Promoting Tolerance Programme in the Eyes of Mary Avalishvili
About 25 years ago, when Europe finally survived the USSR tyranny, when international relations became more complicated because of the instantly emerging new countries proclaiming themselves as independent republics, when people from all over the world started flowing from one country to another to save their families or just get back to their countries that they had to leave because of the oppression they were victim of before, when eastern Europeans, citizens of the former Soviet Union were reconsidering their governance, their economy, and large parts of their social structure the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom started supporting these states’ drive for democratization. These countries skipped the period of development and could not really adapt to the reality. The contradictory forces were pulling Europe in opposite directions. On the one hand was Europe of the past, filled with ethnic hatreds, animosities and possible conflict. On the other hand was Europe of cooperation and enlightened tolerance. Peaceful governance, rule of law, human rights and tolerance were the major challenges for new European countries. Building a civil society was the only way to overcome these challenges.
I believe FNF’s Promoting Tolerance program is one of the most important programs in Eastern Europe. It will remain so until these countries shape a strong civil society that is able to resist the challenges and to overcome problems. I was lucky enough to be nominated for taking part in this program. I will try to share briefly my impressions from the US and how this program helped me realize insights that I have never thought of before.
As for me, I am from Georgia- the country, not the state, as you would have guessed already. It has a huge history of independence, not of the democratic governance though. Thus, it is essential for the countries like Georgia to see the best practice of implementing the democratic values, such as protecting basic human rights, rule of law and independent authorities or institutions. Furthermore, it was fascinating to realize how fragile democracy may be without empowered citizens.
During the study trip in the US, I realized that the US has totally different culture and way of thinking. I do remember realizing that citizens of the US feel the power of a change maker – they do know that if something goes wrong in politics, they can and will change the ruler, but they will not do it until they make sure that majority of this country is positive about that change. I had an impression that every speaker we met during our sessions was absolutely sure that the system of the democratic autonomous institutions in the US cannot be jeopardized by anything, even directly elected President. Moreover, I would hear the simplest words from locals: “now watch how the system works”. This was the most powerful, meaningful and surprisingly simple message to hear. You will ask why? Well, in post-soviet countries we are shaping the order that could work independently and could resist even the most powerful person in the world, but it is not as easy as it seems to be. There are lots of victims of discrimination and the only reason for that is the system that is governed by one group of people and they never give up the power no matter what. So yes - this is why being there in the US and listening to people who express freely their criticism towards government was so interesting for me to observe.
One of the most interesting parts was also the fact that different ethnical groups were working together in order to overcome the problems they all face. I have heard about cases of the different religious groups working together to help refugees from Syria. I cannot even imagine how fascinating it would be if our Christians and Muslims could sit together and discuss the conflict they are into; how fascinating it would be to see Orthodox Christians helping Jehovah's Witnesses instead of hatred they spread. While being in Cincinnati, where I met great people, who have had experience of helping people, I remember my host C. G. said pointing to one of the guys in the synagogue and told me that she herself was helping the guy's mom to learn English, she would meet her and talk to her for several hours so that she could get used to this language. My dearest reader, can you imagine me standing there listening to this story? I simply wanted to cry! Not because C.G. helped that woman - nope, but because that guy did not know my host at all. Moreover, C.G did not feel she had to expect anything in return for doing a kind thing. It all seemed so normal – helping people without reason and without demanding anything back. I have heard so many stories like this. All of this led me to the belief that people from open societies feel and realize their own role in making this world a little bit better. This is something I never thought about while promoting it. I hope one day society in post-soviet countries will be strong enough to accept the different, to empower the weak and to help each other in order to make this world safe for everyone. As the saying goes : “There’s a room for everyone in this world!”
Project Manager "Liberal Line"
Promoting Tolerance 2017 Alumna