My Liberty Diary

The following is a translation of a piece that originally appeared on the Georgian website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as part of its series Rubrics: Liberty Diaries. Keti Khutsishvili, executive director of the Open Society Georgia Foundation, kept a diary of her activities for the week of  November 13 to November 19.

Sunday, November 13

I woke up late and decided not to go anywhere today.  I cleaned the house without haste and started thinking about what to read on my Kindle. When I bought this e-book reader in the U.S. a year ago, my sister was delighted. "What an amazing thing," she said.  "I can download newly published things in a minute and take it everywhere I go."   But my 11-year-old niece, who has grown up in the computer era and does not find electronic innovations surprising, declared: "You know what? I prefer real books and I enjoy turning their pages."

A book by Tony Judt on the history of postwar Europe has made me see many things from a new angle. For instance, after the war was over, Germany alone was blamed for all war crimes, while other countries, like Austria and Hungary, were considered victims. Europe opted to forget many things; otherwise it would never have been able to move forward. It is also interesting how the U.S. developed the Marshall Plan for Europe, how naively it believed at first that the USSR would also wish to join it and would gradually embark on reforms.

Monday, November 14

I came a little bit late to the office in the morning to find a queue of employees waiting for me: signing new grants, transfers, reviewing commission protocols.  Apart from presenting documentation, some came up with early-morning initiatives and new ideas: "I guess they are already going to submit draft constitutional amendments; should we organize a round table meeting?" "Let's conduct a survey of the image of our organization."

Meanwhile lunchtime has come.  I have an interesting meeting ahead: Thomas de Waal, an expert on the South Caucasus, who lives in the U.S.  He published a book about Georgia several months ago. In his opinion, there are currently three models of Georgia's development: The first model is "old Georgia," based on traditions and less integrated into the modern world; the second one represents a libertarian approach enshrined in the so called Singapore model; and the last one is integration with Europe.  The three models run counter to each other, and it's still unknown which will be favored by the country. De Waal also warns against the formation of a one-party system in Georgia.

Although I wanted to ask him many questions, de Waal promptly moved on to the topic of the month.  He asked our opinion as to whether Bidzina Ivanishvili had planned to enter politics for a while or not. I had to reiterate that he apparently had no firm plans but that he had to make this decision urgently. "Our American," Mark Mullen, who has a cool blog on the Liberali website, also attended the lunch.

I returned to the office to find again some urgent errands to do.

Tuesday, November 15

It's especially pleasant for me to sign one small grant.  Several days ago a young person, who was raised in a children's home, came to our office.  He told us he had learned reading at the age of 13, but very much wanted to enroll in a higher educational institution.  He passed examinations successfully last year, but now he does not have any money to pay his tuition fees or rent (he does not have anyone in the world, and has not been able to find a program that would support him).   Although we do not usually provide such grants, we decided to find some solution. Malkhaz Saldadze, one of our staff members, explained to him how to write an application; he told me later: "I wish that my successful students grasped the things I say as well as he does and were able to write so logically."

Children's homes have a negative reputation in Georgia; it's good that a process of decentralization has been launched in Georgia.  Progress has been slow, but is still noticeable. Our organization, the Open Society Georgia Foundation, is involved in the process.  Supported by us, several groups have been working on the creation of family-type homes for children and programs to return children to their families.

However, there are no programs for those who used to live in children's homes, or still live there but have to leave at age 18.  These young people are left to fend for themselves without flats, relatives, experience, or education.  Both the state and donors must take care of them.

Wednesday, November 16

Spent the morning at a conference organized by the Open Society Scholarship Programs. Our affiliate organization, the Center for International Education, sends on average 100-120 students to European universities to obtain master's and bachelor's degrees.  It made me happy to read in their report that Georgia is the leading country among post-Soviet states by percentage of students who return to their countries.

The topic of today's conference is the way higher education promotes change in our countries, and the relationship between universities and civil society.  I made a brief visit to the conference to lead one of the discussions, though I would have loved to stay for the whole day.  The debates centered on the university as a type of micro-society.  Apparently Georgian, Azeri, and Armenian professors have similar views on the situation in their countries:  They see universities as conservative and closed, rather than spaces for vigorous debate and exchange of ideas.

On the way back to the office I was thinking that our foundation should probably build closer relationships with universities, because without a free university space the development of civil society in this country will remain mere empty words.

And there is a concert in the evening! A charitable concert, where Tatuza Kurashvili's band will be playing, and Mariko Ebralidze and Vazha Mania will be singing, organized by our foundation, the Rustaveli Theatre, and our partner Irakli Imnaishvili's organization. Irakli launched with us the campaign "No Pain in Our Families," which aims to promote modern standards of treatment and pain relief.

Proceeds from the concert will be donated to the hospice at the Peristsvaleba Convent  for patients with terminal illnesses. My employees have been terribly worried the past several days.  They have tried hard to sell as many tickets as possible to fill the concert hall: they called friends, relatives, grantees, and shared information by Facebook and email.  It proved to be a really wonderful evening and a high-level concert.  The hall was full and the audience diverse  and interesting.  My velvet jacket, which I had bought earlier, came in really handy (my friends were laughing at me and asking "Are you going to wear that on the stage?"—well, I had to!).

After the concert I went to a bar with several friends.  It's so good to be with friends, enjoy a beer, and complete relaxation!

Thursday, November 17

Our regional director, Michael Hall, came from New York to visit us.  We are meeting with representatives of various international and local organizations active in Georgia.  Michael is interested in everything: our foundation priorities, what our grant recipients do, activities financed by other donors, and what is going on generally in the country. During one meeting he suddenly said: "I see that we are trying, as you and many others are, but how come every time I'm here I find the same key problems: violation of human rights, lack of free media, low level of court independence?" Neither I nor my guest had any convincing answer to that question.

We are preparing materials to send to board members for a meeting on Monday.  Board members always discuss projects, performance of commissions, future work, and of course, the situation in Georgia. When the debates become rather "Georgian-like"  (everybody talking together trying to prove their point), Gaga Nizharadze reminds us that he is the chairman and calls for order.

I worry a little bit: I know that when we confirm commissions' protocols and projects we will make many people happy and give them a chance to do something—to protect rights, develop new projects, advocate the interests of the most vulnerable, implement new initiatives.  At the same time, many—those whose projects we have had to reject—will be disappointed.  I remember once telling my friends that probably nobody would come to my memorial service because I would have rejected at least one project of each of theirs by the time I died. My friends told me cheerfully not to worry about it and promised they would come without fail.

Friday, November 18

I'm at a presentation by Nana Iashvili, the irreplaceable and energetic director of Child and Environment, a nongovernmental organization.  Supported by the EU, the organization opened daycare centers for socially vulnerable and street children in three Georgian towns.  With support from our organization, they took teachers to the Czech Republic to visit  similar centers.  The presentation conveyed to the audience how good it is to see people who are motivated to create a normal environment for children.  But many of the stories they have heard from children are alarming; after rehabilitation some have had to return to the same families where they are exposed to violence.

In the evening, a film made by an organization of people with disabilities is shown in our office. The film was produced in the summer, when they organized a sports competition at Turtle Lake. The film is followed by discussions led by my deputy, Tamuna Kaldani: How do we convince the government and society that people with disabilities do not have access to many things, that they should be able to move freely in the city and use means of transportation, that the state will only gain by giving jobs to these people?

The organization did not yet know that they had won "Advocacy of Interests," a competition organized by our foundation. Here I broke the rule I urge others to abide by, and told them that the commission has approved their project and hopefully the Board will approve it shortly.  I see Tamuna looking at me strictly...

Saturday, November 19

One more meeting and then a rest (but I have to finish my diary first!).

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