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From Tree to Garden, Is the Tbilisi Botanical Garden to be Ivanishvili’s Next Hobby?

A conflict occurred at National Botanical Garden of Georgia, formerly Tbilisi Botanical Garden, between members of political opposition party the United National Movement (UNM) and administration representatives, on Tuesday.

The UNM members held a briefing for media at the garden claiming that former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has plans to take a part of the Botanical Garden in order to unite it with his residency on Sololaki Hill, Tbilisi. The Administration said the UNM information is inaccurate.

One of the UNM leaders, Nika Melia, and Tbilisi City Hall member Irakli Abesadze, presented a number of contrary arguments revealing City Hall’s announced auction over 19-hectare land within the Botanical Garden that will end on May 3. The opposition declares with certainty that the auction winner will be Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The core theme that brought over a thousand citizens together at City Hall on Tuesday was an unhidden attempt to sell territory which has the status of Protected Area. Irakli Likvinadze, a Deputy Mayor of Tbilisi, explained on TV Channel Rustavi 2 Tuesday night that the deal aims to develop the area in order to increase tourism potential and make it economically profitable.

Environmentalists rigorously opposed the proposal, calling it unwise and dangerous for the environment of Tbilisi, which is already, as they say, facing an ecological catastrophe. Environmental experts say that City Hall lacks not only arguments to sell the area, but also the right and competency to claim a monopoly on the territory. They declared that the territory is categorized as a Protected Area and it must not be sold to a private owner. City Hall refutes the claim.

Abesadze debated the matter with Likvinadze, accusing Tbilisi’s local government of an illegal decision that will damage everyone except the particular business that will purchase it. Abesadze called City Hall inept and claimed that it mismanages most of the projects carried out in the city. “This should not be tolerated,” he said.

Following the public outcry, ‘Finservice XXI’, an Ivanishvili-owned company which already bought a part of the botanical garden, released a statement saying they were given a piece of land which is not economically lucrative. Instead, “the company has invested several million, since 2007, in developing a land plot purchased from City Hall,” the statement maintained.

At Tuesday’s protest, former candidate for the Tbilisi Mayer’s office, Nika Melia, told media that the protest will continue unless the decision of City Hall is turned around. He announced a wider rally against Davit Narmania, the Mayor and his team, in order not to let them ‘sell Tbilisi’ all to ‘one billionaire,’ by which he clearly meant Ivanishvili.

“This is not a mere demand from a single party, but comes from all society,” Irakli Abesadze declared. He said it is their unconditional demand that the auction on the Botanical Garden be canceled. According to Abesadze, Ivanishvili should not be granted an exclusive right on the territory, where a new Krtsanisi-Shindisi road was to be constructed.

Tbilisi Botanical Garden is not the sole issue Bidzina Ivanishvili is criticized over- joining Panorama Tbilisi, which incorporates construction of a business center in the heart of Tbilisi that will be connected to a residential and business zone behind Ivanishvili’s residence by cable car. A number of protests have been held against the decision made by the local government of Tbilisi in support of the project. Professionals in the field of architecture and the environment believe that the project has no potential to serve the public good, but only a private business interest.

As for the latest Botanical Garden issue, Tbilisi City Hall unwaveringly says that the auction will not be canceled.

Will Ivanishvili, the largest shareholder in Georgia, be allowed to purchase part of the Botanical Garden for his own private use in the name of tourism development?

Zviad Adzinbaia

Photo: Spiegel.de

29 April 2016 15:42