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Georgia Modern History

In March 1991, Georgians voted with great majority for full independence and in April Georgia was proclaimed an independent state. In May, Zviad Gamsachurdia, the President of Parliament, was elected president with more than 86 percent of the vote. However, some elections were not held in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. When the Soviet Union disbanded later that year and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was formed, Georgia declined to enter.

When the Old Communists in Moscow conducted a coup attempt against USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, Gamsachurdia failed to distance itself from the coup. Criticism against him grew, and his position weakened. The opposition dissolved around Tengiz Sigua (who resigned as prime minister in August 1991) and Tengiz Kitovani, head of the National Guard.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Georgia. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Gamsachurdia is overthrown

In December 1991, an armed conflict broke out in Tbilisi between, on the one hand, Kitovani's National Guard and the semi-military force Mchedrioni (Riders), on the other, the president's supporters, the so-called Zviadists. In the battles around the presidential palace in Tbilisi, over 100 people are believed to have been killed. In January 1992, Gamsachurdia floated. Some of the Zviadists went to the western province of Megrelien (Samegrelo). From there, they resisted armed opposition to the new regime, led by Kitovani and Mchedrioni's leader, Djaba Ioseliani. In March, former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze was called home from Moscow to lead a civilian transitional government.

In the October 1992 elections, neither party received a majority. Shevardnadze was elected President of Parliament, in practice Head of State. The elections were boycotted in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Megrelien.

Contemporary History of GeorgiaIndependence brought about an economic collapse for Georgia when the subsidized exchange trade that prevailed within the Soviet Union disappeared at one time and the countries began to pay each other with convertible currency and at world market prices. The cost of energy imports went up while Georgian goods were in many cases impossible to sell abroad. Production collapsed in all sectors. In addition, the state's inability to collect taxes resulted in large budget deficits. Wages and pensions were frozen inside. The situation was made worse by political unrest and civil war see below. No other former communist state was affected by an equally powerful economic race like Georgia.

Civil war

A conflict with South Ossetia had begun in 1989, when South Ossetian leaders, in response to the nationalist sentiments among Georgians, demanded increased autonomy and accession to North Ossetia in Russia (see also South Ossetia). This led to clashes between Ossetians and Georgians living in South Ossetia, and in September 1990 the Ossetes issued a Declaration of Independence. Gamsachurdia's regime responded by lifting South Ossetia's autonomous position, and civil war broke out.

After Shevardnadze's takeover of power in 1992, the central government succeeded in concluding an agreement with the South Ossetians on cessation of fire. By then, around 1,500 people had been killed and thousands of others had fled. A joint Russian, Georgian and South Ossetian peacekeeping force was deployed in the region.

Shortly thereafter, a similar conflict arose in Abkhazia (see also Abkhazia). In July 1992, the Abkhazians issued a declaration of independence. Shevardnadze replied by sending in the National Guard which took the main town of Suchumi and drove away the leaders of the uprising.

In September 1993, the Abkhazians went into counter-offensive. The Georgian troops were expelled and nearly 250,000 Georgians were forced to flee. Thousands were stranded in the mountains, where many died of starvation and cold. Georgia accused some groups in the Russian army of helping the Abkhaz to weaken the Georgian state. This created tensions in contact with Russia.

In May 1994, the parties agreed on a ceasefire that would be monitored by UN observers. In addition, 3,000 soldiers, most Russians, were deployed in a peacekeeping squad at the border between Abkhazia and the rest of the country.

Shevardnadze is saved by Russia

Meanwhile, Gamsachurdia seized the opportunity to try to regain power. His zviadists succeeded in October 1993 in capturing the cities of Poti and Samtredia. As the Zviadists advanced towards Tbilisi, Shevardnadze became increasingly crowded. As a final attempt to "save the country", he saw that on October 8 he had to accept Georgia's accession to the CIS.

With the help of Russian soldiers, the government forces were able to recapture the areas occupied by the Zviadists. In return, Shevardnadze was forced to accept four Russian military bases in Georgia. By November 1993, a large proportion of the Zviadists had been expelled from the country. A few months later, it was reported that Gamsachurdia had committed suicide.

After the defeat in Abkhazia, Georgia was in a deep political, social and economic crisis. Contributing to the instability was the growing crime rate and semi-military forces over which the government had no control. The collapse of law and order meant that organized crime managed to gain a dominant influence over the gasoline trade and the privatization of state property. Corruption was widespread within the state administration and fighting was going on between different clans.

The violence culminated in connection with the adoption of the new constitution in August 1995. When Shevardnadze was on his way to the ceremony, an explosive charge detonated near his car. He escaped with minor injuries. Security Minister Igor Giorgadze was charged with the attack together with Mchedrioni's leader Ioseliani. The minister and his followers managed to escape to Russia, but Ioseliani was imprisoned.

In November 1995, parliamentary and presidential elections were held. The biggest was Shevardnadze's middle party of the Citizens' Union. In the presidential election, Shevardnadze won by almost three-quarters of the votes. His main challenger was former Communist leader Djumber Patiasjvili.

The October 1999 parliamentary elections were preceded by an aggressive electoral movement and accusations of cheating were tight. Only three parties managed to cross the seven percent barrier. The largest was the Citizens' Union with 42 percent, followed by the Georgian Union for democracy and renewal. The main opposition to the ruling party had thus been eliminated.

The presidential election in April 2000 stood between the same men as five years earlier. Shevardnadze won a clear victory with about 80 percent of the vote against 17 percent of former Communist leader Patiasjvili.

The revolution of the roses

In the following years, Shevardnadze's popularity declined sharply as the economy deteriorated and the standard of living fell. His government was charged with misconduct and corruption, and former employees abandoned him. The 10th anniversary of independence on May 26, 2001 became a messy event. Zviadists fought with police in the streets of Tbilisi and hundreds of soldiers mutated in protest that they had not been paid. The unrest continued during the summer and autumn.

In November 2001, Shevardnadze dismissed the entire government. At the same time, his former guard Zurab Zhvania resigned from the post of President of Parliament and was succeeded by the young female lawyer Nino Burdjanadze. She, like Zhvania, was counted among the reform friends in the Citizens' Union. Zhvania and another reform friend within the ruling party, Micheil Saakashvili, later formed during the autumn the National Movement, which soon developed into a new opposition party.

The November 2003 parliamentary elections were conducted under chaotic forms and were sharply criticized by foreign election observers from, among others, the European Cooperation and Security Organization, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. The vote was repeatedly interrupted by fierce protests from the opposition. Three weeks after the election, it was officially announced that the Shevardnadze faithful party of New Georgia had won by 21 percent of the vote. The other mandates were distributed to a large number of parties.

The announcement of the official result triggered new fierce protests from the opposition. Saakashvili explained that he and his party comrades did not intend to sit in the new parliament because Shevardnadze and his colleagues had "stolen" the victory. After several days of increasingly protests in Tbilisi, protesters stormed Parliament and forced Shevardnadze to flee. Neither police nor military intervention to stop the protesters.

A day later, Shevardnadze announced that he was resigning to avoid bloodshed. What came to be called the Roses Revolution had prevailed. Former President Nino Burdjanadze, President of the Parliament, took office in accordance with the constitution as acting president pending a new presidential election. At the end of November, the Supreme Court annulled the election to 150 of the 235 seats in Parliament. The old parliament was allowed to remain for the time being. Saakashvili, Zhvania and Burdjanadze took over the lead while waiting for new elections.

In January 2004, Saakashvili was elected president with just over 96 percent of the vote. The new parliamentary elections in March 2004 became another big victory for him and the National Movement. The party received 67 percent of the vote and thus took home most of the 150 seats that were at stake. The only opposition party that managed the seven percent barrier was the Right Opposition, which received 15 seats. Eighty-five seats had already been held by majority vote in one-man constituencies at the disputed elections in November 2003.

New politician generation

With Saakashvili's election victory, a new generation of politicians took over, with no roots in the old Soviet system. But the country was politically fragmented and economically downtrodden. However, the economy grew, thanks in part to the oil pipeline opened in 2005 from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia. Tax revenues increased, pensions and salaries could be paid, and educational and social reforms were implemented. In the long run, however, the gap grew between the many who remained poor and a small group of newly rich.

Gradually, the criticism of the government over media governance, corruption and police brutality increased. President Saakashvili was accused of authoritarian tendencies. When one of his political opponents was arrested in the fall of 2007, more than 50,000 people gathered outside Parliament every day demanding the president's resignation. The police brutally turned down the protests, the government temporarily declared a state of emergency and government-critical TV channels were closed.

As a remission, Saakashvili announced election to the presidential post. The January 2008 election was a victory for Saakashvili with 53.5 percent of the vote against 25.7 percent for Levan Gatjetsjiladze of the United Opposition / National Council. The opposition accused the government of electoral fraud. In an advisory referendum at the same time as the presidential election, 77 percent voted for Georgia to join NATO.

In the May elections, Saakashvili's party, the National Movement, won 59.2 percent of the vote against 17.7 percent for the United Opposition. The news of the result triggered anger at the opposition, which called for a boycott of the work in Parliament.

Saakashvili had placed the autonomous province of Adzjaria under his presidential rule, but he had failed to take back the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as he promised. There was concern and violence between separatists and the Georgian military (see South Ossetia and Abkhazia), and according to Georgia, Russia's peacekeeping troops supported the separatists. Moscow also distributed Russian passports to the residents of the provinces. In March 2008, shortly after Kosovo proclaimed independence from Serbia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia renewed their demands to be recognized as independent states themselves, and Moscow strengthened its ties with the breakers.

War on Russia

In the spring, the tone escalated between Moscow and Tbilisi, in the summer, fires occurred along the border between South Ossetia and Georgia, and in early August, war broke out between Russian and Georgian troops since Georgia attacked South Ossetia's capital Tschinvali. Russian forces pushed back Georgians, and fighting broke out even in Abkhazia where Georgian military was deployed. Russian flights and Russian forces also attacked Georgia. After five days of fighting, the war ended, and the parties agreed on a peace plan that the European Union has presented. Hundreds of people were killed or injured in the war.

Both sides accused each other of starting the war, and according to human rights organizations, both were guilty of indiscriminate violence against civilians. Moscow recognized the independence of the breakaway states, and Georgia stood as the loser of the war. In Tbilisi, Saakashvili was blamed for the failure and several of his allies turned against him. During the autumn, large demonstrations were held with demands for new elections to Parliament and the presidential post. Saakashvili responded by dismissing the highest military leader, foreign minister and defense minister. The reformed government was faced with a difficult task in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and war, with tens of thousands of homeless refugees and severe material losses.

In the spring of 2009, he became concerned with giant demonstrations in Tbilisi and demands for Saakashvili's departure. The regime claimed that there were coup attempts with assassination plans against the president, and new riots followed as riot police went hard on protesters. The government canceled Georgia's Independence Day celebrations in fear of trouble.

In September 2009 came the EU report on the war between Georgia and Russia in 2008. According to the Review Commission, it was Georgia that started the war by attacking South Ossetia after a long period of provocation from Russia. All parties were accused of abuse, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia's exit from Georgia was condemned. The report was a hardship for Saakashvili, but it could not be exploited by the opposition which appeared severely fragmented and powerless.

In November 2010, thousands of people in Tbilisi again demonstrated in protest against Saakashvili and his government. The opposition claimed that it was the beginning of a new movement, and that the protests would continue until Saakashvili resigned. A multi-day government-hostile demonstration in May 2011 demanded two casualties when police on the fifth day shot into the crowds with rubber-coated bullets.

New opposition

Resistance to Saakashvili continued, but the protests, and the government's response, took on new forms. The country's richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, formed in December 2011 a political movement he called the Georgian dream. A few months later, the movement was transformed into a party called Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia with the goal of running in the upcoming parliamentary elections. His party also formed an alliance with several other liberal and conservative parties to jointly challenge Saakashvili.

Ivanishvili was deprived of his Georgian citizenship after the authorities, who began to expose him to the close examination, found that he also had citizenship in France and Russia. Both he and his company were sentenced to billion in fines for what was said to have been a breach of party financing rules. Other prominent figures who joined the party of Ivanishvili were also fined for the same alleged crimes. Bank accounts belonging to the partner parties were reported to have been frozen.

The Council of Europe criticized the government for sabotaging the opposition's ability to campaign for the parliamentary elections, which was announced until October 1, 2012. The US government also expressed concern that the Georgian authorities would break their own laws in an eagerness to secure a continued majority for the National Movement.

The electoral movement developed into a hot war of words between the camps of President Saakashvili and billionaire Ivanishvili. Both sides were reported to have spent many millions on hiring foreign PR companies and lobbyists to convey their messages. The campaigns were targeted almost as much to the outside world, especially the US and the EU, as to the country's own voters, all with the aim of gaining international support for their own side. Ivanishvili was accused, among other things, of secretly funding seemingly neutral individual organizations that disseminated information about the government's violation of human rights.

The government was shaken by a scandal surrounding abuse of prisoners that less than two weeks before the election forced two ministers to resign (see further Calendar).

However, Election Day ended without incidents and when it emerged that the opposition had won, Saakashvili acknowledged that his party had lost. After Saakashvili's time in power, his political movement has thinned and the direct presidential elections have even been abolished.

 
 

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