Tbilisi: ‘True Stories’ bring together Georgians and Abkhaz

The Messenger, Georgia (messenger.com.ge)
Sept 27 2004

‘True Stories’ bring together Georgians and Abkhaz
By Keti Sikharulidze

HE Donald MacLaren, Jonathan Cohen,
Natia Mamistvalovi and Lena Cook

A presentation of audio diaries prepared by Georgian and Abkhaz
journalists was held on September 24. The diaries feature the lives
of ordinary people, and are intended to give an opportunity to those
whose voices are rarely heard to express their views.

In December 2003, Conciliation Resources launched a new audio diaries
project entitled “True Stories” in conjunction with several Georgian
and Abkhaz radio stations. It is supported financially by the UK
Government’s Global Conflict Prevention Pool and the Swedish
International Development Co-operation Agency.

Audio diaries are a new genre, created in the UK in the 1990s – one
that differs from other types of radio programs in that ordinary
people themselves record them, without any intervention from
journalists.

When the diary has been recorded, the most poignant and moving
extracts (around of three-four minutes duration) are selected.

The authors of the diaries are ordinary people- teenagers and old age
pensioners, victims of domestic violence and representatives of
different minority groups – whose voices are rarely heard on the
radio and who are often marginalized in their own society and who
suffer from stereotyping and intolerance.

Over the last year and a half the Georgian and Abkhaz journalists
have collected over 400 diaries. Many of these have been exchanged
and a joint CD has recently been issued featuring the best of them.

In June this year the project moved onto a different level covering
the whole of the South Caucuses. Today audio diaries are being
recorded in Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as in Nagorno Karabakh.
The best audio diaries recorded in the regions are translated into
four languages and broadcast by 20 radio stations throughout the
South Caucasus.

Conciliation Resources say that when this project began, the Abkhaz
journalists did not want to work together with Georgian journalists.
They said they would do this project, but alone and without anybody’s
help. But later they got interested in what the Georgian journalists
were doing and so started the exchange of diaries.

Later, journalists from the two sides met in Moscow for training:
Conciliation Resources say they soon developed good relations. Then
came a joint award from a radio festival in Rostov. After time, the
organization says, their attitudes have changed.

The UK Ambassador to Georgia Donald MacLaren of MacLaren opened the
presentation and thanked the host Heinrich Boll Foundation for
playing a major role in touching the lives of people affected by the
conflict.

“Many people have wrestled with the Abkhaz question and many people
are trying to do so today. The limelight usually falls on the
politicians, the grand people who think that they have the answers.
The importance of what Heinrich Boll Stiftung and Conciliation
Resources is trying to do, is to focus not so much on grand people
but on ordinary people,” MacLaren said.

“Of course, politicians have to take a lead and come up with proposed
solutions. But the whole issue of Abkhazia is essentially an issue of
ordinary people. And there can be no reasonable and stable outcome
without the input of the people themselves – those who live in
Abkhazia, those who used to live in Abkhazia, and those who consider
Abkhazia as their home,” stated the ambassador.

He also added that the audio diaries project was an excellent example
of “giving those people who were often marginalized, often with a
sense of division and isolation from each other a voice.”

“The project of course focuses on Georgia-Abkhazia but it is
important also to recognize that the emphasis of this is not confined
just to that area but has a wider outlook and impact on the region as
a whole, of the South Caucasus,” the ambassador concluded.

Conciliation Resources’ Caucasus regional manager Jonathan Cohen
stated that the radio diary project is part of a wider engagement
looking at different aspects of how to move foreword in the
Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.

Cohen said that they have been working almost seven years with NGOs
and politicians, from both sides of the conflict “to look at what
resources there are to find a resolution. The diaries project has
been one of the most creative ways of trying to change the discourse
surrounding the conflict.”

“One of the most disturbing things that has happened in the last ten
years is that the people in the Caucasus have been forced to look
inside their society and not look at the society that are around them
as well. As a result of this they have lost contact with each other,”
stated Cohen, adding that the aim of the project was to reconnect
these societies.

Today more then 20-radio stations broadcast these diaries throughout
the South Caucasus. Only South Ossetia is not part of the project,
but the organizers hope that they will soon join the project as well.

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