Matilda Sandén

  • Matilda i Tserovani IDP settlement (2)

    Tserovani IDP settlement Photo: EUMM Office

  • Vintermorgon i Ananuri

    Winter morning in Ananuri Photo: Matilda Sanden

  • Trinity Church Kazbegi (2)

    Trinity Church Kazbegi Photo: Matilda Sanden

My first meeting with Georgia was as a university student in Political Science during a study trip to Moscow in 2008, organised by the Stockholm Association of International Affairs. One of the restaurants our travel book highly recommended us to visit was Georgian, so we gave it a try. The combination of Georgian food and wine, together with traditional Georgian live vocal music, whetted my appetite for Georgia and the South Caucasus region.  

Since spring last year I’m seconded by Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA), the Swedish government agency for peace, security and development, to European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia. The FBA is a part of Sweden’s contribution to international peace and security, and its efforts to improve the lives of people living in conditions of poverty and repression. Together with the EU Member States, Sweden has been present with civilian monitors and experts on the ground in Georgia following the hostilities in August 2008.

 As a monitor at the Field Office in the UNESCO-listed city Mtskheta, my colleagues and I patrol day and night particularly in the areas adjacent to the South Ossetian Administrative Boundary Line (ABL), where we collect information and report on observations and incidents. With a background at the Foreign Ministry where a big part of the daily office work was spent in front of the computer, I must admit that it was quite a change at first to get used to come to work with hiking clothes and muddy boots, not to mention the off-road driving in all weather conditions to remote villages, monasteries and other places up on the mountains, some locations on a higher altitude than the highest mountain in Sweden! After hundreds of hours of driving on the Georgian roads, which is a safety risk in itself, I realise that it will be a challenge when I move back home to get used to the public transport in Stockholm again as the main mean of transportation.

 As the Gender Focal Point at the Field Office, I’m responsible to coordinate, support and implement gender mainstreaming in all our operational activities, both internally and externally, in a structural and strategic way in line with the UN resolutions on Women, Peace and Security. We know that conflicts affect women and men differently and that is why it’s so important to include the gender perspectives throughout the work, from the local level on the ground to the political decision making level in Brussels. After my first year in Georgia and as a Swedish civilian woman, I’m even more convinced now that we have to continue the push for the inclusion of women in peacekeeping work at all levels in order to achieve long-lasting peace, security and development. This is our common responsibility!

 The EUMM contributes significantly to the stabilisation of the situation along the ABL to the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, the mission itself is not a solution to the situation, but it’s a valuable asset and resource in facilitating the dialogue among the parties concerned and to the improvements of people’s daily lives.

 When I was a student I promised myself to, rather sooner than later, leave the comfort zone at home for some time and get out to the field and do some ’hands-on’ work. And here I am! It’s a privilege and a great experience, as it is also emotional and difficult sometimes, to on a daily basis talk with the local population who are affected by the conflict about their problems and concerns. It certainly gives you new perspectives of life. 

 Even if I live and work in a post-conflict environment, it strikes me everyday what a fantastic country Georgia really is with its hospitable people and rich history. The Caucasus Mountains and its magnificent nature can just be described in one word – amazing! Since I came to Georgia I have seen that the development in many areas are going in the right direction. The wind of change is blowing. The conflict is far from solved but small steps of progress give hope. The EUMM will continue to play its important role on the ground and to plant seeds of confidence among the people. I’m glad and proud of to be a part of this peacekeeping process.