SERIOUS THREAT TO GEORGIA’S CULTURAL HERITAGE
The Georgian Parliament is discussing a draft law on cultural heritage which has the potential to remove the protected status of 6,300 historical sites across the country. Among them could be Borjomi Park in southern Georgia; the Romanov Palace in Abastumani; the Narikala Castle, Opera, Rustaveli Theatre; Marjanishvili Theatre in Tbilisi.
Petition against the planned changes to the Law on Cultural Heritage
We the undersigned disagree with the Georgian government’s proposal to change the Law on Cultural Heritage. We call on parliament not to support the amendment which states that listed monuments can be delisted under vague and uncertain conditions – due to “exceptional circumstances, or in the interest (or necessity) of national importance.”
The drafted legislation fails to define the meaning of “exceptional circumstances”, or what “in the interest (or necessity) of national importance” means. As such this law would weaken the decision-making process and threaten Georgia’s ability to preserve its precious cultural heritage.
Additionally the parliamentary Rules of Procedure have also been violated. When the Parliament Committee of Education, Science and Culture discussed the bill three days after its drafting, the required pre-notice was only given one hour in advance. Furthermore the Parliamentary Committee of Economy and Economic Policy have as yet not published its conclusions. Due to these violations and untransparent procedures, the interested parties were unable to participate or express their opinions.
According to the bill, the legislative process involved in the delisting of a monument can be requested by organisations nominated by the government. The definition as to which organisations qualify is very broad – to the degree that it will be impossible to manage or control the process.
The initiator of this legislative change is the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development which prepared the draft bill without any public discussion or consultation of experts in the field.
We would like to remind the Parliament and the Government that the protection of Cultural heritage is a constitutional obligation of the State.
The main aim of the Law on Cultural Heritage is the preservation of cultural heritage, so any change in the law that works against this aim is unacceptable.
Over the last few years Georgia has lost a number of listed monuments even under the existing law’s protection, so we ask the following:
• Parliament should not support the government’s proposed legislative amendments to the Law on Cultural Heritage
• The Ministry of Culture and the National Agency of Preservation should be able to publish their statement on the draft legislation.
• The Ministry of Economics and Sustainable Development should explain to the public what sort of state interests will be served by the new proposed legislative changes and what is the meaning of “exceptional circumstances, in the interest (or necessity) of national importance
We ask that all relevant organisations should be able to discuss important issues and legislative changes dealing with cultural heritage openly and with the participation of professionals and interested public groups.
ON THE GEORGIAN PETITION:
the first (upper) window is for your name
the second for the e-mail address
the third for your location
the fourth your profession.
This article attempts to cut a middle road between preservation and modernisation but veers towards the latter. While it fairly presents all sides of the debate, a couple of serious points have been missed out – the fact that Tbilisi’s Old Town is no longer old (upper Kala at least) and the style of its restoration – rapid destruction and pastiche rebuild, rather than slower but more culturally sensitive process of restoration – which could so easily have happened. Furthermore it still can. Tbilisi city planners should be wary of reports that appear to equate conservation with stasis. Tbilisi is not in an ‘either or’ situation (preservation vs modernisation). Both are needed – just less fast and furious than in the Saakashvili period. Many in Tbilisi are simply unaware that renovation of old properties can be achieved by replacing sections of buildings and balconies, (often for the same or lower cost), rather than full-on demolition and rebuild. That way they preserve the historic quality and long-term monetary value of the building, as well as improve the amenities.
During the two day conference the following fact emerged. The Georgian Ministry of Economics and Sustainable Development recently sent a letter to Georgia’s Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection asking it to consider de-listing Nos 58 and 60 Davit Agmenashabeli Street as historical monuments. While there is a strong need to encourage local and international development to the city, if these key street-front properties (see photo) are to be destroyed on one of Tbilisi’s most classic streets, it will set a dangerous precedent for Tbilisi and Georgia overall. Georgia’s listing system must be preserved and obeyed, if the nation’s historical environment is to be saved for future generations. It is strongly hoped that both Ministries will come to accept this fact. Marcus Binney, founder of SAVE Europe’s Heritage, who visited Tbilisi in May, said the next five years are key to Tbilisi’s survival as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
Four weeks ago the owner/developer of Tbilisi’s oldest street, illegally destroyed in 2008, presented a fifth design for this proposed, eight story new village to be set directly beside and over looking the Abanotubani region and Botanical Gardens (in the gash in the hillside, top RH of the below photo). None of the architects or art historians present supported the idea, again. But worryingly a precedent has been set by the new, out-of-place building now being constructed at No 5 Mirza Shappe – see photo – permission granted in November 2013.
Nino Tchachkhiani, a Georgian architect living in Switzerland has created a superb new website dedicated to Tbilisi’s architecture. We expect this to become a central reference point and virtual headquarters for up to date, accessible information in English and Georgian. Currently only in its incipient state, but soon to swell dramatically.
The beautiful, turn of the century house at 13 Melikishvili street in Vera, designed by Simon Kldiashvili, is still set to be destroyed. The demolition order was granted by City Hall in spite of its heritage listing – before the new Tbilisi building protection law of earlier this year. While today alterations to, or demolition of, all Tbilisi’s listed buildings must now be vetted by the far more historically sensitive Ministry of Culture, 13 Melikishvili’s fate still hangs in the balance. Its only chance to be saved rests on a legal challenge launched by the Ministry of Culture itself.
Similar legal challenges are temporally halting the ghastly Imeli building tower, on Rustaveli Avenue (for photo see earlier posting) and some other previously granted permissions to damage/demolish historical buildings.
As for Gudiashvili Square (see earlier postings) – the Austrian owners have now pulled out, thanks largely to public pressure and the exposure of alleged corruption within the Tbilisi Development Fund. Today the Fund now owns Gudiashvili square, although it remains leaderless. The THG and just about every citizen of Tbilisi now strongly hopes that the rebuilding of the Lermontov House will begin ASAP, as it has been left roofless for many months.
Mr. Guram Odisharia,
Dr. Marine Mizandari,
First Deputy Minister,
Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia.
4, Sanapiro Street,
22nd April 2013
Dear Minister and First Deputy Minister,
It was a pleasure to meet you both here in London earlier this week. We found our introductory discussion most useful, and look forward to future collaboration.
As we explained, we represent a partnership of heritage experts in the UK and Georgia who wish to raise awareness of Tbilisi’s unique and immensely valuable cultural heritage. As you are aware, beautiful and historic buildings and streets, even those that are already listed by the Ministry, are being demolished as a result of Tbilisi’s “rehabilitation” programme. The Tbilisi Heritage Group has been charting this destruction on its blog (www.tbilisiheritagegroup.co.uk).
We understand that in 2009 the Law of Georgia on Cultural Heritage Protection was amended in order to transfer the power of development permits and listing and delisting of heritage assets, from your Ministry to the Municipal Government of Tbilisi. From the evidence we have seen it appears that the Municipal Government lacks the capacity to adequately manage change in the historic environment during this period of intensive urban development.
We urgently recommend and support action by the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection to secure a further amendment to the Law of Georgia on Cultural Heritage Protection to regain control of heritage planning within Tbilisi so that the Ministry may provide appropriate consultation, administration and oversight of planning and development matters affecting heritage assets. The creation of a workable and transparent planning framework for Tbilisi that protects heritage assets would encourage foreign investment and boost the local economy.
SAVE Britain’s Heritage, on the basis of nearly 40 years of experience in dealing with the protection of historic buildings and areas of all kinds, both in Britain and Europe, emphasises the fundamental and overriding importance of ultimate responsibility for protecting the historic environment lying with a democratically elected Government. A duty to identify and protect historic buildings and sites should be laid by law on the appropriate Minister and he should be the ultimate arbiter of proposals affecting these sites.
Marcus Binney CBE, HonFRIBA Stephen Nash CMG
President, SAVE Britain’s Heritage Tbilisi Heritage Group
Chairman, SAVE Europe’s Heritage Former British Ambassador to Georgia 1995 – 1998
Since the announcement that SAVE Europe’s Heritage would publish a book on the threats to Tbilisi’s heritage this was my first opportunity to meet local preservation experts to discuss with them our developing partnership. Guided by a copy of Architectural Walks of Old Tbilisi by Maia Mania I walked extensively around Tbilisi’s historic core, including the areas surrounding Freedom Square and Rustaveli Avenue, Vera, Mtatsminda, Sololaki, Kala, Narikala Fortress and the Left Bank. The people I met during my trip were universally welcoming and I thank them for their generosity.
Tbilisi is a city in transition with major developments stalled or underway alongside a large number of increasingly dilapidated buildings throughout all areas of the urban centre. The approach seems to be either historical tokenism or “international modernism”. Concerning the addition of contemporary architecture into the city there has been little effort to consider the successful integration of new developments into the urban landscape of the city. The recently announced development by Robin Monti Architects adjacent to the 1975 Ministry of Roads building (pictured), a nationally listed and globally significant building, is an example of this. Close to the centre of the city the still incomplete over-scaled cylinders of the City Music Centre and Peace Bridge are evidence that these architectural “icons” are not mere city branding imaginations but risk actually being imposed on the city, they are why raising awareness internationally of what is occurring is so important and timely.
Still, considering the scale of the problem of dilapidated timber and masonry buildings, many appearing to be nearing a state of collapse, and the lack of integrated services, is overwhelming. Clearly upgrading and development is necessary but the evidence of areas that have already been developed suggests that the current market led approach promotes gentrification whilst ignoring important cultural and social impacts. The beauty and human scale of a typical Kala streetscape is wonderful and makes the experience of walking the city extremely pleasurable. It is so sad that in areas like Gudiashvili square some of the most important houses have been destroyed unnecessarily. The redevelopment of these buildings will see the social and cultural fabric of the area irrevocably damaged, whilst wasting the opportunities to stimulate local skills and industries embodied in restoration initiatives. This is further dilution of a unique but finite asset for the community, city and country as a whole. We should not ignore the fact that people want urban development, to be rid of the burden of maintenance and to modernise their homes and living conditions. Whilst solutions must carefully balance heritage preservation and development, of most concern is the coercive process and form of development which avoids dialogue between people and planners.