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Got choked up with tears

November 15, 2021
Mikheil Jakhua

Lately, the Abkhaz-Georgian-Ossetian dialogue is such a rare case that it needs to be perceived as an opportunity of starting new processes. Each of such meetings gives us a chance to revise and reassess our conflicts. The fact is even more valuable that the Georgian civil society organization, the Human Rights Center, managed to gain such a level of trust in Ossetian and Abkhaz parties that they agreed to participate in the workshop organized by the organization.

I have often heard critical, pessimistic attitudes towards such meetings; many ask, “What do these meetings bring?”, “What do they change?” Such an approach to conflict is a continuation of our nihilism. I do not know if the workshop trainer had heard anything of such attitudes, but he tried to do the maximum to make us reconcile our concrete ideas and positions within the five days. 

The few-day training was conducted by Kai Frithouf Brand-Jacobsan. It is probably hard to list all his regalia, but the fact that during the five-day workshop, everybody mentioned the world-famous peacebuilder (peace activist) as “Kai” tells volumes of his personal and professional character. He managed to create free space for us. Communicating with him, I often noticed that the person of such knowledge and experience makes you feel he learns from you, that you are equal, and fuels confidence in doing something essential. The whole workshop was conducted in such spirit. The workshop itself was about believing in our capabilities, considering that it is possible to implement the phrase selected as the slogan of the meeting - “The best way to determine the future is to create it.”

Long-distance acquaint...

It is strange, but I was pervaded by the sense of a changed future starting from the first session. Traditionally I talk to the seatmate in the ice-breaking sessions. Then I did the same. The facial expression of my companion changed, and he asked me of such details that I never discussed even with my family members. Then he said that he had listened to my interview held in the frames of “Berghoff Discussion Meeting” in Sukhumi. For the first time, I clearly realized the power of the indirect dialogue (audio interview and discussion were recorded) I participated in recent years. I managed to get my point to at least one concrete person who already knew me before our meeting.

The “Official” part

The workshop agenda was quite diverse. The time was equally allocated for the basics of peacebuilding theoretical and practical work. The participants clearly saw how much information we possessed about conflict compared to that of the peace processes; we knew more about the army men than about the peacebuilders; we spent more on the military infrastructure than on the peace infrastructure; the educational sphere is completely desolated from peacebuilding studies.

The theoretical discourse, as well as the cited practical examples, were tailored to our specific context. All three parties were offered the topics for rethinking and finding resources to be used. We learned about challenges faced in the Irish conflict and the role of peace activism in Kenyan events of 2007-2008.

On the second day, we split into three groups according to each party. As a rule, they try to keep us working in mixed groups during similar workshops (it was the same in the following workshop sessions). From one side, it is done to support the dialogue, and, on the other side, to make the voice of all parties to be sound in each group. We had to agree on the conflict resolution scenario when all interests of only one party were met, i.e., we had to decide on the Georgian scenario. It seemed clear what we wanted, but when we set to think about it, we came to the question – did we know what we wanted? What did we intend to do to achieve the result? What was our plan? Completing that assignment showed us how different our personal views were from what our societies actually wanted to achieve. It revealed that we have no internal discussions in Georgian society.

A young person from Tskhinvali took the responsibility of presentation from the Ossetian party. He was a school student during the August war and clearly remembered all the war-associated troubles. He started to articulate his position bravely. He even did not use the preliminarily prepared notes. He knew exactly what he wanted to say. Though the emotions showed off by the end of his presentation, his voice faltered; he apologized and finished the presentation. Later, he admitted that he could not manage the tears that choked him.

As I have already mentioned, the agenda implied the sharing of positive peace experiences and the opportunity to develop helpful initiatives. Many exciting proposals were expressed. We all had the chance to articulate our opinions and come up with well-thought ideas. Initially, a young Ossetian woman held back from saying anything, but then she pulled all her will and asked the disbanded group to stay for two more minutes. She clarified that she had something to tell Georgians. “I want you to know that many good and exciting things that were mentioned can only be accomplished after I feel safe.” Hence, she managed to brace up and deliver her message to us, though she probably did not tell off all her thoughts because I had not seen the smile on her face either before or after that session. 

Informal dialogue

I could even be considered the veteran of dialogue processes. At the very first meeting, Ms. Tina Asatiani told us that every moment of such workshops is essential, that the most significant part of the dialogue is carried up in an informal mode. Hence it is evident that our trainer (as well as the facilitator) allocated the most significant part of the time for direct dialogue, conversations, thematic discussions in groups.
Kai told us the story of how he had lunch with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Undoubtedly, the interesting and diverse dialogue mainly was about peace, but our trainer described it as the funniest dinner of his life. I do not know what they were smiling at, but I often find myself making sarcastic, self-critical jokes during informal meetings like that, mainly to hide real feelings and conceal after-pain in my heart. I was not the only one in that meeting. There were many of us…

The organizers had dinner as a surprise in store for us. A Georgian restaurant of the city hosted us. The owner of the restaurant had a lot of Abkhazian and Ossetian chief cooks in friends. The host proudly presented the Ossetian "khabizginas" and the cheese sent by Abkhazians living in the city.

The description of Georgia and the legend of "Georgians arriving late to God" written on the tablecloths grasped the attention of the Georgian group. All of us probably thought a lot about the legend's origin, but the most exciting version came to us during one of the two-party meetings. It turned out that Abkhazians have the same legend – they also arrived late to God and got the heavenly place to live.