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Conflict Resolution Institute

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Tbilisi State University, Georgia

CRI has received funding for a three year project with the Department of Social Psychology at Tbilisi State University (TSU), Republic of Georgia, to develop a Georgian university-based clinic as a training center and curricular model that will support a growing cadre of mediation and conflict resolution practitioners in the South Caucasus region. The project is funded through the United States Agency for International Development (U.S.AID) New IDEAS Partnership Program, and the Higher
Education for Development (HED) office. Through intensive training, classroom seminars, and mediation observation and practice, students in this mediation clinic
will learn to mediate various civil and community disputes. Besides training TSU's Conflict Resolution M.A. students, the clinic will provide free and confidential mediation services to the general public as well as staff, students and faculty at the University. Specialized mediation services will also be provided to Georgia's reforming business, legal, and educational sectors.

The Republic of Georgia is now well into the second decade of transition from communist rule to free-market democracy. As with many countries in the surrounding region, monumental social, political, and economic changes have produced both significant advances and significant challenges. Georgians have gone through civil war, the accumulation of great wealth in the hands of a few, and the expansion of crippling poverty. Despite significant changes, the transition to the new system remains incomplete. Communities and institutions are seeking ways to manage tensions during these times of transition, as reforms at all levels are instituted. Georgia's mix of rapid reform, longstanding ethnic tensions, and economic challenges make it a setting for simmering hostilities. Changes in standard operating procedures, business norms, educational guidelines, and administrative and legal practices add to the uncertainty produced by uncertain economic conditions. Under such circumstances, conflicts are inevitable, yet the post-Soviet vacuum in social capacity for resolving conflicts has been slow to fill with resurrected Georgian customary practices.

Nowhere is the need for conflict management skills more critical than in communities of internally displaced persons. (IDPs) Georgia itself is ethnically diverse, and as Georgia broke away from the crumbling Soviet Union, different ethnic regions within Georgia themselves made claims for autonomy. Georgia now has several areas recognized as conflict regions including: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Adjaria, and Javakheti Province. Conflict in these regions has resulted in massive internal displacement of people. Georgia now has over 280,000 internally displaced persons as a result of ethno-political conflicts that occurred during 1991-1993.

Mediation is a process used in many cultures where an impartial party assists other parties in resolving their own disputes, building constructive working relationships, and designing systems for managing future conflicts in organizations and communities. It complements traditional judicial processes that allow for process control by participants and results in accountability for and investment in solutions. For many types of disputes, it is more effective and appropriate than a court process. Historically in Georgia as well as in the whole South Caucasus region, people had strong traditional mechanisms of conflict management through mediation, but these traditional mechanisms no longer operate and the experience of Georgian mediation has been lost.

While international governmental and nongovernmental entities have attempted to bring outside mediation and conflict resolution expertise to the region, local expertise in conflict resolution with the insight of insiders to the conflicts has only recently begun to be established. TSU, with its newly established degree in conflict resolution, has taken an important first step in preparing a cadre of specialists. What this project plans to create is hands-on training, supervised by experienced mediators, as well as a logical institution for providing mediation services. The project will begin to address existing tensions by increasing the capacity of both citizens and specialists to manage conflicts more effectively with hopes that insider insight will help to address both the enduring and the future conflicts of the region, and provide for peace, security and development for its people.

– T.P. d'Estrée