has working in partnership helped to increase inclusion in your work?
We have done some very important work together with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Georgian-Abkhaz context. Historically they have been a group which had lost hope that they could do something to improve their situation. The outcome was a network of groups working with IDPs, helping them to become more active. They started to vocalise their rights and share their problems. It was a really visible project which helped the community to become more recognised within society.
In a partnership, each side brings different things. What was it that you bring to the partnership, and what do you feel Conciliation Resources has brought?
The most important thing for me has been learning from Conciliation Resources’ experience of conflict and peacebuilding in other places around the world. There are obviously specific differences in the Georgian-Abkhaz context, but Conciliation Resources has shown us that we can learn from common themes in other contexts.
I was also not an empty page when the partnership started! I am a psychologist and a sociologist so my training has helped me to communicate with people. I also bring a network of people in the regions which I can share with Conciliation Resources.