Green Future We Strive for: In Quest for Alternative Politics

On July 27 -August 2, 2019, the Heinrich Boell Foundation Tbilisi Office – South Caucasus Region organized the fifth summer school in the frameworks of Green Academy – The Green Future we Strive For. Read the full text in Georgian

South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Boell united young activists, journalists, politicians, scientists and researchers in Georgia for the fifth time in 2019, in frames if the Green Academy. As in previous years, the 2019 program also counteracted to recent political and societal events, processes in activist groups, and acute social and environmental challenges. Green Future We Strive for: In Quest for Alternative Politics - this is the title of the five-day program that the Green Academy offered to this year's participants. The program covered five main areas, one per full day: post-socialist transformation, commons, the right to the city, neoliberalism, and gender, social movements.

Five days of lectures, discussions, workshops and informal conversations were held around these issues. The Green Academy participants were able to share and receive knowledge, discuss existing challenges and strategies to solve them, analyze current political, social, economic, and cultural processes, and envision opportunities for reinforcing relations and setting opportunities for common struggles between different activist groups.

The first day of the academy, Post-Socialist Transformation, began with a lecture by Martin Muller: How We Theorized from The North and Forgot to Think with the East. The lecture critically evaluated the binary division of the world into the global North and the Global South, which had double eliminated the so-called Second World between the North and the South. On the one hand, the Global North perceives the Second World as a passive object which attempts to imitate Western modernity, yet fails to depart from the legacy of socialism. On the other hand, the theorists of the Global South never consider the Second World countries in their works, as the Global South is perceived as the unity of non-European countries that were colonized by Western empires in the past. Accordingly, countries like Georgia can’t find a place in Global North or in the Global South, and hence the need to theorize about the Global East.

Silke Helfrich, an independent activist of commons was invited by hbs Tbilisi Office at the Green Academy Georgia. Helfrich delivered a lecture "Commons and Green Politics" for Green Academy Participants. 

The day continued with a discussion on various aspects of post-socialist transformation in Georgia. Lela Rekhviashvili spoke about the importance of decolonial theory which originated in the post-socialist space. Alexandra Aroshvili reviewed capitalism in Georgia: it does not fit into the basic classifications that structurally describe the types of capitalism in the modern world. Mate Gabitsinashvili reviewed the power and economic aspects of the post-Soviet modernization and the lack of alternative political and economic visions in state politics. Maia Barkaia analyzed two aspects of Georgia's transformation: on the one hand, what the experience of Soviet economic and social policy means for Georgia today, and on the other hand, how the neoliberal model of development affects the post-Soviet Georgia.

The next panel focused directly on social and economic rights, specifically education, social security, taxation policy and health in post-socialist Georgia. Lela Chakhaia, Ana Diakonidze, Tornike Chivadze, and Nino Khelaia discussed access to education during privatization, unemployment insurance, and social care, the causes of property inequality and the effects of privatization of the pharmacology.

The day ended with Wladimir Sgibnev's lecture Infrastructures and Post-Socialism: From Rights to Justice?  It critically reflected on examples of providing post-socialist cities with transportation, heating and green spaces and the effects of infrastructure-oriented activism.

The second day of the Academy devoted to Commons, covered lectures and discussions on resources that are neither private nor public, as well as on the social processes associated with commoning. In the first part, Tomislav Tomasevic, a Croatian researcher and activist, reviewed the history of commons. He emphasized the role of Elinor Ostrom in researching this topic. Ostrom became the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in economics in 2009. She demonstrated that communities manage commons (such as forests and pastures) quite effectively, without centralized governance and privatization. Tomasevic discussed ways to regain access to resources via the commons model and how post-socialist countries that have experience in community governance can use this model. Next, Anja Salzer, cultural anthropologist and geographer, discussed the policy and practice of managing common pastures in Georgia. Kote Eristavi reviewed examples of confrontation with hydroelectric dams in the Svaneti region. Svaneti's population’s resistance to a public and private interests is based on the idea of ​​commons and aims to protect Svaneti's nature and cultural sites. Finally, Katy Gujaraidze talked about the “Signagiization" of Mestia; she spoke about the illegal appropriation and subsequent privatization of agricultural lands by the state in Georgia.

The next part was especially interesting for attendees, as it touched the issue of green activism, especially hydroelectric dam controversy in the regions. The speakers were actively involved in these events: Louiza Mutoshvili and Ramzan Gorgishvili from Pankisi, Roin Malakmadze from Adjara, Zaza Tsiklauri from Kazbegi and Manana Saghliani from Svaneti. Based on their practical experience, they talked about their long and arduous struggle with projects that deprive their community of vital resources and the destruction of the environment, as well as their ideas and beliefs that empower them to continue their strong resistance under unequal conditions.

Luka Nakhutsrishvili’s gave a talk The Svans’ Oath of Resistance against Gigantic Dams. Citizenship and its Translations between the Centralist State and the Rising Periphery. Luka spoke of the oath as a local religious and legal form of public order that challenges the nation-state's secular modernity project.

The third day of the Academy, dedicated to Right to the City, began with a joint lecture by Tamta Khalvashi and Lela Rekhviashvili. It provided an overview of the topic and was based on local examples. Tamta and Lela introduced the right to the city, based on three important authors. These include French Marxist philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre, British anthropologist David Harvey and German-American city planner Peter Marcuse. According to Lefebvre, the right to the city implies both the demand and the action to overcome spatial inequalities through the collective change of urban space. Harvey adds that the right to the city is not a narrowly individual, but a common right through which people transform themselves, as the urban spaces change. Marcuse views the right to the city via the struggles of disenfranchised and oppressed groups. In addition to discussing the theories of these three authors, the lecture contained examples from Georgia. Tamta Khalvashi presented her research on elevators in Tbilisi to discuss moving to urban spaces through vertical mobility. Lela Rekhviashvili discussed the involvement of the people who lost their rights in the production of urban space.

A discussion on post-socialist urban transformations followed the lecture. Mikheil Svanidze spoke about the transformation of public spaces in central and peripheral areas of Tbilisi during the post-Soviet period, based on urban mobility systems and examples of symbolic “marking” of public spaces by elites. Gvantsa Nikolaishvili reviewed the permanent housing crisis in Tbilisi, which followed the reforms carried out after the collapse of the Soviet Union. These reforms entrusted the provision of housing to the private sector and virtually eliminated the perception of housing as a social good. Giorgi Kankia continued to talk about the social infrastructure of mobility and discussed the trends of stratification in the city following the post-Soviet transition. After the Georgian examples, participants were given the opportunity to think of the examples of the "Right to the City" movement the forms of urban activism that took place Zagreb in 2006, based on Tomislav Tomasevic’s report.

In the afternoon, Malkhaz Saldadze offered action research for a positive change workshop.  Action research as a method gives activists and academics a completely unique opportunity to conduct research in a reflexive and participatory way that will have transformative results for both research subjects and researchers themselves.

In the evening, Ia Eradze delivered a lecture on the Financialization of Daily Life in Georgia. She discussed the global dominance of market logic in people's lives, resulting from the credit markets and the deregulation of finance. Ia spoke of Georgia's example, where the 2015 GEL crisis exposed substantial problems of debt and poverty among the country's population. She demonstrated that these problems had their roots in the long process of financialization. The lecture provided the audience with a broad framework of analysis of the financialization of everyday life in Georgia, which included both a theoretical and historical overview and related to Georgia's example to the global debates.

Tamar Tskhadadze, a feminist philosopher opened the fourth day of the Academy devoted to Neoliberalism and Gender. She began with a lecture about a tense relationship between neoliberalism and gender-equitable political order. The talk attempted to answer the double question: What are the consequences of neoliberalism for the possibility of gender democracy? To what extent have gender-equality projects helped reinforce neoliberalism? Based on feminist theorists such as Nancy Fraser, Tamar Tskhadadze outlined the role of feminism in the neoliberal agenda and the effects of neoliberalism on what feminists’ views of emancipation.

A discussion panel was an interesting continuation of the lecture topic. Giorgi Chubinidze, Ana Diakonidze and Mariam Kajaia participated in the panel. Giorgi Chubinidze's talk concerned how the concept of gender equality links family, demographics and GDP growth, at the expense of transforming existing gender roles, to the extent that on the one hand, women become more engaged in economic activity and on the other hand they reproduce to create a new workforce. Ana Diakonidze presented a critical analysis of women's economic empowerment programs in Georgia. These programs try to create equal opportunities for women but fail to consider restructuring the entire economy. Mariam Kajaia spoke of the example of Batumi on the social inequalities that the neoliberal economic and ideological apparatus of tourism produces.

The day continued with queer politics issues, first via a lecture by Lika Jalagania and then through a panel discussion on the challenges and needs of the queer community. Lika's lecture, Queer Normalization and Other Resistance, criticized identity politics and the creation of an autonomous liberal individual and emphasized the need for a radical political idea. During the panel, Anano Surmava spoke about the needs of the queer community based on the example of Kutaisi and Nukri Tabidze touched upon the needs of transgender people and queer women. These needs are most often related to a lack of social and economic well-being that is particularly acute for queer people during neoliberalism.

On the last, fifth day of the Green Academy, Social Movements, Nino Khelaia opened a lecture on Social Movements and Collective Political Consciousness in a Post-Socialist Context, in which she discussed the process of forming collective political consciousness. Her talk was based on Antonio Gramsci's theories, as well as theoretical debates on post-socialism and problems related with social movements. The subsequent panel discussion included Giorgi Maisuradze, Nukri Tabidze, Lela Rekhviashvili and Hamlet Melkumyan. They discussed some important issues based on the examples of social movements in Georgia and Armenia. Giorgi Maisuradze spoke about a language of protest that in the post-socialist space is devoid of social and economic issues and instead is translated into the discourse of nationalism. Nukri Tabidze extended the discussion of nationalist discourse to Abkhazia and South Ossetia and demonstrated that the discourse on Russian-occupied territory completely excludes the involvement of people living in those territories in the transformation of the conflict. Lela Rekhviashvili emphasized the need to move from civil society to political society, indicating the limits and exclusions of civil society. This panel was the last formal academic part of the Green Academy. After the panel, the participants had the opportunity to see the film The Century of the Self: Happiness Machines, and finally to evaluate the Green Academy.

Participants talked about the academic and practical knowledge gained within the Green Academy. They gave important advice to the Green Academy team and expressed desire to deepen their knowledge gained through lectures, discussions, or informal conversations within the Green Academy, and also link their own academic research and activist struggles to the research and struggles of other participants or speakers