Cablegate: Georgia: Wwii Memorial Relocation in Kutaisi Ends

DE RUEHSI #2277/01 3570532
O 230532Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

TBILISI 00002277 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary/Comment: The planned relocation of a
bronze Soviet-era memorial and destruction of its backdrop
took a tragic turn when the explosion designed to demolish
the backdrop killed two and injured others. The memorial was
removed to make way for the construction of a new parliament
building to accommodate a plan to move some parliamentary
functions from Tbilisi to Kutaisi sometime in the future. A
mother and 11 year old child were killed and several others
sustained injuries from the flying debris. President
Saakashvili immediately sacked the governor of the region but
the ham-handed handling of the whole affair has given Russian
critics more rhetorical fodder and sparked some small scale
protests. Drawing on incorrect information that the whole
memorial was slated to be demolished, Russian news sources
have criticized Georgia's plans for the past few weeks.
Kutaisi residents seem to be at a loss as to why and how the
monument was destroyed and question the hasty nature in which
the episode transpired. End Summary/Comment.

The Memorial at Issue

2. (U) The memorial consisted of a monument of a horseman
and a 46 meter high backdrop commemorating those who fought
against Nazis in WWII. According to MFA officials, the
horseman was slated to be moved to a new site while the
backdrop, a large stone wall, was to be destroyed. The
relocation/destruction project was necessitated by a GoG
decision to move some parliamentary functions to Georgia's
economically depressed second city, Kutaisi, in order to
stimulate economic and political activity in the region.
According to press reports, the Russian MFA issued statements
in advance of the relocation/destruction condemning the
decision calling it "disrespectful" to WWII veterans. Local
opposition groups in Kutaisi objected to the decision to
relocate/destroy the memorial without taking into
consideration the local population's views or the views of
memorial designer Merab Berdzenishvili. The Georgian MFA
issued a statement on December 18, criticizing the Russian
statement and its "immoral habit of permanently interfering
in other countries' internal affairs."

What Happened - Why

3. (U) On December 18, the horseman was removed for
relocation to a different site and workers placed explosives
at the bottom of the 46 meter backdrop. Local residents were
supposed to have been evacuated, but not all got the message
leaving a number in the area of the explosion. Flying debris
struck nearby dwellings and residents injuring a number of
people and killing a mother and her 11-year-old daughter.
Local journalist Keti Berdzenishvili (Radio Dzveli Kalaki)
told Emboff that local residents were highly critical of what
they viewed as a hasty, secretive decision to demolish the
memorial and obvious disregard for proper safety measures.
Nato Gubeladze (Newspaper P.S.) told Poloff that residents
support the relocation of Parliament to Kutaisi but are of
the general opinion that the monument and new Parliament
building could easily have fit without destroying the
monument. Gubeladze noted that she had not met a single
resident who supported the destruction of the monument.
Gubeladze added that the memorial was in terrible physical
shape but the decision to destroy it was at odds with local
authorities' promises to restore the monument and surrounding

The Aftermath

4. (U) The press reported that President Saakashvili cut
Q4. (U) The press reported that President Saakashvili cut
short his trip to Copenhagen to return to Georgia and
immediately sacked the governor of Imereti region (where
Kutaisi is located), Mikheil Chogovadze. Presidential
spokesperson, Manana Mangaladze confirmed the dismissal was
related to the "tragic incidents" but provided no further
context. Chief prosecutor Murtaz Zodelava commented that
"(a)ccording to the preliminary information, safety measures
were not met" and stated that an investigation had been
launched. The chief technician of SakPetkMretsvi, the
demolition company hired to do the work, already has been
arrested. The Georgian press publicized the statement from
the Russian MFA calling the demolition "an act of state
vandalism, insulting the feeling of any civilized person."
It continued to call the destruction "a disgraceful act by
the current leadership in Tbilisi in its maniacal drive to
erase historical memories of its own people." The Georgian
MFA has not released any statement since the explosion and
the GoG has remained largely silent on the incident.

Protests Take a Strange Turn

TBILISI 00002277 002.2 OF 002

5. (U) A small group of non-parliamentary opposition
protesters led by former PM Zurab Noghaideli (For Fair
Georgia), Salome Zourabichvili (Georgia's Way), Koba
Davitashvili (People's Party) and Gubaz Sanikidze (National
Forum) traveled to Kutaisi to protest the decision to
dismantle the monument. Speakers called on the GoG to
restore the memorial and build an Orthodox church on the site
to commemorate the death of the mother and child.
Controversy erupted when a number of local Kutaisi residents
started shouting at the Tbilisi-based opposition speakers not
to "politicize" the issue for their own purposes and heckled
them, telling them to return to Tbilisi. Journalist
Berdzenishvili said there were more opposition activists at
the sight than Kutaisi residents.

© Scoop Media

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