Youth for Justice 2020: Coloring Gray Days During the Global Pandemic

“Thank you for making this grey day so memorable and colorful” – said a 17-year old Nodar from Dusheti and I immediately knew, the session had been an immense success. As if that was not enough, a few minutes later a school attendant came in, apologized and asked us to wrap up, since he had to close the building due to the looming curfew. The discussion had been ongoing into a fourth hour and the students did not want to leave.

The news about the Youth for Justice project has spread throughout Georgia by social media and word of mouth. At the outset of the project, we had to seek out participants. Now, less than two years later, the youth, university students and local activists are so thrilled about the Center’s events that we have proactive requests to visit their towns, schools and clubs. Thus, without really making any formal schedule for the 2021 project yet, we already have offers to visit the following towns throughout Georgia: Marneuli, Kazreti, Dmanisi, Tsalenjikha, Kharagauli and Chela.

Civic education students in some schools wrote “reflections after movie screenings” and shared their views with us in writing after some of the events. In addition, journalism students at Tbilisi State University wrote diaries after the screenings of the Truman Show (attached). Attached is an essay from one of our participants which speaks for itself –  I also attach two banners, typical of our events. Not only the students but also the speakers were impressed by the format and the opportunity to promote the thought process.

The Chavchavadze Center for European Studies and Civic Education has been carrying out the Youth for Justice project since late 2019 with the generous support of D66 and IDI. The project aims to raise public awareness on the importance of independent judiciary as well as the role of active citizenship and civic virtue in achieving this goal in a democratic society.  The goal of the project is to provide necessary information to various youth groups, trigger active discussions on topical issues of justice, and create a platform for public debates for those who have less chance of being involved in Georgia’s public life.

The 2020 project achieved its goals by organizing screenings some of the most popular and influential movies of all time focusing on the rule of all, the role of citizens in functioning of modern democracies. All in all, six films were screened during 13 sessions of the 2020 project: (i) “12 Angry Men”; (ii) “Rashomon”; (iii) “The Truman Show”; (iv) “Katyn”; (v) “Tskhinvali 1920”; and (vi) “Freedom Writers”. We had 13 distinguished guest speakers at our events – including civil activists, leading lawyers, historians, journalists, writers as well as researchers of Soviet past. Discussions following the screenings were long and lively, lasting anywhere from 2 to 3,5 hours.  A couple of times (in Dusheti and Telavi), school attendants had to politely interrupt the discussions due to late hours and their obligation to lock the building and make it home in time for the 9pm curfew.

The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions created unexpected problems for the project, especially in terms of size of the audiences. However, I am delighted to note that overall, approximately 300 persons attended our events and participated in discussions instead of about 200, as originally planned. We can say with a satisfying sense of achievement that the project contributed to getting more young people feel empowered and motivated. We clearly saw that high school seniors and undergraduate students were the most open-minded and ready to accept new ideas, they seemed ripe to engage in discussions and benefited greatly by engaging with our guest speakers and other members of the audience. Our screenings and subsequent discussions often resulted in greater self-confidence in young participants, translating in them taking a more active role in their schools, universities and communities on various issues of public importance, and greater readiness to lead by example.

The Chavchavadze Center is the first civil society organization in Georgia modeled after European political foundations.  Unlike most European political foundations however, the Center is a fully independent and nonpartisan institution dedicated to promoting liberal values, supporting political pluralism, protecting mainstream political agenda and fostering a more informed, rational decision-making both by citizens as well as Georgia’s political class. The Center has an ambitious, long-term vision of transforming Georgia through education, spread of critical thinking and cultivating a sense of individual responsibility. Named after Ilia Chavchavadze, a symbol of Georgia’s national revival, the Center is also focused on creating a more transparent and accountable political system. Our pending projects include “Intra Party Democracy 2021”; “Project Common Sense”; “Civic Memory”; “Agora Discussion and Debate Club”. We are also engaged in various research activities and publications.