A historic castle in the small French village of Leuville could soon become property of Georgia in recognition of the country’s connection to the site.
The castle in Leuville-sur-Orge, located about 30km south of Paris, is symbolic for Georgia as the first independent government of Georgia in exile settled there in 1921.
For this reason, the area is described by some as "small Georgia”.
Today Georgia’s State Minister for Diaspora Issues Gela Dumbadze said the Georgian Government had allocated €107,000 (285,000 GEL) to settle all details involving transfer of ownership of the estate to Georgia.
Dumbadze said this money was need for the estate assessment and diagnostic works, which was necessary for the property to be handed over.
A special commission, which included Georgia’s Justice Minister Thea Tsulukiani, was established to oversee the transfer of property ownership. Dumbadze said this commission would soon meet in France for the final phase of the work process.
"An agreement on the function of the estate has also been reached,” the State Minister said.
"[It] will be a Villa Medici type of organisation where Georgian Masters and PhD students will be able to deliver speeches and write dissertations on Georgian-French cultural and scientific topics, on a rotation principle,” he said.
"This is 5,000 square kilometers in the heart of Europe,” he added.
Leuville is more famous in Georgia than in France because of its symbolic and historic importance.
The village is a must-visit place when Georgian officials visit France, as the first head of the government of independent Georgia, Noe Zhordania, died and was buried there after he took refuge in France when the Bolsheviks gained power.
In 1921, three years after Georgia proclaimed independence, the Red Army invaded Georgia. The Georgian Parliament gathered in Batumi and voted to exile the government, who were granted political asylum in France.
On March 18, 1921 then-chairman of the government Zhordania, government members and a handful of Georgian representatives and their families boarded the Ernest Renan ship and sailed to Paris, where they founded the Georgian Association in France.
Life in Leuville was difficult for the Georgians; there was no water or electricity supply and money quickly vanished. So did the hope of returning to their homeland.
At the time about thirty Georgian emigrants lived in 15 flats inside the castle and shared a common lounge.
To earn money Zhordania and government members were forced to grow vegetables to sell. They grew local vegetables but also Georgian red beans and Russian pickles that were later sold in Parisian markets.
After 80 years the first attempts were made to transfer ownership of the estate to Georgia and the Georgian people. On May 23, 2011 local and Georgian representatives signed an agreement to hand over the Leuville castle to Georgia however the official transfer of ownership has not happened yet.
For many Georgian generations, Leuville castle has been a symbol of resistance and aspiration for freedom.