COMPENDIUM CULTURAL POLICIES AND TRENDS IN EUROPE
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By delegating most of its obligations in the management of cultural heritage to the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, the move could be interpreted as abdicating some of its responsibilities.

 

The Expert Panel on issues of cultural heritage, set by law, has been replaced by an Intergovernmental Council composed of specialists from outside the field, drawing protests by civil society organisations.

 

Protests and legal challenges continue over the decision by the government to revoke cultural heritage status from the 5000 year old Sakdrisi Gold Mine in favour of mining.

 

In 2014 ICOMOS Georgia completed a document on national cultural heritage policy, including an analysis of and recommendations for current policy and a review of the challenges and opportunities facing heritage protection.

 

A heritage monument survival programme has been launched in 2015 to rehabilitate unique architectural complexes.

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Georgia/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.2 Heritage issues and policies

Cultural heritage has always been of great importance and pride in Georgia.

Responsible bodies

The main body responsible for the protection of cultural heritage is the Ministry of Culture, Monument Protection and Sport, in particular the Department of Cultural Heritage and the Committee for Protection of Cultural Heritage. Some responsibilities are also allocated to the National Committee of UNESCO under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Georgian Academy of Sciences and the State Department of Archives under the Ministry of Justice. Natural heritage is the responsibility of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.

The National Agency for Cultural Heritage of Georgia (established in 2008 in accordance with the Decree of the President of Georgia) has been constituted on the basis of the existing complex monuments of national and global significance. It represents their totality and is their legal successor. Fourteen complex monuments of national and world value are incorporated in the new agency (http://heritagesites.ge/):

  • The Mtskheta Archaeological Museum-Reserve;
  • Vardzia Historical-Architectural Museum-Reserve;
  • Uplistsikhe Historical-Architectural Museum-Reserve;
  • R. Ksani Gorge Historical-Architectural Museum-Reserve;
  • Petra-Castle Archaeological-Architectural Museum-Reserve;
  • Gonio-Apsarosi Archaeological-Architectural Museum-Reserve;
  • Kldekari Historical-Architectural Museum-Reserve;
  • Parmen Zakaraia Nokalakevi Architectural-Archaeological Museum-Reserve;
  • Ekvtime Takhaishvili Archaeological Museum-Reserve of the Country of Guria
  • R. Didi Liakhvi Gorge State Museum-Reserve;
  • Kutaisi Historical-Architectural Museum-Reserve;
  • Stephantsminda History Museum;
  • Borjomi Local History Museum; and
  • State Museum of Niko Pirosmanishvili

The National Agency for Cultural Heritage of Georgia carries out the following activities:

  • preservation, protection and promotion of museum-reserves, moveable and immoveable monuments and sites of cultural heritage;
  • support and facilitation of management of scientific research, consultative and expertise activities;
  • introduction and implementation of up-to-date technologies in cultural heritage
  • support and deepening of international cooperation;
  • study of the monuments and samples of cultural heritage, clarification, research and promotion of their historical, scientific and artistic values;
  • preparation and publication of scientific works in cultural heritage
  • documentation and inventory of monuments and sites of cultural heritage;
  • research expertise on cultural heritage monuments and sites and rehabilitation projects; and
  • preparation and implementation of cultural, educational and tourist programmes for the purposes of understanding and promotion of cultural heritage of Georgia.

The aims of the National Agency for Cultural Heritage of Georgia are:

  • preservation, protection, research and promotion of cultural heritage of Georgia;
  • museum-reserves infrastructure development, preparation and implementation of education and awareness programmes;
  • cooperation with leading foreign scientific and education centres and establishments engaged in monument rehabilitation;
  • monument inventory and creation of cultural heritage database; and
  • implementation of state-of-the-art monument restoration technologies.

Decentralisation process

Great changes have taken place in the management of cultural heritage. In 2014, the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia delegated most of its obligations in the management of cultural heritage to the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia. This makes the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia increasingly responsible for most of the decisions in the field of cultural heritage, such as an inventory of objects, activity planning, management of public procurement, monitoring, research, management of the sites of world heritage, international relations, and so on.

Such decentralisation would be useful, if it implied strengthening the protection of the interests of the historic cultural heritage on the different levels of government. However, the experience shows that such withdrawal of its powers by the Ministry rather demonstrates a policy of "washing hands of" responsibilities. An example is the drafting of amendments to the Law on Cultural Heritage in connection with the regulations on revocation of the status of a monument (29.09.2013). The amendment implies simplifying the rules for delisting heritage of local importance in the "extraordinary and special occasions of national importance". The amendment poses a potential threat to the majority of sites and this consequently has led to a serious campaign against the amendment. As a result of this campaign, the hearing of the draft law in the Parliament has been postponed, but the proposed amendment to the law is still in the Parliament.

An adverse change in the administration and management of the cultural heritage is the cancellation of the Experts' Panel - an advisory body to the Minister of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia on major issues, such as the granting and revoking the status of a monument, proposals for nomination WHL, etc. The Panel has been replaced by the Intergovernmental Council, composed of specialists from outside the field, including representatives of the Ministries of the Economy, Finance, Regional Development, Culture and the Prime Minister's Office, etc. This change is directly contrary to the Law on Cultural Heritage (2007), which states that "the board shall consist of field experts and public figures". This also became the subject of protest by civil society organisations.

The continuing pressure from the economy sector on cultural heritage has led to additional negative changes.

There is major controversy surrounding the Sakdrisi site, the oldest known gold mine in the world, which was declared a cultural heritage site in 2006. This status was revoked in 2013 to allow exploitation of the site for mining, which has united protests from different cultural and legal NGOs. However, the protests against the government's controversial decisions, which are sometimes contrary to law, have not led to positive results.

The legal proceedings have not been finished; the issue on establishment of an ad hoc commission for study of Sakdrisi’s problems is pending in the Parliament. However, the accelerated destruction of Sakdrisi demonstrates the attitude of both business and the Government to cultural heritage and to the issues of harmonisation of the cost-effective cultural policy and transparent management of cultural heritage.

Another case that illustrates the conflict between economic development and protection of cultural heritage is a huge construction project called "Panorama Tbilisi" in the Old City.

The case of Sakdrisi and project Panorama Tbilisi are typical examples of how economic growth is in direct opposition to the preservation and protection of cultural heritage, rather than creating synergies of both those spheres as accepted by international standards. Moreover, such a policy is in conflict with international conventions on the protection of cultural heritage, signed by Georgia (see also: http://www.heritagesites.ge/upload/file/1419424329.pdf and http://www.euroeastculture.eu/struct_file.php?id_a=879).

Preservation of monuments on the occupied territories

One of the most difficult problems is the preservation of monuments on the occupied territories. Within the last fifteen years, cultural heritage in Georgia has suffered greatly as a result of the local conflicts in Abkhazia and in the Tskhinvali Region, where monuments were destroyed and plundered. During that period there were natural disasters such as powerful earthquakes, landslides and floods which had radical affects on cultural monuments (e.g. Old Tbilisi). There was extensive damage to monuments in so-called South Ossetia, historical Shida (Internal) Kartli, region Samachablo and in Kodori (a mountain part of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic) caused as a result of the Russian-Georgian conflict of August 2008.

Nikozi monastery complex located in the Laikhvi River gorge, 1.2 miles (2 km) from Tskhinvali, suffered badly from this conflict. In particular, the Episcopal Palace, which is included in the Nikozi monastery complex, one of the most important Historical Monuments and Episcopal Chair, was directly bombed in August 2008. The resulting fire destroyed the roof, which was newly restored by the Georgian Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection and the interior of the palace. Moreover, the direct bombing completely destroyed the living part of the monastery on the south of the palace: the monk cells, refectory, archive, library and other secondary structures belonging to the monastery were burnt down.

The house - museum of the writer and translator Shakespeare Ivan Machabeli, in the village of Tamarasheni was completely burnt out.

In April 2009, a GACC project for Emergency Stabilisation of the Episcopal Palace (9th-10th c) of the Nikozi Monastery Complex (5th-18th c) was approved by the Committee of the "Cultural Emergency Response" programme of the Prince Claus Fund. The project is aiming to conduct emergency works to prevent further damage and to ensure the stability of the structure for further conservation activities.

Another thorny issue is the protection of the Georgian cultural heritage outside Georgia, namely, on the territory of Turkey, in the historical province of Tao-Klarjeti where old Georgian cathedrals are located and require restoration. The negotiations held since 2005 with the Turkish government based on the reciprocity principle can gain a new format in the conditions of a new governing political power.

A major threat to Georgian cultural heritage was the grave economic situation and the inadequacy of the law which operated until 2007. This vacuum created uncertainty in the roles and responsibilities between state authorities and scientific institutions, which meant that they both created different systems to register cultural heritage. Procedures to grant monument status were very complicated and long and, hence, many objects remained unprotected. The inadequacy of legislation prevented the system and institutional reform from happening and created problems for the exhibition of the museum collections abroad. A new Law on Cultural Heritage (see below) was finally introduced in 2007 to address all of the problems in this field.

Museums

The museum system of Georgia consists of 255 museums of various profiles, which are subordinated to and financed from different levels of authority. Following the adoption of the Law on Legal Persons under the Public Law of 1999 (see also chapter 3.2) museums should obtain a new legal status. However, this process has been delayed for a number of reasons including: testing for discrepancies in the legislation, bureaucratic slowness, a lack of political will (in some cases it was disowned by local authorities / municipalities) and uncertainty regarding the ownership after adoption of the Concordat.

Some progress has been made. In 2005, three museums were registered: the National Museum of Georgia, Niko Pirosmani Museum in Mirzaani and the Historical and Architectural Museum at Dadianis' Palace in Zugdidi. In 2006, the number of registered museums increased to 15, in 2007 to 17. The process of registration of other museums is in progress.

Since the Rose Revolution, museum reform has been a priority; in particular, improvements in museum administration have been stipulated. A first step was the creation of the National Museum of Georgia (30.12.2004) which includes 11 public museums and branches.

There is currently no full database of cultural heritage available in Georgia. Training and involvement of young people, as well as the introduction of new technologies to improve the protection of cultural heritage, are major issues faced by the state requiring serious investments.

The Department of Cultural Heritage has developed a policy for the preservation of cultural heritage in Georgia and its long-term strategy to create a heritage management system with the following aims:

  • registration-certification of monuments of cultural heritage;
  • creation of a full database of cultural heritage;
  • protection, defence and detection of heritage monuments;
  • programmes for rehabilitation of historical cities;
  • popularisation of heritage in Georgia and abroad; and
  • involvement of international organisations for heritage protection.

This enabled the development, promotion and implementation of the policy to preserve the cultural heritage elaborated by the Department of Cultural Heritage. Consequently, in 2006 and in 2007, because of the increased financing, the intense work of registration and certification of monuments of cultural heritage was being performed. The range of archaeological studies was also extended.

In 2007, the new Law on Cultural Heritage was adopted (see chapter 5.3.3) and the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia developed new strategic directions (see chapter 2.3 and chapter 4.1) and the state programme for the protection of cultural heritage.

Main programmes / activities under the strategy:

1.      Programme on the Preservation of Historic Cities and Towns:

  • development of historic safeguard plans;
  • conducting an inventory on historic cities and towns; and
  • establishment of cultural heritage protection zones in historic cities and towns.

Activities under the programme include the rapid inventory of the historic core of Tbilisi, Tbilisi Safeguard Plan, Batumi Safeguard Plan.

2.      Inventory of sites of cultural heritage interest throughout Georgia and programme for establishing protection zones:

  • certification of cultural heritage monuments according to contemporary requirements across Georgia and development of systems of monument protection zones.

Activitiesunder this programme include: The Ministry held a tender for Establishment of Cultural Heritage Protection Zones. The tender was announced for the following services:

Cities

  • establishment of cultural heritage protection zones for Kutaisi, Sighnaghi, Telavi, Mtskheta.

Archaeological zones

  • establishment of archaeological protection zones in Tbilisi and Mtskheta; and
  • establishment of archaeological protection zones of burial grounds and ancient settlements of the Alazani Valley.

Historical Areas

  • establishment of cultural heritage protection zones for immoveable monuments in Vardzia-Khertvisi-Oloda and its surroundings.

Inventory of Cultural Heritage Monuments

The Cultural Heritage Department regularly updates the list of cultural heritage monuments. The recording of monuments with the aim of their listing on a Public Register is an important mechanism that allows these properties to be legally protected.

In parallel with the inventory of immoveable monuments of cultural heritage, the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection proceeded with the study and classification of moveable monuments, an assessment of the state of the collections and recording of the respective items. This will eventually allow determination of the artistic value, as well as the market price of each sample, and thus promote the formation of a legal art market. Intensive work was conducted to identify those items of cultural heritage interest which are in urgent need of conservation and rehabilitation.

The Division of Museums and Moveable Monuments and a committee of art historians specialising in modern Georgian art has been engaged in recording decorative paintings / drawings (sketches) with the aim of their being listed on a state register.

3.      Programme for Rescuing Cultural Heritage Objects of Outstanding Value:

  • organisation of diagnostic studies on endangered cultural heritage sites and preparation of rehabilitation designs; and
  • emergency conservation / restoration and rehabilitation of immoveable and moveable monuments.

The Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection has established strategic partnership with the Fund for the Protection and Rescuing of Georgia's Historic Monuments in the realm of cultural heritage preservation. The ministry and the Fund jointly plan schedules for the rehabilitation / restoration of cultural heritage monuments.

4.      Programme for Cultural Heritage Monitoring Throughout Georgia:

  • elaboration of efficient tools to ensure proper maintenance and preventive conservation of cultural heritage monuments, as well as risk preparedness; and
  • cooperation with local self-government bodies and their involvement in cultural heritage preservation activities.

The collecting of information on the state of preservation of cultural heritage sites in Tbilisi and Batumi, the exercise of state control over the projects agreed upon with the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection, the processing of applications addressed to the ministry and the arranging of working meetings with representatives of the self-governing bodies are the main monitoring tasks.

5.      Programme for the Establishment of Analytical and Information Network on Cultural Heritage:

  • innovative reorganisation of the integrated information system of Georgia's cultural heritage and adoption of contemporary methods of cultural heritage management;
  • digitalisation of data and creation of an integrated database; and
  • web-site development and management.

Activities include:

a)      Innovative reorganisation of the integrated information system of Georgia's cultural heritage and adoption of contemporary tools of cultural heritage management:

b)      Creation of Digital Topographic Maps in Georgia; participation in the joint project signed by the Georgian and Japanese governments on 21 December 2004 (from 2005 onwards).

6.      Programme for the Promotion of Georgia's Cultural Heritage:

  • promotion of educational activities, exhibitions, preparation of publications and translations, independent initiatives and projects.

The following publications were prepared through cooperation between the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection and the Giorgi Chubinashvili National Research Centre of Georgian Art History and Monument Preservation within the framework of the State Programme for Cultural Heritage Preservation 2006, under the aegis of the Promotion of Georgia's Cultural Heritage.

7.      Programme for Museum Reform:

  • reorganisation of museums and museum-reserves, improvement of their material and technical infrastructure and development of modern tools of management;
  • diagnostic study of museum collections, conservation / restoration of museum exhibits;
  • certification of exhibits in line with modern requirements;
  • improvement of museum management across Georgia; and
  • regaining of cultural and educational functions of museums.

Georgia has more than two hundred museums of various profiles. With a view to promoting museum activities, the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection, through its museum programme, supported a number of projects in and outside Tbilisi. Several publications containing methodological guidance on museum management were financed to facilitate reforms in the museum sector in order to achieve international standards.

The progress in recent years reached a climax in 2007 when with the completion of the restoration of the historic part of Signakhi (financed by Cartu Group) and the Signakhi Museum was established. This is the first museum of international standards.

8.      Programme for the Promotion of Cultural Heritage Research Institutions

  • establishment and promotion of conservation / restoration and diagnostic laboratories and research centres; and
  • adoption of contemporary principles of management in research institutions.

The data obtained will be used for developing a conservation plan for the monastery, the implementation of which will be ensured by the Cyprian side. By the initiative of the government of the Republic of Cyprus, this old Georgian monastery will be included in major tourist itineraries.

9.      Cooperation with International Organisations

International agreements and commitments of the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia

A trilateral Memorandum of Understanding was signed on 1 February 2012 between the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, the Wall Painting Department of the London Courtauld Institute and the Faculty of Restoration and Arts History of LEPL Ap. Kutateladze Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, on the study, research and protection of cultural heritage, in particular, for cooperation in research and conservation of wall paintings. One of the main objectives of the Memorandum is cooperation of the parties in the research and conservation of paintings in the Virgin Church within the Vardzia Cave Monastery Complex. These activities include:

  • sharing experience of monument wall painting research methodology;
  • sharing methodology of monument conservation works;
  • sharing monument research and conservation documentation;
  • providing research and conservation methodology in the education programmes; and
  • execution of research and conservation operations on the monument agreed by the parties.

The memorandum is valid for 10 years and in 2012 the first phase of the research was carried out.

Since 2006, the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia and since 2009, the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia has carried out archaeological research and conservation work at the Gialia Georgian monastery complex in the Republic of Cyprus. The following work was implemented within the framework of the programme: the comprehensive archaeological research of the Virgin and St. Nicholas, conservation of the wall painting of and the Cathedral of the Virgin and partial restoration and complete conservation of the cathedral. The National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia planned to implement protective roofing for the monument in the framework of the national programme (2013). In 2013 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on Cooperation between the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia and the Department of Antiquities of the Ministry of Communications and Works of the Republic of Cyprus.

A number of projects were successfully implemented in the framework of the grant agreement executed between the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage – Riksantikvaren and the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia signed in 2010. In 2010-2012, the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage expressed willingness and readiness to continue cooperation with the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia from 2013-2015. This initiative provides for joint projects in the cultural heritage management and conservation sphere, improvement of management instruments, perfection of the research and documentation methodology, based on shared knowledge and experience. The active involvement of Norway's leading institutions and experts in each component of the project will determine the high quality of project implementation. The strategic directions of cooperation in the field of cultural heritage in 2013-2015 are:

  • to develop information systems in the cultural heritage sphere using GIS technology;
  • to continue digitisation of the cultural heritage archives to make them available to the public;
  • to improve the management of the archaeological-architectural complex Nokalakevi (site administration, conservation and interpretation); and
  • to advance the skills of maintenance of the heritage of small towns and townships.

The total amount of funds allocated by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the framework of this Grant Agreement is 353 964 USD.

Twinning

From the aspect of the institutional development support the European Commission's project for cooperation between public administrations of twin cities and towns (TWINNING) is the most important as it allows the "Improvement of the Regulatory Legislative Framework for Implementation of Institutional Activities and the Introduction of a Flexible System of Cultural Heritage Managers in Georgia." The EU funded Twinning Project "Support to the Institutional Development of the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia" was launched at the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia (NACHPG) in June 2013. The eighteen month project is realised by the Italian- Danish consortium led by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism together with Danish Agency for Culture, Formez PA – Centre for Services, Assistance, Studies and Training for the Modernisation of the PA, and Italian National Agency for New Technology, Energy and the Environment (ENEA). The key purpose of the Project is to improve the governance and the efficiency of the agencies performance and to enhance the legislative framework regulating the sector by transferring EU best practice (for more information see: http://heritagesites.ge/?lang=geo&page=210).

Some projects that could not be implemented for years have been driven with the support of international partners. One such project is the Twinning Project spearheaded by the EU public services which has been implemented at the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia since 11 June 2013. On 17 July 2014 the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia and the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the protection and maintenance of cultural heritage owned by the Church. It is for the first time since the signing of the Concordat (a constitutional agreement between the state and the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church) on 14 October 2002 that the State and the Church has signed the regulatory document in the field of cultural heritage. The main partners in the project chosen by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage are the Cultural Activities and Tourism of Italy and the Agency of Culture of Denmark.

Cooperation with UNESCO and ICCROM

In 2013, Georgia became a member of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Event of Armed Conflict. This membership (which will last for four years) and active participation in the work of the committee are proof of the country's interest in implementing the UNESCO Hague Convention (1954) and its second protocol (http://www.euroeastculture.eu/struct_file.php?id_a=879).

In this context, in late 2012, the Georgian National Committee of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) was established (see also: http://www.ancbs.org/cms/index.php/en/about-us/hague-convention). The objectives of the Georgian National Committee are to protect cultural heritage against damages incurred by natural or manmade disasters, to elaborate risk preparedness and risk response plans for cultural institutions, to raise awareness and to facilitate the implementation of both protocols of the 1954 Hague Convention in Georgia and to prepare the population of Georgia to respond to the threats to cultural heritage during natural or man-made disasters.

On 24-26 September 2014 the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia initiated and organised the international conference "World Heritage and Sustainable Development" in Mestia (Svaneti, Georgia). Its aim was to facilitate the implementation of the World Heritage Convention in Georgia and to harmonise the country's natural and cultural heritage protection and development strategies, as well as to highlight the role of heritage in the country's social and economic development process. The main guest of the Conference was the Director General of the Restoration and Conservation Centre ICCROM, Stefano De Caro. The conference participants were the senior officials and regional representatives of the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO, the International Centre for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural property - ICCROM, the International Council on Monuments and Sites - ICOMOS and the International Union for Conservation of Nature - IUCN-, as well as members of state agencies and non-governmental organisations. The meeting discussed the UNESCO World Heritage List, the challenges it faces and the role, experiences and examples of international organisations in cultural and natural heritage management and development. One of the main issues was the national programme of the world heritage sites and the draft law on world heritage, which will become the solid foundation of departmental cooperation in natural and cultural heritage in the frames of the World Heritage Convention.

In November 2014, ICOMOS and ICCROM experts visited Georgia with the aim of monitoring the historical monuments of Mtskheta. Based on the monitoring, the World Heritage Centre prepared a report which was presented at the World Heritage Committee's 39th Session in June 2015, in Bonn (Germany) and related to discussions on the endangered monument status of the historical town of Mtskheta made by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 2009.

In 2014 ICOMOS Georgia completed the national policy of cultural heritage document. The document was developed in the frames of the project "Regional Cooperation for Development of Cultural Heritage" funded by the EU Eastern Partnership Culture Programme (the project was implemented by ICOMOS Georgia since May 2012, with the active cooperation of the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia). The document represents the analysis and recommendations of the objectives of the national heritage policy, as well as reviews the challenges and opportunities facing the public, government, public services and interest groups in the field of heritage protection. A review of the document and presentations were organised by ICOMOS Georgia in the different institutions and interest groups. The document was handed over to the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia to be included in the ongoing process of drafting the cultural policy document.

In 2006, protection zones of the Georgian sites on the World Heritage List were identified under the projects on cultural heritage protection zones for the historic cities of Mtskheta and Kutaisi (historic monuments of Mtskheta, Bagrat's Cathedral and Gelati Monastery). The determination of the boundaries will facilitate the further preservation of these sites. A full inventory of monuments in Mtskheta was conducted. For the first time in recent years, Georgia prepared a report on the state of conservation of monuments inscribed on the World Heritage List.

The preliminary national list of monuments proposed for inscription on the World Heritage List was updated which resulted in the number of monuments being increased from six to twelve. In 2006, work was continued for the preparation of phase 2 of the international project for stone conservation for Mtskheta Jvari (Holy Cross) Church. The project is implemented in cooperation with ICCROM, the advisory body of the International Centre of Restoration and Conservation.

The collections of Georgian written monuments were included in the UNESCO project titled "Memory of the World" in 2011. The Minister of Education and Science of Georgia and the Secretary General of the National Committee of UNESCO and the Director of the National Centre of Manuscripts held a joint briefing on this issue.

The "Memory of the World" project, developed by the National Centre of Manuscripts, was submitted to UNESCO with the support of the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia and the Secretary General of the National Committee.

The aforementioned collection reflects Georgian-Byzantine relations in the VIII- X centuries and is of huge importance for the world history of culture; the collection includes 500 manuscripts and it includes a number of unique translations of Byzantine written monuments, some of which are the only source left for history within these centuries.

Along with Georgian historical written sources, documentary monuments from Armenia, France, Kazakhstan, Portugal, The USA and Angola are on the new world manuscript list of UNESCO. The Georgian collection is the largest (see also http://www.mes.gov.ge/content.php?id=2993&lang=eng).

A burning issue is the reconstruction of Bagrath's Cathedral which may be excluded from the list of monuments protected by UNESCO (see: WHC-10/34.COM/7B.Add – pages 149-154, http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/34COM/documents).

Within and after the period of the parliamentary elections of October 2012 acute discussions have been held on the issues of protection of cultural heritage.

Such competent and experienced organisations such as ICOMOS Georgia, Association "Society and Cultural Heritage", GACC "Georgian Heritage" have expressed their anxiety about the ongoing or completed large-scale monument protection projects. The object of particular criticism is the process of restoration and rehabilitation of the old districts of the capital city Tbilisi as well as the rehabilitation operations executed within the Pilot Project on the Rehabilitation of Cultural Heritage in Historic Towns on the territory of Rabat Fortress in Akhaltsikhe, Batonistsikhe of Telavi and other projects as well as the metamorphosis of the city of Batumi.

In 2009 the National Agency for Protection of Cultural Heritage of Georgia began and in September 2012 completed the restoration and reconstruction of Bagrath's Cathedral. Unfortunately, being one of three monuments of Georgia in the UNESCO world heritage list, the Bagrath's Cathedral was put in the list of endangered monuments in 2010. Under the preliminary UNESCO report the Bagrath's Cathedral meets no longer the criteria of a world heritage. UNESCO considers that the restoration process has endangered the cathedral authenticity. In 2012 at the 36th session held in St. Petersburg UNESCO again left the Bagrath's Cathedral in the list of endangered monuments and will decide on its future status at the session to be held in 2013.

Noteworthy is that in the disregard of the opinion of the UNESCO and a big group of the Georgian experts was the result of the will and interests of some powerful players and actors, because the Assumption Cathedral built during the reign of Bagrath III (975-1014) in Kutaisi which was ruined by the Ottomans in 1692 is the symbol of the united Georgia. By the initiative of the President of Georgia in 2009 the reconstruction of this cathedral began in accelerated pace. The political decision of the government and the patriarchy's request on restoration of the divine services at the Bagrath's Cathedral has led to the ambiguous decision to dome the cathedral.

The official visit of UNESCO, ICROM and ICOMOS Joint Mission to Georgia

On the 14-15th November 2012 the UNESCO regional working sessions were successfully held in Tbilisi. The Mission's purpose was to assess the state of conservation of historical monuments located in Mtskheta and to define urgent measures and recommendations regarding the world heritage monuments of Georgia. The Mission has visited the developing areas of the historical part of Mtskheta, got familiar with the rehabilitation activities at Samtavro Burial Ground and of newly commissioned information-education centre at Mtskheta State Museum. Several meetings were held between the Mission and Local Authorities, as well as with abbots of Svetitskhoveli, Jvari and Samtavro Monasteries. The visiting programme envisaged field trips to Bagrati cathedral and Gelati Monastery. Together with activities that had already been implemented the designers of Bagrati Rehabilitation Project presented in details their views concerning planned future activities. In 2013, the experts will check the respective activities and submit a report about the visit findings both to the World Heritage Committee and the Georgian representatives. During the five-day-long visit, the Mission held business meetings with the Georgian UNESCO National Committee, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Patriarchate of Georgia. Several meetings were organised at the National Agency for Preservation of Cultural Heritage of Georgia, the Art and Architecture Board and at the Patriarchate of Georgia.

Intangible Cultural Heritage http://heritagesites.ge/?lang=eng&page=220&news=984

Georgia joined the 2003 UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2007. Meanwhile, an example of Georgian intangible heritage, namely the Georgian polyphony, was regarded as a masterpiece of world heritage before the Convention. In 2011, on the initiative of the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia and the Georgian National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation initiative, the Georgian "quevri" winemaking method of 8 000-year history was awarded the highest national monument status. On 30 March 2012 under the Presidential Decree N 257, "quevri", wide-spread all over the country from ancient times to the present, was assigned the category of intangible cultural heritage of national significance. On 4 December 2013, during the 8th session of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage, "quevri" was assigned cultural heritage status. In 2013 a Law on Intangible Cultural Heritage was drafted, which will be submitted to the Parliament for consideration.

Protection of Georgian cultural heritage existing in the territory of historical Tao-Klarjeti in Turkey is one of the strategic objectives of the new government

Throughout the year 2013, the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia and the Georgian National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation conducted lengthy and difficult negotiations with the Turkish party on execution of rehabilitation operations in the historic Tao-Klarjeti, at the most important Georgian monuments – Ishkhani and Oshki.

On 17-18 April 2013, for the first time in history, the Ishkhani monastery complex hosted the joint meeting of Georgian and Turkish experts. The Turkish party expressed its readiness to accept and consider the notes and recommendations developed by the Georgian experts. The first steps of cooperation have been taken and professional groups of Georgian and Turkish experts in the interests of antiquity will jointly develop the plan of work to be carried out in Ishkhani and Oshki. The cooperation of two countries in the field of antiquity preservation is backed up by international agreement. The parties agree that in accordance with international norms, protection of the monument and restoration of its original form should be based on accurate scientific research so as to maintain all the features of the antiquity which determine the uniqueness and historical value of the monument. As a result of the joint work of the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia and Georgian National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation, the restoration works on Ishkhani are being carried out in compliance with the standards adopted in the restoration practice. The working group has already prepared its recommendations, which will be sent to Turkey.

Mission of the Council of Europe in Georgia

In cooperation with the Council of Europe, the National Agency for Protection of Cultural Heritage of Georgia is implementing the (pilot) Project in the conflict region (Shida Kartli) – "Post-Conflict Immediate Actions for the Social and Economic Revitalisation of the Communities and the Cultural Environment in the Municipality of Gori - Georgia" PIAG.

The Project comprises three sub-components as follows:

  • Guidelines for the repair and reconstruction process of the villages in the Conflict Zone Adjacent Area;
  • A feasibility study for the rehabilitation of Nikozi Monastery and The Reference Development Plan for the Revitalisation of Nikozi Village; and
  • The Local and Regional Sustained Development Programme for Gori Municipality.

Provided that the Project is successfully implemented, the respective document prepared by the Council of Europe (and as part of the project by Georgian experts) will be submitted to potential partners and possible donors for further international funding.
http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/cultureheritage/cooperation/Kyiv/PP2/georgia_en.asp

Since 2010, under the initiative of the Council of Europe, the pilot project for rehabilitation of cultural heritage in historical cities (PP2) is being implemented. The project partners are the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia and the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Protection of Georgia.

The goal of the project is to improve the legitimate framework and management in the sphere of urban heritage, to expose the rich and diversified resources of Georgian urban heritage on the regional and international levels and to assist small and medium towns to use heritage as a factor promoting socio-economic development.

The project is of particular significance for Georgia against the background of the intensive process of rehabilitation of historical towns in the country. The leading experts of the Council of Europe have been mobilised for supporting these endeavours in the framework of the project in order to share best practices and harmonisation with European standards.

In 2010, a heritage evaluation project was prepared and the following towns selected to participate: Abastumani, Akhaltsikhe, Borjomi, Dusheti, Gori, Mestia, Telavi, Poti, Tskaltubo, and Chiatura. In 2011-2013 the next stage of the project will be implemented in those towns: detailed evaluation of the towns and identification of possible activities for rehabilitation of cultural heritage. Assessment of their anticipated effect on the local socio-economic development and elaboration of strategic intervention plans to promote the mobilisation of national and international funds and attraction of private investment will be implemented.

Traditional Georgia: Projects include an inventory of Immoveable Monuments and Sites with Monument Features in the Village of Atskuri in Akhaltsikhe District and the creation of a database. The project involved the village of Atskuri, in the Akhaltsikhe district, including students of the Georgian University of Social Sciences during their summer internship. An icon was discovered with the Crucifixion scene carved on a jasper stone set in a cloisonné enamel frame, presumably dating from the 10th-11th century. The icon was found in the grave of the Bishop of Matskveri, in the interior of the Church of the Virgin at Atskuri. This is an open search system which can be updated with information on the moveable and immoveable monuments in Georgia and abroad.

The non-governmental sector implements projects aimed at preservation and popularisation of the multinational cultural heritage. Among these are: the Project Arts Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory "Tbilisi Modernist Artistic Cafes and Their Murals - the Space of International Communication". It involves the research and conservation planning (research, analysis, documentation) of the murals of unique artistic cafes - "Argonaut's Boat" (1918) and "Khimerioni" (1919), which were the meeting places of modern artists, poets and writers. These cafes significantly expose the multinational character of Georgian Modernism. Along with the high artistic / aesthetic quality of the paintings, the conservation of these cafes is also important, as they are the only painted artistic spaces / cafes surviving from early period of modernism. The project is supported by the "Open Society Georgia" Foundation.

There are funds and non-governmental organisations in Georgia which are engaged in, and make a significant contribution to, the development of cultural heritage; these include: the Fund for the Preservation of the Cultural Heritage of Georgia, ICOM, ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) Georgia, Museum Association of Georgia, Heritage & Modernity Association, E. Privalova Painting Technical Studies Centre "Betania", Georgian Cultural Heritage Information Centre (GCHIC), and the Fund for Science "Udabno".

Private funding and sponsors: The fact that there is no special legislation for charities in the field of culture frequently hampers private charity initiatives. In spite of this, some Georgian companies periodically provide subsidies, in the form of charity, for conservation-restoration works to be conducted on an individual monument. For instance, the "Cartu Group" provided 6 million USD for the rehabilitation of the important architectural monument – the Rustaveli State Academic Theatre building.

In recent years, the private sector has allocated approximately 28 million GEL, for the restoration and rehabilitation of the buildings of public theatres: Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi State Academic Drama Theatre, Kote Marjanishvili Tbilisi State Academic Theatre, Nodar Dumbadze Theatre for Young Spectators, Michael Tumanishvili Theatre of Film Actors, Vaso Godziashvili Theatre of Musical Comedy and Drama, and the Jansug Kakhidze Musical Centre.

In Georgia, there is only one network in the field of cultural heritage – "European Heritage Days National Office", which unites the competent institutions of this field, non-governmental organisations, diplomatic missions and cultural institutions of several countries.

Libraries and Archives:Against the comparatively favorable background of development in the sphere of cultural heritage, the situation for libraries and archives is completely inadequate. The existing system has 2 089 libraries and their number is decreasing day by day (in comparison, in the Soviet period, the number of operating libraries was about 8 000). Currently libraries, with their obsolete material and technical base and methodology, do not meet the requirements of contemporary readers, whose numbers have been also decreasing. (In 2004, the number of readers decreased by 100 000, as compared with 2003, and made up 971 422).

Table 1:        Public and universal libraries in Georgia, 2001-2008

 

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006*

2007

2008

Public and universal
libraries (in units)

2 170

2 160

2 123

2 090

2 056

1726

672

824

Quantity of readers
(in thousands)

2 311.3

1 625.9

1 421.3

1 528.9

1 556.1

732.1

---

778.3

Average quantity of readers (per library)

1 065.1

752.7

669.5

731.5

761.7

424.2

---

945

Quantity of copies
(in million)

30.8

30.6

29.6

28.5

28.3

20.7

---

17.3

Quantity of workers
(persons)

4 278

4 044

3 819

3 730

3 727

3 408

N/A

N/A

Source:    Ministry of Culture, Monument Protection, State Department for Statistics of Georgia

Note:       Not including the data on Ajara Autonomous Republic.

Most of the libraries in Georgia are responsible to the local authorities, but their supervision, especially the central libraries, falls within the competence of the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia. School libraries (2 100 units) are responsible to the Ministry of Education and Science. The financing of the library sphere is the weakest and the librarian's salary is one of the lowest nationwide. This has resulted in the outflow of personnel and complicates the inflow of new high-skilled workers.

The preservation of archival cultural heritage is vested in the National Book Chamber, which holds more than 1 600 000 titles. The Chamber's role is to prepare the national bibliography and to store, in the archives, all editions dedicated to the culture, history and achievements of Georgia.

The National Archive Fund, which was established for the extended use and improvement of the centralised register of documents created by the state authorities, is also engaged in the protection of the cultural heritage.

Examples of good practice in the field of cultural heritage protection

Minority Cultural Heritage Protection

The Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia, the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia and the Bolnisi municipality intend to work closely with a newly founded German Cultural Heritage Preservation Association in the South Caucasus. This organisation will have its head office in Tbilisi and will promote the Georgian side as much as possible to protect the German cultural heritage existing in the country in line with the scientific activities and research projects, restoration of historic structures, old objects and manuscripts, as well as promotion of German media and publications related to this region in the South Caucasus.

Bethlehem District Festival

On May 17, 2013, as a result of the Bethlehem Revitalisation Project jointly implemented by ICOMOS-Georgia and the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage Georgia, in the restored and renovated old street in Tbilisi, the fourth traditional festival of the Bethlehem District was held. The Bethlehem Festival was founded by ICOMOS GEO on 17 May 2010, Norway's Independence Day, to express gratitude to this country for the close cooperation. The Bethlehem District has been restored and rehabilitated based on the comprehensive research and in compliance with all criteria set in accordance with the International Convention for the Protection of Monuments.

Rehabilitation of Norasheni

In October 2014, reconstruction started on the Norasheni Cathedral, dated XVIII century, which had been in poor condition for many years. The Norasheni rehabilitation project documents were prepared in 2012 with funding from the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia. So far, reinforcement of the foundations has been carried out along the total perimeter of the cathedral and in the interior, which will guarantee the survival of the monument. In 2015 the constructive pre-tensioning of Norasheni facades and full conservation of the monument are being carried out. The Norasheni rehabilitation is funded by the Cartu Foundation for Protection and Survival of Historical Monuments.

Restitution of Georgian cinema heritage

On 30 September 2014 a memorandum between the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia and the Russian Federation State Film Fund "Gosfilmofond" was signed, under which the “Gosfilmofund” agreed to hand over to Georgia the Georgian films produced during the period from 1916 to 1990 that are stored in the Fund archives. "Gosfilmofond" is the world's largest archive, which houses film masterpieces produced by all of the countries united in the former USSR, including Georgian films. The initiative in connection with the transfer of the films to the Georgian party originated before the disintegration of the Soviet Union, in the 1990’s, however, despite many efforts over the years by the Georgian filmmakers, the initiative has not been implemented until now. The full list of the items of interest to Georgia has been already been transferred. The restitution of the Georgian film archives stored in Gosfilmofond will take 5 years. The transfer will start from 2015 step-by-step. Georgian will receive the films in a positive format, which will enable their transfer into any digital format, and in this way, to create film archives of international modern standards in Georgia.

Diagnosis of the ancient Georgian manuscripts

In 2014, the research project "The Diagnosis of Ancient Georgian Plated Monuments (XI-XIII centuries’ Georgian manuscripts)" was initiated, which provides for the detailed examination, diagnosis and determination of conservation methods of the manuscripts stored in the National Centre of Manuscripts for their further conservation, protection and promotion. The project will last for 6 months and will be conducted with the participation of an Italian art conservator and a Georgian gemmologist. As a result, the damages will be assessed professionally and the methodology of conservation will be determined. A bilingual report will be prepared on the project. The project is being implemented with financing from the US Embassy in Georgia.

New large-scale projects of rehabilitation of cultural heritage (Mutso / Dartlo / Chazhashi / Vardzia) are in progress

On 31 July 2015, a presentation of new projects in the field of cultural heritage was held in the Radisson Hotel. The importance of these projects is manifested in the unity and interest revealed by the Government of Georgia under the leadership of the Prime Minister. The event was attended by the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, the Minister of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia, the head of the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, as well as the Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure, the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, the Minister of Agriculture and other officials and experts in the field. The Head of the Georgian Government reported the launching of a monument survival programme in the frames of which the rehabilitation of unique architectural complexes will be implemented. Large-scale projects were presented – the rehabilitation of Mutso, Dartlo and Chazhashi and the emergency programme of Vardzia’s survival. The projects are implemented by the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia. All professional standards of compliance, methodology, project documentation and monitoring will be applied.

Problems in the field of cultural heritage

Serious gaps still remain in the field of cultural heritage, the majority of which are the result of an absence of governmental vision and underestimation of the heritage objects. As with previous governments, there is a serious contradiction between economic interest and cultural heritage protection.

In 2013 the Ministry of the Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia initiated the amendments to the Law on Cultural Heritage, the sole aim of which is to ease the removal of the status of monument so as to attract investment for concrete construction projects. To solve the problem the Parliament was approached by the ICOMOS Georgian representation. ICOMOS Georgia's Comments on the New Governmental Initiative on the Amendment to the Law of Georgia on Cultural Heritage are: "The proposed amendment, which states that "in particular cases when the need of national importance exists, the monument status may be removed from a monument (except for the monuments put in the list of national category and / or in the World Heritage List), with the consent of the Ministry under the presentation of an agency entitled to initiate a draft legal act, to the government of Georgia, under the resolution of the Georgian government", contradicts the essence of the Law on Cultural Heritage - the protection of heritage". "...This means that the cultural heritage of the country will no longer be considered a significant potential for social and economic development of the country and its citizens, which in turn is essentially inconsistent with the obligations undertaken by signing the international conventions of the UN and the Council of Europe." For more information see: http://rcchd.icomos.org.ge/?l=E&m=3&id=102.

Despite many protests by professional societies, the bill has not been revoked by the Parliament. The Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection plays the role of a passive observer and does not address any effective measures to implement its mission.

The obvious example of sacrificing the environment and cultural heritage for economic interest is the removal of the status of movable monument of cultural heritage from Sakdrisi-Kachagiani, the oldest goldmine (dating back to the end of the 4th millennia – beginning of 3rd millennia BC; it is 5400 years old and is considered to be the oldest in the world) and is owned by the gold mining company RMG Gold.

For more information, see
European Heritage Network: Country profile Georgia


Chapter published: 26-01-2016

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