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Cultural figures resume Russian-Georgian dialogue2008-12-17 18:17
On Tuesday, for the first time since the August war, Russians and Georgians - representatives of culture and art, public figures and clergymen, those who have always been the face, soul and conscience of the people - sat round a table and looked each other in the eye.
The first working session of the Russian-Georgian group for overcoming the humanitarian consequences of events in the Caucasus took place in the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation. The question of "Who is to blame?" did not figure on the agenda. They met to try to understand: "What should be done?" How can they return to mutual understanding and warm, neighbourly relations?
The necessary tone was established from the very start. The head of the Russian delegation, author and presenter of the TV programme 'Judge for yourselves' Maksim Shevchenko addressed those present: "In a situation where political and diplomatic relations have been hampered or are even impossible, we have a unique opportunity not only to start a distinct dialogue, but also set about building the future. This does not only depend on politicians, but also on ordinary citizens. Let's try to do everything we can so that our children and grandchildren have something good to remember."
Then came blessings from Archbishop Feofan of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz and the representative of the Georgian Patriarch Metropolitan Petr of Chkondidi.
The commitment to joint human and, above all, moral values is a lifebelt for citizens of both Georgia and Russia. People in Tbilisi believe that Patriarch Ilia II, who visited Moscow last week, provided the initiative for the start of a dialogue between the two nations. As a sign of friendship the Georgian delegation brought an icon of St. Panteleimon as a gift. "May this icon help us to heal our wounds, and cure us of the illnesses from which both Russian and Georgian society have been suffering," the head of the Georgian delegation, president of the Centre for Strategic Research 'Agri' Malkhaz Gulashvili, addressed the delegation.
During the course of pronouncements by the political commentator Nikolay Svanidze, the president of the congress of national associations of Russia Vladimir Khomeriki, the aforementioned Malkhaz Gulashvili and others (though all of the 19 participants did speak), they managed, albeit with some difficulty, to devise a joint action programme. In spite of the emotions, at times polarized positions, and at first glance the apparent incompatibility of concrete proposals and initiatives.
So, for example, Russia's former ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko said that the future depended on the foreign policy course taken by Georgia. "Russia needs to know with whom and how Georgia will build up relations. If the policies of previous years continue, relations with Russia will be shady and difficult," he is convinced. He stressed that the course should be neither pro-American nor pro-Russian, but pro-Georgian: "Rather than friendship directed against anyone in particular, this means cooperation with all countries." And he went on to say that a renewal of cultural and economic links was possible if international documents are signed whereby all sides commit themselves not to resume military actions. But the representatives of the Georgian delegation could barely restrain themselves at Kovalenko's final sentence. He said the following: "Removing the bitterness from relations between Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia will help these countries to build relations as partners on an equal footing."