Networking and Cooperation Conference: Local Authorities Associations of South Caucasus

Kutaisi, Georgia, 29-30 October 2009

Welcome address by Dobrica Milovanovic, Congress member and Vice-President of the Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA)

Dear colleagues, dear friends,

On behalf of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, I am pleased to welcome you to this Conference.

It is a particular pleasure for me to be here today, both as a member of the Congress and as Vice-President of the Association of Local Democracy Agencies. It was the Congress that launched local democracy agencies in South-East Europe in 1993, in an effort to help with the rebuilding of local communities torn by the war, and it is the stunning success of this endeavour that led to the expansion of the network of local democracy agencies to South Caucasus.

This is why the Congress is delighted to co-organise this meeting with the Association of Local Democracy Agencies, in particular with the local democracy agency here in Kutaisi, in the spirit of our well-established tradition of cooperation.

I wish to express our gratitude to the City Council of and the Mayor of Kutaisi for their help in organising the conference, and to the LDA delegate in Kutaisi, Mr Ioseb Khakhaleishvili, for his personal contribution to the excellent organisation of this event.

We all know the famous expression ‘that all politics are local’. Well, so is democracy – our citizens gain their first democratic experience at the local level, and it is at this level where they learn about, and interact the most, with democratic structures. And it is at local level where the networking of elected representatives, joining their efforts, represents a real force to be reckoned with, and brings about the most tangible results. This is why the Congress strongly believes in the importance of associations of local and regional authorities in our member states which we see as the vehicles of developing local and regional democracy and as our partners in monitoring its situation on our continent.

Indeed, we are keen on applying our experience gained in South-East Europe to South Caucasus, a region with historic similarities in terms of its multiethnic make-up and multicultural traditions, but also, unfortunately, the tragic knowledge of conflict and reconstruction.

I am speaking about the experience of both setting up local democracy agencies, of which the LDA in Kutaisi is the first example, and of creating national associations of local and regional authorities and their networks, such as the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe, NALAS.

Here, too, the Congress can be proud of having been instrumental in establishing the National Association of Local Authorities in Georgia, NALAG, and three associations of local authorities in Azerbaijan, all of which are present at this conference.

At this conference, the Congress is thus combining three of its greatest initiatives: the Association of Local Democracy Agencies and the Network of Associations of Local Authorities in South-East Europe, and local and regional associations in South Caucasus.

We arranged this conference to give you all, and us, an opportunity to network and to look at possibilities for future cooperation. We have a common goal: an efficient and independent local self-government that attends to the needs of its citizens, the quickest way for us to reach it, is to pool our knowledge, experiences and in some cases resources. This conference will give us the opportunities to do just that.