On 26 April, 2016, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University hosted a project presentation
"SOS Tbilisi: Green Activism for Green Policy"
Date&Time: 26 April, 2016, 18:00
Venue: TSU I Block, room #317
Presenters: Dr. Lia Tsuladze, Dr. Nana Macharashvili, Ketevan Pachulia, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University
Dr. Tsuladze and Dr. Macharashvili will present the outcomes of the project "SOS Tbilisi: Challenges to Environmental Civic Participation in Georgia", funded by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI). A research article and a policy document prepared within the project frameworks will be also presented.
In the recent years, environmental issues have caused so much anxiety among Georgian society that we have witnessed the first occasion of the civic protest to change its focus from political to policy-oriented activism though not entirely without political implications.
A research conducted by a group of researchers of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University and supported by Norwegian Institute of International Affairs has studied this policy-oriented activism, focusing on the two ongoing cases of environmental civic participation in the capital city of Tbilisi: “Vake Park” and “Panorama Tbilisi.” The research project entitled “SOS Tbilisi: Challenges to Environmental Civic Participation in Georgia” has implied a mixed-method approach: Media analysis, especially targeting those online publications covering the above two cases most frequently, which resulted in the content and discourse analyses of around 300 online articles; focus group discussions, on the one hand, with the activists who initiated and were most actively involved in the environmental civic protest and, on the other hand, with the former and current government officials, particularly local self-government authorities directly responsible for the official decisions regarding these two environmental cases; in addition, an in-depth interview with a head of one of the environmental agencies currently hired by the City Hall to work out a new development plan for Tbilisi.
The study has revealed three main challenges to environmental civic participation, and hence deliberative decision-making in Georgia. These challenges are connected to the cultural, institutional, and policy advocacy contexts of civic participation. The cultural context of civic participation is characterized by social nihilism intertwined with citizens’ preoccupation with survival/allegiant values that leaves little room for self-expression/assertive values. In such conditions, it is easier for the government officials to justify their economic reasoning and ignore the ecological one. The institutional context of civic participation in Georgia seems as unfavorable as the cultural one: the research revealsgovernment officials’ and activists’ low trust towards each other, which is especially aggravated by the fact that both governments politicize environmental activism stating that the activists are controlled by their political opponents. This is one of the main rationales for keeping the activists away from decision-making processes. Despite the enhanced opportunities of civic participation provided by the current government, the prospects of influencing the status quo are still as minor as in times of the former government. This challenge is further reinforced by thecivic actors’ lack of policy advocacy capacities, in terms of both strategic diversity and evidence-based argumentation. This fact enables government officials to use technocratic discourse against outside actors’ involvement in public policy-making. In such conditions, the activists consider unconventional participation, especially street rallies, the only effective means of civic protest.
On the basis of the research project a package of recommendations for the local self-government, non-governmental actors, and environmental activists was provided. The authors believe these recommendations will have a positive impact not only on the enhancement of green policy deliberation but also, in general, on the participatory decision-making in Georgia.