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The Country

A map of Georgia that shows the capital city of Tbilisi and the country’s borders: Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Black Sea.

“Georgia’s been overrun so many times. It so frequently gets completely devastated by all these big neighbors. The Persians, the Turks, the Mongols… they’ve all been here and smashed the place up.” 
							—Piers Lewis, AES manager

With borders adjacent to Russia, Turkey and the Black Sea, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia has a long history of political instability under foreign powers. Legend has it that Jason and the Argonauts came to Georgia during ancient times to steal the Golden Fleece, a goat skin that collected particles of gold in a mountain stream. More recent “visitors” have included Turks, Persians and Russians, the last of which forcibly incorporated Georgia into the Soviet Union in 1921. Throughout the twentieth century, Georgians struggled in vain for independence. Following a national liberation movement, the country declared independence from Moscow in 1991, a move that spurred many other Soviet republics to do the same and heralded the eventual dissolution of the U.S.S.R.

But Georgia’s independence was quickly followed by secessionist conflict, chaos and civil war. Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected Georgia's first post-independence president in 1991, only to be forced out by a military coup less than a year later. He was succeeded by Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet Foreign Minister who struggled to restore order amid rampant institutional corruption. As seen in POWER TRIP, the late 1990s in Georgia were a time of turbulence and frustration fraught with problems including a plummeting economy and a lack of available basic amenities—like electricity.

In November 2003, disputed Parliamentary election results caused widespread protests in Georgia’s capital city of Tbilisi. In a popular uprising known as the Rose Revolution, protesters stormed Parliament and forced President Shevardnadze out of the building. Shevardnadze resigned soon after, when opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili presented him with an ultimatum to quit.

Two months later, Saakashvili, a young, Columbia University-educated lawyer, was elected Georgia’s new president. Instituting sweeping reforms, he pledged to revive the flagging economy, unify the fractured country and do away with corruption. Many former government officials were arrested (including David Mirtskhulava, the Energy Minister in POWER TRIP) as Saakashvili seemed to tackle corruption head-on. In August 2004, his call for Georgia’s reunification with the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia increased tensions in the area. Although Saakashvili’s popularity remained high throughout his first year in office, his administration has also inherited a myriad of chronic problems with solutions that remain to be seen.

Sources

Eurasianet.org: Georgia

The Library of Congress: A Country Study: Georgia

BBC News: “People Power Forces Georgia Leader Out”

“Georgia’s New Leader Baffles U.S. and Russia Alike”
By C.J. Chivers
The New York Times, August 17, 2004

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