CERN in Georgia: Reality or Just Another Dream?

In an attempt to turn Georgia into the next technological powerhouse, its former Prime Minister and arguably its most powerful man, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, initiated the development of a €500 million joint project together with CERN and other international scientific institutions.

The Georgian Government and the Cartu-International Charity Foundation will partner with CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), CNAO (Italy’s National Center of Oncological Hadron Therapy) and INFN (the National Institute of Nuclear Physics), to develop the Science and Education Center for Modern Technology Development, which is to be located in Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi. The center will be headed by physicist Giorgi Dvali, a professor of physics at New York University and LMU Munich, and the director of the Max Planck Institute for Physics. Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili said the center would be one of five in the world of this magnitude.

“This is truly a revolutionary project. It will be very important for the development of the science sector in Georgia. I would like to emphasize that the project will attract young scientists and researchers, giving them a unique development opportunity,” the Georgian PM said.

The ruling political party, Georgian Dream, has been pushing the innovation agenda. Last year they set up the Georgian Innovation and Technology Agency (GITA), which, among others, organized several hack-a-thons, supported the creation of several Fablabs, and is planning the development of a science and technology park. They have also been successful in attracting innovative investors to base their businesses in Georgia, such as the Bitcoin Blockchain infrastructure provider, BitFury.

The initial steps towards a Georgian tech revolution were first taken by former Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, whose vision encompassed the creation of a Georgian Silicon Valley.

“The Saakashvili government was brimming with ideas. Some of these ideas were harebrained, but others also proved remarkably successful and even visionary,” said Hans Gutbrod, head of the think tank Transparify.

Examples of the United National Movement’s (UNM) innovational drive, are the domestically produced drone by the Ministry of Defense in 2012, the technology university planned in Batumi, and the creation of a whole new city, Lazika, on Georgia’s Black Sea coast.

Although the development of the science center would be significant, critics believe it’s nothing more than a publicity stunt to gain the favor of voters for the upcoming elections. A journalist, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Georgia Today: “It sounds like Ivanishvili just invited some scientists over for dinner.”

Skeptics doubt that the center will actually be built.

Dvali, who will head the new center, is also under fire, as he supposedly decided to become affiliated with Ivanishvili’s project only after failing to receive tenure at Chicago or Munich Universities. Dvali is also rumored to be connected, through his brother, to Ivanishvili’s attempt to overtake television broadcaster Rustavi 2.

However, the current government hopes that this project will improve the current economic situation in the country, and advance its technological capabilities. Ivanishvili, who is said to have introduced the idea, has supported a number of similar initiatives since his resignation as Prime Minister.

“I promise that for at least the next twenty years, I will put my energy, knowledge and experience into the service of getting my homeland on its feet. I will support any government which will serve the people,” Ivanishvili said.

The project was announced subsequent to a meeting chaired by PM Garibashvili, in which the parties signed a protocol detailing the development of the project.

However, critics may be correct in fearing that the project is nothing more than a PR campaign, as none of the partner organizations have any mention of the project on their respective websites.

This reporter tried to contact the main financier of the project, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Cartu International Charity Foundation, for comment. Unfortunately, they could not be reached.

George Surguladze

15 October 2015 21:45