Gold vs. Culture
23 January, 2014
Gold vs. Culture
RMG Gold, an investor company involved in gold and copper mining in Bolnisi, in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia, may quit the business if Georgian government does not resume its licensing terms satisfactorily. Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia (MCMP) is withholding a license to RMG Gold since it cannot decide if the territory in Bolnisi includes a historical monument of cultural heritage.
Until the government makes a final decision work is suspended, and both investors and
employees are nervous. The mines have been in operation since 1975 but it was only in 2004 that a Georgian-German archeological team discovered, in the Sakdrisi-Kachagiani deposit, what they thought to be the most ancient gold mine in the world, about five thousand years old.
The team says this proves that people who lived on Georgian territory then had mining and gold-processing skills, predating by a thousand years the Egyptians previously regarded as the world’s first gold miners.
Already Georgian government has granted cultural heritage status to the Sakdrisi mine, and prohibits RMG Gold from mining within 300 meters of the monument.
However, RMG Gold questioned the status of the monument shortly after the 2012 change in government. It was skeptical of the monument’s cultural significance. In spring 2013 it appealed to then Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili to reevaluate the status. A special commission was created at MCMP in May 2013; it found no proof supporting the claims for the prehistoric significance of the mine. In July the status of cultural heritage and national importance was canceled. In October the archeological protection zone was made void.
New archeological research began in October-November of 2013 on the order of Ivanishvili. This expedition found the Sakdrisi deposit devoid of archeological artifacts, Natali Nozadze, PR Manager of RMG Gold, told Georgian Journal.
But to resume work the company needs the consent of MCMP, which, however, is still withheld – MCMP says procedures were violated when the cultural heritage status was voided. The Ministry of Culture plans new research, though, and may re-grant the requested status, but only after legal procedures it deems acceptable.
Until then RMG Gold, which has already invested USD 300 million, is stalled. Commensurately, the state will lose the tolls on mining, scheduled to be paid in 7-8 years; and three thousand employees face the threat of remaining jobless. Besides, the gold and copper exported by RMG Gold is more than 10% of Georgian exports.
RMG Gold believes “cultural heritage” is a formal excuse, and some interested group stands behind this archeology vs. gold soap opera. Historically gold has always caused conflict - Georgian gold mines are no exception. Non-transparent privatization and ownership issues were once raised regarding the previously state-owned Madneuli gold deposits now exploited by RMG Gold.
RMG Gold warns that it will quit the business if Ministry of Culture does not make a timely decision in the near future. As Keti Ebanoidze, a spokesperson for Ministry of Culture, informed Georgian Journal, the ministry is working on the issue and will make its decision in a week.

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