Campaign to Save Gudiashvili Square – Case Study

This case study presents the “Save Gudiashvili Square” campaign implemented by Tiflis Hamkari from 2009–2015. Tiflis Hamkari is a non-governmental organization founded in 2005; one of its primary goals is to preserve the cultural heritage of Tbilisi. After discovering several damaging actions taking place related to monuments of cultural heritage around Gudiashvili Square — a significant urban area of the city — the organization began campaigning to protect the square.

During the first phase, Tbilisi Municipality and the Tbilisi Development Foundation on one side and Tiflis Hamkari on the other were in opposition to each other. The subject of the dispute was the plans for the future of Gudiashvili Square. The Tbilisi Development Foundation wanted to sell its property on the square at a high profit and in doing so, was ready to jeopardize the cultural heritage of the buildings, something that was absolutely unacceptable for protectors of cultural heritage.

The Protect Gudiashvili Square campaign lasted for 9–10 years and can be divided into three phases, all of which faced different challenges. Despite encountering frequent setbacks, the organization did not give up and the campaign eventually yielded positive results. The campaign was one of the longest continuous campaigns of urban activism in Tbilisi’s history.

The purpose of this material for developing campaign strategies is to highlight important issues like:

  • Quick reaction to changes of context during a campaign, identification of new challenges, and making changes to a pre-planned campaign;
  • Mobilization of a critical mass for the success of a campaign, maintaining a balance of interests, and campaign diversification by introducing different formats and actors;
  • Participation of politicians in a civic movement and balancing the political context.

This case study was compiled by Tamar Amashukeli for the Centre for Training and Consultancy (CTC).

  1. Background

For years, maintenance of Georgia’s urban heritage, its role within the urban context, as well as its potential for economic development has not been appropriately addressed. This led to the almost full depreciation of urban networks of historic and cultural importance in Georgia’s historic towns, and also to the destruction of specific cultural objects and the environment in general. In order to make savings and raise budget funds, state agencies have taken an inadequate approach towards monuments of cultural heritage — sometimes displaying complete ignorance towards them — while implementing investment and development projects in historic parts of towns.

Civic initiatives and organizations focused on promoting cultural heritage and its protection in Georgia are neither numerous nor strong enough. One of the most successful and best-known campaigns to protect urban heritage was the campaign to save Gudiashvili Square conducted by Tiflis Hamkari, a union of individuals caring for Tbilisi.

NGO Tiflis Hamkari

Tiflis Hamkari was registered as a non-entrepreneurial legal entity on March 31, 2005, and its goal is to care for the city. This includes preserving, protecting, and restoring the city’s cultural heritage, restoring forgotten city traditions, engaging in the decision-making process on a municipal level, increasing awareness of and promoting city culture amongst the public, implementing social and cultural projects, promoting Georgia’s historic cultural traditions, developing and implementing educational programs, publication and printing activity, and monitoring local government agencies.

Since 2005, the organization has conducted several campaigns, including educational activities such as public lectures, educational tours, TV programs, exhibitions, and competitions, and research projects, including revising implemented and planned rehabilitation projects in the city, analysing changes in the law on cultural heritage, and providing recommendations on funding cultural heritage. For years, the organization has tried to engage in all processes linked to cultural heritage, both on the local and the central levels.

One of the most important directions the organization has taken is planning and implementing awareness and protest campaigns for at-risk cultural heritage objects.

Gudiashvili Square

Gudiashvili Square is one of the most important centres in Tbilisi’s old town and is a favourite gathering place for local residents. It is an ensemble of buildings from the second half of the XIX Century and the XX Century and still maintains high authenticity both in terms of architecture as well as planning. There are around 11 buildings of the same height around the square. Only two of these are new, while the others are old, with historic significance and historic heritage status.

  1. The Campaign to save Gudiashvili Square

The campaign to save Gudiashvili Square conducted by Tiflis Hamkari from 2009–2018 can be divided into three stages. The main goal uniting the three phases of the campaign was:

Adequate development of Gudiashvili Square and surrounding cultural heritage objects with a focus on preservation and maintenance.

All three phases of the campaign had different objectives to reach the overall goal.

Phase I: Protect Gudiashvili Square, 2009–2011. Objective: collecting and spreading information and expanding the circle of engaged people;
Phase II: Strengthen Gudiashvili, 2011–2012. Objective: physical survival of architectural objects on the square;
Phase III: I will wait for you in Gudiashvili Garden, 2013–2018. Objective: start of restoration.

Reason for launching the campaign

From 2007–2008, the Old Tbilisi Rehabilitation and Development Foundation (now the Tbilisi Development Foundation) received several buildings on Gudiashvili Square from the state for rehabilitation and reconstruction, while several other buildings were purchased by the Foundation itself. The initial plan was to prepare building rehabilitation projects, restore the buildings, and then sell the restored objects. Later, the Foundation made a change of plans, according to which any entity interested in purchasing a building would receive the project documents and would take responsibility for implementing the work defined within the project documentation themselves.

Despite taking responsibility for doing so, from 2007–2011, the Foundation did not implement any restoration or fortification work, which significantly worsened the conditions of the houses around Gudiashvili Square. This created a danger of destruction for these cultural monuments, so Tiflis Hamkari engaged into the process.

One of the building on Gudiashvili Square (Source: Blog of the Gudiashvili Campaign) Building on Gudiashvili Square (Source: World Architecture News)
  1. Phase I: Protect Gudiashvili Square – Situation analysis, Planning andImplementing Advocacy Campaign, 2009-2011

Objective: Collecting information, raising awareness, and increasing the circle of people interested in saving Gudiashvili Square.

Implementer: Tiflis Hamkari. At this phase, the strategy was designed, planned, and implemented by Tiflis Hamkari. It should be noted that 95% of members of Tiflis Hamkari were engaged as volunteers. A paid project team ensured the structural and continuous implementation of planned activities.

Strategy: Educational activities, cultural activities on the square, meetings with interested parties.

During the first phase, the organization identified the following problems through research, consultations with cultural heritage experts and urbanists, and meetings with the local population and decision-makers:

  1. A lack of information on the significance of the square and the buildings around it;
  2. A low number of people interested in saving the square;
  3. The closed systems of decision-makers and the Foundation that owned the buildings, and a lack of willingness to cooperate.

Despite the Tbilisi Development Foundation’s charter stating that the Foundation should ensure “close cooperation with NGOs, private agencies, public organizations, and mass media with the purpose of their active involvement in rehabilitation and development processes”, the advocacy campaign revealed quite the opposite from the very first phase of the campaign. On April 15, 2011, a meeting was held between the Tbilisi Development Foundation and experts and members of Tiflis Hamkari to discuss Gudiashvili Square. This was a one-time event and there was no follow-up.

The situation made it clear that the only possible leverage for the organization to prevent inadequate developments violating the main principles of protecting cultural heritage was civic protest. Therefore, it was necessary to plan an informational campaign to engage as many people as possible.

Throughout 2009–2011, the organization implemented various actions to raise awareness of the cultural, historic, architectural, and urban value of Gudiashvili Square. Special emphasis was placed on the square as a significant public space and recreational urban area accessible to all, which could be used to host various events, such as exhibitions, festivals, and concerts. During the first phase of the campaign, these actions were more focused on awareness-raising than protest.

At this stage, the emphasis was placed on the importance of the cultural heritage of the square and Tbilisi in general, as well as their value. For two years, the square hosted various exhibitions, including: “Tbilisi Stairs”, “History of Gudiashvili Square”, “Metal Flowers”, and the “Gudiashvili Square” photo competition. Advocacy was followed by a large-scale informational campaign (on Facebook, YouTube, TV, and in other forms of media).

Themes for educational and awareness raising activities on the square were selected by members of the organization. Exhibitions were funded through existing project budgets as well as donations from members.

Problem: at this stage, despite the innovative format and an increased number of interested people, the campaign still involved only a certain segment of society and failed to achieve a significant increase in interested parties.

Implemented Activities in Phase I: Protect Gudiashvili Square
An informational leaflet was issued on the value and history of Gudiashvili Square and the buildings around it.
A study of the legitimacy of transferring buildings on Gudiashvili Square from the Tbilisi Government to the Tbilisi Development Fund was conducted.
A study and assessment of the Tbilisi Development Foundation’s rehabilitation projects for Gudiashvili Square’s buildings for 2007–2008 was conducted.
After studying the rehabilitation projects for #2 Gudiashvili Square and #2 Lermontov Street and receiving expert conclusions, the project conducted additional research on the technical conditions of a residential house on #2 Lermontov Street.
Exhibitions were held.
Meetings with interested people (the public, experts etc.), were held.
A Meeting with the Tbilisi Development Foundation.


Photo Exhibition at the Gudiashvili Square


Well-selected cultural awareness activities enabled the organization to reach more people with information on the importance and value of the cultural heritage of the square and Tbilisi in general. Use of the square as an exhibition space effectively presented the role of the square as an important public space.

In spite of these efforts, cooperation with decision-makers (the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection and Agency of Monument Protection) as well as the Tbilisi Development Foundation, the owner of the assets, remained a problem and moved in a negative direction, which was most obvious during the second phase of the campaign.

  1. Phase II: Strengthen Gudiashvili – Situation Analyse, Planning the advocacy campaign and implementation, 2011-2012

Due to tensions around the square, the individual objectives towards reaching the goal of saving the square were changed and the campaign shifted into another stage. Demonstrations became more permanent (once every 2 weeks), and were more of protests.

Reason for escalation 

On December 19, 2011, the Gudiashivli Square development project, prepared by Austrian company Zechner & Zechner, appeared on the internet.[1] The project envisaged replacing buildings of cultural heritage with new ones, and turning the square into a shopping centre.

View of the Zechner & Zechner project for Gudiashvili Square (source: World Architecture News Website)

On May 31, 2011, the Tbilisi Development Foundation and Irao Magnat Gudiashvili, the investor who had owned the buildings around the square since 2011, signed an agreement. The content of the agreement made it clear that the investor would be granted the right to significantly change or demolish buildings located around the square. Both cultural objects as well as public space would be destroyed.

The awareness campaign of previous years enabled Tiflis Hamkari to quickly and effectively gather a fairly broad group of interested persons and plan actions focused on rescuing the square.

Objective: Physical rescue of the Square through permanent actions.

The first action was held on December 23, 2011, transforming Tbilisi Hamkari’s campaign into a civic movement.

Organizers: Tiflis Hamkari and interested residents.

From this stage, interested citizens were engaged together with Tiflis Hakari in developing a strategy, planning actions, fundraising, and promotion. Campaigns held by Tiflis Hamkari during previous years had helped to broaden the circle of people interested in preserving cultural heritage, and mobilize them around the organization’s activities. To achieve their common goal, the organization gathered volunteers — professionals as well as residents concerned about the city. People engaged in implementing the campaign were of different ages and occupational backgrounds. For example, middle-aged women would bring home baked goods and contribute revenue from sales to the organization, while children donated toys, paintings, and money to the organization.

The organization committee was created, composed of representatives of Tiflis Hamkari and the public. The committee was comprised of 6–7 volunteers of various ages and occupations, although others also engaged in activities alongside the core team.

Strategy: The campaign maintained the main directions of the advocacy campaign implemented during previous years — positive cultural educational activities. Although, unlike previous actions, more spontaneous and unplanned activities were implemented, since these actions were to be continuous in nature, and there were no resources (either human, or financial) to plan and implement specific activities. Therefore, the decision was made to promote the square as a free space and platform for artists. As part of the campaign, Gudiashvili Square turned into a space where anyone could express opinions using any format.

Role of the organizational committee

The role of the committee was to plan, finance, and implement certain basic activities:

  • Concerts, competitions of various types, exhibitions, installations, and performances.
  • Activities were funded through donations and funds raised through the sale of products during actions themselves. Organizers would sell drinks (tea, coffee, glint wine), and income generated from such sales, about 1,000–1,200 GEL was usually used for activities.
  • During each of the actions, the organizational committee would implement 2–3 activities selected from different people’s proposals. The organizational committee would meet interested parties wishing to implement activities 10 days prior to select 2–3 activities, while priority would be given to low cost innovative ideas. For example, using video projection to bring old deserted houses back to life.
  • Concerts were a permanent part of the campaign and the team organized live concerts during each event. Musicians played free of charge while organizers provided only equipment. Up to 20–25 groups participated in the actions.
  • Spaces were allocated for children where they were able to draw, sculpt, learn about the history of Tbilisi and Gudiashvili Square, and display their works. For these activities, the committee would buy the required materials — paper, pencils, clay, etc.
  • A social campaign involved meeting with interested parties, media coordination, and preparing media advisories and press releases.
  • A Facebook page was created specifically for the campaign, where all information was collected and dates and themes for upcoming actions were announced.
  • The square was cleaned after actions.
Cultural event on Gudiashvili Square Event on Gudiashvili Square

 Unplanned activities

Together with activities planned by the organization committee, interested individuals and groups were able to express what they wanted to say using their desired format, meaning the topics of activities and their formats were diverse. An open platform was created where anyone was allowed to say what they thought appropriate — by singing, organising exhibitions, dancing, reading poetry, other kinds of performances, or holding protest banners.

During actions, the square also hosted flea markets, where people could buy and sell things, such as: art pieces, second hand items, food, and drinks. The majority of sales were voluntarily donated into a donations box. The basic activities of the next action were funded through such donations.

A significant reason for the popularity of the actions to save Gudiashvili Square was their format. It can be said that it was one of the first precedents of creative protest in Georgia, where protest was expressed through the arts.

Activities implemented Phase II: Strengthen Gudiashvili
Public meetings with the company planning construction projects for Gudiashvili Square buildings
Public meetings with experts
Legal action to save individual buildings
Information brochures, flyers, stickers, and stencils
Media campaign
Social Campaign
Letters addressed to the Mayor of Tbilisi and Minister of Culture of Georgia
Cultural activities: exhibitions, concerts, installations, performances, and competitions


The strategy ensured the popularity of the actions which meant: more interested people, more participants in actions, and more media coverage. While during the first phase of the campaign, only 200–300 people attended actions, during the second phase, this number increased to 1,500–2,000. This secured the postponement, and then suspension of the development project. People of various ages and occupational backgrounds were engaged in the campaign, while the majority were young people (20–30 years of age). Media advisories and press releases were developed before each action and sent to journalists. However, due to the campaign’s popularity, media coverage was never a challenge.

However, the format had opponents as well as proponents within the campaign. Discussions were held during organizational meetings as well as on social media:

Problem 1: The entertainment aspect of the format was criticised by some, who wanted more purely protest actions to be held. They argued people were not duly informed and aware of the goals of the campaign, and would come for specific events, not to save the square.

Position of organizers: The organizers admitted that in some cases, some participants were unaware of the purpose of the actions. But, they argued that the goal of the organizers was to inform people attending, so that unaware visitors would leave with information, turning them into people motivated to save the square.

In this way the organizers were able to:

  • Gather a critical mass of people required to protect the Square
  • Raise awareness
  • Ensure the broadest possible media coverage due to the interesting format and popularity of the actions.

Problem 2: The participation of political parties in the campaign, as well as supporting certain political messages, had both proponents and opponents.

Proponents argued that involving political parties and widening the scope of protest topics would increase the human and financial resources available to the campaing.

Opponents argued that Strengthen Gudiashvili should be a non-political civic movement united with a specific goal.

Position of organizers: As mentioned above, the scope of topics being protested was not limited by the organizers. While the organizing committee planned and implemented only activities focused on protecting the Square, participants, at their own initiatives, were able to select and protest other issues as part of the platform created by the campaign (e.g. on human rights, labour rights, gathering signatures for media pluralism, and more).

As for the involvement of political parties, the only thing prohibited was organized actions by political parties (using their own attributes and messages), but no politicians were prohibited from participating as attendees.

This approach enabled the campaign to bring together people of different political backgrounds to protect Gudiashvili Square. In spite of this, the problem of negotiating with the city government, who realistically had the means to resolve the problem, remained a challenge. Despite numerous requests, no meeting between the city authorities and participants of the actions were held. The reason given by the authorities for not meeting the participants was the political nature of the actions.

5- Phase III: “I will wait for you in Gudiashvili Garden” – Advocacy campaign to save the Square, 2014-2015

The situation

The team from the mayor’s office changed after 2012 parliamentary elections. From the very beginning, cooperation started with the new government to improve the situation around Gudiashvili Square.

As a result of intensive interaction (working meetings, providing documents concerning problematic construction and other cases) with the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection, a working group was formed composed of field experts and organizations. It elaborated a list of problematic construction projects where rehabilitation work posed a threat to cultural heritage, the overall face of the city, and adequate development of the old town.

Gudiashvili Square made it to the list. After joint efforts from the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection, the organizations engaged in the campaign to save the square (Tiflis Hamkari, Icomos Georgia, etc.), as well as other interested parties, the contract between the Tbilisi Development Foundation and Ltd Irao Magnat Gudiashvili to develop Gudiashvili Square was terminated. As a result, ownership of all immovable assets were returned to the Tbilisi Development Foundation. The officially stated reason for this change given by the Irao Magnat Gudiashvili project was: “Representatives of the government and municipality officially state that the technical parameters agreed before would not have their support any longer and we realize that they have changed or will be changed in a way that is unacceptable for us, and against our contract. It should be noted that this project (rehabilitation of Gudiahsvili Square) with its main parameters — demolishing all the main buildings — was not our initiative or managed by us. It was the format of how it was sold to us by the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office and the Tbilisi Development Foundation.”

As a result of the successful advocacy campaign, in 2013, Irao Magnat refused to implement the project and buildings located around Gudiashvili Square were returned to the Tbilisi Development Foundation. Despite the intensive work of Tiflis Hamkari with decision-making individuals and institutions, the process was, unfortunately, prolonged, as the Tbilisi Development Foundation was reluctant to start procedures to rehabilitate the square, which worsened the physical conditions of the buildings each day.

It was necessary to find a way out of this difficult situation.

Objective: Raising the topic in the run-up to 2014 local government elections. To save the buildings, it was necessary to start the fortification and restoration process.

Implementer: Tiflis Hamkari. At this stage of the campaign, strategy creation, planning, and implementation was carried out by the Tiflis Hamkari organization. The main activities were funded through a grant project. In agreement with Tiflis Hamkari, together with activities organized by the organization, other activities were also implemented, where various initiative groups and organizations were also engaged in planning, funding, and implementing actions. For example, to express its support, the Karchkhadze publishing house organized a book presentation and concert on Gudiashvili Square. The Coalition for Independent Living expressed a wish to mark Disability Day by organizing a Strengthen Gudiashvili action.

The spectrum of beneficiaries increased by engaging new organizations into each action.

Strategy: Educational activities, cultural events on the square itself, and meetings with political parties and mayoral candidates.

Local government elections were scheduled for May 2014 and the organizers made the decision to use the pre-election period to bring new life to the campaign by organizing meetings with political parties on cultural heritage so that interested individuals could hear their positions on the topic.

A new campaign, “I will wait for you in Gudiashvili Garden”, also envisaged holding continuous protest actions. The concept of the actions remained the same, however, all activities were planned and implemented by Tiflis Hamkari.

Together with regular events, which were well known, popular, and eagerly awaited by the public, the organization came up with a memorandum where signatory politicians pledged to save Gudiashivli Square. David Narmania, candidate from the Georgian Dream Coalition, expressed a wish to participate in the action and publicly signed the memorandum, according to which, if he won municipal elections, he would take responsibility for fulfilling every clause of the memorandum. David Narmania and Tiflis Hamkari signed the memorandum on May 11, 2014, in front of attendees of a Strengthen Gudiashvili action. Similar memoranda were signed with candidates from opposition parties. Certain discontent was caused by the appearance of the ruling party candidate, since this move was perceived as participation of the organization into the election campaign, however, after the victory of the ruling party, this memorandum was a part of the reason for positive developments around Gudiashvili.

More specifically, during the first stage:

  1. An open competition was announced for the concept of developing the Square and creating rehabilitation projects, which focused on preservation of the initial face of the square and its buildings;
  2. An open competition was announced for the project for two new architectural objects;
  3. Before the start of restoration, funds were allocated for creating infrastructure on the square, and fortification scaffolding was arranged.
Meeting with David Narmania in 2014, Tbilisi Mayor candidate Public event on Gudiashvili Square


Implemented activities in Phase III: “I will wait for you in Gudiashvili Garden”
Closed meetings with parties engaged in the process: Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection, National Agency of Monument Protection, experts, lawyers, political parties
Public meetings with parties and politicians
Public meetings with experts
Legal analyses of activities planned for specific buildings
Information brochures, flyers, stickers, stencils
Media campaign
Social campaign
Letters addressed to the Mayor of Tbilisi and Minister of Culture
Cultural Activities: exhibitions, concerts, installations, performances, and competitions
Video addresses
  1. Summary

Developments throughout the years changed the nature of the challenges faced and the course of the actions several times. However, Tiflis Hamkari and members of the public united around it were able to reach their ultimate goal:

  1. Residents of Tbilisi and other towns are aware of where Gudiashvili Square is and the value of the square and the buildings around it.
  2. Gudiashvili Square has become an important public space which can host different events: presentations, concerts, photo-festivals, etc.
  3. The restoration process has already started.
  4. Events around Gudiashvili Square, a well-planned campaign, and media interest resulted in a large amount of interest not only in the square, but generally around city construction processes.
  5. Conclusion

The campaign to save Gudiashvili Square was on a razor’s edge several times, but each time, representatives of Tiflis Hamkari were able to correctly assess new challenges and quickly react. Had they not, the campaign to save the square — a significant public space with a cultural heritage surrounding it — may not have been successful.

  • If in 2011 the organization did not allow individual activists to play a major role in creating and planning the strategies of actions, the organization, using old strategies, would not have been able to attract as many people as the new campaign was able to.
  • If the organization refused to engage and sign a memorandum with state party representatives in 2014, the new government of the city may not have felt as much responsibility towards the square, which would make the situation difficult.

Saving Gudiashvili Square by Tiflis Hamkari was made possible through a continuous campaign, during which the organization was able to maintain a focus on the topic and increase the protest spirit. Fulfilling the objectives of every phase (stage) ensured they reached the goal. The main precondition for this was the precise identification of challenges and development of tailor-made strategies.

In 2018, the municipality started the restoration process and allocated 50 million GEL.

This case study was compiled by Tamar Amashukeli for the Centre for Training and Consultancy (CTC).

[1] Austrian company Zechner & Zechner won a competition to develop a multi-functional development on Gudiashvili Square. The competition was announced by IRAO Magnat Gudiashvili LLC.