International Conference on Cooperative Movement
29 May, 2014
An international conference, dedicated to the problems of development of cooperative movement was held on 21 May 2014 at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Tbilisi. The Conference was organized by the IBERIA Union of Georgia’s Agricultural and Manufacturing Cooperatives – member of International Cooperative Alliance, the Foundation of Cooperative Development, the Tsekavshiri Union of Georgia’s Consumption Cooperatives and the Business Chamber of Georgia.
Participants in the conference represented countries like Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Georgia. The Conference
certainly reminded the bygone soviet-era get-togethers with a couple of interesting differences like a western-style coffee break, the brevity of speeches and the talks all to the point. Indeed, the situation at the conference was extremely businesslike, and participants readily shared their knowledge and experience with each other, displaying the déjà-vu sincerity, openheartedness and benevolence towards their friends and colleagues. It all looked like a reunion of relatives, who had not met in a very long time. It was noted that the cooperative life in Georgia is currently at nadir. There are of course many reasons, explaining such a distress in the field, but shedding tears and whining are no longer helpful here. The only reasonable move that could be helpful is starting, without any procrastination, the process of revival of powerful cooperative movement in Georgia. The current Georgian government is very much in favor of the rising of cooperatives from the ashes, but fulfilling this does not seem to be a very easy job to do. The conference participants clearly heard that in the former Soviet Republics – everywhere except Georgia – the cooperative movement is still alive and kicking. Georgia needs to start everything from scratch in order for us to resuscitate the good old productive movement, albeit imperfect and faulty. The guests of the conference seemed to be very competent and optimistic about the prospects of cooperative activity in the former soviet republics, and they are very much ready to be in step with the world cooperative movement, involving more than one billion people around the globe. Georgia also has every reason to revive its drooping cooperative spirits because Georgia has many qualified specialists in the field, enough natural resources and the people who need to work and make a living. What Georgia lacks though is enthusiasm and readiness to revive the cooperative movement in the country, and the subsidies and investments, without which the revival would be practically impossible. As a matter of fact, the Georgian cooperative activity could have been breathing and working today, if its property had not been sold for peanuts, in the not-so-far past, by the decision-makers of those curious times. Now that the Union of Cooperatives continues working without any available funds at all, it is certainly very hard to expect any serious results from its lackluster activity. It would be fair to say that without the passionate endeavor of Doctor in Economy Roin Adamadze – Chairman of the Board of Georgia’s Cooperative Union – even this much would not have been possible to achieve. It was he who organized the conference, having spent on it not only time and energy of his entire family and circle of friends, but his own money too. Why should he be so keenly interested in all this? – one might ask. The only answer to this question is that he firmly believes that a healthy cooperative movement can save the economy of Georgia, letting its people survive, and even enhance their standard of living in the shortest possible period of time. And he has a good plan for achieving this cherished goal. The overall feeling at the conference was that every participant in it strongly believed in Adamadze, and was prepared to cooperate with him in the future. As a result, useful agreements were signed, and words were given to each other by the participants that there would be no lack of efforts for putting to life all what was said and promised during the conference. On another note, it is also worth emphasizing that, judging by how the conference sounded in general, the Georgians have not forgotten the Russian language at all – they operated very efficiently. But linguistic excellence is probably not enough to bring back the valuable cooperative movement to Georgia. The IBERIA leader Roin Adamadze, who was the alpha and omega of the conference, thinks and acts exactly that way. The conference was concluded with a friendly dinner, during which every delegation had an opportunity to make a speech, accentuating the most important aspects of their activity in their respective countries. Each of them suggested a special toast, dedicated to what they mostly believed in. For example, the head of the Belarus delegation Valery Ivanov, proposed a toast to the health and success of his country’s president. This reminded me of our old soviet times, but everybody, including my surprised self, supported the toast and drank to it in standing approval. I tried to joke slightly on the topic, which was taken in stride by our friend and colleague Valery Ivanov. Later after the dinner, Valery and I found ourselves sitting next to each other on the bus, and we had a very lively conversation during our trip to Tbilisi. I was absolutely surprised to have heard from him that the Belarus Union of Cooperatives, chairman of which he happens to be in the rank of the cabinet member, has a three billion dollar annual turnover, which makes up 10 % of the entire national turnover, pays about 200 million dollars into the state budget, has 2,500 eateries around the country, feeding 85,000 people on an everyday basis for only four dollars a person, provides 25% of the country’s bread supply, performs 70 different kinds of services, purchases 5,000 tons of various berries from the population, out of which, 3,000 tons is exported to other countries. Valery Ivanov told me that President Lukashenko is firmly backing up the entire cooperative movement in Belarus. Having heard this, I immediately understood why he had toasted to his president so enthusiastically. I would have acted exactly the same way if our leadership had the same kind of attitude towards the cooperative movement in Georgia.