Tuesday, December 06, 2005

An International City of Acronyms and Intrigue

For such a small city Tbilisi has a large expatriate community working in foreign embassies and for a vast array international acronym organisations. ICRC, OSCE, UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNESCO, WFP, MSF etc - if it has an acronym it's here. Such a melting pot of international bodies also makes for rather interesting eavesdropping in the city's cafes, restaurants and bars. Though, when one hears snippets of fairly juicy information such as a budget blow out, a new flare up in an area of conflict or the sacking of an official, one wonders about the discretion of some people. What was that old maxim..."Loose lips sink ships?"

Here's a little taste. The acronyms are not mentioned to protect the indiscreet.

A mid-week afternoon in the cafe of Prospero's Book Shop...

A group of colleagues from the world's peak international heritage organisation earnestly discuss the prospects of proposing a new site in Georgia for the world heritage list. The conversation switches back and forth from French to English. One of the more idealistic of the party presents a passionate case for the site. She argues that local people will embrace the idea and world heritage listing will see them begin to care for their maligned area.

Over a meal at the German Biergarten...

Two clearly worried colleagues from a very active international security and monitoring organisation contemplate a sticky development in a certain area of instability in Georgia. The senior colleague is adamant that he will 'pull his people out if necessary'. In between courses he reaches for his mobile phone:

"Hello, this is Paul here in Tbilisi. Is Gordon there or is he still in Vilnius?"

(Much nodding and sipping of beer)

"Well, look it's too late now for Brussels to do anything today but I've made our position absolutely clear to The President and to the Ministry of Defence."

Friday night Happy Hour in the lounge bar of at Betsy's Hotel...

Two groups of, lets put it this way, mainly Commonwealth expatriates judging from the accents are letting off a little steam after a hard week. One group sitting down (and by the number of bottles at their table clearly enjoying the cheap drinks) mulls over the similarities and linguistic relationship between Dutch, German and English. Meanwhile, two gentlemen, clearly ex-Army types from their military bearing, very loudly deliver their opinion of the inadequacies of the reforms and training of the Georgian armed forces to a Georgian official.

One little gem though from the world of acronyms. Yesterday I interviewed a senior UNHCR official about internally displaced people in Georgia from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I received a highly detailed and intuitive briefing. We both smiled on agreeing that while referring to internally displaced people as 'IDPs' is international development parlance and convenient, the term dehumanises those who have been left in limbo from the unresolved conflicts within Georgia.

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