TBILISI, DFWatch – On Dadiani Street in northern Tbilisi near Didube metro, there is a big old park called Kikvidze Park.
Here, the government has decided to build another one of Georgia’s characteristic transparent glass police stations. A protest was launched against the plans, with people working shifts to protect it.
But lumber workers managed to sneak in at night and cut down 14 trees, some of them eucalyptus trees. After this, activists started spending the whole night there to defend the trees.
Today will be the second night activists interrupt work to cut down the remaining 60 or more trees.
Tengiz (69) told DF Watch that he has lived in this district for a long time and the park always played a central role in the lives of the locals. He says the park has some rare species of trees that have healing power.
He showed us the old abandoned buildings in Kikvidze Park. One of them used to be a theatre in Soviet times, another one was used for stands to exhibit collectables. Now they are empty, windows broken, there are crack on the walls, which are all painted over with graffiti.
“They could just abandon or at least reconstruct these old buildings. Why cut the trees? Isn’t here enough space to build another police station? And why on earth do we need so many police stations in the city?” Tengiz asks.
He remembers that long ago there was a cemetery in this place, but later it was decided to build a park. His father participated in the process, so he says ‘it’s really painful for him to watch the trees die.’
Local groups, independent artists, locals and other interested people and activists started a protest in the fenced off area set aside for the new building.
Today Greenpeace Supporters Group, Georgian Dream’s youth wing, students and other groups started gathering from 17:30 on Wednesday.
They wrote messages on the tarmac with chalk asking that the trees are saved and that clearance work is stopped.
Artists brought posters with illustrations as a sign of protest against the cutting of trees.
There are still logs laying around in the park from trees cut the previous days. At nearly 19:00 in the evening several workers with electric saws come into the park, saying nothing but going directly over to the logs, and attempt to cut them into smaller pieces and take them away.
However the protesters interrupt them and demand that the trees are left there.
“We know it won’t save them, however it’s a matter of principle and you just make these people gathered here mad. Leave those trees alone and let the locals take them away,” one of the organizers appeal to the worker.
Artists brought posters with illustrations.
The workers claimed they were from some independent company and they were ordered to cut the logs. At first, the activists made the workers leave. However they came back together with a man claiming to be head of the company, but he refused to say the name.
He said his company is ordered to clear the area and the workers are doing their job. Activists negotiated with him, promising that they would come the next day and take the logs away.
However, in a couple of minutes the police filled up the entrance of the park ordering workers to go back and do their work, which made the activists angry.
They decided to sit on each of the logs that were to be cut and not let the workers to cut them. This turned into a cat-and-mouse game with workers running from one log to the next with activists competing against time to sit down on the next log to be cut.
Finally the workers left, one of them murmured to himself “cut, not cut – as if they pay me to do this.”
“Our demand is to stop cutting the trees in Kikvidze Park and rescind the construction permit,” Lasha Chkhartishvili, Conservative Party member and founder of Greenpeace Supporters Group says.
“Neither a police station nor any other building should be built in the park. Here should be more trees, more opportunity for children to relax, for their future health.”
The Georgian Ministry of Environment says that it is not responsible for this park. It is the responsibility of the Energy Ministry.
As part of Georgia’s police reforms, there has been built police stations in every district of the capital. New police stations are built mostly with a glass exterior to make them transparent as a way of showing symbolically that the police force is transparent.
Campaigners say this it the third time trees have been cut down in order to build a police station.