- Georgia is both one of the most fragmented and one of the most strategically important countries in the former Soviet Union. In 2003, the so-called Rose Revolution took place, and the country gained new, young leadership. In 2006, an important oil pipeline was completed with Western support, and Georgia has developed an ever closer relationship with the United States and other Western countries. Nevertheless, two provinces are still outside the control of the Georgian authorities, and relations with Russia are at a low ebb.
How well do Georgian authorities control the country?
- What was the Rose Revolution?
- What are the two biggest challenges for the Georgian authorities?
- What is Georgia’s relationship with the great powers the United States and Russia?
With its 70,000 km2, Georgia is less than a quarter of Norway, but the population is about the same size, around 4.6 million. Like Norway, Georgia is a mountain country and is famous as a destination for mountain climbers and hikers. Georgia is the world’s second oldest Christian state, after neighboring Armenia. The Georgian Orthodox Church has a central place in Georgian society, and the many church buildings and choir songs are internationally renowned. The unique 33-letter Georgian alphabet is also associated with the church.
2: In resolution
In the late 1980s, Georgia was one of the most liberated and prosperous areas of the Soviet Union and played a pivotal role in the dissolution of the union. The republic became independent in 1991 and had Zviad Gamsakhurdia as its first president. Gamsakhurdia was a romantic nationalist who took an uncompromising line towards the many minorities in the country.
In practice, Georgia consists of a core area populated by ethnic Georgians, who in turn are surrounded by ethnic minorities along the country’s borders. The most important ethnic minorities are the Abkhazians, the South Ossetians, the Kistines, the Azeris and the Armenians. In addition, there are several Georgian subgroups that differ to some extent from those living in central areas, primarily the Swanets, Adjars, and Minglers. Gamsakhurdia’s Georgian nationalist policies frightened minorities. The Abkhazians and South Ossetians were most skeptical and had strong political movements that wanted to break away from Georgia. Russia supported these movements as part of a divide-and-rule policy in the South Caucasus out of a desire to have weak states at its own doorstep.
In parallel with the dissolution of Georgia, the economy collapsed. In Soviet times, Georgia had been one of the most important tourist destinations in the Soviet Union. Now tourists from the former Soviet states could travel to other parts of the world, while Georgian hotels and sanatoriums were filled with internally displaced people from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In addition, there were major problems with corruption – from the lowest to the highest level in society. It was virtually impossible to drive a car, get an education or have municipal services performed without paying bribes. The authorities were also involved in smuggling, extortion and other criminal activities.
In 1993, former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze took over as president when Gamsakhurdia died under suspicious circumstances, officially by suicide. Sjevardnadse succeeded at times in stabilizing the country, but never managed to do anything effective in curbing corruption or resolving separatist conflicts. In practice, the two most important problems in the country remained unresolved: separatism and corruption.
3: The Rose Revolution
In the autumn of 2003, the Rose Revolution took place, and Sjevardnadse was deposed. There had long been widespread criticism of Sjevardnadse in the Georgian media, and especially the TV channel Rustavi 2 hit the current government hard. After an election with extensive irregularities and cheating, demonstrations were organized in the area around the parliament and central parts of the capital. Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. Student organizations led the demonstrations and gave the soldiers packed lunches and flowers. After several weeks of demonstrations around the clock, the parliament was stormed by the crowd, led by the charismatic politician Mikheil Saakashvili. When he entered parliament, Saakashvili handed a rose to Shevardnadze and then took power.
The whole dramatic event was broadcast live on television and was the culmination of a series of revolutions in the former communist states of this period. These are often called the “color revolutions” or “second-generation velvet revolutions” (the first was in Czechoslovakia in 1989) and include regime changes in Serbia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
According to A2ZCAMERABLOG, the Rose Revolution brought three young leaders to power. Mikheil Saakashvili became president, Nino Burdsjanadse became leader of parliament and Zurab Zhvania became prime minister. In practice, the change was not as great as it might seem. All three were ethnic Georgians who had previously served in Sjevardnadse’s government. In practice, the Rose Revolution was first and foremost a generational change within the Georgian elite. Nevertheless, it gave Georgian politics a new lease on life. Saakashvili is an ambitious politician and wanted to do as much as possible as soon as possible.
One of the first things Saakashvili did after coming to power was to restore state control over the breakaway area of Adjara. This is the part of Georgia that borders Turkey. The Adjars are Georgian-speaking, but due to their location, the Turkish influence is great, and some are Muslims. When Shevardnadze was president, Aslan Abashidse ruled almost as he wanted in Adjara. Abashidse was often in opposition to Sjevardnadse, but also supported him from time to time. When Saakashvili came to power, Abashidse was one of the last significant political actors in the country who continued to oppose the central government. Therefore, Saakashvili made every effort to gain control of Abashidse.
After a couple of rounds of tension, verbal confrontation and blasting of a bridge between Adjara and the rest of Georgia, Abashidse had to give up and go into exile to Moscow. For Saakashvili’s government, this victory was both symbolic and truly important. For the first time, it had shown that it could do more than just carry out the Rose Revolution. This was also to be the first step towards the reunification of the country and was intended to show both the separatist authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and other actors that this process was unstoppable. Last but not least, it was important to gain control over trade relations with Turkey and the associated tax revenues. In some ways, the significance of the victory in Adjara was exaggerated. In practice, the Adjars have always felt a greater sense of belonging to Georgia than the South Ossetians or Abkhazians have felt.