Thursday, April 29, 2010
Building for Victory
In a month’s time, people in Tbilisi will be electing a new mayor, and in the run-up to the polls, parts of the Georgian capital are being refurbished at remarkable speed. Roads are being repaired, historic neighbourhoods renovated, and across the Mtkvari river which flows through the Georgian capital, a new pedestrian bridge is being built - a huge modernist slug of glass and metal called the Peace Bridge (see photo above). Critics say it’s an oversized monstrosity, but according to President Mikheil Saakashvili, its architecture is “a symbol of Georgia’s transition from the past to a better future”, demonstrating how this country is becoming part of contemporary European civilisation.
People here often like to give monuments satirical nicknames, like the Soviet-era concrete arches (now demolished) which used to be known as ‘Andropov’s Ears’, in tribute to the former Communist leader Yuri Andropov. Some people refer to the glass dome which sits atop Saakashvili’s Reichstag-style presidential palace as ‘Misha’s Egg’, while the Georgian nickname for the bizarre but magnificent former Transport Ministry building on the edge of the capital is too obscene to publish here. And the new Peace Bridge? Due to its shape, which somewhat resembles a giant sanitary towel, scurrilous jokers in Tbilisi are already calling it ‘Always Ultra’.
Sceptics have been complaining that funds are being invested in sprucing up the urban environment just before a crucial election, and at a time when many commercial construction projects have been put on hold due to the continuing effects of the global financial crisis and the post-war economic slump here. But the authorities are determined to give Tbilisi a make-over and reverse some of its post-Soviet decay, and - politics aside - there’s little doubt that some neglected districts of the city centre will look more attractive in the months to come. Whether the money is being well-spent, however, is up to the voters to decide.