Regional cooperation as an Instrument for Peace Building and Reconciliation – Best Practice and Lessons from Europe

Sebastian Relitz and Mikko Palonkorpi

On October 10th a group of Georgian and international policy shapers and researchers went to a Field-trip to investigate best practices of regional cooperation between Georgia and Abkhazia. As an impressive example for regional cooperation the group visited the Enguri Dam near the Administrative Border Line. People from both sides work together and share the output from one of the worldwide biggest hydro-electric power plants. Even during the war in August 2008 the cooperation continued. The Enguri Dam is an example how regional cooperation can solve common problems to the benefit on either side.

Radio Atinati demonstrate how communication exchange between Georgian and Abkhazian societies can be achieved in a very practical way. The radio station located in Zugdidi broadcasts also to Abkhazia and offers the local audience possibilities to participate in the partly Russian language shows. This is an opportunity for People from both regions to get in touch and exchange information’s. Through his work Radio Atinati deepen understanding and knowledge about each other as one condition for confidence building.

At the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) field office in Zugdidi the group acquired a detailed overview of the current security situation at the Administrative Border Line. The field office observes the situation on the ground, reports on incidents and improves through its presence the security situation at the Administrate Border Lines between Georgia and Abkhazia. They observe a huge amount of transfer between Georgia and Abkhazia due to economic relationships and trade, as an example for regional cooperation and people to people contacts.

Within this Field-trip the group identifies different ways of regional cooperation between Georgia and Abkhazia. Capabilities for regional cooperation include economic activities on different levels from a huge energy project to grass woods trade, information exchange and people to people contacts through media and private travel as well as cooperation with international organizations.

Field-trip findings of regional cooperation at the Administrative Boarder Line were discussed in an international conference in Tbilisi

In the following two days the conference on cross regional cooperation organized by the Heinrich-Boell Foundation and the Aleksanteri Institute founded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland discussed the findings of the Field-trip in an exceptionally proficient plenum which includes speakers and participants from the Georgian government, the European Union, the United Nations (UN) ambassadors from Finland, Estonia and Switzerland, local and international NGO’s as well as Georgian and international scholars and experts. Main goal of the conference was to evaluate problems and risks as well as identify chances and opportunities for regional cooperation as an instrument for peace building and reconciliation in Georgia. A question of particular interest was what lessons can be learned from regional cooperation experience between Finland and his Scandinavian and Baltic neighbors as well as Russia. Finland as the initiator of the Northern Dimension of the European Union has huge experience and expertise in regional cooperation and increases his commitment in the South Caucasus.

The conditions for regional cooperation between Georgia and Abkhazia change after the war in august 2008 and the Russian recognition of Abkhazian independents. State Minister Temur Yakobashvili presented the Sate Strategy on the Occupied Territories as the Georgian respond to these new realities. With this strategy the Georgian government attempt to improve regional cooperation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia based on humanitarian, social and economic cooperation as well as people to people contacts, to engage with the societies in both entities. Time will show how this strategy will be implemented and if this led to practical achievements. Based on the six-point ceasefire agreement the EUMM and the Geneva talks deepen the international involvement in the reconciliation process. While the EUMM is working on the ground in Georgia to observe and improve the security situation, the Geneva talks are the main political forum. Antti Turunen co-chair for the UN in the Geneva talks highlighted that reconciliation can only develop through dialog. The Geneva talks are the only common forum where conflict related issues can be discussed between all parties. Within these format questions like crossing of the Administrative Border Line are discussed which led’s to practical improvements for the local communities in these regions and build confidence between conflict parties. Together with the State Strategy on the Occupied Territories the Geneva talks build the main political framework for regional cooperation and reconciliation between Georgia and Abkhazia and can be seen as two sides of the same coin.

Options and potentials for regional cooperation in Georgia: lessons from Europe

As an example for best practice of regional cooperation Tarja Cronberg (Former Finish Minister for Labour) presented the EUREGIO-Karelia project. Within this framework Finland and Russia cooperate on a regional level to promote economic and social development as well as good neighborly relations in the frontier areas. The project focuses on open border crossing to enhance regional dialog, cultural exchange along with economic cooperation and is based on a common decision process. Cooperation on a regional level between the local authorities on practical questions of transit, economy and culture has big potentials to develop the frontier regions and build confidence between the neighboring societies. Like Shorena Lortkipanidze (International Center on Conflict and Negotiation) pointed out, people to people contacts between the communities of both conflict sides are most important to build trust and confidence. As confidence building is a necessary condition for any future conflict settlement the Heinrich-Boell Foundation intend to organize a Field-trip includes stakeholders from all Georgian regions to visit the EUREGIO-Karelia project to participate from this experience and to see this model of best practice regional cooperation.

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