Promoting the economic dimensions of peacebuilding at the 20th Economic Forum in Krynica

Together with its Caucasus Business and Development Network (CBDN) partners from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as well as South Ossetia, International Alert participated in the 20th Economic Forum in Krynica, Poland between 8th-11th September 2010. It was the fourth time CBDN participated and chaired a panel in the event, often dubbed as the “Davos of Central and Eastern Europe”. This year, CBDN was among the Forum’s official institutional partners.

Despite the economic crisis, the Economic Forum was the biggest in its history bringing together over 2,000 business people, politicians, EU officials, as well as experts, civil society actors, and media representatives from over 60 countries. Among others, the participants included Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, and Bronislaw Komorowski, the President of Poland, who took part in the opening debate about the EU after the Lisbon Treaty.

This year’s CBDN panel debate was entitled “Business as a stabilising factor in the South Caucasus: True or False?”. In addition to our CBDN partners, the panel brought together parliamentarians from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to debate whether business can be a force for stability and peace in the region. The discussion identified conflict as the main challenge for regional economic cooperation and also as a main factor impeding economic development across the region. While few are awaiting progress from the political level conflict resolution processes, CBDN argued that in the absence of political settlements, business can offer a common interest for dialogue and cooperation in the region. It was mentioned that protracted conflicts and zero-sum politics have increasingly isolated societies from one another with diminishing interfaces between them. Business communities, on the other hand, together with other civil society actors are still keeping cross-divide relations alive.

During their presentations, CBDN demonstrated the interest among business communities to engage with their counterparts by presenting joint food brands, including Caucasus Tea and Caucasian Bouquet, whose creation has been facilitated by the network. While their commercial value may not be substantial, their importance lies in creating positive precedents of cooperation and breaking negative stereotypes.

During the ensuing discussion, it was argued that business communities and civil society actors are ahead of their political elites in terms of thinking and promoting dialogue and cooperation. While they cannot deliver resolutions to conflicts on their own, they play a crucial role in preparing societies for peaceful co-existence and demonstrating the benefits of cooperation – and putting forward creative solutions for addressing the conflicts.

The Caucasus Business and Development Network (CBDN) is an initiative supported by International Alert that promotes peacebuilding through regional economic cooperation and dialogue between all business communities across the South Caucasus. CBDN was founded in 2005, and its work is guided by its members’ shared vision of an economically connected and cooperating peaceful Caucasus.