Georgia’s France Ambassador stresses “a lot of work” being done on Leuville estate following social media post on dilapidated conditions

Gotcha Javakhishvili, Georgia’s newly appointed Ambassador to France, on Thursday responded to controversies over Leuville estate. Photo: Foreign Ministry press office, 06 Jan 2023 - 17:28, Tbilisi,Georgia

Gotcha Javakhishvili, Georgia’s newly appointed Ambassador to France, on Thursday stressed “a lot of work” was being done for restoring the historic Leuville estate in the country and its items of historical significance, in a response to a social media post that appeared to show photographs of disorderly conditions and negligence over items at the venue on Monday.

Javakhishvili was responding to a post by Georgian citizen Tamar Baramashvili, who posted photographs showing conditions in sections of the estate that was handed to Georgia in 2016, in recognition of its historical significance as the residence of the Government-in-exile of the First Democratic Republic that fled the 1921 Soviet invasion of Georgia and settled in France.

Showing documents, books and other items of apparent historical significance strewn amid random objects in the chateau attic, as well as areas of the venue showing their disrepair and dishevelled look, the author of the post also claimed “disintegration” in a part of the estate and said water was leaking into the building.

The Ambassador said the “entire territory” of the estate had been “declared a completely forbidden zone” by French authorities, preventing rehabilitation efforts on the venue before the completion of updates to its general plan, which he said had taken the past two years.

He added publicising the conditions in the attic of the building on the backdrop of the “actual start of rehabilitation” in the estate and its buildings was “distorting the objective, complete picture” of circumstances.

Javakhishvili detailed steps completed for preserving items from the main building during the upcoming rehabilitation works, such as the setting up of a library behind the main venue for housing catalogued books and publications from the chateau. He said none of the books pictured in their neglected condition in the attic in the social media post were original samples and added “nothing of particular significance” was now found in the section of the building.

The diplomat acknowledged the estate - with its chateau built in the 17th and 18th centuries - was in “very grave condition”, a state he said was recognised by all parties involved in the process of restoring it since the 2016 handover. He also added “no technical documentation existed” for the building following the historic agreement six years ago.

In his comments, the Ambassador also noted the Covid pandemic had interfered with the process of bringing the venue into order by a year and a half, and noted complications for the Georgian Culture Ministry remotely managing the process, as well as the €5.6 million spent on the project.

Javakhishvili’s comments follow a response by the Ministry, which on Wednesday dismissed claims over neglect of historical materials and infrastructure at the historic Leuville estate in France as “misleading”, and detailed ongoing moves to preserve the site.

It claimed the body’s representatives had completed cataloguing the items found throughout the 4.5-hectare estate and were now sorting the archival materials. The state office said the materials had been kept in “poor conditions for decades”, and stressed “only a section” of historical Georgian periodicals remained in the attic while their copies had been transferred to a safe space in the chateau.

Photographs of the members of the exiled 1918-1921 Georgian Government on a wall of the Leuville Chateau. Photo: Ministry of Justice of Georgia.

In comments over the leaking roof that had gradually damaged the attic and other parts of the building, the Ministry said it had allocated funds for repair works before the planned complete renovation of the venue, with repairs expected to begin late this year, following the completion of mandatory bureaucratic procedures proscribed by the French legislation. 

It also added emptying the attic and other parts of the chateau and removing asbestos material from the building was planned for this year, before the start of the renovation work.

Georgia’s connection with the estate began in 1921, after the then-Chairman of the Government Noe Zhordania, Government members and a handful of representatives and their families boarded the French ship Ernest Renan to escape the Soviet invasion of Georgia in February of that year. 

Settling in Leuville, near Paris, about 30 Georgian exiles lived in 15 flats inside the chateau of the estate, facing material hardship over the years.

The 4.5-hectare estate in the town of  Leuville located 37 kilometres south of Paris, was handed to Georgia in 2016. Photo: National Archives of Georgia.

In 2011 France agreed in principle to transfer ownership of the estate to Georgia after it was officially recognised as a place of historical importance for the country, with the process accelerated in the mid-2010s and culminating in 2016.

Georgian authorities’ plans for the Leuville estate involve transforming it into a cultural and research site for young historians from the country. 

A Georgian cultural house will join an academy venue, museum and archival spaces, a library, a conference hall and other facilities in the space of the estate to form a “Georgian multiprofile cultural and educational centre in Europe".

In the most recent developments in the plans, the Ministry revealed the design of the house - built after the type of traditional oda family residences used in Georgia’s west - in September.