On 26, 27 and 28 March the European Forum, together with the Party of European Socialists (PES) and the Group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D) organised in Tbilisi, Georgia, a fact-finding mission and an ensuing conference on social democracy in the South Caucasus.
The conference, held on 27 and 28 March, explored the current state of social democracy in the Caucasus as well as the development of (social) democracy in the three Caucasian countries in a historic perspective. Representatives of leftist political parties from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia included: Social Democratic party, Social Democratic Youth Organisation, Umid party (Azerbaijan); Social Democrats for the Development of Georgia, Union of Socialists Youth of Georgia; Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D), Social Democratic Hunchakyan (Armenia). Also, politcal scientists, representatives of think-thanks, NGOs and trade unions were participating at the conference.
The ARF-Dashnaktsutyun delegation was composed of Levon Mkrtchyan, ARF-D Bureau member, and Giro Manoyan, ARF-D international secretary. Levon Mkrtchyan presented a report on “Social democracy in Armenia: State of play.”
The first day of the conference touched upon the process of democratisation in each country and its potential role and influence on regional politics in South Caucasus, the current state of play of social democracy in the three South Caucasus countries and the involvement of European social democrats towards democratisation and inter-state relations in the region. There was a vivid discussion on how democracy is developing in the three countries and in what way the respective governments contribute to this. It was also argued that Georgia is ahead with its democratisation process, compared to its two neighbours. But a lot of effort should be put to create the correct political system in the country. Also, the media freedom in Georgia is better developed than it is the case in Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, there is a high lack of transparency in media ownership and not enough media coverage for the opposition. In Armenia the biggest problem was said to be the polarised political life that has been created since the post-election violence of March 2008. It was argued that in Azerbaijan there is a lack of a strong opposition and the prospects for democratisation progress are quite low. One of the points highlighted by the European representatives was that if there is no political will from the side of Azerbaijan and the prerequisites are absent, the West cannot ask for democratisation. For all of the three countries it was argued that social democracy is needed in order to built their democracies. The regional and inter-regional conflict were also points of discussion.
The second day of the conference was more academic and focused on the development of (social) democracy in the three Caucasian countries since their independence.
European Forum, PES and S&D group mission in Georgia
The fact-finding mission on 26 March was organised to get a clear picture of Georgia’s political situation on the ground. The joint delegation of the European Forum, the PES and the S&D group met with representatives of the Georgian government, political parties and the civil society. Among the governmental representatives met were the Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Grigol Vashadze, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Akaki Minashvili and the Chairman of the Committee on European Integration, David Darchiashvili. The delegation also spoke to several opposition leaders such as the Chairman of the Republican Party of Georgia, David Usupashvili, the Chairman of the Democratic Movement for the United Georgia Party, Nino Burjanadze, and the Chairman of the Our Georgia – Free Democrats Party, Irakli Alasania. It also met with the EU monitoring mission in Georgia.
The joint delegation was led by:
– Hannes Swoboda, Vice-President of the S&D group in the European Parliament (SPÖ, Austria)
– Peter Schieder, Chair of the PES EEN WG, Former President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (SPÖ, Austria)
– Jan Marinus Wiersma, Vice-President of the European Forum, Former Vice President of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament (PvdA, The Netherlands)
Other MEPs delegation members were:
– Kristian Vigenin, PES Presidency Member, Chair of EURONEST and S&D Group Coordinator of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament (BSP, Bulgaria)
– Libor Roucek, Vice-president of the European Parliament (CSSD, Czech Republic)
– Zoran Thaler, Vice-Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Armenia, EU-Azerbaijan and EU-Georgia Parliamentary Cooperation Committees (SD, Slovenia)
A day after the conference the European delegation met with the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby and the Vice Prime Minister of Georgia and Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, Giorgi Baramidze. The concluding appointment of the delegation’s mission to Tbilisi was with Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili, who received the delegation at its Presidential palace.
A thorough report on the fact-finding mission and the conference will soon be available on the European Forum website.