A word about my country

President Eduard Shevardnadze, of the Citizen's Union of Georgia, puts the realities of Georgia today in the context of his region's history

Issue 3, Volume 47, 1998


`Georgia has our features' - Ilia Chavchavadze

My country is not big - only a little over 69 thousand square kilometres. It is, however, vast in its past, recorded in the works of the fathers of history Strabo and Herodotus as well as in the legends of Prometheus and the Golden Fleece.

According to one legend, Georgia is the home of Saint George who suffered and fought against suffering. Another legend ascribes her beauty and riches to the Creator who is believed to have stumbled upon the Caucasus mountains and dropped His gifts in the strip of land between the Caspian and Black Seas. If we refer to the maps, we will understand what Georgia's golden fleece really is, and how this source of her wealth also became the source of her historical trials.

Due to her location on the busiest, most vibrant crossroads between East and West, at the intersection of Christianity and Islam, and on the shortest route from Asia to Europe, to ports, straits and seas, Georgia was for centuries the arena of contests for dominance over the region. This has been Georgia's cross to bear and the Caucasus her Golgotha. Without having control over the routes crossing Georgia, it was impossible to gain a foothold on this strategic crossroads of the world. This is a region of ancient seats of civilisation which emerged between the volcanic formations of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus. With the territory stretching over 440 thousand square kilometres, the Caucasus is home to more than 50 peoples whose fates have been tragically linked with the battles for this billowing earth. The discovery of the richest oilfields has turned the Caucasus into an arena of the even more fierce Great Game.

Crucified on the cross of geopolitics, Georgia had vainly tried to retain its 3,000-year-old statehood. For centuries, this struggle had been indivisible from a fight for the survival of culture, faith and language. Since it became the state religion of Georgia in 337, Orthodox Christianity has endorsed our striving toward national unity within integral borders. At the same time, on no occasion has Georgia experienced xenophobia or religious fanaticism. Tolerance has been her hallmark and the canon of her life.

`The Martyrdom of Shushanik' - the earliest surviving Georgian literary work from the fifth century - is a paean to the ideal of freedom. Circumstances, however, all too often compelled the country to make a tormented choice between ideals and physical survival. No country of the Western Christian world, whose advanced post Georgia had historically been, was able or, rather, ever tried to help Georgia resist her mighty neighbours. Protection finally came from Russia for which Georgia had to pay with her very statehood. This, however, was not too high a price in view of the colossal stake - the physical survival of the Georgian people themselves.

The collapse of the Russian Empire allowed Georgia, as well as her neighbours Azerbaijan and Armenia, to declare its independence in 1918. This was the first democratic state in history led by social democrats. Independence ended in 1921, when Soviet occupation resulted in the annexation of the Transcaucasian states and the Mountain Republic of the Northern Caucasus. Leaders of the international social democratic movement protested against it, but the Great Game muffled their objections.

The force that violently pushed Georgia into the Soviet Union, was inspired by the ideology of class struggle. Historical territorial borders were altered with the crude axe of `proletarian internationalism', forming political and administrative territorial arrangements into which the seeds of conflict were sown.

Now, for the second time in this century, the disintegration of an empire unleashed a colossal conflict-ridden energy which had been hereto corked by the all-embracing totalitarian suppression. Ethnic diversity, economic crisis, a collective memory of the Caucasian War of the previous century, Stalin's deportations of peoples, and other historically explosive materials have turned the Caucasus into a powder keg and, all of a sudden, hands holding burning matches began stretching toward us from all directions.

External forces have attempted to cause destabilisation so as to tame the `shrewish' republics, while various internal groups sporting quasi-patriotic and religious slogans used the situation to promote their own criminal agenda. This was exacerbated by a new geopolitical race for the Caucasus which then ensued. The situation became critically tense on the issue of production and transport of Caspian oil. Once more, Georgia found itself in the nexus of the Caucasian problems. Conflicts erupting on its territories had far reaching objectives, one of them being to prevent Georgia from capitalising on her main treasure, as I mentioned above.

Yet, we have managed to save our `golden fleece' and, for the first time in our history, to use it for our benefit. Thanks to the Europe-Asia-Caucasus Project of the European Commission within the framework of the TACIS Programme, my country is becoming a reliable link on the reviving Great Silk Road which will connect the newly independent states of Eurasia and the older democracies of the West - thus becoming the pivot of our independence. In this new role, Georgia and the Caucasus region are ideally suited for the success of my `Peaceful Caucasus' initiative, which I am sure can become a reality.

But I have said practically nothing about my country - what the country and its people are like. According to our great poet Ilia Chavchavadze: `Georgia has our features'. This is a country of the grapevine, and that is why we know how to make and appreciate good wines. Another great Georgian, philosopher Merab Mamardashvili contends that Georgians possess a unique talent for life, and I agree with him. Yet the mountains, churches, and fortresses before us do not let us forget our scale in the context of history. In recent years, wars and conflicts have altered the charming landscapes of our land, and not for the better. This proves that indeed Georgia will have the features we give it. My colleagues and I hope that Georgia increases in beauty and wealth. We are working hard toward this, and have achieved a few things along the way.




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