By 1920, Soviet Russia actively sought to extend its hegemony to south Caucasia. Sergo Ordzhonikidze coordinated the Bolshevik policies in the region and was a fervent exponent of sovietization of Georgia. In April 1920, the 11th Red Army occupied Azerbaijan and established Soviet authority in Baku. In May, the Bolsheviks crossed the Georgian state border but were halted in their advance while the diplomatic negotiations soon led to Russia’s recognition of Georgia’s independence in May 1920. Nevertheless, in November of the same year, the Red Army occupied Armenia, where another Soviet government was proclaimed. The Bolshevik authorities in Moscow then successfully negotiated with Turkey and other powers promising concessions in return for their approval for an eventual attack on Georgia.
On 11 February 1921, the Bolsheviks incited an uprising in the Lori district of Georgia and, portraying it as the workers’ insurrection against the Menshevik government, the 11th Red Army quickly came to its aid, invading Georgia on 12 February. In late February, the 9th Red Army invaded Georgia through Abkhazia and additional Red Army brigades marched through strategic passes across the Caucasus. On 24 February, after failing to halt the Bolshevik advance, the Menshevik forces under General Giorgi Kvinitadze left Tbilisi for a last stand in Batumi; the Bolsheviks occupied the Georgian capital the following day. The situation was further complicated by Turkey’s involvement in the war as Turkish troops attempted to capture the strategic port of Batumi. Although General Kvinitadze routed the Turks in Adjara, the Menshevik government was unable to turn the tide of the war against the Bolsheviks and emigrated to Europe. By March 1921, Georgia was effectively under control of the Bolsheviks.
The government in exile continued its struggle for decades to come, but it was an uphill battle. Some Georgian statesmen succumbed to the pressure and committed suicide while others were assassinated by the Soviet secret service. In 1932, the Soviet Union and France signed an agreement that banned anti-Soviet émigré groups in France and led to the closure of the remaining Georgian embassy in Paris. The émigré community, however, continued its resistance. In 1934, émigré politicians from Georgia, Azerbaijan and North Caucasus organized the Council of Transcaucasian Confederation that was to coordinate national-liberation movements in their respective countries. In late 1930s and early 1940s, several Georgian émigré organizations blossomed in Germany and the Baltic states, including the Tetri Giorgi paramilitary unit.
After the coup against the Menshevik government, the Bolsheviks established the Revolutionary Committee under Philipe Makharadze as the supreme authority in Georgia. In February 1922, first congress of Soviets of Georgia was summoned in Tbilisi and adopted the Constitution of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. The new authorities struggled to establish themselves as a guerilla war began in various regions. In the summer of 1921, a rebellion in Svaneti was harshly suppressed but instigated further anti-Bolshevik outbreaks. In 1922, guerrilla units, led by Kakutsa Cholokashvili and his shepitsulebi (men of the oath), operated in Kartli, Guria, Khevsureti, Kakheti and Mingrelia. The same year, Georgian political parties united their efforts forming an Independence Committtee and a host of regional organizations. However, the underground organization had been penetrated by the secret police and, in February 1923, police arrested committeee members and shut down the underground press. In the subsequent repriasals, hundreds Georgians, including Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ambrosi, were arrested and exiled, numerous churches and monasteries closed. In August 1924, a major uprising began in Georgia but lack of organization and ineffective cooperation between the rebels precipitated their defeat in bloody clashes with the Soviet authorities. The uprising was ruthlessly crushed and the Bolsheviks seized an opportunity to exterminate any potential threats, exiling or executing hundreds.
The sovietization of Georgia under Joseph Stalin and Sergo Ordzhonikidze was so brutal that even Lenin opposed its radicalism in the so-called Georgian Affair, but the process continued after his death unabated. Collectivization was carried out ruthlessly throughout the 1920s and, in the 1930s, widespread purges of Georgian society were perpetrated by Stalin’s local lieutenant Lavrentii Beria, head of the Soviet state security apparatus in Georgia. The impact of sovietization on the Georgian culture and social environment was severe and it inculcated a conformist tendency with the Soviet Communist Party among the survivors. Between 1922 and 1936, Georgia was part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (ZKFSR), which also included the neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan. In 1936, the new Constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) made Georgia one of the constituent republics of the USSR.
Despite its oppressive nature, the new Soviet regime also brought rapid development of Georgian science, culture and economy. Georgia’s agricultural output greatly increased and new industrial facilities were built in Rustavi, Chiatura, Zestaponi, Batumi, Tkibuli and others towns. Several hydro-electric stations, notably Zemo-Avchala and Rioni, were constructed and provided much-needed electricity. The railroad network was repaired and expanded throughout the country. After Tbilisi State University was established by the Menshevik government in 1918, the Soviet authorities founded the Georgian Polytechnic Institute, Georgian Agricultural Institute, Tbilisi Medical Institute, pedagogical institutes in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi, Institute of Mathematics, Institute of Physics, Tbilisi Academy of Arts, etc. In 1946, the Georgian Academy of Sciences was established as the premier center of scientific research in Georgia. In 1930-1934, universal mandatory education was introduced and three stage education system established.
Georgians in World War II
During the World War II, Georgia mobilized almost 700,000 Georgian residents (out of total population of 3.5 million), who served with the Red Army on all fronts of the war; some 350,000 of them perished in the war, exceeding the war losses of such major powers as the United States and Britain. Over 240,000 Georgians received various medals and orders for their actions during the war and 137 of them were conferred the highest award of the Hero of the USSR. The home front concentrated on the production of mineral resources and increased the output of manganese at the Chiatura mining plants, coal at Tkibuli and Tkvarcheli plants and metals at the Zestaponi factory. In 1941, Tbilisi Aviation Factory was established and began producing fighter planes for the Red Army. Georgia also served as an evacuation center for thousands of refugees from German-occupied areas in Byelorussia and Ukraine. In 1943, three Georgian divisions participated in vicious battles in the Crimea and the Caucasus and several Georgian officers rose to prominence, among them Konstantine Leselidze, Vladimir Naneishvili, Ermaloz Koberidze, Porpirius Chanchibadze, etc. Georgians also took active part in the guerilla warfare and commanded units throughout western USSR and Eastern Europe, notably David Bakradze, Ivane Shubitidze and Vladimir Talakvadze’s units in Ukraine and Byelorussia, those of Vladimir Dzneladze and Shalva Kobiashvili in Poland, of Stefane Khatiashvili, Nikoloz Tabagua and Otar Chkhenkeli in France, and of Pore Mosulishvili and Noe Kublashvili in Italy.
At the same time, the Georgians also fought in the ranks of the German Wehrmacht. The Georgian social-democrats, who escaped the rigors of sovietization in Georgia, rallied in Germany and, ignoring the dangers of German national socialism, they sought to use the German war machine to liberate Georgia. Members of the intelligentsia in Georgia also considered cooperating with the Nazi authorities in order to overthrow the Soviet regime. However, the Soviet secret service effectively suppressed them and, between 1941-1942, widespread arrests were made leading to the execution of ringleaders. In 1942-1943, as the number of captured Georgian troops increased, the German command established the so-called Georgian Legion under the leadership of Major General Shalva Maghlakelidze as part of the Eastern Legions (Ostlegionen). The Legion eventually consisted of 8 Georgian battalions participating in campaigns in the Caucasus, Ukraine and Byelorussia; one of them was later deployed on the strategic island of Texel in the German “Atlantic Wall,” where it fought what is often described as Europe's last battle in late May 1945.
After the war, the Soviet authorities intensified political repression on the Georgian intelligentsia, especially the dissident groups that demonstrated nationalistic tendencies. In 1948, several students of Tbilisi State University were arrested for conspiring against the Soviet government and nine of them were sentenced to 25 years in Siberia. On 25 December 1951, some 20,000 Georgians, who allegedly had acted against the Soviet regime, were loaded on railway wagons and resettled to desolate regions of northern Central Asia, where many of them died; the survivors managed to return to Georgia in 1954. In late 1951, at Stalin’s orders, the so-called Mingrelian Case was instigated against Lavrentii Beria and claimed many innocent Georgians who were accused of Mingrelian nationalism and anti-government activities.
Georgia in 1950s through 1970s
The death of Joseph Stalin led to a power struggle in the Kremlin. In the new triumvirate, the Georgian Beria enjoyed enormous power controlling the Ministries of Internal Affairs and of State Security. However, in June 1953, Beria was arrested on charges of foreign espionage and treason and executed. The new Soviet Premier Nikita Khurschev made key changes in the Communist leadership of Georgia, appointing his protégé Vasili Mzhavanadze as the secretary of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party, dismissing the first secretaries in Batumi and Sukhumi and some 2,000 party officials in other positions. Stalin’s death also ushered in the so-called “Thaw” period in the USSR and Khruschev began de-Stalinization process. In February 1956, he made the famous speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party and denounced Stalin’s policies and the “cult of personality.” The speech was supposed to be secret but rumors about its content leaked.
To the majority of Soviet citizens such revelations came as a great surprise and it was particularly true in Georgia, where attacks on Stalin often stressed his ethnicity and gradually evolved into charges against the entire Georgian nation. The Georgian youth, raised under the Stalinist regime, came to idolize the late Soviet leader and Khruschev’s sudden criticism of Stalin was met with deep resentment. Following Khruschev’s speech, on 5 March 1956, a demonstration was organized near the Stalin monument on the bank of the Kura River to mark the third anniversary of Stalin’s death. The situation gradually spiraled out of control and the protesters rapidly grew in numbers, with their slogans becoming more and more radical. Students played an important role in mobilizing demonstrators and pushing a more nationalistic program of demands. As demonstrations paralyzed the entire Tbilisi, the Georgian Communist leadership was unable to cope with situation and turned to the Soviet military for help. On 9 March 1956, the Soviet armed forces opened fire and launched a bloody crackdown on protesters. The exact number of casualties remains unclear but estimates indicate some 150 killed and hundreds more wounded and arrested.
The event was quickly covered up without the rest of the Soviet Union learning about it for years. Following the events of 1956, the issues of the language and culture assumed unprecedented importance in Georgia, where Georgian sense of identity merged with the determination to preserve the Georgian language and culture from foreign domination. Immediately after the massacre, several national-patriotic groups were established. Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia organized the underground Gorgasliani, which began publishing anti-Soviet pamphlets and newspapers. Sighnaghi Youth Guard was set up in Kakheti and published several issues of Simebi, its antiestablishment journal. In 1960s, the Union for the Freedom and Independence of Georgia was established in Tbilisi with the main goal of proclaiming an independent democratic republic.
By the 1970s, the Georgian Communist Party had the highest percentage of members per capita of all the republican Communist Parties. Favoritism and political control facilitated the growth of black marketeering, speculation and corruption. According to the World Bank study, Georgia ranked twelfth poorest of the fifteen Soviet republics in terms of official per capita income, yet savings deposits per capita were sixth highest amongst the republics. Furthermore, bribe taking was rampant in the education system and, based on official statistics, Georgia had one of the highest numbers of advanced degrees awarded per thousand persons, especially in prestigious fields like medicine and law. Many Georgians joined the Party for no other reasons than careerism or opportunism. Party connections not only helped with promotion but also protected those involved in the shadow economy. In fact, the Georgian Communist Party had become so notoriously corrupt that even Leonid Brezhnev’ stagnant regime felt obliged to intervene and promote a new first secretary, Eduard Shevardnadze, to clean up its activities.
Shevardnadze's tenure as the first secretary (1972-1985) was marked by a vigorous, at times even ruthless, campaign against both corruption and political opposition. Shevardnadze succeeded in rising industrial and agricultural output and labor productivity in Georgia and, by 1980, Georgia was one of the few republics fulfilling its Five Year Plan targets. However, the emphasis on completion of state plans also resulted in rapid deterioration in the quality of Georgia products, especially tea and wine. Shevardnadze's efficient and heavy-handed methods were particularly effectively in disrupting the Georgian dissident movement, which posed no threat to Soviet power until Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms.
Rise of National Liberation Movement
The 1970s also saw a gradual development of the national-liberation movement led by Georgian dissidents, notably Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Merab Kostava. In 1974, the Action Group for Defense of Human Rights was established and, three years later, the Georgian Helsinki Group was founded. The power of Georgian nationalism was revealed in 1978, when the Soviet authorities decided to make an amendment to the Georgian constitution and remove an article affirming Georgian as the sole official state language of the republic. On 14 April 1978, thousands of Georgians rallied in the streets of Tbilisi and their numbers grew by the hour. As the situation escalated, First Secretary Eduard Shevardnadze personally met with demonstrators and negotiated a peaceful resolution of situation. The Soviet authorities decided against removing the disputed clause. The events clearly demonstrated the potency of Georgian nationalism and contributed to the increasing popularity of the national-liberation movement.
After Shevardnadze departed to Moscow to take up his post as Soviet foreign minister, his protégé, Jumber Patiashvili, took charge of the Georgian Communist Party. The all-Union policy of glasnost (openness) after 1985 meant that previously dormant nationalist aspirations among the Georgian people began to make themselves heard. By 1987, several groups which presented themselves as cultural but which had a strongly nationalist program had appeared. In fact, such was the popular support for unofficial groups demanding better protection for the environment or Georgian cultural monuments that the Communist Party authorities tried to establish their own parallel organizations to draw off support from the anti-establishment groups. Georgian intellectuals, especially members of the republican Writer’s Union, launched a campaign to assert national prerogatives in the face of perceived threats. They declared that as a result of the imposition of Russian as the medium of interethnic communication throughout the USSR, the Georgian language was denied its natural preeminence within home republic. Furthermore, they stressed that Georgians were forced to disregard their culture and adapt themselves constantly to the Russian language and Russian culture, which became a growing challenge for the minorities within the Republic.
The late 1980s saw dramatic events leading to the collapse of Soviet power in Eastern Europe. Communist authorities fell in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria and the process culminated in the unification of Germany in 1989. At the same time, national movements were on the rise within the Soviet Union, particularly in the Baltic States and the Transcaucasia. In November 1988, a massive demonstration gathered in front of government buildings on the Rustaveli Avenue in central Tbilisi protesting proposed amendments to the USSR constitution changing the status of the Georgian language and elevating Russian to the only state language of the republic. Although the amendments were soon dropped, the situation quickly escalated. Tensions between Georgians and Abkhazs spiraled out of control when the Abkhaz nationalists called for Abkhazian independence from Georgia in the early 1989. On 18 March 1989, the Popular Forum of Abkhazia (Aydgilara) organized a demonstration in Lykhny for the restoration of Abkhazia's status as an independent soviet socialist republic (SSR). In response, a series of rallies began on 25 March 1989 in Tbilisi and demands were made to contain the Abkhazian separatists; gradually the calls became more radical and eventually they also included the national independence of Georgia.
The 9th of April Tragedy
On 4 April 1989, some 150 Georgian nationalist activists began a hunger strike in front of the Supreme Soviet at Rustaveli Avenue. They demanded full independence for Georgia and complete integration of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia within Georgia. Two days later, tens of thousands went to the streets of the capital and demonstrated their solidarity. As the rallies increased in size, the Georgian authorities turned to the Soviet military for help. On 9 April 1989, demonstrators were attacked by Soviet troops and, in bloody fighting, 21 demonstrators, mostly women and teens, were killed while hundreds were left sick for weeks and months from toxic gases. The brutality of the Soviet forces against the peaceful demonstrators was recorded on tape and, when broadcasted later that year, it shocked the whole Soviet Union. The tragic events of April only intensified Georgian nationalism and gave greater credibility to the national-liberation movements. The nation united around the cause of independence and, in the months after the tragedy, hundreds of thousands rallied in the streets of Tbilisi, wearing black as a sign of grief and carrying national banners.
In response to the tragedy of 9 April, the Communist leadership of Georgia was replaced. The new First Secretary Givi Gumbaridze, who replaced Jumber Patiashvili, initially endeavored to calm down the situation but his attempts to delay the first free elections for the Georgian Supreme Soviet scheduled for October 1990 actually played into the hands of the opposition. The opposition parties organized the Committee of National Liberation, which united the Helsinki Union led by Zviad Gamsakhurdia (Kostava died in automobile accident in late 1989), National Democratic Party led by Giorgi Chanturia, Irakli Shengelaia’s Union of National Justice and Irakli Tsereteli’s National Independence Party. In March 1990, a special conference of opposition groups was summoned in Tbilisi and the National Forum was established. However, the opposition parties soon disagreed on a number of issues. More radical groups established Round Table-Free Georgia, uniting the Helsinki Union, Society of St. Ilia the Righteous, the Merab Kostava Society, Traditionalist Union, National-Liberal Union, etc. Other national groups formed a National Congress and began a new campaign for the national independence of Georgia.
In the elections of October 1990, the Round Table-Free Georgia bloc, led by Gamsakhurdia, won a majority of votes and formed the first non-Communist government of Georgia. Gamsakhurdia's supporters now held the majority in the Supreme Soviet and in practice the Communist and other deputies deferred to their proposals for constitutional change. On 14 November 1990, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected chairman of the new Georgian Supreme Soviet. The new Soviet began abolishing the vestiges of the Soviet authorities, adopted the first series of national laws and organized a special commission to draft the new constitution. In March 1991, Georgia boycotted the All-Soviet Union referendum on the preservation of the USSR and held its own referendum on the issue of secession from the Soviet Union, resulting in almost 90 percent voting in favor of independence. At 12:30 p.m. on 9 April 1991, the Supreme Soviet of Georgia adopted the Declaration of Independence of Georgia. Two months later, on 26 May 1991, Gamsakhurdia won the first contested direct elections for the presidency of Georgia, obtaining over 85 percent of the votes cast. It seemed that the goal of independent Georgian republic was finally achieved.
Historical Dictionary of Georgia
by Alexander Mikaberidze (Author)
Series: Historical Dictionaries of Europe (Book 50)
Hardcover: 784 pages
Publisher: Scarecrow Press (March 16, 2007)
The revolutionary upheaval of 1917 in Russia and the collapse of the imperial government created unexpected conditions for the outlying regions. In February 1917, leading Georgian political parties gathered in Tbilisi where the necessity to declare independence became clear. The Russian Provisional Government established the Special Transcaucasian Committee (Ozakom) to govern the region. In November 1917, the first government of the independent Transcaucasia was created in Tbilisi as the Transcaucasian Commissariat replaced Ozakom following the Bolshevik seizure of power in St. Petersburg. Headed by the Georgian Social Democrat Evgeni Gegechkori, the Transcaucasian Commissariat was anti-Bolshevik in its political goals and sought the separation of Transcaucasia from Bolshevik Russia.
In late 1917 and early 1918, the Commissariat took measures to suppress the Bolshevik influence in Georgia and ordered the seizure of the Tbilisi arsenal, the disarming of pro-Bolshevik troops, the closure of Bolshevik newspapers, etc. Among other reforms were the Commissariat’s decree on land, the abolition of social distinction, changes in labor conditions and the circulation of currency (bonds). In February 1918, the Transcaucasian Commissariat surrendered its authority to the Transcaucasian Seim that was to oversee the secession of Transcaucasia from Soviet Russia. Following the Trebizond Peace Talks with the Ottoman Empire, the Transcaucasian Seim proclaimed the establishment of the Transcaucasian Federation that united Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, facing the renewed Ottoman attacks and hoping for German help, Georgia soon ceded from the Federation and the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the National Council of Georgia on 26 May 1918.
As the best organized and most numerous political party, the Social Democrats (Menshevik faction) organized the first government of independent Georgia. Based on a multiparty system, the newly established government also included the National-Democratic Party, Social-Federalists, Social-Revolutioneers and other political organizations. Although supporting internationalist ideology, the Social Democrats soon parted with their co-revolutioneers, both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, in Russia. Thus, the actual ideological basis of the Democratic Republic of Georgia became European-style democratic socialism in contrast to the Russian model of socialism and it was oriented towards the middle classes of the Georgian society.
The newly-born Menshevik government faced challenges from every direction. Bolshevik uprisings were instigated in various regions, particularly in Abkhazia and Ossetia, where separatist calls were made. In May-July 1918, the Georgian forces under Giorgi Mazniashvili and Valiko Jugheli defeated the insurgents and restored the central authority in Abkhazia. In 1919-1920, similar oubursts of separatism were suppressed in Ossetia. In the south, Armenian forces contested the Georgian control of the Lori region in December 1918 but were routed the following year. In Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki regions, the Ottomans instigated another series of separatist movements but the insurgents were crushed by General Giorgi Kvinitadze in 1919.
The independence of Georgia was recognized by Soviet Russia on 7 May 1920 and a special treaty was signed between Tbilisi and Moscow with the consent of the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. This act was followed by de jure recognition by Germany, Turkey, Britain, France, Japan, Italy, etc. The three years of independence proved to be of great political and cultural significance. Major economic and educational reforms were implemented, more than a thousand schools were established, the national theater revived, Tbilisi State University, Tbilisi Opera and Conservatoire, Shota Rustaveli Theater were established. However, despite its initial success, the fledgling Georgian republic had no chance of succeeding because, as the Bolshevik government in Russia emerged victorious out of the Civil War in 1919, it turned its attention to the Transcaucasia.
Historical Dictionary of Georgia
by Alexander Mikaberidze (Author)
Series: Historical Dictionaries of Europe (Book 50)
Hardcover: 784 pages
Publisher: Scarecrow Press (March 16, 2007)
The Russian tsarist regime was thus established in Georgia. The country was divided into uezds (districts) with Russian officials responsible for maintaining law and order and Russian declared the official language of the country. However, the oppressive rule quickly led to successive uprisings. In 1802-1804, rebellions flared up in Mtiuleti, spreading to Samachablo, Pshavi, Khevsureti, and parts of Kakheti. During the Kakhetian uprising of 1812, Prince Alexander Batonishvili was proclaimed king of Georgia, but the insurgents were soon suppressed. Large peasant uprisings took place in Imereti in 1819-1820, Guria in 1841 and Mingrelia in 1856-1857. Many Georgian nobles, however, became content with their equalization in rights with the Russian aristocracy and entered Russian military service, often reaching the highest ranks. The Commander of the Caucasus Prince Paul Tsitsianov himself was the scion of the noble Georgian family of Tsitsishvili and governed the region in 1802-1806.
By the mid-19th century, Georgia was divided into two major provinces, the Tiflisskaia gubernia (Tbilisi province) comprised of nine uezds (Tbilisi, Gori, Telavi, Signaghi, Tianeti, Dusheti, Borchalo, Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki) and one okrug (region) of Zakatala; and the Kutaisskaia gubernia (Kutaisi province), which initially included three uezds (Kutaisi, Shorapani and Racha) but later incorporated the districts of Ozurgeti, Zugdidi, Senaki, Lechkhumi and Sukhumi. Throughout the 19th century, the Russian Empire, seeking to extend its territory southward, was engaged in bitter conflict with the Ottomans. Defeats in the Russo-Turkish wars of 1806-1812 and of 1828-1829 forced the Ottoman Empire to surrender the historical Georgian provinces of Meskheti and Javakheti. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, the Batumi region (Batumskii okrug) was annexed to Kutaisi province. Between 1878 and 1918, several other territories of the medieval Kingdom of Georgia were also incorporated and the Russian Empire, thus, inadvertently accomplished “the gathering of the Georgian lands,” the dream that guided so many Georgian kings. Georgia was initially governed by the civilian governor general, who was assisted by three departments of state, criminal and civil cases and the assembly of local nobility (sakrebulo). In 1844, this system was thoroughly revised and the governor general was replaced by namestnik or viceroy of the Russian emperor, who was given unlimited authority in the region.
The governorships of Mikhail Vorontsov (1845-1854) and the Grand Duke Michael (1862-1882) were periods of relative prosperity, educational encouragement and commercial development. Vorontsov was especially instrumental economic development of the region. He solved the divisive problem of who qualified for nobility and confirmed noble status of many claimants and granted the nobles some privileges, which encouraged them to support him and the Russian administration in general. Vorontsov helped establish the free transit of European goods and lower tariffs for imports that helped revive trade. He helped found glass, textile and silk plants and played important role in the transformation of Tbilisi into a Western-style town. On his orders, new buildings, wide avenues and squares were constructed in the old part of Tbilisi and first Georgian and Russian theaters and public library were opened between 1846 and 1850. The Russian authorities, however, established and funded a number of schools and hospitals, greatly improved communications and allowed new generations of the Georgian nobles to study in Russian and European universities. The presence of the Russian troops ended the century-long incursions of the Ottoman, Persian and the North Caucasian forces and brought relative peace and stability to the entire country.
The Russian rule also had a sinister side. The Imperial government considered Georgia a colony that was to supply raw materials and was reluctant to develop major industries in the region. Its authorities often attempted to populate Georgian provinces with loyal colonists and a Christian but non-Georgian population (Armenians, Greeks, Germans, Russian religious minorities) that was settled in Meskheti, Javakheti, Adjara, etc. In Abkhazia and Ossetia, north Caucasian tribes were allowed to move across the mountains to the fertile lowlands. By 1856, over 20 Russian military colonies were established throughout Georgia. Cultural repression became an especial cause of resentment and the suppression of the Georgian Orthodox Church in 1811 turned into a rallying cry for national loyalties. In 1830-1832, a conspiracy of Georgian nobles made the last attempt to throw off Russian rule in Georgia, but it was betrayed and, with its fall, all hopes of a Bagratid restoration ended.
The late 19th century was marked by the intensification of Pan-Slavist policies that proved ominous for the non-Russian minorities. The Russian officials never recognized the existence of a single Georgian nation and instead contrived various ethnic groups of “Kartvelian origin.” In 1872, the Russian government banned the use of the Georgian for instruction. In an effort to weaken the nationalist revival, it also tried a subtler plan of introducing teaching in the primary schools and public worship in other Kartvelian languages, Megrelian and Svan, which had never before been used for these purposes. The fulfillment of this design would have meant the fragmenting of national unity. Although the Georgian intelligentsia succeeded in undermining this policy, it appeared less successful in Abkhazia, where Russian liturgy and education resulted in the gradual Russification of the local population, which shared a common historical and cultural heritage with the Georgians.
The social structure of Georgian society also changed. In 1861, serfdom was abolished in Russia and, after prolonged preparations, the peasant reform was implemented in Kartli-Kakheti in 1864, in Imereti in 1865, in Mingrelia in 1867, in Abkhazia in 1870, and in Svaneti in 1871. The reform made things harder for the peasantry that lost lands and suffered under higher taxes. The Georgian middle class and nobility was also disgruntled since the bureaucracy in Georgia was usually staffed by Russians, Russified Germans and Poles while trade remained the monopoly of the Armenians. The latter fact led to the economic dominance of the Armenians and caused ethnic-based tensions with the impoverished Georgian nobility, who still had a feudal mentality but became dependent on Armenian creditors and blamed them for many misfortunes.
Despite the Russian oppression, Georgian scholarship and literature still enjoyed a revival and greatly contributed to the emergence of a national consciousness. Alexander Chavchavadze, Grigol Orbeliani, Nikoloz Baratashvili and others introduced Romanticism into Georgian literature and had close contacts with their Russian colleagues, including Alexander Griboyedov, Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Leo Tolstoy, etc. In the late 19th century, the Tergdaleulni group, the young men who crossed the Tergi (Terek) River to study in Russia, played a significant role in these processes as Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Niko Nikoladze and others devoted their efforts to awaken the Georgian national awareness and bring about reforms in society. The Society for Advancement of Literacy Among the Georgians proved effective in its campaign for the revitalization of the Georgian language and culture. This period saw an expansion in the number of Georgian magazines, books and newspapers being published while the works of Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Rapiel Eristavi, Giorgi Tsereteli, Alexandre Kazbegi, Vazha Pshavela and others raised Georgian literature to new heights.
By the late 19th century, migration from rural areas and the growth of manufacturing had generated a fairly large and cohesive working class. Georgia was greatly affected by the industrial crisis of the early 20th century and thousands of men lost their jobs. As social and political conditions deteriorated, people became more susceptible to revolutionary causes and the political culture evolved rapidly. The population of western Georgia was politically more active than in other regions and Guria, in spite of large peasant population, was particularly seized by social democratic ideas. Among the rising political factions was the social-democratic Mesame Dasi, established in 1892-1893, to propagate Western European social democratic ideals. Initially influenced by the Russian revolutionaries, especially by the ideas of Vladimir Lenin, the Georgian social democrats eventually espoused less radical approach and, in a subsequent split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Georgia became a Menshevik stronghold.
In 1901-1904, several strikes and demonstrations were organized in Tbilisi and Batumi. The growing revolutionary movement led to the amalgamation of social-democratic organizations and Congress of Caucasian Social-Democratic Organizations was held in March 1903 and established the Caucasian Joint Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Worker's Party (RSDRP). After the second congress, the members of the Mesame Dasi took a Menshevik stand and opposed the more revolutionary-minded Bolsheviks. In January 1905, a major strike in Tbilisi spread to other industrial centers, including Kutaisi, Poti, Tkibuli, Chiatura and Shorapani, and threatened to grow into a general uprising before it was brutally suppressed. Hundreds of Georgian activists were arrested and exiled. In 1904-1909, Georgian social democrats organized massive support among workers and peasants, especially in Guria, which became a hotbed of revolutionary activities.
In 1905, facing increasing revolutionary activity, the Imperial government made a series of concessions. The State Duma was summoned in St. Petersburg and a Georgian delegation of deputies, including Noe Zhordania, Isidore Ramishvili, Joseph Baratashvili and others, attended its sessions. Emperor Nicholas II also restored the position of viceroy of Georgia and appointed Count Vorontsov-Dashkov, giving him extended military and civil authority. Georgian social democrats were persecuted and many of them arrested and exiled. One of the most historic events of this period was the assassination of Ilia Chavchavadze near Tsitsamuri on 30 August 1907, which shocked the entire nation. In 1910, another cycle of strikes began and the revolutionary movement gained momentum in 1913, when the workers of the Chiatura manganese mines were joined by their comrades in Zestaponi, Batumi and Poti. By 1914, Tbilisi and other industrial centers in Transcaucasia were on strike. The spread of the revolution was briefly halted by the outbreak of World War I, but as the war dragged on, revolutionary sentiments spread among the troops as well.
Historical Dictionary of Georgia
by Alexander Mikaberidze (Author)
Series: Historical Dictionaries of Europe (Book 50)
Hardcover: 784 pages
Publisher: Scarecrow Press (March 16, 2007)
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