Celebrating the 15th Anniversary of EYP Georgia with its founders!
Interview with the founders of EYP Georgia - Ann Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvili and Giorgi Tabagari.
Welcome to the celebratory 15th-anniversary feature of EYP Georgia! Today, we have the pleasure of introducing you to the visionaries behind this remarkable journey – Ann Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvili and Giorgi Tabagari, the founders of EYP Georgia.
Can you please introduce yourselves? How old are you, where are you professionally?
Ann: I am Ann Tsurtsumia-Zurabashvili, 37. I hold degrees in International Relations and European Studies. In my career I’ve focused on institutional building, strategy, capacity building of civic actors, gender equality and conflicts. Currently I work for programs supporting civil society and independent media in Georgia.
Giorgi: I’m Giorgi Tabagari, 38 years of age. I’ve spent most of my professional life working for civil society organisations, predominantly focusing on LGBTQI human rights. I’m one of the founders of Tbilisi Pride and served as a director during the years 2019-2022. Currently I’m working for Zinc Network, focusing on increasing resilience of Georgian society towards disinformation.
2. Congratulations on reaching your 15th anniversary! Can you share the story behind the founding of EYP Georgia? What inspired you to start this organisation?
Ann: Thank you, 15 years anniversary is a moment to pause and reflect on the past, remember not only the founders but those who carried on the EYP work in Georgia, challenges it has overcome thanks to those committed people. I haven’t been active in EYP for more than a decade now and seeing the continuation of this initiative in Georgia is the most inspiring to me. Just recently, I was attending a youth event in Tbilisi, suddenly a guy stood up to pose a question and said: I am from EYP, a organisation that has been offering the Georgian youth a platform for debating European issues, meet peers from other European countries… When I see that through generations and generations, EYP Georgia continues to engage young people without much effort of founders, it fills me up with great hope that thousands of youth in Georgia are proud of being part of this initiative and they take shared European values wherever they go.
In fact, EYP Georgia started much earlier, Georgians participated in EYP sessions from early 2000s but it takes lots of team effort to establish a National Committee, more importantly it takes people who share the common vision. We organised our first National Session in June 2007 but Georgia was recognised as a full member of the network only in April 2008 during the International Session in Prague. Domestically, we were trying to establish an organisation in a country of thousands of NGOs and internationally, we were claiming Georgia’s Europeanness. Both objectives required lots of patience but most importantly friends who believed Georgians belonged in EYP. Today, Georgia is recommended to receive candidate status for its EU membership bid and I think this is the story behind EYP Georgia: when founding the EYP Georgia chapter it was Georgia’s European future that inspired us. And we had great examples for inspiration and among them EYP Ukraine.
Giorgi: 15 years ago Georgia was in a different place and distance with the rest of Europe seemed rather long. The country was making first steps towards EU integration and we still needed a visa to enter the EU back then, turning travel into a privilege. Luckily, that period coincided with my first ever EYP experience. In 2006 I traveled in Belarus, Ukraine and Poland with fellow youngsters to attend our first sessions, which inspired us to get active back home as well. Legendary Dr. Flowers helped us a lot in this process and from the Georgia team, Ann Tsurtsumia was a driving force behind preparatory work, which two years later led us to the membership. It was like a dream come true in 2008 when we got the recognition for our efforts.
3. Could you tell us about some memorable moments or projects that stand out from your journey with EYP Georgia?
Ann: Recognition of EYP Georgia as a member of the network in April 2008, in Prague remains the brightest memory of my EYP journey. Giorgi and I traveled to Prague by bus for more than 20 hours to attend the GB meeting in hope that Georgia would be recognised and unfortunately, it turned out we had to meet few more criteria to become a full-fledged member of the network. Worth mentioning that we did not have any sponsor of this process and did it on voluntary basis. Despite the disappointment we went to the Prague IS GA and shockingly it was announced that Georgia was recognised. At that time, we were first Georgians to receive that EYP medal of honor and it remains a greatest gift for me. Later, seeing the IS happening in Georgia in 2013 and 2017 was also a dream come true event for me. Although, I was not involved personally, hosting an IS in the country is a great recognition of the National Committee and an opportunity to bring the entire network to introduce Georgia to them.
Giorgi: Definitely the Prague International Session, when EYP Georgia got a membership. It was truly a special moment.
4. Reflecting on your personal journeys as founders, how has EYP Georgia changed you as individuals, and what have you learned from this experience?
Ann: EYP was a life changing experience for my generation in many respects. Sometimes I feel, I’ve been through different lifetimes, from organising the first National Session with no sponsors and fees, canceling the first regional session in Gori because of the Russian invasion of Georgia to taking EYP sessions into different regions for the first time in history and then seeing EYPers from more than 40 countries roaming in the streets of Tbilisi that would seem impossible in 2007.
Before the celebration it was filled with hard work, obstacles, disappointments, and sometimes political pressure. Personally, this experience has shaped me as a person: anything I know about project management, negotiation, fundraising or speaking publicly is thanks to EYP. EYP has also inspired me to pursue my MA degree in European Studies. Similar to many others, EYP gave a very deep feeling of belonging to Europe and a community that is scattered all around Europe. Most importantly, I’ve made friends for lifetime and EYP Georgia has made friends. It took a village but it also took individual decisions to give Georgia a chance: when Jean-Philipp Beck traveled to Georgia in 2009, when Dr. Alan Flowers generously shared the FCDO funding with us or when Ukrainian EYPers booked flights in 2008 to become first officials at our Gori Regional Session.
Giorgi: EYP was unquestionably the most valuable experience of my 20s. I remained engaged for nearly 10 years in the EYP and it played a massive role in forming my values. EYP made me international, gave me knowledge and confidence, but most importantly, I’ve gained lifelong friends who are still a precious part of my life after 15 years. I will be eternally grateful for that opportunity and experience.
5. As you celebrate this milestone, what message would you like to convey to the current members, alumni, and supporters of EYP Georgia?
Ann: It may sound very idealistic but each EYPer becomes part of a unique journey to reclaim Georgia’s European past and fight for future in the EU. When you participate in EYP sessions you exactly know what the options for this country are to move forward. Irrespective of the field of study or work you choose, EYP gives you a chance to do good to your society.
Knowing that there are thousands of young Georgians who have participated in EYP, it fills me with hope that we can demonstrate resilience when necessary. It was not too long ago that the Draft Law on the Transparency of Foreign Influence was initiated in the Parliament of Georgia. When I realized that the Russian law would shake the very core of EYP values, the first thing I did was to send a message to the EYP Georgia alumni group. As EYPers we knew exactly how such laws distanced young people from Europe in other places and we could not allow this to repeat in Georgia.
I am aware that many chapters face issues with youth engagement and in this moment of endless opportunities, I am grateful to each member of the National Committee for letting EYP Georgia live long.
Giorgi: First of all, thanks to the alumni for making EYP Georgia happen. We already have generations of Georgians who contributed to the story and hopefully it will continue in the future as well. I would urge everyone without a hesitation to keep connected with the EYP network, participate in as many events as possible and It will only change your life for the better!
6. Finally, if you had to describe EYP’s journey in three words, what would they be, and why?
Ann: Because EYP is not only a youth organisation teaching you debating skills and public speaking but for Georgians it is an opportunity to contribute to Georgia’s EU integration path. I believe that dreams do not come true without each citizen contributing to it.
Giorgi: Life-changing experience! Because, EYP did make a significant impact on my career and paved the way to so many opportunities, which grew me as a person.
Here’s to 15 years of EYP Georgia – a journey of resilience, transformation, and a shared commitment to shaping a better future.