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date: 01 December 2022

Modern Georgialocked

Modern Georgialocked

  • Adrian BriskuAdrian BriskuInstitute of International Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University

Summary

Arguably, an account of modern Georgia is one about the country’s emergence as a political nation (independent republic and nation-state) in the region of the Caucasus—geographically straddled in between the Eurasian landmass—and the challenges of redefining, developing, and preserving itself. It is also about how it was forged under and often against its powerful neighbors, most notably the tsarist Soviet and Russian state, and about its equally uneven interactions with other neighboring nations and nationalities within its political borders. And while one cannot put a precise date on the cultural and political processes as to when this modern Georgia emerged, the late 19th century is that period when people within the two tsarist governorates of Tbilisi and Kutaisi interacted more intensively among themselves, but also within the imperial cultural and political centers of St. Petersburg and Moscow as well as beyond the imperial confines, in Central and Western European capitals. This in turn—following impactful events: the 1861 tsarist Emancipation of Serfs, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, the First World War, the February and October Revolutions of 1917, the brief making of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (1918)—led to a diffusion of and reaction to political, economic, and cultural ideas from European and imperial metropoles that on May 26, 1918, culminated with the establishment, for the first time, of Georgia as a nation-state: the Georgian Democratic Republic. A social democratic nation-state in its political content, the political life of this first republic was cut short on February 25, 1921, by the Red Army of a re-emerging Russian (Soviet) state. In the ensuing seventy years in the Soviet Union—initially, from 1922 to 1936, as a constitutive republic of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic and then as a separate Soviet Socialist Republic until the implosion of the union in 1991—the republic and its society experienced the effects of the making and unmaking of the Soviet Marxist-Leninist modernization project. Especially impactful for the republic and its society was the period of the 1930s and 1940s under the hyper-centralized rule of the Georgian-born Soviet Communist Party leader Joseph V. Stalin: a period marked by implementation of a centrally planned economic model and political purges as well as a consolidation of the nation’s ethnocultural and territorial makeup. Also important was the late Soviet period, particularly that under the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whereby thanks to the economic and political reforms undertaken in the later 1980s, calls for the recovering of the republic’s political independence were intensified and ultimately realized. This happened on April 9, 1991—with the first Georgian president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, declaring the independence of the Republic of Georgia before the Soviet Union’s dissolution on December 26, 1991—and its international recognition would come easily and fast. But what would prove difficult and slow, from the outset, was building a European-style nation-state—meaning a liberal democratic order based on the rule of law and a market society—as was the case in the brief presidency of Gamsakhurdia (1991–1992). The latter’s term was marred by an ethnopolitical war in the South Ossetian region and brought to an end by a civil war fought in the capital city of Tbilisi and the Megrelian region. It continued to be difficult during the long and interrupted presidency of the former Georgian Communist Party boss, Eduard Shevardnadze (1995–2003)—the 1995 Constitution established a semi-presidential system of government—in which an ethnopolitical war with Abkhazia started and ended (1992–1993), state institutions stabilized, and a pro-Euro-Atlantic as opposed to a pro-Russian foreign policy was articulated, but state corruption also thrived. A European-style republic appeared closer during the full-term “hyper-presidency” of the Western-educated president Mikheil Saakashvili (2004–2013), marked by concrete steps toward Euro-Atlantic integration (NATO membership and EU partnership/toward membership) and a distancing from Russia as well as top-down neoliberal domestic reforms. But the republic was scarred by a war with Russia in August 2008 and a growing authoritarianism at home. It remains so despite a shift, since 2013, from a presidential to a parliamentary republic with the last directly elected president being the first woman president, Salome Zurabishvili (2018–). Since 2012, the Georgian Dream Party—established by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili (prime minister, 2012–2013)—governs the republic by pursuing Western-oriented domestic reforms, EU and NATO integration, and a nonconfrontational position against Russia. The latter continues to undermine the country’s territorial integrity, having recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence in 2008 and maintaining its military bases there.

Subjects

  • Central Asia
  • Citizenship and National Identity/Nationalism
  • World/Global/Transnational

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