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Georgia - Government and Politics

In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the tone of Georgian political life changed significantly. National elections held in 1989, 1990, and 1992 reflected that change. The nature of governance in newly independent Georgia was most influenced by the personalities of two men, Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Eduard Shevardnadze. But democratic institutions evolved slowly and sporadically in the first half of the 1990s.

Establishing Democratic Institutions

Prior to the 1989 elections, the Georgian Communist Party maintained tight control over the nomination process. Even in 1989, candidates ran unopposed in forty-three of seventy-five races, and elsewhere pairings with opposition candidates were manipulated to guarantee results favoring the party. In Tbilisi grassroots movements succeeded in nominating three candidates to the Georgian Supreme Soviet in 1989. The leaders of these movements were mostly young intellectuals who had not been active dissidents. Many of those figures later joined to form a new political party, Democratic Choice for Georgia, abbreviated as DASi in Georgian. Because of expertise in local political organization, DASi played a leading role in drafting legislation for local and national elections between 1990 and 1992.

The death of the Tbilisi demonstrators in April 1989 led to a major change in the Georgian political atmosphere. Radical nationalists such as Gamsakhurdia were the primary beneficiaries of the national outrage following the April Tragedy. In his role as opposition leader, Gamsakhurdia formed a new political bloc in 1990, the Round Table/Free Georgia coalition.

In 1990 Georgia was the last Soviet republic to hold elections for the republic parliament. Protests and strikes against the election law and the nominating process had led to a six-month postponement of the elections until October 1990. Opposition forces feared that the political realities favored entrenched communist party functionaries and the enterprise and collective farm officials they had put in place. According to reports, about one-third of the 2,300 candidates for the Supreme Soviet (as the Georgian parliament was still designated at that time) fell into this category.

The electoral system adopted in August 1990, which represented a compromise between competing versions put forward by the Patiashvili government and the opposition, created the first truly multiparty elections in the Soviet Union. The new Georgian election law combined district-level, single-mandate, majority elections with a proportional party list system for the republic as a whole; a total of 250 seats would constitute the new parliament. On one hand, the proportional voting system required that a party gain at least 4 percent of the total votes to achieve representation in parliament. On the other hand, candidates with strong local support could win office even if their national totals fell below the 4 percent threshold. When the elections finally were held, widespread fears of violence or communist manipulation (expressed most vocally by Gamsakhurdia) proved unfounded.

Georgia - The 1990 Election

The 1990 parliamentary election was a struggle between what remained of the Georgian Communist Party, which still held power at that point, and thirty-one opposition parties constituting the Georgian national movement. The national movement was not completely represented in the official election, however, because many opposition parties organized separate elections to an alternative body called the Georgian National Congress. An important factor in the results was a provision in the election law that forbade members of the communist party to run simultaneously on the ticket of another party. (By contrast, in this interim period other Soviet republics allowed even proponents of radical reform to retain their communist party memberships while representing popular fronts and similar organizations.)

The election decisively rejected the communists and gave a resounding popular mandate to the Round Table/Free Georgia bloc that Gamsakhurdia headed. That coalition captured 54 percent of the proportional vote to gain 155 seats out of the 250 up for election, while the communists gained 64 seats and 30 percent of the proportional vote. Communist strongholds remained in Azerbaijani and Armenian districts of southern Georgia. No other party reached the 4 percent share necessary for representation in the party-list system, and only a handful of candidates from other parties won victories in the individual district races. Boycotts prevented voting in two districts of Abkhazia and in two districts of South Ossetia.

Gamsakhurdia raised initial hopes for compromise in his new government by withdrawing Round Table/Free Georgia candidacies from runoffs against the opposition Popular Front Party in twelve races. That move ensured the election of Popular Front candidates as individuals in those contests; otherwise, the 4 percent rule would have precluded representation for the Popular Front.

Georgia - The Gamsakhurdia Government

Gamsakhurdia's choice to head the new government, Tengiz Sigua, was almost universally praised. Sigua, formerly director of a metallurgy institute, had been an adroit and evenhanded deputy chairman of the Central Election Commission supervising the 1990 election. The government formed by Gamsakhurdia included many officials who lacked previous government experience. Only one full minister was retained from the communist government, although former deputy ministers were frequently promoted to the top post in ministries concerned with the economy. Initially, the large number of remaining communist deputies formed no organized opposition bloc in the parliament. In fact, the communist party faded rapidly from the scene, and most of its property and publishing facilities were seized. The large, modern facility Shevardnadze had built for the party's Central Committee was taken over by the Cabinet of Ministers. The rapid decline of the communists showed that the major attraction of communist party membership had been the party's position of power; once that power was lost, the number of active communists dropped almost to zero. When the new first secretary of the party ran against Gamsakhurdia for president in 1991, he received less than 2 percent of the vote. After the August 1991 coup in Moscow, Gamsakhurdia banned the communist party, and deputies elected to parliament on the communist ticket were deprived of their seats.

Georgia - Gamsakhurdia's Ouster and Its Aftermath

A small but vocal parliamentary opposition to Gamsakhurdia began to coalesce after August 1991, particularly after government forces reportedly fired on demonstrators in September. At this time, several of Gamsakhurdia's top supporters in the Round Table/Free Georgia bloc joined forces with the opposition. However, the opposition was unable to convince Gamsakhurdia to call new elections in late 1991. The majority of deputies, most of whom owed their presence in parliament to Gamsakhurdia, supported him to the end. Indeed, a significant number of deputies followed Gamsakhurdia into exile in Chechnya, where they continued to issue resolutions and decrees condemning the "illegal putsch."

In the aftermath of Gamsakhurdia's ouster in January 1992, parliament ceased to function and an interim Political Consultative Council was formed. It was to consist of about forty members, to include ten political parties, a select group of intellectuals, and several opposition members of parliament. This council was intended to serve as a substitute parliament, although it only had the right to make recommendations. Legislative functions were granted to a new and larger body, the State Council, created in early March 1992. By May 1992, the State Council had sixty-eight members, including representatives of more than thirty political parties and twenty social movements that had opposed Gamsakhurdia. Efforts were also made to bring in representatives of Georgia's ethnic minorities, although no Abkhazian or Ossetian representatives participated in the new council.

Almost immediately after Gamsakhurdia's ouster, Sigua resumed his position as prime minister and created a working group to draft a new election law that would legitimize the next elected government. Immediately after the overthrow of Gamsakhurdia, the new government feared that Gamsakhurdia retained enough support in Georgia to regain power in the next election. As a result, in March the State Council adopted an electoral system, the single transferable vote, which would virtually guarantee representation by small parties and make it difficult for a party list headed by one prominent figure to translate a majority of popular votes into parliamentary control.

Georgia - New Parties and Shevardnadze's Return

After his return to Georgia in March 1992, Shevardnadze constantly stressed the temporary nature of the new power structure and called for elections as soon as possible. But the leadership postponed balloting until October 1992 because it lacked effective political control over many regions of the country and because of factional wrangling over the new election law. Registration of political parties, which had been suspended by Gamsakhurdia in 1991, resumed early in 1992. Among new party registrants was the Democratic Union, a group consisting mostly of former members and officials of the communist party. Claiming a broad mass following, this party had organizations in most regions of the county. Although wooed by the Democratic Union and other parties, Shevardnadze avoided party affiliation in order to maintain his independent position. The parliament that would be elected in October 1992 clearly would be an interim body given the task of writing a new constitution. Accordingly, the term of office was set for three years.

Georgia - The Election of 1992

After a series of last-minute changes, the electoral system for October 1992 was a compromise combination of single-member districts and proportional voting by party lists. To give regional parties a chance to gain representation, separate party lists were submitted for each of ten historical regions of Georgia. In a change from the 1990 system, no minimum percentage was set for a party to achieve representation in parliament if the party did sufficiently well regionally to seat candidates. Forty-seven parties and four coalitions registered to participate in the 1992 election. For the first time, the Central Election Commission accepted the registration of every party that submitted an application.

The largest of the electoral alliances, and one of the most controversial, was the Peace Bloc (Mshvidoba). This broad coalition of seven parties ranged from the heavily ex-communist Democratic Union to the Union for the Revival of Ajaria, a party of the conservative Ajarian political elite. Ultimately, the strong programmatic differences among the seven parties would render the Peace Bloc ineffective as a parliamentary faction. The Democratic Union filled as much as 70 percent of the places given the coalition on the party lists. In the 1992 election, the Peace Bloc draw a plurality of votes, thus earning the coalition twenty-nine seats in parliament.

The second most important coalition, the October 11 Bloc, included moderate reform leaders of four parties. Members typically had academic backgrounds with few or no communist connections, and the median age of bloc leaders was about fifteen years less than that of the Democratic Union leadership. The October 11 Bloc won eighteen seats, the second largest number in the 1992 election.

A third coalition, the Unity Bloc (Ertoba), lost two of its four member parties before the election. Many of the leaders of the Liberal-Democratic National Party, one of the two remaining constituent parties of the Unity Bloc, were, like the leaders of the Democratic Union, former communist officials who continued to hold influential posts in the Georgian government and mass media. Both the Peace Bloc and the Unity Bloc put prominent cultural figures at the top of their electoral lists to gain attention.

Shevardnadze's actions were crucial in building the foundation for the 1992 election. From the time of his return to Georgia, Shevardnadze enjoyed unparalleled respect and recognition. Because of his unique position, the State Council acted to separate Shevardnadze from party politics by creating a potentially powerful new elected post, chairman of parliament, which would also be contested in the October elections. Because no other candidate emerged, Shevardnadze was convinced to forego partisan politics and grasp this opportunity for national leadership.

The elections took place as scheduled in October 1992 in most regions of the country. International monitors from ten nations reported that, with minor exceptions, the balloting was free and fair. Predictably, Gamsakhurdia declared the results rigged and invalid. Interethnic tensions and Gamsakhurdia's activity forced postponement of elections in nine of the eighty-four administrative districts, located in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and western Georgia. Voters in those areas were encouraged to travel to adjoining districts, however, to vote in all but the regional races. Together, the nonvoting districts represented 9.1 percent of the registered voters in Georgia. In no voting district did less than 60 percent of eligible voters participate.

An important factor in the high voter turnout was the special ballot for Shevardnadze as chairman of the new parliament; a large number of voters cast ballots only for Shevardnadze and submitted blank or otherwise invalid ballots for the other races. Shevardnadze received an overwhelming endorsement, winning approximately 96 percent of the vote. In all, fifty-one of the ninety-two members of the previous State Council were elected to the new parliament. The four sitting members of the State Council Presidium (Shevardnadze, Ioseliani, Sigua, and Kitovani) also were reelected.

Georgia - Formation of the Shevardnadze Government

An immediate goal after Shevardnadze's return was to avoid repeating the one-man rule imposed by Gamsakhurdia while keeping a sufficiently tight grip on central power to prevent regional separatism. The newly elected parliament convened for the first time in November 1992. The lack of dominant parties and the large number of independent deputies ensured that Shevardnadze would dominate parliamentary sessions. The precise role of Shevardnadze was not clear at the time of the elections; on November 6, the parliament ratified proposals on this subject in the Law on State Power. Instead of reestablishing the post of president that had been created by--and was still claimed by--Gamsakhurdia, parliament gave Shevardnadze a new title, head of government. In theory, parliament was to elect the holder of this office, although in practice the position was understood to be combined with the popularly elected post of chairman of the parliament. Thus an impasse between the executive and the legislative branches was avoided by giving the same person a top role in both, but the division of power between the branches remained unclear in early 1994.

Georgia - The Cabinet

The government team selected by Shevardnadze, called the Cabinet of Ministers, was quickly approved by parliament in November 1992. Sigua returned as prime minister. Four deputy prime ministers were chosen in November 1992, including Tengiz Kitovani, former head of the National Guard and minister of defense in the new cabinet. In December 1992, the Presidium of the Cabinet of Ministers was created. This body included the prime minister and his deputy prime ministers as well as the minister of agriculture, the minister of finance, the minister of state property management, the minister of economics, and the minister of foreign affairs.

In December 1992, the Georgian government included eighteen ministries, four state committees, and fifteen departments, which together employed more than 7,600 officials. Many appointees to top government posts, including several ministers, had held positions in the apparatus of the Georgian Communist Party. Although Shevardnadze's early appointments favored his contemporaries and former associates, by late 1993 about half of the top state administrative apparatus were academics. Less than 10 percent were former communists, about 75 percent were under age forty, and more than half came from opposition parties.

In September 1993, the cabinet included the following ministries: agriculture and the food industry; communications; culture; defense; economic reform; education; environment; finance; foreign affairs; health; industry; internal affairs; justice; labor and social security; state property management; and trade and supply. Each of the five deputy prime ministers supervised a group of ministries.

In practice, the Cabinet of Ministers was a major obstacle to reform in 1993. Pro-reform ministers were isolated by the domination of former communists in the Presidium, which stood between Shevardnadze and the administrative machinery of the ministries. In 1993 Shevardnadze himself was reluctant to push hard for the rapid reforms advocated by progressives in parliament. The cabinet was superficially restructured in August 1993, but reformers clamored for a smaller cabinet under direct control of the head of state.

Georgia - Parliament

In 1993 some twenty-six parties and eleven factions held seats in the new parliament, which continued to be called the Supreme Soviet. The legislative branch's basic powers were outlined in the Law on State Power, an interim law rescinding the strict limits placed on legislative activity by Gamsakhurdia's 1991 constitution. Thus in 1993 the parliament had the power to elect and dismiss the head of state by a two-thirds vote; to nullify laws passed by local or national bodies if they conflicted with national law; to decide questions of war and peace; to reject any candidate for national office proposed by the head of state; and, upon demand of one-fifth of the deputies, to declare a vote of no confidence in the sitting cabinet.

Activity within the legislative body was prescribed by the Temporary Regulation of the Georgian Parliament. The parliament as a whole elected all administrative officials, including a speaker and two deputy speakers. Seventeen specialized commissions examined all bills in their respective fields. The speaker had little power over commission chairs or over deputies in general, and parliament suffered from an inefficient structure, insufficient staff, and poor communications. The two days per week allotted for legislative debate often did not allow full consideration of bills.

The major parliamentary reform factions--the Democrats, the Greens, the Liberals, the National Democrats, and the Republicans--were not able to maintain a coalition to promote reform legislation. Of that group, the National Democrats showed the most internal discipline. Shevardnadze received support from a large group of deputies from single-member districts, aligned with Liberals and Democrats. His radical opposition, a combination of several very small parties, was weakened by disunity, but it frequently was able to obstruct debate. The often disorderly parliamentary debates reduced support among the Georgian public, to whom sessions were widely televised.

In November 1993, Shevardnadze was able to merge three small parties with a breakaway faction of the Republicans to form a new party, the Union of Citizens of Georgia, of which he became chairman. This was a new step for the head of state, who previously had refrained from political identification and had relied on coalitions to support his policies. At the same time, Shevardnadze also sought to include the entire loose parliamentary coalition that had recently supported him, in a concerted effort to normalize government after the Abkhazian crisis abated.

Georgia - The Chief Executive

The 1992 Law on State Power gave Shevardnadze power beyond the executive functions of presidential office. As chairman of parliament, he had the right to call routine or extraordinary parliamentary sessions, preside over parliamentary deliberations, and propose constitutional changes and legislation. As head of state, Shevardnadze nominated the prime minister, the cabinet, the chairman of the Information and Intelligence Service, and the president of the National Bank of Georgia (although the parliament had the right of approval of these officials).

Without parliamentary approval, the head of government appointed all senior military leaders and provincial officials such as prefects and mayors. Additional power came from his control of the entire system of state administration, and he could form his own administrative apparatus, which had the potential to act as a shadow government beyond the control of any other branch. Key agencies chaired by Shevardnadze in 1993 were the Council for National Security and Defense, the Emergency Economic Council, and the Scientific and Technical Commission, which advised on military and industrial questions.

In response to calls by the opposition for his resignation during the Abkhazian crisis of mid-1993, Shevardnadze requested and received from parliament emergency powers to appoint all ministers except the prime minister and to issue decrees on economic policy without legislative approval. When the Sigua government resigned in August, parliament quickly approved Shevardnadze's nomination of industrialist Otar Patsatsia as prime minister. Although Shevardnadze argued that greater central power was necessary to curb turmoil, his critics saw him setting a precedent for future dictatorship and human rights abuses.

Georgia - The Judicial System

When Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, the Supreme Court of Georgia was subordinate to the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, and the rule of law in Georgia, still based largely on the Soviet constitution, included the same limitations on personal rights. Beginning in 1990, the court system of Georgia began a major transition toward establishment of an independent judiciary that would replace the powerless rubber-stamp courts of the Soviet period. The first steps, taken in late 1990, were to forbid Supreme Court judges from holding communist party membership and to remove Supreme Court activities from the supervision of the party. After the overthrow of Gamsakhurdia, the pre-Soviet constitution of 1921 was restored, providing the legal basis for separation of powers and an independent court. Substantial opposition to actual independence was centered in the Cabinet of Ministers, however, some of whose members would lose de facto judicial power.

The Supreme Court

In 1993 the Supreme Court had thirty-nine members, of whom nine worked on civil cases and thirty on criminal cases. All judges had been elected for ten-year terms in 1990 and 1991. Shevardnadze made no effort to replace judges elected under Gamsakhurdia, although they had been seated under a different constitutional system. The Supreme Court's functions include interpreting laws, trying cases of serious criminal acts and appeals of regional court decisions, and supervising application of the law by other government agencies. The Procurator General

The postcommunist judicial system has continued the multiple role of the procurator general's office as an agency of investigation, a constitutional court supervising the application of the law, and the institution behind prosecution of crimes in court. In 1993 the procurator general's office retained a semimilitary structure and total authority over the investigation of court cases; judges had no power to reject evidence gained improperly. Advocates of democratization identified abolition of the office of procurator general as essential, with separation of the responsibilities of the procurator general and the courts as a first step.

Prospects for Reform

All parties in Georgia agreed that judicial reform depended on passage of a new constitution delineating the separation of powers. If such a constitution prescribed a strong executive system, the head of government would appoint Supreme Court judges; if a parliamentary system were called for, parliament would make the court appointments. In early 1994, however, the constitution was the subject of prolonged political wrangling that showed no sign of abating. At that point, experts found a second fundamental obstacle to judicial reform in a national psychology that had no experience with democratic institutions and felt most secure with a unitary, identifiable government power. Reform was also required in the training of lawyers and judges, who under the old system entered the profession through the sponsorship of political figures rather than on their own merit.

Regional Courts

Until the Gamsakhurdia period, regional courts were elected by regional party soviets; since 1990 regional courts have been appointed by regional officials. After the beginning of ethnic struggles in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, regional military courts also were established. The head of state appoints military judges, and the Supreme Court reviews military court decisions. The Tbilisi City Court has separate jurisdiction in supervising the observance of laws in the capital city.

Georgia - The Constitution

Under Gamsakhurdia Georgia had continued to function under the Soviet-era constitution of 1978, which was based on the 1977 constitution of the Soviet Union. The first postcommunist parliament amended that document extensively. In February 1992, the Georgian National Congress (the alternate parliament elected in 1990) formally designated the Georgian constitution of February 21, 1921, as the effective constitution of Georgia. That declaration received legitimacy from the signatures of Jaba Ioseliani and Tengiz Kitovani, at that time two of the three members of the governing Military Council.

In February 1993, Shevardnadze called for extensive revisions of the 1921 constitution. Characterizing large sections of that document as wholly unacceptable, Shevardnadze proposed forming a constitutional commission to draft a new version by December 1993. According to Shevardnadze's timetable, the draft would be refined by parliament in the spring of 1994 and then submitted for approval by popular referendum in the fall of 1994.

Georgia - Human Rights

Human rights protection and media freedom have been hindered in postcommunist Georgia by the national government's assumption of central executive power to deal with states of political and military emergency and by the existence of semi-independent military forces. In 1993 the expression of opposition views in the independent media was interrupted by official and unofficial actions against newspapers and broadcasters, despite a stated policy that expression of antigovernment views would be tolerated if not accompanied by violent acts.

Both sides of the Abkhazian conflict claimed widespread interference with civilian human rights by their opponents. Among the charges were abuse of military prisoners, the taking of civilian hostages, and the shelling and blockading of civilian areas. In 1993 the Shevardnadze government began addressing claims of human rights abuses by its military forces and police, particularly against Gamsakhurdia partisans and the Abkhazian population. In January the Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights and Ethnic Minority Affairs formed the Council of Ethnic Minorities, which met with representatives of the Meskhetian Turk exile population to resolve the grievances of that group. At the same time, the Interethnic Congress of the People of Georgia was formed to improve ethnic Georgians' appreciation of minority rights.

Despite the government's efforts, the Abkhazian conflict continued the tension between necessary wartime controls and the need to protect human rights. In June 1993, the international human rights group Helsinki Watch cited Georgia for political persecution, media obstruction, and military abuses of civilian rights, and in October the United States listed human rights progress as a prerequisite for continued economic aid.

Georgia - The Media

The 1992 Law on the Press nominally reversed the rigorous state censorship of the Soviet and Gamsakhurdia periods and guaranteed freedom of speech. In 1993 Georgian law contained no prohibition of public criticism of the head of state, and Shevardnadze was subjected to accusations and comments from every direction. Three television channels are in operation; one, Ibervision, is run independently. Numerous independent newspapers are published; Sakartvelos Respublika (The Georgian Republic) presents the official government view in the daily press.

Despite some liberalization, in 1994 national security remained a rationale for media restriction. During the crisis of September 1993, two pro-Gamsakhurdia newspapers were closed and the office of an independent weekly were attacked by gunmen. The Free Media Association, an organization including eight independent newspapers, blamed a progovernment party for the attack. After his controversial decision in October to join the CIS, Shevardnadze threatened to close hostile newspapers, and no television channel discussed the widespread disagreement with the head of state's CIS initiative.

Georgia - Foreign Relations

Georgia's long tradition as a crossroads of East-West commerce was interrupted by the trade practices of the Soviet Union and then by Gamsakhurdia's isolationist policy. Although the Shevardnadze government sought to revive the national economy by reinstating ties with both East and West, in 1992 and 1993 domestic turmoil prevented major steps in that direction. In 1993 Shevardnadze traveled widely among the former Soviet republics (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan) and elsewhere (Germany, China, and the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Belgium) to solidify Georgia's international position and solicit aid. By September, Georgia had diplomatic relations with seventy-eight countries and economic cooperation treaties with sixteen.

Georgia - The Soviet and Gamsakhurdia Periods

Soviet policy effectively cut traditional commercial and diplomatic links to Turkey, which became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ( NATO) in 1952, and to Iran, a United States ally until the late 1970s. Instead, virtually all transportation and commercial links were directed to Russia and the other Soviet republics. The same redirection occurred with diplomatic ties, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union controlled. Shevardnadze's presence as Soviet foreign minister from 1985 to 1990 provided little direct benefit to Georgia aside from the large number of highranking guests who visited the republic in that period. That group included Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and United States Secretary of State George Shultz.

Under Gamsakhurdia Georgia's efforts to break out of the diplomatic isolation of the Soviet period were stymied by the reluctance of the outside world to recognize breakaway republics while the Soviet Union still existed. Romania, which granted recognition in August 1991, was one of the few countries to do so during the Gamsakhurdia period. Several Georgian delegations came to the United States in 1991 in an effort to establish diplomatic ties, but Washington largely ignored those efforts. Given stable internal conditions, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in late 1991 would have released Georgia from its isolation, but by that time the revolt against Gamsakhurdia was in full force. After the violent overthrow of Gamsakhurdia, other governments were reluctant to recognize the legitimacy of his successors. This situation changed in March 1992, when the internationally prominent Shevardnadze returned to Georgia and became chairman of the State Council.

In 1992 and 1993, United States aid to Georgia totaled US$224 million, most of it humanitarian, placing Georgia second in per capita United States aid among the former Soviet republics. In September 1993, Shevardnadze appealed directly to the United States Congress for additional aid. At that time, President William J. Clinton officially backed Shevardnadze's efforts to maintain the territorial integrity of Georgia. Reports of human rights offenses against opposition figures, however, brought United States warnings late in 1993 that continued support depended on the Georgian government's observance of international human rights principles.

Georgia - The Foreign Policy Establishment

In his role as head of the State Council, Shevardnadze exerted a strong and direct influence on Georgia's foreign policy prior to the 1992 election. The additional post of head of government, which he acquired after the election, gave him the right to conduct negotiations with foreign governments and to sign international treaties and agreements. In the Sigua cabinet, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was headed by Alexander Chikhvaidze, who had worked previously in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union and was serving as Soviet ambassador to the Netherlands at the time of his appointment in Tbilisi. The Council for National Security and Defense was formed in late 1992 to formulate strategic and security policy under the chairmanship of the head of state.

Georgia - Revived Contacts in 1992

Shevardnadze's diplomatic contacts and personal relationships with many of the world's leaders ended Georgia's international isolation in 1992. In March Germany became the first Western country to post an ambassador to Georgia; Shevardnadze's close relations with German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher were a key factor in that decision. Recognition by the United States came in April 1992, and a United States embassy was opened in June 1992. Georgia became the 179th member of the United Nations in July 1992; it was the last of the former Soviet republics to be admitted. By December 1992, six countries had diplomatic missions in Tbilisi: China, Germany, Israel, Russia, Turkey, and the United States. Seventeen other countries began conducting diplomatic affairs with Georgia through their ambassadors to Russia or Ukraine. In August 1993, the United States granted Georgia most-favored-nation status, and the European Community offered technical economic assistance.

Unlike some former Soviet republics such as Armenia, Lithuania, and Ukraine, Georgia lacked a large number of emigrants in the West who could establish links to the outside world once internal conditions made such connections possible. Small groups of Georgian exiles lived in Paris and other European capitals, but they were mostly descended from members of the Social Democratic government that had been forced into exile with the incorporation of Georgia into the Soviet empire in 1921.

The only large group of emigrants that maintained contact with Georgia were Georgian Jews who had taken advantage of the Soviet Union's expansion of Jewish emigration rights in the 1970s and 1980s. Because Jews had lived in Georgia for many centuries and because Georgia had no history of anti-Semitism, many Georgian Jews continued to feel an attachment to Georgia and its culture, language, and people. Largely as a result of these ties, relations between Georgia and Israel flourished on many levels.

Georgia - Relations with Neighboring Countries

Of particular importance to Georgia's postcommunist foreign policy and national security was the improvement of relations with neighbors on all sides: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Turkey. This goal was complicated by a number of ethnic and political issues as well as by historical differences.

Armenia and Azerbaijan

Among former Soviet republics, the neighboring Transcaucasian nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan have special significance for Georgia. Despite Georgia's obvious cultural and religious affinities with Armenia, relations between Georgia and Muslim Azerbaijan generally have been closer than those with Christian Armenia. Economic and political factors have contributed to this situation. First, Georgian fuel needs make good relations with Azerbaijan vital to the health of the Georgian economy. Second, Georgians have sympathized with Azerbaijan's position in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh because of similarities to Georgia's internal problems with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both countries cite the principle of "inviolability of state borders" in defending national interests against claims by ethnic minorities.

In December 1990, Georgia under Gamsakhurdia signed a cooperation agreement with Azerbaijan affecting the economic, scientific, technical, and cultural spheres. In February 1993, Georgia under Shevardnadze concluded a far-reaching treaty of friendship, cooperation, and mutual relations with Azerbaijan, including a mutual security arrangement and assurances that Georgia would not reexport Azerbaijani oil or natural gas to Armenia. In 1993 Azerbaijan exerted some pressure on Georgia to join the blockade of Armenia and to curb incursions by Armenians from Georgian territory into Azerbaijan. The issue of discrimination against the Azerbaijani minority in Georgia, a serious matter during Gamsakhurdia's tenure, was partially resolved under Shevardnadze.

In the early 1990s, Armenia maintained fundamentally good relations with Georgia. The main incentive for this policy was the fact that Azerbaijan's blockade of Armenian transport routes and pipelines meant that routes through Georgia were Armenia's only direct connection with the outside world. Other considerations in the Armenian view were the need to protect the Armenians in Georgia and the need to stem the overflow of violence from Georgian territory. The official ties that Georgia forged with Azerbaijan between 1991 and 1993 strained relations with Armenia, which was in a state of virtual war with Azerbaijan for much of that period. Nevertheless, Gamsakhurdia signed a treaty with Armenia on principles of cooperation in July 1991, and Shevardnadze signed a friendship treaty with Armenia in May 1993. With the aim of restoring mutually beneficial economic relations in the Caucasus, Shevardnadze also attempted (without success) to mediate the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in early 1993.

Georgia - Russia

Of all countries, Georgia's relations with Russia were both the most important and the most ambivalent. Russia (and previously the Soviet Union) was deeply involved at many levels in the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and in 1993 Ajarian leaders also declared Russia the protector of their national interests. Thus Russia seemingly holds the key to a resolution of those conflicts in a way that would avoid the fragmentation of Georgia. Trade ties with Russia, disrupted by Gamsakhurdia's struggle with Gorbachev and by ethnic conflicts on Georgia's borders with Russia, also are critical to reviving the Georgian economy.

Russia finally recognized Georgia's independence in mid-1992 and appointed an ambassador in October. In 1993 Russia's official position was that a stable, independent Georgia was necessary for security along Russia's southern border. The conditions behind that position were Russia's need for access to the Black Sea, which was endangered by shaky relations with Ukraine, the need for a buffer between Russia and Islamic extremist movements Russia feared in Turkey and Iran, the need to protect the 370,000 ethnic Russians in Georgia, and the refugee influx and violence in the Russian Caucasus caused by turmoil across the mountains in Georgia. Although Shevardnadze was officially well regarded, Russian nationalists, many of them in the Russian army, wished to depose him as punishment for his initial refusal to bring Georgia into the CIS and for his role as the Soviet foreign minister who "lost" the former Soviet republics in 1991.

In pursuing its official goals, Russia offered mediation of Georgia's conflicts with the Abkhazian, Ajarian, and Ossetian minorities, encouraging Georgia to increase the autonomy of those groups for the sake of national stability. At the same time, Russian military policy makers openly declared Georgia's strategic importance to Russian national security. Such statements raised suspicions that, as in 1801 and 1921, Russia would take advantage of Georgia's weakened position and sweep the little republic back into the empire.

Despite the misgivings of his fellow Georgians, in 1993 Shevardnadze pursued talks toward a comprehensive bilateral Georgian-Russian treaty of friendship. Discussions were interrupted by surges of fighting in Abkhazia, however, and relations were cooled by Shevardnadze's claim that Russia was aiding the secessionist campaign that had begun in August.

In September 1993, the fall of Sukhumi to Abkhazian forces signaled the crumbling of the Georgian army, and the return of Gamsakhurdia threatened to split Georgia into several parts. Shevardnadze, recognizing the necessity of outside military help to maintain his government, agreed to join the CIS on terms dictated by Russia in return for protection of government supply lines by Russian troops. Meanwhile, despite denials by the Yeltsin government, an unknown number of Russians still gave "unofficial" military advice and matériel to the Abkhazian forces, which experts believed would not have posed a major threat to Tbilisi without such assistance. Shevardnadze defended CIS membership at home as an absolute necessity for Georgia's survival as well as a stimulant to increased trade with Russia.

Georgia - Turkey

Despite a history of episodic Turkish invasions, Shevardnadze courted Turkey as an economic and diplomatic partner. Georgians took advantage of the opening of border traffic with Turkey to begin vigorous commercial activities with their nearest "capitalist" neighbor. In 1992 Georgia became a member of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, which is based in Turkey. In December 1992, Turkey granted Georgia a credit equivalent to US$50 million to purchase wheat and other goods and to stimulate Turkish private investment in the republic. Georgia also signed several diplomatic agreements with Turkey in the early 1990s, including a Georgian pledge to respect existing common borders, and official Turkish support of Georgian national integrity against the Abkhazian separatist movement. The issue of reinstatement of exiled Meskhetian Turks eased in 1993 when Georgia established official contacts with that minority.

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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