In November, a team from the CRI traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia, for the first faculty exchange visit of the partnership project with Tbilisi State University. This project is funded by USAID through Higher Education for Development (HED) (for project outline, see CRI Newsletter, vol. xx). Beyond the forging of relationships between DU and TSU, the focus of this visit was to assist with the assessment of the need and scope of a university-based mediation clinic in Tbilisi, and to discuss clinic models and options. Accompanying me were Prof. Ruth Parsons, CRI Research Professor and Social Work professor emerita, DU Vice Provost James Moran, also a Social Work professor, Robin Amadei, professional mediator and trainer and adjunct DU professor, and Cynthia Savage, Director of the Office of Dispute Resolution in the Colorado Judicial Branch, who years ago also founded the DU College of Law's mediation clinic.
Georgians are wonderful hosts, and our welcome began the day we arrived, when we were welcomed at the airport by Prof. Guguli Magradze even though it was 4 am. After our initial rest, she had arranged for two of her graduate students, Giorgi and Lena, to be our guides on a tour of Tbilisi. Tbilisi is a beautiful medieval city hugging the riverbanks of the river, and reflects the crossroads of cultures it has historically hosted. Prof. Magradze later included us in the baptism of her granddaughter in an Orthodox Christian cathedral, after which we were included in a large, traditional Georgian banquet —large both in terms of participants and in amounts of food.
Georgian life seems to be in general more subject to unpredictable constraints of weather, utility variations, resources, and political developments. Georgians by their nature are flexible and good-natured in their response to such unpredictabilities, and cope easily and resourcefully with what they are faced. We learned the value of such flexibility. Prof. Magradze learned while at this same banquet that her President, Shaakishvili, had to journey to Strasbourg in 48 hours to address the European Parliament on the then pressing issue of escalating hostilities with Russia. As an influential member of parliament, she had been called to join the parliamentary delegation accompanying him. With her resourcefulness, and with the flexibility of her colleagues, she was able to reorganize our week's work schedule so that she could manage it all with the quick parliamentary trip also. The first joint team meeting, moved to that next day (Sunday) was infused with a shared sense of both the critical nature of this project, and the critical time and opportunity they in Georgia were facing.
In addition to meeting with TSU faculty and administration, TSU project faculty also felt it important to make the university community aware of the forthcoming mediation clinic and its benefits. At an open lecture, Ms. Amadei introduced the topic of mediation, its variants, and its place in the conflict resolution spectrum, and Ms. Savage outlined the nature and benefits of a mediation clinic. TSU conflict management graduate students also received advanced training in mediation from Ms. Amadei, and in cultural analysis of mediation models with Prof. Parsons.
Prof. Magradze felt that another important part of the groundwork for bringing mediation to Georgia lay in establishing a relationship to the court system (as in the US), cultivating a relationship with judges as likely referral sources, and in developing and passing legislation that permits and encourages all of this to happen. To that end, she arranged for DU team members to join her in presenting a special session to Parliament on the nature and benefits of mediation and a mediation clinic. This session was attended by several parliamentarians, judges, and the media. We left feeling once again the tremendous opportunity that Georgians have to create a uniquely Georgian system for multilevel dispute resolution, and we felt privileged to witness its beginnings.
- T. d'Estree