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Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

Ankvab promises compromise on high-rise construction in Sukhum

Last Friday, President Alexander Ankvab addressed the protests that erupted in December (as covered by ApsnyPress and EkhoKavkaza) over the construction of a 14-storey mixed-use building in the Sinop neighbourhood of Sukhum, along the Kodor highway. Opponents of the plan, led by publicist Nadezhda Venediktova, pointed out that a previous convocation of the City Council had imposed a 16 metre limit on new edifices in historic parts of town, which Venediktova has forcefully argued Sinop qualifies as (the neighbourhood was named after the Battle of Sinop, and after the Second World War housed German scientists like Manfred von Ardenne, Gustav Ludwig Hertz and Peter Adolf Thiessen working on the Soviet project to create a nuclear bomb). They called upon the developers of the site to abandon the current plans and construct three 5-storey buildings instead.

The current controversy matches and provides a concrete target for existing anger in Sukhum that the peaceful, historic character of the city is being squandered, mostly through the illegal demolition and anachronistic renovation of historic buildings — although of course it does not help when historic buildings also burn down, like the 1915 Post Office Building in the night of 30 and 31 January 2012.

The issue became sufficiently acute that on 21 December, the Public Chamber organised an inquiry into the matter. In it, City Mayor Alias Labakhua declared that the City Council had not had the authority to limit new buildings to a height of 16 metres.

Now, in his press conference on 18 January, President Ankvab declared that he in general dislikes high-rise buildings, and that he has spoken to the builder, who has agreed to limit the height of the complex to 6 to 8 floors.

In a way, the current episode is typical for Abkhazian politics. When controversy breaks out over some issue, the government will step in and try to take away whatever has aroused the public ire. On the one hand, in cases like the current one, this is undoubtedly a good thing. On the other hand, it cannot compensate for the government’s general weakness in tackling deeper lying problems. In the case at hand, while the developers may have been convinced to scale down their plans, it would have been better if this had happened not so much because the public demand for a 16-metre building limit happens to coincide with the personal preference of the President, but because it had taken the form of a binding piece of legislation.

Filed under: Abkhazia, , , ,

Saakashvili says Georgia will really be like Dubai in seven years time

In President Saakashvili’s own words, on Monday the 21st:

“It is said about me that I love exaggerating.”

Quite right. For example, Saakashvili has frequently predicted rose-coloured futures for Georgia’s economy. And so he went again last Monday:

“I have recently been in Dubai and I want to tell you without any exaggeration […] I can say without any hyperbolization, that if Georgia continues developing like it does now, we’ll be there, where Dubai is now in five, six, or seven years.”

According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2009 Georgia’s GDP (PPP) per capita was 4,757 dollar, and that of the United Arab Emirates 36,537. It does not give the specific GDP per capita of Dubai, but if anything, that will only be higher. There are several other way’s to measure a country’s development, some of which are perhaps more essential than GDP, but these show a similar picture.

The Idea that Georgia can bridge its gap with Dubai in seven years time is fantastic. Saakashvili’s insistence that he is not exaggerating or ‘hyperbolising’ only serve to make his statements even more laughable.

If this were all, we could just dismiss Saakashvili’s comments as symptomatic for his love for exaggeration. But his stated aim for Georgia to emulate Dubai, and a similar statement on the 15th that Singapore should serve as a model for Georgia are also a cause for worry. While Dubai and Singapore have enjoyed great economic success, their societies are in many ways deeply illiberal. For Dubai, this was described last year in an excellent article by The Independent’s Johann Hari.

Let’s hope Saakashvili really wasn’t serious.

Filed under: Dubai, Georgia, Singapore, , , , , ,

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