Sunday, August 29, 2010

Georgia knows best... doesn't it?

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.

Read full article at The Economist

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".

It is little wonder that investors are leaving Georgia in their droves - NGO's are shutting up shop and FDI has all but collapsed and, incidentally, this collapse started in 2005 - well before the war and the Fed-driven collapse of the economy kicked in.

UNESCO have every right to be upset, and so should the rest of us be. A World Heritage Site is designated as such to protect it for future generations, and it needs to be planned and carried out using all of the knowledge and experience which UNESCO has gathered over the years.

This is a typically selfish act by Georgia which sounds like it is intended to boost the popularity of their President. Next up - a revolving gold statue? It does indeed sound like what Georgia want to do is to rebuild the thing as yet another example of what Saakashvili has done for (to?) his country. But this is a typically blinkered "we know best" approach and who knows what damage they might do during construction? As we know, Georgian building standards leave a lot to be desired and how they undertake this work may not be the best way forward.

So, what can UNESCO do - cry foul and hope that this is an isolated case? De-list this from the register of World Heritage Sites and say: "ok Georgia, you're on your own but don't come looking to us for any more money?".

If everyone was as selfish and as full as their own self-importance as the Georgians there would be no UNESCO, because there would never come a time when a united and peaceful world could come and look at those places.


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