Ten years ago the Caucasus was still an undiscovered region for AEGEE. Today, AEGEE members from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are among the most active ones in AEGEE. Still, the Caucasus is still a rather exotic travel destination in AEGEE. That might change next year: AEGEE-Tbilisi just applied to organise the autumn Agora 2014. In a few weeks we will know whether their bid was successful. The Golden Times asked Tato Okruashvili, President of AEGEE-Tbilisi, about the plans.

Tato Okruashvili, President of AEGEE-Tbilisi

Golden Times: Tato, is it true that your antenna applied to organise the autumn Agora 2014?
Tato Okruashvili: Yes, we did! We want to organise it in Tbilisi. We thought about this Agora a lot, we were actually working on three different scenarios for different cities: Batumi, Kutaisi and Tbilisi.

Golden Times: Can you tell us more?
Tato: The first option was to make the Agora in Batumi, where we would have great support from the city hall. Also Youth NGOs and everything which is linked to youth is well developed in Batumi. However, we came to the conclusion that the place is more suitable for a pre or post event. There is a beach…

Golden Times: Beach sounds good.
Tato: Yes, but many participants might prefer that to plenaries and workshops, and we want to make a more serious Agora, focus on the content, with good discussions – which is a strong argument in favour of Tbilisi.

Tbilisi’s old town is not only very beautiful, but features countless great pubs and restaurants

Golden Times: That makes sense.
Tato: We decided to organise it in Tbilisi, because all the old experienced members of AEGEE-Tbilisi are living in capital city – and their participation in organising the Agora is so important. Also we all know this city better and in our opinion you have to know the city very well if you want to organize an Agora.

Golden Times: Georgia is a beautiful country, but a bit far away. Isn’t that a problem for an Agora?
Tato: Not really. For people in most countries in Europe it’s the same price or even cheaper than going to Zaragoza, or other western countries. For AEGEE members from Caucasus, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and some other part of Eastern Europe it will be even cheaper to get to Tbilisi. I think it would be good to show AEGEE members what is happening in a potential EU member country like Georgia – it would be the first Agora outside the EU since 2011. Tbilisi would be also great regarding other costs.

The architecture next to the river and hills is stunning in Tbilisi

Golden Times: Like what?
Tato: In Georgia food and accommodation is cheap. So even if some participants from Western Europe pay more for the flight, they will spend less money here in Tbilisi. If we get the chance to make the Agora in Tbilisi, the selection of participants and everything should take place a bit earlier though, because the flights are cheaper if you buy them early. For example, I have tickets for a return flight from Tbilisi to Barcelona for 170 Euros. I understand that more distant places might cost AEGEE-Europe more money than a central location – there are CD and chair team travel costs, as well as partial reimbursement of travel cost for Netcom members and others who are doing so much work for our lovely Agoras. However, everything is possible with good and early planning. After all, everything is possible for AEGEEans. Ans also: choosing Tbilisi would definitely be a good sign for the development of AEGEE in the Caucasus region.

In Tbilili’s historical centre you have a great blend of new and old buildings

Golden Times:  In what way?
Tato: Because we would bring AEGEE’s most important event right in front of the doorstep of everyone from this region. If we want to do something really important, we should help the new generation in the Caucasus, a generation which in Georgia looks towards the EU. An Agora in Tbilisi is the chance for our organization to show the power and hospitality of our organization.

Golden Times: You said you would like to make an Agora with serious content. In what sense? Are you planning to combine it with a serious pre event or post event?
Tato: No, in case we win the Agora bid, we would like to give the chance to organise pre or post events to other locals in Armenia , Azerbaijan and other nearby countries. We would encourage locals, which are not so close to everything what is happening in the western part of AEGEE, to step forward. This would create an opportunity for everyone – on one hand for participants to see what is happening in our region – and on the other hand for diplomats, ministries, embassies and other officials to see that the young generation has friends in all over the Europe. A generation which has strong European values. Also we would like to invite volunteers from close countries to help with the Agora organisation on a long-term basis.

Some of the buildings look as if they are straight from a sci-fi movie

Golden Times: What does that mean?
Tato: During a one-year preparation time we want to make some trainings for them about many subjects which is linked to project organizing. Afterwards we would like to involve them in the Agora as helpers. It will help also to stimulate the conflict resolution in our region, because the conflict sides will meet each other and work together during year. But that’s not all regarding organising support. We will try to get as much information as it possible from next two Agoras. The Agora Zaragoza will be a great and wonderful example for us. Also we are thinking to get funds and bring very experienced people from other locals to Tbilisi and make trainings for the main organizers – a Master class with great previous Agora organizers. We will try to reimburse some part of their travel costs and provide accommodation.

Golden Times: Since your antenna does not want to organise a complete pre event or post event, will you at least add an extra day about the situation in Georgia or make excursions in your beautiful country, in case you win the Agora bid?
Tato: We want to add one extra day in Tbilisi. About excursions: we will think about it. In Georgia there are so many exotic and interesting places… I know that so many people will stay after the Agora and make excursions on their own. However, for us it would not be so easy to organise it next to the actual Agora. That’s why we would need to think about it.

The beautiful castle of Tbilisi

Golden Times: Georgia is recognized as one of the most hospitable countries in Europe. What kind of social programme can the participants look forward to?
Tato (smiles): They have to get ready for something different and exotic. I can promise you an exciting social programme during the Agora. The highlight would be a gala ball, following our Supra tradition, probably during the closing night of the Agora. It would be a night full filled with Georgian dance, singing, food , fun, wine – and to cut a long story short – everything together.

Golden Times: What else are you planning?
Tato (smiles): We have big plans for the social nights. Our participants have to get ready for wine, every day wine!  Most of them will have chance to get involved in the wine making process, but that is still a secret – so I cannot say anything more. Also they should get ready for warm and happy smiling organizers. The organisers will control every kind of situation and will be ready to help you in every way.

The board of AEGEE-Tbilisi

Golden Times: At the Agora in Mannheim, when you first talked about your Agora plans, you said that you might get good fundraising. What does that mean for the Agora?
Tato: First of all, we are not so bad in fundraising. For our Gandagana Summer University this year we had six sponsors from the Government and private sector. For the previous SUPRAised Summer University we had five. They helped us very much. We have a very good relation also with some foundations, for example with the Children and Youth Development Foundation. We got some grant from them for the Gandagana Summer University. We will also involve the city hall of Tbilisi, which is always supporting AEGEE-Tbilisi. Another big Agora supporter is the Tbilisi State University. We had a meeting with them and we have already a deal about workshop, plenary and other rooms. We are still working about additional opportunities, which takes some time.

Tbilisi is famous for inventing the wine, as the oldies of Les Anciens discovered last year

Golden Times: What do you plan as accommodation?
Tato: We found already a sport complex called “Arena”, which is in five minutes distance from Chavachavadze, the second main street of Tbilisi – where also the university is situated. In this sport complex there are two new gyms with good toilets and showers. One gym has 1400 square meters.  There is also a café and all the things which are important for an Agora gym.

Golden Times: How many participants can come?
Tato: The minimum is 750. Maybe there can be room for more, but we have to check that first.

Golden Times: Anything you would like to add?
Tato: If we get the possibility to organize the Autumn Agora 2014 you can trust us. You will have the chance to try out many things which you have not ever seen. Thanks to all of you for your attention.  We hope to see you in one year here in this very Eastern part of Europe. Cheers from Tbilisi!