Georgia returns to the West

Brief Historical Overview

Georgia, an ancient nation in Eastern Europe, has been a part of Occidental or Western World since its foundation. The country was one of the first to adopt Christianity in the 4th century. Since then, the Kingdom of Georgia has been the stalwart protector of European values surrounded by culturally distinguished nations. Unfortunately, Georgia’s close connections with Roman and later Byzantine empires have been overshadowed by the annexation of Georgian Kingdom by Russian Empire at the beginning of the 19th century. Throughout the period of annexation into Russian empire, Georgian literature thrived, and the trends of European culture can be seen in the writings of Georgia’s most acclaimed public figures, Ilia Chavchavadze, Vazha-Pshavela, Akaki Tsereteli, Ivane Javakhishvili and many others.
In the aftermath of the World War I, in 1918, Georgia enjoyed brief independence from Russian empire. In this time, Ivane Javakhishvili, who received his education in Russia and Germany, founded the first Georgian University (Tbilisi State University), which now bears his name. Javakishvili, was later forced to resign as his ideology opposed the one of the ruling Soviet Union in 1926. Some groups such as “Blue Horn”, composed by progressive Georgian writers have opposed Georgia’s annexation first into Russian Empire and later into the Soviet Union. One of the leaders of the group “Blue Horn” was a Georgian publicist, Grigol Robakidze, who spent his academic career in Germany. Robakidze, throughout his life, fought for an independent, European Georgia, which made him a target of Russian Bolsheviks. Unfortunately, Georgia lost its independence in 1921 as Bolshevik forces compeled Georgian Government to leave the country. France accepted Georgian Prime Minister Noe Zhordania and his government in exile. Also, numerous precious pieces of Georgian material culture were brought to France with the immense help of Georgian historian, Ekvtime Takaishvili.

 

Regained Independence

In 1921, Georgia became a member of the communist Soviet Union. However, many opposed Soviet invasion, as a result, throughout the 20th century, many Georgian public figures were exiled or killed due to their opposition to the Soviet system. However, even in the Soviet Union, Georgia was seen as the most progressive country. In 1991, Georgia managed to regain independence as the Soviet Union collapsed. The independence came with many sacrifices as the country engaged in wars against Russian-supported separatists in Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. First democratically elected president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was overthrown in a military coup and later died in still unexplored circumstances. When the civil war and conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia ended, former, Georgian native foreign minister of Soviet Union, Eduard Shevardnadze became president of Georgia. His 8-year tenure marked the beginning of Georgia’s return to the European family. During Shevardnadze’s presidency, Georgia became part of the Council of Europe and member of the World Trade Organization. During Shevardnadze’s presidency, Georgia declared that the country aspired to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Unfortunately, Shevardnadze’s presidential terms faced many shortcomings. Widespread corruption in every sector of the government and breaching of parliamentary elections in 2003, inspired the Rose Revolution, led by Mikheil Saakashvili, US-educated lawyer who became the third President of Georgia. During Saakashvili’s time, Georgia intensified economic development, Saakashvili started reforms in almost every sector of the government, eradicating corruption from the system, creating a reliable police force, privatizing many governments owned entities and establishing a free market in Georgia. During his presidency, Georgia became an economically open society, advancing in multiple international rankings which attracted more foreign direct investments to the country. European leaders praised Georgia’s aspirations and Georgia truly gained importance on Western political agendas. Georgia intensified its relations with NATO and the European Union. In 2008, 70% of Georgians voted to become part of NATO parallel to the 2008 presidential elections. In the same year, NATO Bucharest Summit declared that Georgia will become the member of NATO but failed short to offer a timeline for Georgia’s integration. Unfortunately, Russia remained opposed to Georgia’s Western aspirations. First, the northern neighbour put an embargo on Georgian wine (most prominent product from Georgia) and other products. Later, Russian federation engaged in military conflict over South Ossetia in August 2008, stationing its troops on Georgian soil and unlawfully occupying Georgian lands. Multiple UN and OSCE resolutions have urged Russia to withdraw troops from Georgia as the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are recognized as integral parts of Georgia by the clear majority of countries.
Georgia soon recovered from the five-day war in 2008; in 2009, the country became a strategic partner of the United States and engaged in European Union’s Eastern Partnership Initiative. The country also intensified relations with NATO, engaging in first ISAF operation in Afghanistan and later in Resolute Support Mission. Today, Georgia remains the largest per capita contributor to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.


Bulwark of Democracy in the Region

In 2012, Georgia saw the first democratic transition of power as the opposition party Georgian Dream under the leadership of a billionaire, Bidzina Ivanishvili defeated ruling Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement in parliamentary elections. This was seen as a victory for Georgian democracy as the country which faced multiple military conflicts in the last two decades managed to become a bulwark of democracy in the region.
After the election of Georgian Dream, the country was granted visa-free regime with the European Union and signed the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the European Union, opening new markets for Georgian exports as well as bringing more investors from the Western countries. The current government of Georgia envisions Georgia’s role as a business hub in the region as the country ranks 9th in terms of easy doing business (according to 2017 World Bank).
The current initiatives such as the launch of Anaklia Deep Sea Port on Georgia’s Black Sea Coast will allow for more significant transits from Europe through Georgia to Asian markets, reviving the ancient Silk Road. This puts Georgia at a globally important position, as the country signed Free Trade Agreement with China and had enjoyed free trade with the Commonwealth of Independent States. Georgia is the first country to have such agreements with the EU, CIS and China.

 

Conclusion

After Georgia regained its independence, the country sought to return to the European family. The current government under Prime Minister Kvirikashvili has politically associated Georgia to Europe, receiving visa-free travels for Georgian citizens and gaining access to European markets. The country is no longer a former Soviet nation but a staunch EU enthusiast country. Primary challenges on Georgia’s Western path remain Russian aggression and its unlawful occupation of Georgian territories. This way, Russian Federation seeks to hold Georgia’s Western aspirations and influence its decision making, the strategy that had no results. Georgia remains committed to Western values, it sees itself as the most EU enthusiast country in Europe and hopes to reunite officially with the Western world by becoming a member of the European Union and NATO.

Photo credit: Ioseb ‘Joseph’ Jorjoliani

Ioseb 'Joseph' Jorjoliani

Ioseb ‘Joseph’ Jorjoliani Public Affairs Officer, The Embassy of Georgia to the United States MA Candidate, Center for German and European Studies, Georgetown University