Georgia are on a collision course with UNESCO over the rebuilding the Bagrati Cathedral, which is listed as a World Heritage Site.
The edifice belongs to one of three world heritage sites in Georgia, and in theory, is subject to UNESCO’s rules.But President Mikheil Saakashvili, and Patriarch Ilia II, the 77-year-old head of the Georgian church, have other ideas. The president has promised the patriarch that the cathedral will be rebuilt: walls, dome and all. Reconstruction is visibly in progress. Such a gesture plays well in a country where a towering expression of past and present glory has more appeal than fragile ruins; but it may be the boldest defiance of the world heritage regime that UNESCO has ever faced.
But Mr Saakashvili’s rebuilding of Bagrati is a new, head-on challenge to UNESCO’s ideas. A world heritage site is supposed to be of concern to all humanity; he is implying that its value to the Georgian nation comes first. With bristling ire, UNESCO is seeking a meeting with the Georgians to discuss the halting and reversal of the reconstruction. But in a land where religious and patriotic fervour abounds, Mr Saakashvili will not lose many votes by defying the outside world’s cultural overlords.
I think the issue here is that Georgia are members of UNESCO and Georgia should abide by their rules - not simply do what it wants because "it knows best".