Which approaches are conceivable when it comes to Green transformation in the South Caucasus? How can activists enter and change the Green political discourse? How can youth initiatives across Armenia and Georgia espousing environmental and human rights find ways to collaborate in terms of sustainable development in the region?
These questions formed the core topics of the Green Academy Spring Session under the heading “Green Prospects in the Youth Political Activism in Armenia and Georgia“, which was held by the South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation on March 22-24, 2016 in Tsakhkadzor, Armenia. The Green Academy aims to establish a platform for young civic activists, environmentalists, feminists and urban planners from Armenia and Georgia who are engaged in social transformation and sustainable development policies.
This year’s program covered a wide range of issues within the discourse of Green politics and offered diverse food for thought.
Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, former Member of the German Bundestag (2009-2013) for the "Alliance '90/The Greens", illustrated how the social movement in the 60’s and 70’s against nuclear power plants was transformed into political parties, first in Germany and over time, across Europe. Under the slogan “Not left, not right, but forward”, the Green Party stood for environmental sustainability, social justice, grassroots democracy, and non-violence. Several changes in the political landscape heralded changes for the Green Party as well. Ms. von Cramon-Taubadel called for a modern approach to current challenges such as extreme right-wing sentiments and movements in society, e.g. “PEGIDA”[i].
Manana Kochladze, Director of Association “Green Alternative” in Georgia, highlighted major challenges in Green Politics and the insufficiencies of sustainable development strategies in the South Caucasus. She addressed the essence of professional advocacy, the adoption and implementation of the UN Millennium Development Goals, and core problems in the political sphere, such as unclear state responsibilities, and the exclusion of affected communities.
In a subsequent lecture, Ms. Kochladze spoke about the emergence of civic initiatives in Georgia in recent years as more and more citizens realized the broad spectrum of social and environmental problems plaguing the country. In order to influence the political agenda and reduce inequality it is indispensable to ensure large-scale mass mobilization and solidarity actions among different disadvantaged social groups. Of particular importance is the need for the development of a joint action plan, which would comprehensively address all relevant issues.
Vahram Soghomonyan, a Political Analyst in Armenia, traced the constant rise of participants in the increasing number of protests in Armenia. Taking into account the marginalizing strategy of the ruling parties, he underlined the importance of political education in order to transform protests into sustainable social movements and political parties.
In a Panel Discussion on the topic “Why protest against established systems?” the three speakers Arthur Avtandilyan, an activist from Armenia, Nika Tsikaridze, a member of the Green Fist movement in Georgia, and Natia Karchiladze, an activist in the recent student protests at the Tbilisi State University, gave valuable insight in the ongoing protest framework in Armenia and Georgia. Aapproaches toward established systems can be quite inconsistent; ranging from entering politics with the purpose to transform the system through to the rejection of the system and designating a target to dismantle the latter.
Through the lecture Cities as the Scene for Ecological Transition, Roland Hackenberg, an urbanist from Germany, pointed out the triggers, examples and different stages of urban protest movements in Europe. The most critical social issues are played out in the cities, which are deeply shaped by the neoliberal paradigm. Motivated by socio-economic and environmental disadvantages and the lack of formal participation mechanisms, citizens build cross-class alliances and look for alternatives related to their daily lives.
Sarhat Petrosyan, an urbanist from Armenia, demonstrated the history of urban protests in Armenia against construction sites in parks and the demolition of historical buildings, and discussed the achievements and failures in that regard during the recent years.
Nvard Manasyan, an education expert from Armenia, spoke about “Women’s Issues in the Democratic Political Agenda in Transitional Societies”. In light of the deep gap between factual women’s and men’s rights, the lack of legal protection mechanisms, and gender-based violence, she encouraged to question the patriarchal values still prevalent in society and advocated for a greater political awareness, emphasizing the political nature of every sphere of life.
The following Panel Discussion examined the role of women in the transformation of Armenian and Georgian societies. Tamar Chakvetadze, member of the Georgian Young Greens, disclosed the link between misogyny and sexism and the intersection of capitalism and patriarchy. She critically questioned contradictory statements such as “I am a feminist, but…” or “I have nothing against gays or lesbians, but…”.
Lala Aslikyan, a feminist activist from Armenia, expounded on the different forms of protests in Armenia, which include not only the ubiquitous protests for the preservation of cultural heritage. Tabooed issues, such as militarization, feminist art, and LGBTI-rights, are concealed from the spotlight and not publicly represented. Nevertheless, these issues are a vital part of the protest scene and need to be made available to the public as well.
Levan Lortkipanidze, member of Green Fist, clarified the importance of men who recognize the multiple oppressions that women face, as recognition is the first step towards change.
The wide range of Green topics was threaded through all discussions and covered environmental sustainability, gender democracy, various forms of social inequality, political participation, and mobilization of the wider public. The sharing of valuable experiences by international experts encouraged the participants to collaborate in cross-border initiatives on common political goals and to raise awareness on Green Politics in the entire region.
In this sense, the third session of the Green Academy contributed considerably to the empowerment of local actors in Georgia and Armenia through knowledge-based policy approaches and developed a regional platform for young activists, journalists, scientists and politicians for continued cooperation in the field of sustainable development in the South Caucasus.
[i] a far-right movement recently founded in Germany promoting anti-Islamic stances