Seeking the soul of Europe outside the boundaries of the European Union
Forum Tbilisi was held 18-19 October 2007 in the Tbilisi Opera Theatre in the framework of the International Cultural Fair as a joint project of the Caucasus Foundation (Tbilisi), Genootschap Felix Meritis/Felix Meritis Foundation and the "A Soul for Europe" Initiative. This Forum was the follow-up to a previous one held in Tbilisi in 2005, which was meant to introduce the "A Soul for Europe" Initiative to a wider audience in the Caucasus region. This time the participants were invited to reflect more thoroughly on the role that culture and cultural initiatives could play in the fostering of civil society, both at home and abroad.
Speakers included Giorgi Gabashvili, Minister of Culture, Cultural Heritage and Sport of Georgia, David Sakvarelidze, director of the State Opera in Tbilisi, Per Eklund, Ambassador of the European Commission Delegation in Georgia, representative of the local civil society, ambassadors of EU members states, government representatives of the Caucasus region and members of the Georgian Parliament.
During the discussions, we were confronted with the day-to-day reality in Georgia. After the Rose Revolution in 2003, the NGO sector which had been developed during the 1990s partly vanished. For quite understandable reasons, too many persons who were active in civil society organisations were invited to join the brand-new administration. This of course not only weakened the NGO sector as a whole, but it also had a negative influence on the development of such a thing as a public space.
The participants underlined the need for spaces for debates and other citizen gatherings and activities. Especially the students and young professionals present at the forum stressed the need to involve the young generation in the creation of civil society through active involvement in debates, in advocacy actions and critical thinking about social, cultural and intellectual problems.
The participants stressed the importance of European values, which should not be hindered by geographical borders in as much as they constitute a mental and intellectual attitude that can only flourish through international cooperation and exchange. The participants therefore strongly supported the idea of creating a centre for debate and cultural activities of a European nature: an open public space for interactive meetings, debates, presentations and discussions to promote the values of civil society, divergent opinions, European citizenship, multiculturalism, etc. fully in line with the objectives of the "A Soul for Europe" Initiative, which seeks the soul of Europe outside the boundaries of the European Union.