Georgia: Whither the City of Lazika?
As several Georgians joked after the game-changing October 1 parliamentary election, “We now have a new government to struggle to get rid of.” But in an historic first for Georgia, that government-to-come may not prove so new.
President Mikheil Saakashvili remains at the helm until October 2013, meaning that he and the leader of the victorious Georgian Dream coalition, Bidzina Ivanishvili (who does not have a seat in parliament), are stuck with each other for another year.
The two men's differences are many, but one thing unites them -- a taste for the kind of post-modern, glass buildings that might come to mind after watching too many reruns of Star Trek. Yet even while united, they are divided at heart.
Ivanishvili was never excited about the president's project to move the parliament out of Tbilisi, and into a rotund, glass-fish-tank-style building in Kutaisi, Georgia's second-largest city. This battle, though, goes to Saakashvili. With parliament's October 22 opening just a few weeks away, there's not much the Georgian Dream can do about it now.
Ivanishvili also was never a fan of the glass Bridge of Peace -- a centerpiece of Saakashvili’s personal Grands Travaux campaign -- which connects the banks of Tbilisi's Mtkvari River.
But at a time when compromise is widely seen as the way forward for Georgia, following-up on calls to pull down the bridge -- or even giving it a few whacks with a sledgehammer -- may not send the best signal right now.
He also has criticized both the form and the content of the glass, egg-domed presidential palace, a structure the billionaire can see from across town in his own cosmic, hillside residence of glass and steel. But the election results themselves might prove his best response here.
In the end, the only likely big architectural victim of Georgia's changed political reality is going to be the Black-Sea city of Lazika, a metropolis that mostly still only exists in President Saakashvili’s head. Just recently, work began on building a “charter city," complete with skyscrapers and ports that, supposedly, will blow everyone’s mind.
Ivanishvili said yesterday that Lazika is not going to happen and that state resources should be spent on other, more pressing matters. Saakashvili's reaction is not known.
Lazika may be missed by some, but if Georgia’s newfound enthusiasm for political coexistence holds strong, there might be a chance in future for actual debate about the feasibility of the government's various building projects. Those who have ridden the empty shuttle train to/from the Tbilisi airport know what we mean.