Wikimedians from CEE region connected to learn in Tbilisi

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Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2023 logo (Credit: Kurmanbek, CC-BY-SA 4.0)

This year’s Wikimedia CEE Meeting took place in Tbilisi from 15–17 September under the slogan “Connect to Learn!”. Georgia’s capital was the meeting point for around 140 people from more than 40 communities and affiliates—the highest attendance at this conference ever—who learnt new skills and discussed ideas about the future development of their communities. The event was held at the Tbilisi State University.

What caused an increase in attendance?

After the total attendance at the past few in-person editions of the conference was stable around 100 people, this one recorded a substantial increase primarily as a result of three reasons. Firstly, affiliates had larger interest in the event and decided to send more delegates at their own expense. Moreover, there was higher attendance by communities from the Caucasus and Turkey, but there was evidently interest amongst members of non-CEE communities who participated. Secondly, the active work done by the CEE Hub to identify and support as many CEE communities as possible truly paid off, additionally causing an increase of the number of represented communities. In this context, this was the first in-person Wikimedia CEE Meeting with a representative of the Aromanian community as well as the first one in five years with a delegate from the Bulgarian community. Thirdly, there was also a larger presence by the Wikimedia Foundation staff, particularly interested about the work of the CEE Hub in its initial year. In addition, it should be noted that the conference welcomed members of the Central Asian communities for a second consecutive year.

A brief recap of the conference

The conference traditionally began with a Learning Day on 14 September, which consisted of workshops covering topics such as conflict resolution, conflict of interest, governance mistakes and creative thinking, and then it was followed by the main part from 15–17 September. This year’s programme included numerous talks in the form of lectures, workshops, panels, group discussions and lightning talks that were held in three parallel tracks across halls named after notable Georgian monarchs—King Vakhang, King David and Queen Tamar. There were also a handful of plenary sessions, and several posters were displayed in the lobby. All sessions were documented on etherpads and recorded, while the plenary sessions and those from King Vakhang were live-streamed on YouTube via the Wikimedia CEE channel and were enriched with language interpretation from English into Russian and vice versa.

CEE Youth Group members (Credit: Adem, CC-BY-SA 4.0)

At the opening, Mehman Ibragimov as chair of the organising committee addressed the audience before Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales joined virtually and Wikimedia Foundation’s CEO Maryana Iskander delivered a pre-recorded talk. The opening ceremony also featured brief speeches by classical pianist and member of the Georgian parliament Eliso Bolkvadze, director general of the Georgian Public Broadcasting Tinatin Berdzenishvili, and CEE Hub’s coordinator Barbara Klen. Thematically, the programme covered a wide variety of topics from education and GLAM to research and governance. For the first time in five years, a two-session board training aimed at improving governance within affiliates was organised. Other highlights were the introductory workshop of the CEE Youth Group, the fruitful discussion on the Movement Charter, and the CEE Hub’s general assembly that introduced the planned activities over the next year. During the closing ceremony, Vera Pelhan of the Slovenian community was announced as a celebrated Wikimedian from the CEE region. A major setback, however, was the changing nature of the programme as a result of the last-minute cancellations by some speakers.

In addition to the main programme, a guided tour to the city of Mtskheta with the Jvari Monastery and the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, which are listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO, followed by a dinner at a local restaurant with traditional Georgian food and music was organised in the evening of the second day.

A group photo of participants at Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2023 (Credit: Adem, CC-BY-SA 4.0)

What comes next in the CEE region?

As during this year, the CEE Hub will continue operating at full capacity towards supporting the CEE communities. The next twelve-month period will be particularly busy with goings-on because the CEE region will host Wikimania 2024, which is due to take place in Krakow during the summer, as well as a number of side events related to the global conference. Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2024 will be held in Istanbul in October 2024.

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