Republic of Georgia

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საქართველო
Sakartvelo
Georgia rel99.jpg
Flag of Republic of Georgia.png
Arms of Georgian republic.png
FlagCoat of Arms
CapitalTbilisi
GovernmentSemi-presidential republic
LanguageGeorgian (official)
PresidentMikheil Saakashvili
Prime ministerBidzina Ivanishvili
Area26,916 sq mi
Population 20054,630,841
GDP 2007$20.5 billion
GDP per capita$4,700
CurrencyLari

Georgia is a country in the Caucasus just north of eastern Turkey. It was formerly in the Soviet Union until given independence in 1991. Georgia's capital is Tbilisi. The current President of Georgia is the pro-Western Mikhail Shikashvili. Tensions are very high with neighboring Russia over the status of two provinces. Georgia has sought NATO membership for protection, but has been turned down. The United States is generally favorable toward Georgia, but does not want the conflicts there to escalate or cause a serious reputure between Moscow and Washington. It was the second country in the world to adapt Christianity as its state religion in AD 319.

Contents

People

  • Population (July 2008 est.): 4.63 million.
  • Population growth rate (2007 est.): 0.33%.
  • Ethnic groups (2002 census): Georgian 83.8%, Azeri 6.5%, Armenian 5.7%, Russian 1.5%, other 2.5%.
  • Religion (2002 census): Orthodox Christian 83.9%, Muslim 9.9%, Armenian Apostolic 3.9%, Catholic 0.8%; other 0.8%; none 0.7%.
  • Language: Georgian (official), Abkhaz also "official language" in Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia.
  • Education: Years compulsory 11. Literacy (2004 est.) 100%.
  • Health: Infant mortality rate (2007 est.) 17.36 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy (2007 est.) 76.3 yrs.

Government

Georgia has been a democratic republic since the presidential elections and constitutional referendum of October 1995. The President is elected for a term of 5 years, limited to 2 terms; his constitutional successor is the Speaker of Parliament.

Parliamentary elections on November 2, 2003 were marred by irregularities and fraud according to local and international observers. Popular demonstrations ensued in the streets of Tbilisi; protestors carried roses in their hands and these peaceful protests became known as the Rose Revolution. Former President Eduard Shevardnadze resigned on November 23, 2003, and the Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze assumed the role of Interim President. President Mikheil Saakashvili was elected to a 5-year term in January 2004. Parliamentary elections were re-held in March 2004 and President Saakashvili's party, National Movement, combined with Speaker Burjanadze's party, the Burjanadze-Democrats, won the majority of seats.

On May 24, 2005, the Parliament passed legislation to decentralize power from the central government in Tbilisi to local government authorities in the regions. Elections were held on October 5, 2006 to elect 1,732 members of 69 local councils and seven city governments.

Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2008.

Principal Government Officials

  • President -- Mikheil Saakashvili
  • Prime Minister -- Bidzina Ivanishvili
  • Speaker of Parliament -- Nino Burjanadze
  • Foreign Minister -- Gela Bezhuashvilii
  • Defense Minister -- David Kezerashvili
  • Interior Minister -- Vano Merabishvili
  • State Minister of Georgia for Conflict Resolution -- David Bakradze

Political Conditions

President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power following his near-unanimous election in early 2004 on the heels of the Rose Revolution in November 2003. The revolution swept out nearly all the old, discredited politicians in the previous government and replaced them with young, often western-educated officials. Saakashvili's National Movement party continues to enjoy wide popularity; opposition parties are weak and disunited, although they are free to organize and actively campaign for office.

Beginning in 2004, the government announced its goals of building democracy, increasing prosperity, and peacefully reincorporating Georgia's separatist regions. The political status of the Russian-supported separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remains unresolved, however, and continues to challenge the government.

Since 2004, the Government of Georgia has turned a nearly failed state into a rapidly maturing market democracy. Parliamentary and municipal elections have been judged to be largely free and fair, although problems remain with voter lists. The new government took action against endemic corruption. It completely reorganized the traffic police, which was infamous for its corruption prior to the Rose Revolution. Corrupt judges were dismissed, and a fair examination system for entering the universities was implemented. A great deal of progress has also been made in reforming Georgia's military, bringing it closer to the standards required for NATO membership. Georgia is seeking membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions, particularly the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and eventually the European Union (EU). In September 2006, NATO granted Georgia Intensified Dialogue on requirements for membership in the organization.

Nearly four years after the Rose Revolution, the Georgian government has implemented an impressive program of governance reform, anti-corruption measures, and democratic institution building. The Saakashvili government has been criticized for concentrating too much power within the executive branch of government. However in 2006, Parliament passed sweeping local government reforms designed to decentralize power to the regions and give local governments increased authority. Successful local elections were held in October 2006 to elect officials to fill new positions throughout Georgia created by these reforms. Georgia has received high marks from the World Bank and others on the government's aggressive anti-corruption campaign. Democratic institutions were strengthened as public service reform gained momentum and judicial reform was acknowledged as a priority. Constitutional amendments signed into law in 2006 increased the independence of the judiciary; further reforms have aimed at increasing respect for and strengthening the rule of law. In July 2007, legislation banning ex parte communication was passed, prohibiting parties to a case from communicating with judges during the pre-trial investigation period as well as during the trial. Legislation requiring the Ministry of Justice to establish a legal aid office was also passed, making available assistance and representation in court proceedings to those who request it. The Georgian legislature has instituted political reforms supportive of higher human rights standards, including religious freedoms that are enshrined in the constitution. The government has launched an aggressive campaign to combat trafficking in persons.

The separatist conflict in Abkhazia continues to simmer, with frequent accusations from the Georgian Government that ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia face discrimination from the Abkhaz de facto authorities. The Abkhaz de facto authorities seek full independence from Georgia, and are currently refusing talks following the reassertion of Georgian Government control over the upper Kodori Valley area of Abkhazia in the summer of 2006. Since December 1993, the United Nations has chaired negotiations toward a settlement in Abkhazia. The UN mediator is the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), currently Ambassador Jean Arnault. The Group of Friends of the UN Secretary General on Georgia (consisting of the United States, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom) supports the UN-led peace process. UNOMIG and the Friends continue to encourage the adoption of confidence-building measures in the region. The Georgian legislature passed a resolution on the CIS peacekeepers in Abkhazia, declaring its belief that the peacekeepers have been ineffective in establishing conditions to allow the return of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Georgians displaced by the conflict. The Parliament has repeatedly expressed its desire for the peacekeepers to be replaced by an international police force; however, the Georgian Government has made no official demand for the peacekeepers in Abkhazia to leave (for more information on the separatist conflict in Georgia's Abkhazia region, see the Department of State's Fact Sheet on Abkhazia http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/fs/53745.htm). The United States supports the strengthening of Georgia's territorial integrity through peaceful means. Unilaterally and as a member of the Group of Friends, the U.S. seeks to advance negotiations toward a comprehensive settlement of the conflict, including on Abkhazia's future status within Georgia and the safe and dignified return of refugees and internally-displaced persons.

The 1992 Sochi Agreement, which established a cease-fire between the Georgian and South Ossetian forces, and defined both a zone of conflict around the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and a security corridor along the border of South Ossetian territories, remains in effect. The South Ossetia region is comprised of a patchwork of Georgian villages interspersed with ethnic Ossetian villages. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors the ceasefire and facilitates negotiations between the Georgians and the South Ossetians toward a comprehensive settlement consistent with Georgian independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. The Agreement also created the Joint Control Commission (JCC) and a peacekeeping body, the Joint Peacekeeping Forces (JPKF). The JPKF is under Russian command and is comprised of peacekeepers from Georgia, Russia, and Russia's North Ossetian autonomous republic. South Ossetian peacekeepers, however, serve in the North Ossetian contingent. Talks on South Ossetia are held under the auspices of the Joint Control Commission (JCC), with Georgian, Russian, North Ossetian, and South Ossetian delegations participating. The Georgian Government has frequently complained that the current format for talks puts Georgia at a disadvantage, and would like greater participation by the international community.

South Ossetia region, top-center.

In January of 2005, Georgian President Saakashvili put forth a proposal to give autonomous status to South Ossetia within Georgia. The United States welcomed President Saakashvili's initiative to resolve the conflict through peaceful means and continues to look for ways to encourage a lasting resolution of the conflict. An alternative leader in South Ossetia emerged in November 2006, when ethnic Georgian Dmitry Sanakoyev was elected in an unrecognized, de facto presidential election by the ethnic Georgian population. Sanakoyev has set up an alternative government in Kurta, South Ossetia.

The United States supports the territorial integrity of Georgia and supports only a peaceful resolution of the separatist conflict in South Ossetia that defines the status of South Ossetia within Georgia's internationally recognized borders, while affording South Ossetia significant autonomy within a unified Georgia. The United States views Georgia's autonomy proposal as an important step in a peace process that should be marked by direct and frequent negotiations between the two sides. International donors, including the United States, launched an economic rehabilitation project in 2006 to help establish a peaceful and prosperous future for South Ossetia within Georgia (for more information on the separatist conflict in Georgia's South Ossetia region, see the Department of State's Fact Sheet on South Ossetia http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/fs/53721.htm).

Foreign Relations

Georgia's location between the Black Sea, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey gives it importance as a transport corridor far beyond its size. It is developing as the gateway from the Black Sea to the Caucasus and the Caspian basin. Following Russian bans on imports of Georgian wine, water, and agricultural products, and the severing of transportation links in 2006, Georgia has reached out to other neighbors and to the West to diversify its export markets. It signed a partnership and cooperation agreement with the European Union, and in 2006 signed an action plan under the European Union's European Neighborhood Policy for reforms aimed at building a closer relationship with the EU. Georgia participates in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. In September 2006, Georgia was granted Intensified Dialogue with NATO to formalize discussions on Georgia's membership aspirations. In addition, Georgia has reached out to a number of countries that have expressed interest in investing in the country. China, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine, as well as a number of European Union countries (including Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) maintain embassies in Tbilisi. Georgia is a member of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Trade Organization, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development-GUAM.

Economy

The political turmoil after independence from USSR had a catastrophic effect on Georgia's economy. The cumulative decline in real GDP is estimated to have been more than 70% between 1990 and 1994, and by the end of 1996, Georgia's economy had shrunk to around one-third of its size in 1989. Today, the largest share of Georgia's GDP is produced by agriculture, followed by trade, manufacturing, and transport. Georgia's main exports are metals and ores, wine, nuts, and aircraft.

Although Georgia experienced some years of growth in the mid-1990s, it was hit hard by the Russian economic crisis of 1998-99. The later years of former President Shevardnadze's administration were marked by rampant cronyism, corruption, and mismanagement. Public disaffection with the situation resulted in the Rose Revolution of 2003. The new government, led by Mikheil Saakashvili, promised to reorient the government and the economy toward privatization, free markets, and reduced regulation, to combat corruption, to stabilize the economy, and to bring order to the budget.

The government reduced the number of taxes from 21 to 7 and introduced a flat income tax of 12%. It significantly reduced the number of licenses a business requires, and introduced a "one-window" system that allows an entrepreneur to open a business relatively quickly. Strict deadlines for agency action on permits were introduced, and consent is assumed if the agency fails to act within the time limit. The government intends to completely eliminate import duties by 2008, which should reduce costs and stimulate business.

The World Bank recognized Georgia as the world's fastest-reforming economy in its 2007 "Doing Business" report, ranking it as the world's 37th easiest place to do business, in the same league as countries such as France, Slovakia, and Spain. The World Bank's "Anti-Corruption in Transition 3" report places Georgia among the countries showing the most dramatic improvement in the struggle against corruption, due to implementation of key economic and institutional reforms, and reported reduction in the bribes paid by firms in the course of doing business.

Economic growth has remained strong, reaching 8% in 2006; inflation reached 10% in the same year but decreased to 7.3% in the first six months of 2007. . Efforts to improve the efficiency of government operations since the Rose Revolution have required the government to release workers, pushing official unemployment to 13.8% in 2005. A strongly negative balance of trade is offset by inflows of investment and assistance from international donors. The fiscal deficit was 2.9% of GDP in 2006according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Improved collection and administration of taxes have greatly increased revenues for the government. In two years, from 2003 to 2005, tax collections went up from 13.8% of GDP to 20.8%. The government has been able to pay off wage and pension arrears and increase spending on desperately needed infrastructure such as roads and electric energy supply systems. The government privatized nine times the value of state-owned assets in 2005 as it did in all of 2000-2003. It expects to have privatized all of the largest state-owned industries by the end of 2008, increasing revenues and removing a major temptation toward corruption from the control of state bureaucrats.

Before 2004, electricity blackouts were common throughout the country, but since late 2005, distribution has been much more reliable, approaching consistent 24-hour-a-day service. Improvements have resulted from increased metering, better billing and collection practices, reduced theft, and management reforms. Investments in infrastructure have been made as well. Hydroelectricity output increased by almost 27%, and thermal by 28%, from 2005 to 2006. Natural gas has traditionally been supplied to Georgia by Russia. Through conservation, new hydroelectricity sources, and the availability of new sources of natural gas in Azerbaijan, Georgia's dependence on Russia for energy supplies should decrease in the near future.

The banking sector is becoming more open to competition from foreign-owned banks. The sector is relatively stable, and is supplying more credit to domestic businesses. Credit from Georgian banks to the economy was 15% of GDP in 2005, compared to 10% in 2004--still low, compared to the average in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland for 2005, which was 36%.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is the most important source of capital for Georgia and other post-Soviet states. Such investment not only supports new plants and equipment, but usually entails bringing in modern management methods as well. The Georgian Government is eager to welcome foreign investors. From 2002 to 2006, FDI averaged 9% of GDP, with much of it dedicated to the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the South Caucasus gas pipeline. In 2006, which saw diminishing pipeline investment as a function of total FDI, more than half of FDI went to the banking, manufacturing, and tourism sectors.

Georgia faces many challenges in attracting foreign investment and growing its economy. In 2006, more than 50% of the population lived below the official poverty line. With only 4.7 million people, most of whom have little disposable income, it is a small market in itself. The major market to which Georgia has traditionally been linked is Russia. (For example, at one time nearly 100% of the Soviet Union's citrus fruits were grown in Georgia.) In 2006, trade relations were plagued by politically motivated interruptions when Russia imposed bans on all Georgian exports of wine, fruits and vegetables, and mineral water. In October 2006, Russia severed all direct transportation links, as well as postal service and visa issuance. In addition, Russia undertook a campaign of deportations of Georgian nationals residing in Russia and closed the only legal land border crossing between Georgia and Russia, diverting traffic into the separatist regions outside of Georgia's control. In light of these restrictions, Georgian businesses are actively seeking new markets for their products in the EU, Eastern Europe, North America, and elsewhere. Reports confirm that the sanctions have not had an adverse effect on the economy; in fact, exports have increased since the beginning of 2006 because Georgia was forced to find alternate markets for its goods.

The government faces a major challenge in controlling corruption, which is a persistent problem. Shortly after President Saakashvili took office, his administration dismissed nearly the entire police force and replaced it with better-paid and -trained officers. Several high officials have been prosecuted for corruption-related offenses. On the other hand, widespread lack of confidence in the Georgian courts and system of justice is a major obstacle to both foreign and domestic investment. The new government has promised to tackle this difficult task, which requires balancing the objective of judicial independence with honest, fair, and competent decision making.

The United States and other international donors have targeted foreign assistance to promote democratic reform, resolve regional conflicts, foster energy independence, assist economic development, and reduce poverty. The U.S. seeks to help Georgia consolidate democratic gains since the Rose Revolution. The USG lends significant diplomatic and funding support to Georgia's efforts to resolve the separatist conflicts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. With USG assistance, Georgia is working to free itself from near total energy dependence on Russian sources of energy. Georgia is one of the first countries to receive a compact, in the amount of $295 million over five years, from the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). MCC offers grant assistance to countries that meet certain requirements for good governance and commitment to reform. In 2004, Georgia's debt to the Paris Club was restructured. Since 2004, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has monitored a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility that will terminate in 2007. The World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, EU, OSCE, and the UN are all active in Georgia. Their goals are complementary, and include assisting in conflict resolution in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, energy and transportation development, legal and administrative reform, health, and many other areas.

  • GDP: $6.46 billion (2006).
  • GDP per capita: $3,800, purchasing power parity (2006).
  • GDP growth: 9.4% in 2006 and 11.4% in the 1st quarter of 2007.
  • Inflation rate: 7.3% (end of June 2007).
  • Natural resources: Forests, hydropower, nonferrous metals, manganese, iron ore, copper, citrus fruits, tea, wine.
  • Industry: Types--steel, aircraft, machine tools, foundry equipment (automobiles, trucks, and tractors), tower cranes, electric welding equipment, fuel re-exports, machinery for food packing, electric motors, textiles, shoes, chemicals, wood products, bottled water, and wine.
  • Trade (2006 est.): Exports--$1.76 billion. Partners: United Kingdom, Turkey, United States, Spain, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan. Imports--$3.32 billion. Partner: Turkey, United States, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Germany, Italy.
  • Work force (2.02 million in 2005): Agriculture: 40%, industry: 20%, services: 40%. Unemployment (2005 est.): 13.8%.

The Georgian Government stakes much of its future on the revival of the ancient Silk Road as a Eurasian transportation corridor, using Georgia's geography as a bridge for the transit of goods, including oil and gas, between Europe and Asia. Georgians are renowned for their hospitality and artistry in dance, theater, music, and design.

History

Georgia's recorded history dates back more than 2,500 years. Georgian, a South Caucasian (or "Kartvelian") language unrelated to any other outside the immediate region, is one of the oldest living languages in the world, and has its own distinctive alphabet. Tbilisi, located in the picturesque Mtkvari River valley, is more than 1,500 years old. In the early 4th century Georgia adopted Christianity, the second nation in the world to do so officially after Armenia. Georgia has historically found itself on the margins of great empires, and Georgians have lived together in a unified state for only a small fraction of their existence as a people. Much of Georgia's territory was fought over by Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab invaders under Islam, Mongol, and Turkish armies from at least the 1st century B.C. through the 18th century. The zenith of Georgia's power as an independent kingdom came in the 11th and 12th centuries, during the reigns of King David the Builder and Queen Tamara, who still rank among the most celebrated of all Georgian rulers. In 1783 the king of Kartli (in eastern Georgia) signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russians, by which Russia agreed to take the kingdom as its protectorate. In 1801, the Russian empire began the piecemeal process of unifying and annexing Georgian territory, and for most of the next two centuries (1801-1991) Georgia found itself ruled from St. Petersburg and Moscow. Exposed to modern European ideas of nationalism while under Russian rule, Georgians like the writer Ilya Chavchavadze began calling for greater Georgian independence. In the wake of the collapse of tsarist rule in Russia due to the October Revolution, the first Republic of Georgia was established on May 26, 1918, and the country enjoyed a brief period of independence under the Menshevik president, Noe Zhordania. However, in March 1921, the Communist Russian Red Army re-occupied the country, and Georgia became a republic of the Soviet Union. Several of the Soviet Union's most notorious leaders in the 1920s and 1930s were Georgian, such as Joseph Stalin, Sergo Orjonikidze, and Lavrenti Beria. In the postwar period, Georgia was perceived as one of the wealthiest and most privileged of Soviet republics, and many Russians treated the country's Black Sea coast as a kind of Soviet Riviera. On April 9, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia declared independence from the U.S.S.R. as one of a string of former Soviet republics to do so after the fall of Communism in Russia.

Beset by ethnic and civil strife from independence in 1991, Georgia began to stabilize in 1995. The separatist conflicts in Georgia's regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain unresolved, although cease-fires were in effect for more than a decade. In Abkhazia, the Commonwealth of Independent States (in fact, only Russian forces) maintained a peacekeeping force, and the United Nations maintains an Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), both of which monitor compliance with the 1994 cease-fire agreement. In South Ossetia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had the prime role in monitoring the 1992 cease-fire and facilitating negotiations.

South Ossetia and conflict with Russia

South Ossetia, on the Russian border, is about the size of Rhode Island, but has fewer than 70,000 inhabitants. During the Soviet era, it had autonomous status within the Georgian SSR. Therefore when Georgia became independent in 1991, South Ossetian leaders sought to achieve their regions own independence from Tbilisi.

In 1991 and early 1992, the Georgian military launched an offensive to destroy the South Ossetian secession. The ragtag Georgian army was defeated by a combination of local Ossetian fighters and irregulars from Russia. In 1993, Georgia went to war again, this time to prevent the Abkhazians in the northwest from following the Ossetian example. That conflict also ended in defeat for Georgia. Both provinces have remained functionally separate from Georgia ever since, with their own parliaments, economies, educational systems, and armies--as well as a powerful narrative of valiant struggle against Georgian tyranny. The provinces have turned to Russia for protection from Georgia.

S-ossetia1.jpg
In early August, 2008, Georgia sought to re-establish its control over the breakaway enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This led to a five-day war, involving a Russian invasion not only of those areas, but of Georgia itself complete with a massive bombing campaign. Several hundred Georgians were killed and thousands of refugees on both sides were displaced.[1]

Cease-fires were finally established and Russian forces eventually withdraw from Georgia itself, but not from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia has said will become independent nations. The whole Georgia situation has led to quickly souring relations between Russia and the West. Moscow argues that if Georgia can break away from the Soviet Union, then South Ossetia can likewise break away from Georgia. Georgia says the territory involved belonged to Georgia centuries ago.

A 9-month European Union (EU) investigation into the 2008 war in the Caucasus concluded in Sept. 2009 that Georgia triggered the war, but that Russia had prepared the ground, broke international law by invading Georgia as a whole and that Russia-backed South Ossetian militias conducted ethnic cleansing of Georgian civilians. The conclusions, compiled by diplomat Heidi Taglivini, found that while there was evidence that regular Russian troops as well as volunteers and mercenaries had entered South Ossetia in Georgia before the start of the conflict on Aug. 7, no evidence was found of the full-scale Russian invasion to which Georgia said it was responding.


George has sought membership in NATO so that the alliance can protect it from Russia. However NATO finds that Georgia falls short of its baseline measures for democratization and military modernization and that the recent war in Georgia raises additional complications regarding an escalation of tensions between Russia and NATO.[2]

References

  1. Charles King, "The Five-Day War: Managing Moscow after the Georgia Crisis," Foreign Affairs 2008 87(6): 2-11, online at EBSCO
  2. Travis L. Bounds, and Ryan C. Hendrickson, "Georgian Membership in NATO: Policy Implications of the Bucharest Summit," Journal of Slavic Military Studies 2009 22(1): 20-30
Copyright Details
License: This work is in the Public Domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States Federal Government under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the U.S. Code
Source: File available from the United States Federal Government [1].
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