Winner of the “Democracy Leader” award is a 24-year-old journalist and civic activist – Gvantsa Doluashvili. The award, initiated by Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) in the last year, has been granted for the second time to a young lady, who has demonstrated courage, strength and leadership in advocating for human rights, justice, equality and generally, in furthering democratic causes. Democracy Leader 2016 is NIMD Gori Democracy School graduate, young journalist, blogger and director of community radio “Mosaic” in Gori.
The Democracy Leader award was initiated in 2015 as a show of support and recognition of local democracy activists who do sometimes less noticeable but consequential work in their communities, cities or at a national level. By nominating each year’s democracy leader among Democracy School graduates, NIMD encourages them to be more active and use their knowledge and skills gained through Democracy School educational program and therefore, contribute to strengthening principles of democracy in Georgia.
Gvantsa Doluashvili has been actively working within different types of media organizations for already five years and it has been almost one year since she manages the first community radio in Gori. Equality is the most cherished value for her and with this belief Gvantsa is the prominent advocate of liberal values, equal opportunities, women’s empowerment and minority rights in her city/region. For her “it is unacceptable to be ignorant while seeing people being oppressed, women and children facing social and cultural problems, difficulties experienced by refugees, or even debates launched in terms of establishment of Stalin monument”. She actively and courageously speaks out and writes about the above problems as a journalist and blogger. For local society, she is well-remembered her critical public speeches made in front of city municipality authorities, or in front of a larger audience at the event dedicated to Europe’s Day, within TV talk shows etc.
As Gvantsa says, loving people gives her strength to never give up and fight for change: “Only thing I am sure of is that all my activities, interpreted differently at different times, are built exactly on loving people. Loving is impossible without trying to protect, loving is unimaginable without trying to help, loving is unallowable if wanting to harm at the same time. I always try to be there, where people unite to support others. I believe I feel most peaceful while being part of this unity, which should be developed further by all means”.
At this turning moment of when Georgian society should choose their future development trajectory – to build on democratic tradition or to take the opposite strategy - follow the totalitarian experience, it is vital to support each courageous voice of true democrats. This is how combating against the strengthened antidemocratic propaganda can be effective.
On October 2, 2015 the issue of resurrection of Stalin statue was discussed by the City Council of Gori Municipality. Gvantsa, together with likeminded activists (all of them were NIMD Demo School alumni), was attending the session. During the harsh discussion, raised by civic activists, the initiators and supporters of monument establishment even insulted Gvantsa because of her strong position and courage, aiming at changing her attitude. However, during her speech at the session Gvantsa mentioned: “Yes, this city was a homeland of Stalin, but we have not stopped, we have moved forward and Gori became a city of people sharing democratic values, where we do not build monuments of dictators”. Gvantsa believes that this fight is not only relevant for Gori but for the whole country: “For me this is the fight against the ideology, which aimed to derogate not only human dignity as a core value, but also fully abandoned it. Stalinism is not only a policy of one leader or dictator but this is the ideology that transforms our society to act against equality and freedom”.
Gvantsa is a vocal advocate of women’s and LGBT community’s rights. Critique against patriarchal culture, femicide, cultural stereotypes and stigmas, which create fertile ground for homophobic attitudes and marginalization of sexual minorities, were reflected in her opinion essays and blog posts, published via famous web page “17th of May”. “Women beyond the city” is one of the last projects implemented Gvantsa and her team within radio “Mosaic” and refers to social-cultural factors that imped women’s democratic participation in countryside. The publication “Message from the village” is the product of the abovementioned project and reflects the stories of women living in Gori or in neighboring villages near to the conflict zone.
The first community radio “Mosaic” was founded in 2015 and its core team are NIMD Gori Democracy School graduates. At the beginning, Gvantsa joined the radio team as a journalist. Later, because of her active engagement and leadership skills, she was promoted as its first director. She describes the aim of “Mosaic” broadcasting in the following way: “Support actualization of marginalized issues that troubles local community and encourage public debates on them”. In 2017, the radio launches FM broadcasting in the region.
Awarding ceremony of the democracy leader happened at the NIMD Democracy Boot Camp farewell gala dinner. This year’s boot camp was named “Identity” and was dedicated to encourage a debate and reflection about key characteristics that constitutes modern Georgia, its aspirations and place in the current international environment. Before granting the award, Levan Tsutskiridze, NIMD representative in Eastern European Neighborhood, summarized the content of the camp and connected it to “Democracy Leader” through the following way: “Georgia has difficult political past, we inherited post-Soviet culture and today we unfortunately still face the ideological competition between two ideologies – democratic tradition (“Tergdaleulebi”) and totalitarian experience (Stalinism). This is a very difficult fight, however, someone should do it. I am happy that there are people among us, who do this work, irrespective of challenges, difficulties, or risks accompanying this battle. Support to those people is source of inspiration and pride for us”.
It was unexpected and very emotional for Gvantsa to be the winner of the award. During the award ceremony only thing she was able to mention was that gained monetary prize will be spent for development of community radio. Later on, she commented: “To be awarded with a democracy leader status means to acknowledge and to be ashamed of things that you have not accomplished yet. For those who know me will agree that there are many things that matter for me, that troubles me and I am worried about. However, I have an unusual feeling now – I am thinking about people who were in need and I was not standing for them, people who were oppressed and my voice for their support was not sufficiently loud and strong. Not mentioning other things I am grateful for, I express my utmost gratitude towards NIMD just for experiencing this feeling so palpably”.
At a time when one sees concerted efforts to distort democracy and when authoritarian propaganda is unfortunately finding fertile ground in some parts of the Georgian public, it is important for NIMD to encourage democrats to raise their voices, to become more vocal and to know that they have strong support behind them. This award is the demonstration of this support to the alumni of Democracy Schools and the sign that their work is being noticed and is recognized, that they are not alone. The award is intended to inspire other Georgian man and women to do more for their own rights and freedoms and for those of the others too.