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The Evolution Of Democracy In Georgia

4979 words - 20 pages

The Georgian people made its choice on 26 May 1918, when it voted for democracy and pluralism in the conditions of a free Georgia. 26 May was destroyed by Bolshevik bayonets, but the idea of freedom and democracy remain undefeated in the Georgian - Statement of the National Democratic Party, 1988.1

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Caucasian country of Georgia (map below) was among the vanguard of forces seeking the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was the only republic to join the Baltic in flatly refusing to even consider signing Gorbachev's new Union treaty in 1990.2 Agitation for Georgian independence led to a series of bloody clashes with the authorities that only served to further radicalize the nationalists. When discussing the prospects for independence, many Georgians mentioned the short-lived Georgian Democratic Republic, which managed to survive for "three halcyon years... 1918-1921, the period lovingly referred to by Georgians as 'independent Georgia'."3 This brief period was critically important for the development of a Georgian nationalism. In effect, the existence of Georgia as an independent nation led to the birth and initial growth of nationalism in Georgia. The history of Georgia from 1917 to 1921 shows a steadily increasing national feeling, which was not crushed by the Soviet invasion and later formed the basis of the strong separatist tendencies of the Georgians in the final decades of the Soviet Union.

Before the Russian Revolution, Georgian national feeling was so subdued as to be effectively negligible. The absorption of feudal Georgia into the Russian Empire in 1801 and the subsequent Russian administration of the country were widely accepted as necessary for the protection of the country against the Ottoman Empire and, to a lesser extent, Persia. During the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, "Georgian nationalism had been preserved by the feudal nobility, which had lost its control over the country as a result of Russian annexation. Yet the Georgian nobility lacked wide popular support, which precluded its nationalism from becoming a mass movement."4 Although relatively large (the Georgian nobility accounted for over five percent of the population in the nineteenth century, compared to less than one percent for neighboring Armenia), the Georgian nobility was also widely disliked, and had been losing its wealth and strength since the Russian takeover.

A much more significant movement in late Imperial Russian Georgia was Socialism. Georgian socialism was founded in the 1880s by Sylvester Jibladze, Nikolai Chkheidze and Noe Zhordania, who were followers of Plekhanov but joined the Mensheviks after the split in the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party. Although the Transcaucasian Social-Democrats did not hear of the schism of the Second Party Congress until nearly a year after it occurred, once their delegates returned they embraced Menshevism en masse.

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