Vake Park Protest, August 2014
In November 2013, Tbilisi residents came together in a most unusual way. They were answering Twitter and facebook messages which told them that a construction company was about to start digging a vast hole in the forests of Vake Park, the city’s most precious green space. A construction company had done a dubious deal with the city council which allowed them to build a luxury, seven-storey hotel right there on public land. Thanks to a vigilant few who alerted the others via social media, hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds converged on the site and blocked the diggers before they could do too much damage. The people then defied the police. Many of them stayed on after that first confrontation, braving the freezing winter and taking turns to keep watch over the site. Meanwhile campaign leaders started raising money to take the builders to court.
When I went to Tbilisi several months later, the protesters were still there. In the interim, scores of fellow travellers had created a wonderful freemasonry of backpackers and cyclists and idealists and wanderers, each of them dropping in and sleeping out for a few days or weeks or even months, lending their support to the self-styled Guerrilla Gardeners who were making so much noise in a good cause. Nick Davitashvili (pictured a few times above, and speaking if you click on the amplifier to the left) was one of the campaign’s leaders. A gentle giant and IT expert with two young children of his own, Nick is also a passionate conservationist. On a scorching day when the soil was dry as dust, I went to meet him at the camp. Walking across the park, I saw for myself how many people were enjoying the shade of the pungent pines and other trees. Nick told me it is vital that the sprawling, polluted city protects its lungs. In summer Tbilisi becomes one of the hottest places on earth. He emphasised that the protest had always been peaceful, and pointed out the fence surrounding the interrupted excavations. It was covered with children’s pictures made during one of the many social activities he and his friends have organised to keep the issue alive. Others include inviting children to plant flowers and vegetables in the crater: a most disarming resistance. Then there were the eco-sculptures: bird boxes, tree houses and other installations put up by those who want to make their point by civilised, non-harmful and witty means. See more here.
Click on the
to hear Nick
talking to me for 30 mins about the Vake Park protest.