Community Radio Marneuli has been broadcasting since 2015. The radio covers Marneuli Municipality, Azerbaijani villages of Bolnisi Municipality and the part of Tetritskaro. The radio gave a chance to every representative of the community to freely express personal opinions and managed to modify the existing environment due to the freedom of speech.

Kamila Mamedova, 34, journalist, Director of the community Radio Marneuli

I was born and raised in Marneuli. After finishing school, I continued my studies at the Marneuli branch of Tbilisi State University, faculty of law. I have nothing to remember about the 4 years spent there. This was a University of bribery and dead souls. I often used to sit alone in a half-ruined room of an old hospital. I remember the lecturer from Tbilisi standing over the window and smoking cigarettes – it felt like he was waiting for me to leave soon. I used to stay stubborn to learn at least something. My fake classmates used to appear at the end of the semester – all with the boxes of chocolate and the envelopes full of money, all to get the same grades as I did.

Establishment of the community Radio Marneuli was decided back in 2006. Job announcement was made to find the proper employees. I decided to run a risk and chance my luck. They hired me. A very interesting training was conducted for the selected candidates. However, the government refused to issue an FM broadcasting license for the community radio. My cooperation with the radio was over but the training made me think about numerous issues. I realized I was no more interested in law. I decided to become a qualified journalist and got enrolled in the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA)

It was the best time of my life. I filled the need I had lacked at Tbilisi State University: I acquired knowledge, essential skills for journalism and made the best friends. If Radio Marneuli is successful today, it is only due to GIPA that provided me with the knowledge and experience.

After finishing my studies at GIPA, I stayed in Tbilisi. I would only arrive in Marneuli to visit my family. One day I accidentally appeared on the meeting of non-governmental organizations. I realized it was an age of immobility in Marneuli and nothing was changing. That is when I said it could not go on like this any longer.

The Radio has launched broadcasting back in 2015. This fact was like a shock for locals – both for people and for the government. Influence-free media that does not belong to anyone has never been broadcasting here before, so it was hard for locals to understand what we wanted.

Radio has radically changed my life – it contributed much to the development of my personality. Now I have the ambition to change the lives of others myself. We achieve the changes – slowly but still achieve them.

Regions are distinguished with one peculiarity. Majority of the citizens in the regions believe that they have no legitimacy to decide what they want. They feel to have no real power to go against the wrong actions of the government. This problem is compounded by an additional quirk in the regions populated by ethnic Azerbaijani people: These people are often told that they are foreigners who have no right to require anything. Moreover, they have to feel thankful to be allowed to live on this land. Imagine approaching to such person and encouraging to raise a voice – it’s not an easy task to do at all.

However, after 4 years of broadcasting, the Radio has managed to build trust among locals. People having certain problems now apply to us by their own will. There was the case when people from one village were promised to restore the irrigation system. After failing to keep a promise several times, these people approached us for help. The story was covered by our radio. The next day relevant institutions arrived on the place and the problem was resolved. Local population witness evident results and civil society becomes more active. Now more people from villages reach us to cover their problems. They know we follow every issue to an end.

Local authorities now feel more accountable towards the media and local population. This was resulted entirely due to our merits, after a lot of struggle.

The government often chooses very unacceptable and dirty methods in this struggle. I can think of one case.

Ministry of Reconciliation and Civic Equality of Georgia has a position of the representative in Shida Kartli. As a rule, the competition for this position is announced.  Ethnic Azerbaijanis often win this competition. In 2016, the representative was appointed without competition: Responsible parties didn’t manage to be patient enough and congratulated the winner even before the competition was over. The winner person used to be very active during the election period in 2016, thus his hard work was appreciated by appointing him on the position. We definitely covered the issue. Due to this fact, the family of this person went against me personally. Father of this person – who I know well – told me I had to be rather proud as ethnic Azerbaijani was appointed on the position. I replied I would have been proud if he had won the competition fairly. Later they created a fake Facebook account and opposed me in social media. They called me a “whore” and “lesbian”. Reading horrible stories about my father – who had passed away three months before – was the most painful part for me. Perhaps they thought if they called me a “whore” or “lesbian” I would give up and get rid of here. I went to the police instead. They realized that struggling with these methods had no sense and gave up.

Due to the efforts of Radio Marneuli, the Municipality appeared on central media agenda. The mainstream media used to cover Marneuli only in terms of premature marriage and criminal cases. During the municipal elections last year, Marneuli candidates were even invited on central media. No such case has ever been reported before.

We found active people in the community and turned them into civil activists and good respondents. Some of them are still volunteering with us. That is how I attracted Samira Bairamova to the Radio. Today she discusses all the topics of interest of the local population on air. She tries to seek the answers from public authorities. We discovered many interesting people who now are in the spotlight of central media. Marneuli is often covered on the major TV channels’ news agenda.

There does not exist a topic tabooed for us. We give a space to talk to even the most marginalized groups. We cover the problems of people with disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. Almost every story produced by Radio Marneuli is result-oriented. We have worked much on animal rights. Due to our efforts, the local government decided to open an animal shelter in Marneuli. This may seem petty for some but it is very important for us.

However, it is not easy to achieve this result, especially for a small radio team of 10 members. We want a quick result but it takes too much time. I sometimes feel very pessimistic regarding this. Today I may become angry and say that our work is useless and it will be better if I quit the radio and journalism. Later tomorrow I will still come to the radio, enter the studio, host the morning show and tell our devoted listeners – Hello! Salam!

Author: Manana Vardiashvili 

This article was prepared in the frame of the project ” Promoting new women leaders and ‘invisible women’ human rights activists” implemented by IREX Europe in partnership with Human Rights House Tbilisi, with financial support from the European Commission. The views in this article do not necessarily express the views of the European Commission.