70 years of Soviet Georgia
From Independence to Independence: 1921 - 1991
The Fall of Menshevik Georgia
By the end of 1920 once again, like it happened a little more than century earlier - in 1800, Georgia, while still remaining a sovereign state in its right, was destined to be devoured within months by its northern giant neighbour, Russia. But unlike the last King George XII, a weak and religious family man not well fit to his throne and responsibility, who after becoming a king for the last two years of his life has finally lost what was left of his will and desire for freedom, looking with hope, confidence and relief to the advancement of the Russian power to the south - both the government of Georgian Mensheviks led by Noe Jordania and the majority of population looked with fear and suspicion to the strengthening of the Red State and the Red Army, and the occupation during the year 1920 of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Only a few of Bolsheviks, and some ethnic minorities like Abkhaz and Ossetians, were looking forward to the advancement of Russians, the former fervently striving for power, while the latter kindling hope to escape the domination of Georgian nationalism that endangered their self-rule and sensitive ethnic pride. Neither former nor latter could know the terrible fate of both the old Bolsheviks preparing the advent of Russian power to the Caucasus, and the elites of Abkhaz and Ossetians to share the destiny of their Georgian counterparts, which will reach its horrible apotheosis in the great purges of late 30s and 40s, under Beria and Stalin. Though there was general pessimistic comprehension of future, the great majority of those contemplating on the future of Georgia could not fully realise that having sacrificed the Romanov dynasty and the embryonic liberalism, the Russian Empire was in the process of revival under the disguise of the Communist internationalist ideology (nevertheless still considering itself in some paradoxical sense as a heiress to the Byzantine Empire). Hence, now ‘Soviet’ - Russia was to revitalise soon its century old longing towards the southern seas and taking over Constantinople. Only a superior force would be able to block this "Drang nach Süden", and of course none of the Transcaucasian republics possessed such force, and none of those who did possess it considered at that time Transcaucasia as worthy investment.
However, in 1920 there were still only a handful of Bolsheviks in Georgia, having most of support among less educated poor peasants, and ethnic minorities afraid of mensheviks’ nationalism. At the same time the social-democrats had broad support in all layers of the Georgian society, being flexible enough to turn from early internationalism to moderate nationalism - more acceptable for the population. Menshevik government, lacking the experience of governance and burdened by ideological legacy, however appeared unable to carry out effective land and general economic reform, and what appeared to be the most important, build strong and disciplined army that could be able to oppose the advent of the Red troops, unavoidable and easily predictable. This army, weak and poorly equipped, was lacking order and discipline, training and morale, although there was significant number of highly qualified officers, ready and capable to serve native Georgia after the dissolution of the Tsar’s forces. However, the army was dominated by party functionaries, and paralleled by the National Guard recruited from the members of the social-democratic party, which was hence considered to be more reliable and disciplined. The National Guard under the commandment of Valiko Jugheli was much better equipped and fed, and was sent to most of rebellious regions like Ossetia and Abkhazia having applied rather strict measures and was hence hated by the local population there. Unfortunately, the government was not able to avoid corruption on the middle and lower levels of management. As a most spectacular example, while the army was in great need of munitions, and the population of Tbilisi was underfed, when the troops of Russian Red army entered Tbilisi in February 1921 they discovered full storages of military equipment so badly needed by the defenders of the city, and food that they were able to distribute to earn the popularity among the poorest.
However, the decisions that formed the fate of Georgia were being taken elsewhere, in the first place in Moscow, in London and in Paris. Thus, the developments and the complicated power games on the international scene appeared to have much more importance for the future of the country, than all the success in establishing peace and order, and the slow recovery of the economy.
In Moscow, by the decree of 4th February 1920 the Soviet authority in the Caucasus was formally established under the leadership of an old colleague and friend of Joseph Stalin, brutal Giorgi (Sergo) Orjonikidze, S. M. Kirov his Deputy, and others including leading Georgian Bolshevik Budu Mdivani. On the 8th April the new structure acquired the name North Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee (another high-rank Russian Communist Smilga joining it), to be transformed later in May into the Caucasian Bureau, or Caucasian Kraykom (Regional Committee). Orjonikidze was at the same time a member of the Revolutionary Council of the Caucasian front forces, while Kirov held the same position with the Red 11th Army, which played later decisive role in sovetising Transcaucasus.
In London, British Secretary for Foreign Affairs Lord Curzon strongly argued for British support of Transcaucasian republics, while most of other members of Lloyd-George’s cabinet were unwilling to be involved in anything other than protecting Baku oil-fields and Baku-Batumi railroad and pipeline. Hence, the interest of Britain and her allies towards Georgia was very limited. Only after the Paris Peace Conference on 12th January 1919 when most of western troops have already left the region (apart of small British force in Batumi), did the Georgian delegation, led by former leaders of Russian social-democrats Irakli Tsereteli and Carlo Chkheidze who had now to shrink their ambitions to much smaller scale, received the de facto recognition of Georgia’s independence from the Allied powers. Nevertheless, on January 19th the powers decided not to send any troops to Transcaucasia to prevent the forthcoming invasion by Bolsheviks. Britain was rapidly changing its approach towards Soviet Russia and the Caucasus was to become soon a victim of this change.
On 28 April 1920 Soviet rule was established in Azerbaijan, evidently not without direct involvement of the same 11th Red Army. Later, on 17th June of 1920 Georgia had to forget is outdated promises to the Azerbaijan Republic and sign the treaty with Soviet Azerbaijan. As the brilliant Georgian lawyer and historian, who in spite of outstanding capacities was obliged to play second roles in international negotiations led by pathetic social-democratic grands, Z. Avalov wrote in 1924: "While Armenia continued to rely on its kind supporters on this and other sides of the Atlantic, and while Georgia was persuading itself and the others in the flawlessness of its democracy, Soviet Russia occupied in Baku an extremely favourable position for seizing the whole of Transcaucasia and having enriched itself by the oil, strengthened its position in the commercial negotiations with Russia."
Bolsheviks in Georgia were sure that the victorious 11th Army would continue its march into Georgia, and attempted to take the initiative in their hands. As historian David Lang describes: "At 1 AM on 3 May 1920, twenty five Bolsheviks, mostly Armenians, attempted to seize the Military Academy as a preliminary to a coup d’état. It happened that General Kvinitadze, commandant of the Academy prior to his appointment as Georgian Commandant-in-Chief two days previously, was still in residence. Kvinitadze and his cadets put up a fight, killing two of the attackers and capturing three others, who were sentenced to death by court martial and shot". In the meantime, those detachments of the Red Army that already had penetrated the Georgian territory from Azerbaijan had been repulsed by Georgian frontier troops. It seems that the military action on the part of the Russian army was a local initiative pressed on by Orjonikidze and his Revkom. At the same time in Moscow Georgian special envoyé Grigol Ouratadze was leading clandestine negotiations with Russian Commissar of Foreign affairs Chicherin and his other comrades. He informed Tbilisi that Russia was ready to sign a treaty with Georgia and recognise it de jure. The special condition was that Georgia should agree not to grant asylum to troops of powers hostile to Russia. Notwithstanding the opposition by the Georgian Foreign Minister Gegechkori and some others who disliked the Russia’s demands, the treaty was finally signed on 7th of May in Moscow by Ouratadze and Karakhan from the Russian side. There was additional secret clause providing that the Georgian Communist were allowed to act openly without being repressed. As a result, most of Georgian Bolsheviks were released from prisons and immediately activated their overt campaign against the Menshevik government, and hence got re-arrested and put back in jail by hard-liner Interior Minister Noe Ramishvili.
This caused protests from the newly appointed Russian Ambassador Plenipotentiary Sergey Kirov, who exchanged fiery notes with Evgeni Gegechkori. E.g., on 29th of June 1920 Kirov wrote to Gegechkori: "If the happenings mentioned by me should not be stopped, my Government would take no other choice but to retaliate against Georgian citizens in the territory of the RSFSR." This conflict was never finally resolved, and the Russian embassy, inflated in spite of the protests of the Georgian side to more than 70 persons and seemingly planning to turn Mission in Tbilisi into a centre for co-ordinating regional activities, used it as a constant excuse for Russian propaganda against the Menshevik government. At the same time in May Georgian Communist party was created to be nominally autonomous, but under the co-ordination of Caucasian Bureau of the Russian Communist Party.
Serious problems were in the regions with Ossetian population. Already some time ago, in 1918 and 1919 Ossetians organised numerous outbreaks of disobedience, reaching their highest point during massacres of the Georgian population of Tskhinvali on 19-22 March of 1918. The Menshevik Red Guard, later renamed into the National Guard, responded with extreme violence and many Ossetian villages were burnt. During whole 1919 the discussions were taking place concerning the status and governance of the region. Ossetians demanded to create autonomous South Ossetia, with Tskhinvali, at that time having almost no Ossetian population, to become its centre. However, no final decision was made, and Bolsheviks fully exploited the existing collisions and the Menshevik mistakes to mine the situation further. Decisive step was made when on 23 March of 1920 the Caucasian Kraykom issues a decree with following points:
"Create a Revkom in South Ossetia. appoint as members of South-Ossetian Revkom comrades Gagloev, Jatiev and Sanakoev. Goals: 1. To dismiss the old National Council; 2. To declare soviet rule. temporarily the full power is to be concentrated in the hands of the Revkom. 3. Immediately form the armed units. 4. Get in contact with North Ossetia and the villages of the Gori uezd. The centre of the movement is desirable to make Tskhinvali. Allocate 100,000 roubles to the disposal of the Revkom."
On 8th May 1920, the next day after signing Georgian-Russian treaty, Soviet rule was announced in Roki rayon north to Tskhinvali. Mensheviks launched severe repressive measures, which caused Chicherin’s letter to Gegechkori (circa 17 March 1920): "With alarm we have learned that to Southern Ossetia, where Soviet Republic is proclaimed, are directed Georgian military units in order to extinguish it. We demand, that .in the case this is true, your troops should be called back, as we believe that Ossetia can have the rule which it chooses itself. The intervention of Georgia into Ossetian affairs would be inexcusable intervention in the internal affairs of other side." However, the existence of the Treaty and military failures of the rebels made him change the attitude. Already on 19 July 1920 he writes to Orjonikidze: "We need a painless liquidation of the revolt in Ossetia, with the diplomatic efforts of Kirov we shall achieve from the government the amnesty of the population and its support to the restoration of the ruined houses." However, the liquidation of the rebellion was far from painless. Menshevik forces, and the National Guard in the first place, suppressed the rebels with extreme violence, burning once again whole villages and causing tens of thousands of Ossetians to seek refuge on the other side of the Caucasus range. These painful memories lasted for long time and gave later birth to mutual inter-ethnic animosity that revived again 60 years later, in other but still so similar circumstances.
Similar events took place in Abkhazia. Menshevik government had permanent problems their, both with pro-Bolshevik and pro-Turkish orientations in the population. Several times armed clashes occurred, and like in Ossetia, many Abkhasians remembered the reppressive actions carried out by the National Guard under the command of Valiko Jugheli.
On July 9, 1920, The British troops were evacuated from Batumi and the city was handed on to Georgians. Georgians celebrated this event as a great victory, symbolising final achievement of the full control over Georgian territories. They were however unable to notice the eagerness of the British to withdraw from the region, the sign of their readiness to wash hands and allow other powers to take control and responsibility over this unhappy and peaceless particle of the world.
After the total fiasco of the Sévre Treaty of 10 August 1920 which ignored the real disposition of forces in the Caucasus, where after the withdrawal of western involvement Soviet Russia and Turkey were the only decisive powers, Georgian government continued to neglect this new sad reality, three its key ministers and the Speaker of the Parliament Chkheidze, along with the Special Envoy Irakli Tsereteli, travelling around Europe in senseless effort to secure western support. In their turn, leaders of European social-democracy never lost a chance to declare its support towards the small social-democratic state of the Caucasus. Several delegations visited Tbilisi, and famous socialists Ramsay MacDonald, Karl Kautsky, Vandervelde, Mrs. E. Snowden, Rénaudel, Huysmans, and others enjoyed the stately honours with which they were met in Georgia during September 1920. In December a French naval flotilla visited the Georgian ports. The French High Commissioner, who recently arrived to Georgia, declared self-confidently in his first official speech in Tbilisi that any infringement of Georgia’s integrity would be resisted to the death by France and her allies. However, these picturesque events were nothing more than insignificant ornaments on the tragic pattern of political development, having no influence either on political issues, or the loans which the Georgian government hoped to receive from the west.
In September 1920 the Turks, united under Kemalist power, suddenly attacked Armenia. Armenians retreated, and soon Kars and Alexandropol were taken by Kemalists, who proceeded further. In such circumstances Russians dispatched an ultimatum demanding from Armenians overpowered with shock and panic: free passage for Soviet, and Kemalist, troops through Armenian territory; Armenians to renunciate the Treaty of Sèvres; and, to cease all the negotiations with the allied powers. The above-mentioned allied powers totally ignored the disastrous situation, in great deal caused by the illusions of forthcoming revival of the Great Armenia which they have themselves created. Armenians capitulated to Turks, and at the same time Russian army entered Armenia from Baku, evidently having divided Armenia in share with Turks. On December 1920 Soviet Armenian Republic was proclaimed in Yerevan. Later, while Russians were invading Georgia and their attention was somewhat diverted, Armenian Dashnaks organised a relatively successful revolt against the Communist regime, prolonging the agony until April 1921.
At the same time of course neither Britain, nor France were any more interested in supporting the Georgian independence, though Georgians appeared unable to learn from the sad experience of their neighbours and continued to seek support in the West. However, while Soviet Russia was strengthening further its positions in Azerbaijan, and resolving its last military problem of finally defeating Baron Wrangel in Crimea, both Britain and France were shifting their attention to trade negotiations, leaving to Russia full freedom of hands in Transcaucasia. Lloyd George was eager to minimise the losses caused by the interventionist policies of Winston Churchill, and made everything to resume commercial relations with Russia. Even more, according to some evidence, in the course of negotiations with British government of Russian Krasin in London, during December 1920 - January 1921, he was hinted that the Baku oil is of less value without the Russian control over Baku-Batumi communications. If this is true, that day the fate of Georgia was finally decided, but in any case, this story reflects the real disposition in the game of interests, which made all efforts of the Tbilisi government to acquire de jure recognition look tragic and bitterly comical at the same time. Keeping in mind the peaceful attitude of the Foreign Secretary Lloyd George and the majority of the British Cabinet, Moscow government was able to consider as less serious Lord Curzon’s telegram of protest against Russia’s mobilisation on the Georgian border. Chicherin responded with self-assured cynicism that "Soviet Russia has not committed and will not commit in future any hostile acts against the Republic of Georgia", having left Curzon fully confident that the opposite was to happen shortly. In the meantime Orjonikidze was repeatedly asking permission to advance into Georgia, but Lenin was still reluctant to use force against Georgia.
On 16th December 1920: issue of Baltic states and Georgia was considered at the session of the League of Nations. (Avalov; 298); On 26 January 1921 at the conference of the great nations it was decided to recognise Latvia and Estonia, while concerning Georgia "the conference has a benevolent attitude towards the legal recognition of Georgia, and will recognise it if an official request is submitted" - this ironic (as the Georgian delegation concentrated most of its efforts exactly on achieving recognition) statement suggested by Lloyd-George was hinting to some hidden dangers implicitly present in the forthcoming recognition, as if Britain was washing its hands. However, the formal request was presented immediately, and Georgia was recognised de jure the next day, on 27th of January 1921. By that time the issue of formal recognition of Armenia and Azerbaijan was already out of date, due to their occupation by Soviet forces. However, Georgia was to follow them shortly. On February 16 the Revkom for Georgia was formed in Shulaveri, P. Makharadze who at that time was in Moscow got elected as its chairman. 11th Army entered Georgia from the east, while other troops moved in from Armenia and from Sochi directions.
On 25th of February, 1921 Georgian Ambassador plenipotentiary guided by the Master of Ceremonies of the Palais d’Élisée took his verity letter to M. Millerant, while the same day Russian troops led by Bolshevik Georgian Sergo Orjonikidze entered Tbilisi. The brief page of history of Georgian independence came to end, giving place to a new sad story - story of Soviet Georgia.
Georgian Government and its armed forces retreated to Batumi without any serious attempt to resist, further aggravated by the lack of any co-ordination between the army and the National Guard. The government stayed in Batumi, before finally fleeing to Europe. The story of retreat was not honourable...
The last session of the Founding Assembly was held in Batumi on 16th of March at which the oppositionary delegates severely criticised Social democrats for their inefficiency to oppose Communist aggression. In the document adopted at this session and signed by the leading Social-Federalists, Social-Revolutionaries, Independent Social-Democrats (Skhivi) and the parliamentary factions of these parties was stated that:
"1. The Government appeared to be totally unprepared to defend the country, notwithstanding the fact that it was fully aware of the preparation of the invasion by the enemy and its one numerous statements, notifying that all the measures to defend the Republic are undertaken.
2. Government was evidently unable to create military force capable of defending the country, and due to many mistakes and incongruences, appeared totally unable to use for the defence those forces that were nevertheless available.
3. While leading the war the Government did not reveal necessary persistence, becoming a source for panic and turmoil.
Thus the Founding Assembly states, that although the Georgian People brought all available resources to sacrifice, current Government nevertheless appeared incapable to direct the struggle for Georgian independence, and hence the Assembly declares non-confidence to it."
As historian Ronald Grigor Suny, son of an Armenian from Tbilisi Gurgen Mirzoev who was ten years old in February 1921 - during the fall of Georgian Democratic Republic - puts down: "The political and intellectual dominance of the Mensheviks in Georgia had lasted for nearly three decades. Their odyssey from the graveside of their mentor, Ninoshvili, to a chateau in Leville, outside of Paris, wound through two revolutions, civil war, and national independence. Their achievement in building a Georgian political nation was extraordinary. Their support among all classes of the Georgian people was genuine. And however ephemeral their accomplishments in the brief episode of national independence, the most impressive testimony to their success is the fact that they could not be dislodged from Georgia except by a militarily superior force from outside. ... Within the possibilities offered, the social-democrats managed to maximise Georgia’s political benefits. But finally the brief experiment with independence - possible only because of the power vacuum left when neither Bolshevik Russia nor Turkey was able to impose its traditional authority over the region - collapsed." (R. G. Suny, The Making of Georgian Nation).
Already for some time even before the invasion there was discussion among Bolsheviks concerning the future organisation (as it seemed clear that earlier or later Bolshevik Russia was to take over Georgia) of the country. Already in the beginning of May 1920 Sergo Orjonikidze attempted from fallen Baku to persuade the Moscow Bolsheviks to allow him advance into Georgia. He wrote Lenin that "events are developing in such way that we could be in Tbilisi no later than the 15th of May". However, the Central Committee in the circumstances when Pilsudski was invading Ukraine and the outcome of the action was still not clear opposed the suggested plan and instead signed on 7th May the Peace Treaty with Georgia. Nevertheless Orjonikidze and the hard-liner Baku group continued to insist on invasion, organising and supporting ethnic uprisings in Ossetia and Abkhazia, and with the assistance of Sergey Kirov, then Ambassador to Tbilisi, prepared the Bolshevik network for the inevitable take-over. Only when finally the prepared insurrection broke out on February 11 in populated by Armenians district of Lori, Moscow almost in the face of fait acompli gave consent to the invasion.
The First Soviet Years and the End of NEP
Tbilisi was taken after several days of fighting, and the Revkom took full power in its hands. A new government was appointed, and further discussions emerged between the Orjonikidze-led Bolsheviks from Baku backed by Stalin and the Georgian Revkom led by Pilipe Makharadze, ironically an old mate of Noe Jordania and the old generation Bolshevik with strong support from Lenin. On March 2 Lenin sent a telegram to Orjonikidze, then in Baku, presenting his vision of the developments in Georgia:
"Give the Georgian Communists and especially all members of the Georgian Revkom my warm greetings to Soviet Georgia. I ask particularly that they communicate me if we are in full agreement on three points:
First: it is necessary to arm immediately the workers and poorest peasants, creating a strong Georgian Red Army.
Second: essential is a special policy of concessions toward the Georgian intelligentsia and small traders. It is necessary to understand that it is not only improvident to nationalise them but that it is necessary even to make certain sacrifices, if only to better their situation and leave them the possibility to carry on small trade.
Third: it is gigantically important to search for an acceptable compromise for a bloc with Jordania and similar Georgian Mensheviks, those who before the uprising had not been absolutely hostile to the idea of a Soviet order in Georgia under certain conditions.
I ask you to remember that the internal and international situation of Georgia demands from the Georgian Communists, not the application of the Russian pattern, but the skilful and flexible creation of a distinctive tactic based on the greatest compliance with all kinds of petty-bourgeois elements."
As a result of such cautious policy, although to the displeasure of Orjonikidze, the Georgian Revkom and its leader Makharadze even sent on March 8 a telegram to Jordania’s government already in Batumi, suggesting co-operation: "the question of the entry of representatives of these parties into the revolutionary government will be the subject of special series of negotiations after the cessation of military activities." Although such co-operation never became a reality, the Menshevik government leaving in haste Batumi for Europe, another interesting fact of collaboration nevertheless took place. On 17th March: Turks attacked Georgian frontier and moved towards Batumi. Soviet Army was not allowed to fight against Turks, as Batumi has been passed on to them in accordance to the Brest-Litovsk treaty. In such conditions, Bolsheviks held special negotiations with the officers of the Menshevik army, which though disoriented due to controversial commands from the government and the staff, was still quite strong. General Mazniashvili took command, and on 20th March Turkish army under commandment of Kyazim-Bey asked for peace and food, and retreated. Environments of Batumi were taken back.
At the Tenth Party Congress in Moscow, in March 1921, the New Economic Policy was adopted to replace the practices and excesses of the War Communism. However, in contrast to the more moderate attitude of Tbilisi Revkom, Kavburo leader Orjonikidze was uncompromising, demanding "the complete destruction of capitalist property, the full transfer of all land to the peasants." On April 6, 1921, the Revkom nationalised all land in Georgia and prohibited its sale, purchase, and renting. All larger holdings were confiscated, and placed in the state land fund to be administered by local soviets, while all direct taxes on land got abolished, replaced by in kind taxes of produce. In spite of repeated warnings by Lenin, he pressed on more centralised and radical policies, supported strongly by his old comrade Stalin in his attempt to merge the three Transcaucasian republics in one internationalist unity. On April 14th the unification of the Transcaucasian railroad was announced, followed in two weeks (April 26) by the creation of joint authority for supervising foreign trade - Obvneshtorg. Later in June the customs and the border guards between the republics, and with Russia, have been removed. The new borders between the republics have been driven, changing significantly the map and installing seeds for the future ethnic conflicts. As Orjonikidze and his comrades were mostly Georgians, they proved their true internationalism by choosing the new borders so that Georgia actually lost all the disputed territories to its neighbours. Alaverdi with its copper mines, and the northern Lori was passed on to Armenia, Zakatala district became Azeri, while Sochi was passed on to Russia, along with some other territories along the northern border. Most of these decisions were made by Kavburo, often totally ignoring the opinion of the local revkoms, as it was stated in June in his letter to Baku by the leading Georgian Communist of national orientation, Budu Mdivani.
During 1921 - 1922 several autonomies were created on the territory of Georgia. The formation of the South Ossetia was decided, after series of discussions at various levels, at the session of the Kavburo held on the 31st of October 1921. After having hear the presentation of the issue by Shalva Eliava, the Kavburo made the decision to create South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast, with subsequent demarcation of its boundaries. Later, on 17 November the Georgian Central Committee defined Tskhinvali to become the capital of the new autonomy, this causing certain resistance due to actual absence of Ossetian population there. Nevertheless Kavburo continued its pressure and finally, on 20 April 1922 the South Ossetian autonomous oblast with capital in Tskhinvali was created by joint decree of the Central Executive Committee (TsIK) and the Council of Commissars (Sovnarkom).
Abkhazian questian appeared to be more complicated. On March 27, 1921, the head of Abkhazian Revkom E. Eshba addressed Orjonikidze with the proposal to pronounce Abkhazia either as an independent Soviet republic, or as an autonomy in the framework of Russian Federation, arguing that the ethnic Abkhazs would not like to enter Georgia. Orjonikidze gave his principle consent, and at the meeting of Kavburo, Georgian and Abkhazian Central Committees on 28 March 1921 it was decided to creat Abkhazian Soviet Socialist Republic, but its relations with Georgia and Russia were to be considered separately, by the session of the Abkhazian Soviet. Subsequently, on 21 May 1921 Georgian Revkom recognised Abkhazia SSR, and a week later, on May 28 the first Congress of the Representartives of the Abkhazian Workers approved the declaration of the Georgian Revkom.. On December 16, 1921 a special contract of alliance was signed between Georgia and Abkhazia, later approved by the Soviets of both sides, and after that Abkhazia had a special and somewhat ambiguous status of "Dogovornaya" (contractual) Soviet Socialist Republic, to be abolished ten years later in 1931.
The third autonomy, Ajara, was created along religious, rather than ethnic lines, as muslim Ajarans spoke the same Georgian language. However, this time the interests and demands of Turkey were taken into account, as according to the Friendship Agreement between Soviet Russia and Kemalist Turkey of 16 March 1921, "Turkey agreed to pass on the sovereignty over the port of Batumi and the neighbouring territories... provided that: 1) the population of the territories defined by this paragraph will enjoy wide local autonomy in administration, securing cultural and religious rights of all communities..." Similar point was included in the Kars Treaty signed later in October 1921 between Turkey and Transcaucasia. Thus, by a decree of the Georgian Revkom of 26 June 1921 Soviet Socialist Republic of Ajara became a very special case among all Soviet autonomies.
Orjonikidze and Stalin were willing and trying to bring the Georgian Communists under control. On July 7 1921, P. Makharadze was removed from the position of the Chairman of the Revkom and recalled to Moscow, while Budu Mdivani appointed in his place (along with M. Okujava, S. Kavtaradze, Sh. Eliava and Mamia Orakhelashvili). However, the Georgian Revkom was still opposing the plans of abolishment of the Georgian statehood. Though Moscow took Orjonikidze’s side in the question of uniting the railroads, and later merging the national armies into one - United Red army, Mdivani still accused Orjonikidze of undemocratic methods of promoting the further unification, demanding that the unification is to take place gradually, by more prepared steps. Later in January 1922 the congress of the Georgian Communist Party once again demonstrated the division between Orjonikidze’s and Mdivani’s supporters, especially concerning their attitude towards Menshevik party. Orjonikidze won this time, and the congress supported the idea of unification. Later, on March 12 the representatives of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia signed the treaty forming the federal Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of Transcaucasia. However, the opposition against further infringement of Georgian sovereignty continued with Makharadze and his supporters joining with Mdivani.
On September 26 Lenin rejected Stalin’s plan of including Soviet republics into the Russian Federation as autonomous units. Some days earlier the Georgian Central Committee had already criticised this plan, stating that: "Union in the form of autonomisation of the independent republics proposed on the basis of Stalin’s thesis is premature. The unification of economic affairs and general policy is necessary, but with the preservation of all the attributes of sovereignty".
In Moscow, on October 6, 1922, the Central Committee approved Lenin’s alternative idea of forming a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. By strange irony this proposal of Lenin formed the legal basis for the future disintegration of the Soviet Union, hardly predicted or desired by the founder of the first Communist state. Lenin was at that time already severely stricken by venereal disease that soon left him semi-paralised. He was not able already to defend his line and protect the Georgian Central Committee against Orjonikidze’s brutal push. On 22 October 1922 Georgian Central Committee resigned in protest towards Orjonikidze’s policies and those of his Moscow supporters, which was quite an unprecedented act in Soviet history. New Central Committee was formed by Orjonikidze which was supposed to be more tame.
On December 10, 1922 the Transcaucasian Federation was transformed into Transcaucasian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic, and as such entered the USSR on December 30. Stalin characterised the event in pathetic and cynically sounding words: "This day - said he - is the day of the celebration of the victory of the new Russia over the old Russia, over the Russia - a gendarme of Europe, over the Russia - a hangman of Asia".
Soon the second congress of the Communist Party of Georgia was held in Moscow, and Mdivani was not elected to the new Central Committee. Although Makharadze, Okujava and Toroshelidze still continued to oppose pressure by Orjonikidze-Stalin duet, but their position was already much weaker, especially after Trotsky’s failure (one to six) at the Politburo in Moscow to recall Orjonikidze from Baku and decentralise the Transcaucasian Republic. This was the sign of the demise of Trotsky’s strength, who was fervently opposed by united front of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev. Stalin and the Secretariat of the RCP(b) under him gradually took over, this having direct implications for the political reality in Transcaucasus and Georgia. Lenin no longer mattered, though one of his last letters was to Makharadze and Mdivani: "Respected comrades! With all my soul I am following your case. I am indignant at the crudeness of Orjonikidze and the connivance of Stalin and Dzerzhinsky. I am preparing notes and a speech for you. Respectfully, Lenin."
In his last effort Lenin attempted to dislodge Stalin. He wrote theses on Stalin’s nationality policy and criticised severely his approach in genera, having sent his text to the Politburo just before the 12th Party Congress to start on 17th April 1923. However his message was hidden and never saw light until four decades later, when Stalin was already dead. At the congress the major debate was around the nationality policies, Georgia serving as an illustrative example of deviationism, as Orjonikidze labelled Makharadze-Mdivani’s softer approach. He also announced: "We decided to end the amnesty and arrest Mensheviks, while our opponents wavered". In the final resolution prepared by Stalin, firm commitment to the political centralisation was expressed, combined with the industrial development and strengthening the national cadres. This resolution was adopted, creating basis for future events, and was further developed at the Party conference in June, when Stalin suggested the idea of ‘nativisation’ or ‘korenizatsia’ of the local governing institutions as a mild compromise to nationalist feelings.
As it was already clear, Mensheviks were not to be tolerated any more in Soviet Georgia. In July 1923, former Russian Menshevik Martynov visited Georgia to participate in the preparation of the Menshevik congress. It was held in August 1923, and the delegates representing 11,000 party members decided finally, as Menshevik Party "have taken a definitely false path during the world war and the February Revolution and found itself in the camp of counter-revolution", to disband it. The public campaign of recantations started, which later was to become a habitual practice during forthcoming decades.
However, the congress at the same time demonstrated that Mensheviks still had significant support among the population. The Menshevik Party, though officially dismissed, shifted to clandestine operation and started preparing an anti-Communist revolt, under the guidance of the government in exile still headed by Noe Jordania in Paris. Other political parties joined Mensheviks in their anti-Bolshevik stance. Already after the Communist invasion the negotiations between the parties took place, ended by the end of August 1921 by a compromise to create coallitionary government if the rebel against Bolshevik rule succeeded. On 5 February 1922 Mensheviks held illegal conference, which once again stated the imperialist nature of the Bolshevik invasion and proclaimed the primary goal of restoration of the country’s independence, admitting inter-party necessary to achieve such goal. In the beginning of May 1922 the new supra-party council named Committee for Georgia’s Independence (or shortly Damkom), based on special agreement between all five oppositionary parties. Each party was represented by one member in the Damkom, which was traditionally chaired by a Menshevik (Gogita Paghava to be the first chairman, later changed by Nikoloz Kartsivadze, and after his arrest on 16 March 1923 until the last moment - Kote Andronikashvili). The Secretary of the Damkom during all its existence was Yason Javakhishvili, a National-Democrat. The Committee maintained contact with the Jordania’s government in exile through the Constantinople bureau.
Damkom started to organise the rebellion, although some realistically minded politicians doubted weather such action could be sustainably successful. The Paris government which had rather vague idea of the actual situation in Georgia, strongly pressed in favour of the coup creating the illusion of substantial international support to be expected. Several emissaries came from Paris to participate in the revolt, among them former Head of the National Guard Valiko Jugheli and former Minister of agriculture Noe Khomeriki. The negotiations were held with Turkey, where National democrat Shalva Karumidze received semi-officially the following proposal from the Turkish side: Georgian rebels will get assistance requested on the condition that Batumi is to become a free port, regions of Akaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki are passed on to Turkey, and the Baku-Batumi railroad zone is to become extra-territorial. The negotiations with Armenian and Azeri nationalists were even less successful, and even promising talks of Kakutsa Cholokashvili leader of armed resistance in Eastern Georgia, in Chechnya with Ali Mitaev, spiritual head of the North Caucasian muslims. However, even this direction was finally cut of by the massive arrests and repressions by Russian CheKa (Extraordinary Committee, or counter-intelligence) in North Caucasus. The organisers had still more expectations that Europe intended to help, warmed up farther by Jordania’s promises.
In the meanwhile Bolsheviks responded to the preparations, as well as to spontaneous upsurges in some of the regions, with unprecedented terror. Uprisings in Guria, Kakheti and Svaneti in 1922-1923 were brutally suppressed, followed by mass executions and burning of villages. In February 1923 the Cheka arrested the nucleus of the rebels, along with its military group, and on May 19 most of them were shot, among others the Chairman of the National-democrats - General Kote Abkhazi, General A. Andronikashvili, General Wardan Tsulukidze and many others. On 9 November 1923 Noe Khomeriki, who got energetically involved in the preparation of the rebellion, was arrested. Finally, just a few days before the planned uprising, on August 7 1924, Valiko Jugheli too fell in the hands of Cheka. After having interrogated and now aware of inevitable failure of the revolt, as the Bolshevik government was well informed and fully prepared to suppress it, Jugheli addressed his former comrades to stop the preparations in order to evade terrible failure and mass casualties. However, his message was too late, the rebellion was only postponed for two weeks and was finally appointed on August 29, 1924.
However, the uprising started one day earlier in western Georgia, in Chiatura. The next day rebels started actions in other region, but their success was both local and short-living. Terrible repressions followed. Thousands of young men were shot without any legal procedure, mostly shot in railway wagons, a new and effective technical invention. Most of the Damkom got arrested and shortly shot, having previously published its statement in which it renounced the idea of the rebellion.
The uprising of 1924 appeared to be the last strike that totally demoralised the Georgian nation, finally suppressing its resistance to Bolshevism. The best of its intelligentsia, officers, men of spirit were extinguished, or exiled. The nation, decimated and decapitated, was ready to become easy victim of the new socialist future emerging, the society of terror, public recantations, theatralised violence and humiliation, doublethink, doublemoral and final moral death. Although a few following years brought some remission, revival of culture and economic life, the Georgian society was never able to forget the terrible legacy of 1924, even the horrors of de-collectivisation and 1937 had now to deal with already broken will and broken moral tradition, victims of the naiveté and incompetence of honest, brave but alas so incapable and short-sighted organisers of the 1924 revolt.
However, during 1925-1926 the pressure got temporarily softened. In early March of 1925 the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR, Mikhail Kalinin, visited Georgia and called for the amnesty of the participants of the August 1924 insurrection, and for the suspension of religious persecutions. The Catholicos Ambrosi held in prison since 1923 was released, with a number of other political prisoners and arrested clerics. Kalinin also called for more attention to the needs of the peasantry in Transcaucasus, causing Orjonikidze to change his approach in this question to a more moderate one.
Following this general trend, in July 1925 the Commissariat of Agriculture decided that the land could be traded, and although such policy was formally condemned and prohibited by the 4th Party Congress held in Tbilisi in December 1925, land sales became a more-less common practice throughout Georgia. Although Orjonikidze and his Revkom repeatedly called for accelerated industrialisation and the movement to socialism through cooperatives, by 1925 only about 35 thousand peasants in Georgia had actually joined cooperatives. In 1926 tsarmokavshiri (producers’ union) was abolished, after sustaining losses of 5 mln roubles, and replaced by the new type of cooperatives - soplis kavshiri (village unions), with no great success either. By 1927 most cooperatives in industrial and special crops had collapsed, and by the end of the year only 21% of the peasants were in any kind of cooperative, this figure to rise up to 27% by August 1928 as a result of the acceleration of the campaigns for collective agriculture.
Nevertheless certain growth both in agriculture and industry was noticeable. The agricultural output by 1926 almost reached its level of pre-war 1913, while in industry not only most of old enterprises were brought back into operation, but several tens of new enterprises had been opened during first Soviet years. Three quarters of the industry was nationalised by that time, and the recovery of the industrial production reached 86% of the pre-war level in 1925. Likewise, by 1926 the number of industrial workers returned to the pre-war level and continued climbing up, the majority of 116 thousand workers employed at the nationalised enterprises, 40% of them ethnic Georgians. Workers started to play more important role in political life as well. If in 1921 there have been only 9,000 Bolsheviks in Georgia, the 57% of them peasants, 13% - industrial workers, 23% were white-collar, in 1925 so called Lenin levy brought more workers to the party - 44.5% by January 1925. By 1921 there were about 1,926 thousand peasants (85% of the population), which grew up to 2,072 thousand by 1927 (77.7%), i.e. the peasant population grew slower than urban. At the same time, if in 1921 there had been 341,400 peasant households, by 1927 there were 428,900, an increase of 33.7%. However, this rise of household number was rather formal, a result of the intention to avoid taxation (as poor peasants) or benefit from this status. By 1923, 62% of all Georgian peasant households had one able-bodied worker.
The year 1926 was marked by one more event, which was left mostly unnoticed at that time. A less known person, Lavrenti Beria, who had worked previously at the secret division in Baku and Tbilisi, got appointed as a Head of Georgian GPU, to occupy this position for five years, until in April 1931 he became chief of the Transcaucasian GPU, when Redens left for Moscow.
First Five-Year Plans and the Great Purges: Terrible Thirties
Formation of Stalin’s State in Georgia
Already in 1927 the Soviet leadership got disappointed in the New Economic Policy. Crisis in agriculture production was the result of insufficient incentive for the peasants to produce and sell to the state the grain and other products. The crisis was experienced in Georgia as well, were the amount of farm product available for market declined by 1927, as the agricultural surplus available to increasing number of peasants (peasant population grew from 1,926 thousands in 1921 to 2,072 thousands in 1927) possessing little resources and land was insufficient for benefiting from the technological innovations. After the gross output having risen by 1926 to 56 mln roubles from its half an year ago, in 1926-1927 it fell again by 16 mln roubles.
At the 15th Party Congress convened on December 2, 1927, in Moscow it was decided to shift from individual farming to collectivisation, though it was to proceed step by step, and starting by introduction of the contractual system of purchasing by the state of the predetermined amount of product for pre-defined price, in exchange for the machinery, seeds and other agricultural inputs. The First Five-Year Plan (1928-1932) got adopted to define the pace of industrialisation and collectivisation. In winter 1928 the Zakkraikom issued a directive to party organisations establishing the contractual system for industrial crops like tobacco, cotton and tea. The first wave of the forced requisitions was stopped by the statement issued by the Georgian Central Party Committee that "the application of the compulsory methods in the matter of exposing and selling grain surpluses is incorrect". However, in the spring of 1928 prolonged grain shortages caused the riots in Tbilisi, were citizens furious with hour-long lines for bread broke bakery windows and beat the bakers. On September 3 of 1928 the Central Committee in Moscow criticised severely the work of the Georgian Communist Party, particularly in agriculture, calling for the struggle against the "remnants of Menshevism" in Georgia. By that time Communists became a well rooted power in Georgia. By 1929 - from more than 33,000 members of GCP, Georgians made up 66%, Armenians 12.8%, Russians - 9%. While earlier the percentage of Georgians had fallen from 72.4% in 1922 to 62.5% in 1925 with the loss of popularity after the resurrection of 1924, now their proportion was steadily increasing.
By early 1929 the scapegoat for the downfall of the agricultural production was found in the face of "kulak", although this term was never strictly defined. In Georgia the local Communists were reluctant to apply special measures against kulaks, but after the party purges ordered by Moscow in the second half of 1929 that removed most of the soft-liners, the attitude towards de-kulakisation and collectivisation changed crucially. In December 1929 the Zakkraikom decided to expel kulaks from the areas of the full collectivisation, while already the richest 1.8% of the peasants were paying almost half of their income from agricultural products in taxes, with more than 60% of the poorest completely free from taxation. In December 1929 Stalin ordered the severe measures against the resistance to collectivisation, immediately approved by the Zakkraikom and the Georgian Central Committee. The "socially alien elements" including kulaks, merchants and their children were ordered out of secondary and higher educational institutions.
However, on March 2, 1930 an article by Stalin "Dizzy with Success" published in Pravda suddenly changed the attitude towards more moderate pace of collectivisation, being the reaction to strong popular resistance and general failure of the accelerated collectivisation. This was met with satisfaction in Georgia, and on April 3 the local Central Committee allowed the break-up of large (including several villages) collective farms if demanded by peasants. Some regions like Kakheti were exempted from full collectivisation. However, the secret police which already became a great power, led by the Head of Transcaucasian GPU Redens and his Deputy Beria, accused the "liberal" party leaders and achieved their dismissal. Surprisingly, the new Zakkraikom leader Beso Lominadze also appeared to be relatively moderate, even if cautious enough not to oppose the official line openly. Nevertheless, in December 1930 Lominadze got expelled from the Central Committee in Moscow for "leftist deviation", while old Communist Lavrenti Kartvelishvili was brought from Ukraine to serve as First Secretary of Zakkraikom, which was totally shaken up, and enriched by a new name - Lavrenti Beria. The collectivisation got again speeded up during 1931 - 1932, rising from 20.8% of households to 38.5%.
Now, in April 1931, Transcaucasian leadership got accused of certain "exaggerations" in the practice of collectivisation, and several months later Kartvelishvili was summoned to Moscow. Stalin suggested the Zakkraikom to be reorganised once more, with Kartvelishvili its first secretary and Beria his deputy. According to the recollections of an eye-witness, Snegov, "Kartvelishvili answered that he knew Beria well and for that reason refused categorically to work with him. Stalin proposed then that this matter be left open and that it be settled in the process of the work itself. Two days later a decision was arrived at that Beria would receive the Party post and that Kartvelishvili would be deported from the Transcaucasia". Mamia Orakhelashvili got back his earlier position as a head of Zakkraikom, while Beria (on 12 November 1931) became the first secretary of the Georgian Communist party. Later on October 17, 1932, he was also elected to be the chairman of Zakkraikom, occupying this position until the final dissolution of the Transcaucasian Federation in April 1937.
Nevertheless the pace of collectivisation slowed down again, and in the course of 1932 the percentage of the households in collective farms declined from 38.5% to 34%. Confiscatory taxation replaced the violence as the means of liquidating the kulaks "as a class". Such policy appeared more efficient, and as the taxation costs of remaining an individual farmer became unbearable, by the end of the Second Five-Year Plan in 1937 76.5% of the households were collectivised. In December 1932 the internal passports were issued, but given only to the urbanites, to control the labour flows, but in the first place the movement of peasants. Other processes which were in shadow during the First Five-Year Plan - industrialisation, urbanisation, and political mobilisation became the dominant features of new emerging reality in Georgia during early 1930s.
The beginning of 1930s were marked by a new fabulous tendency brilliantly depicted later by George Orwell in his "1984" - the history of previous years got to be reconsidered to meet the new political realities. On October 28, 1931 Stalin wrote a famous letter on the history of Bolshevism in journal Proletarskaya Revolutsiya, leading Soviet historical journal, proposing the new historical framework in his criticism of some recent publications, and proscribing any criticism of Lenin who was presented as an ideal, iconographic figure. The paper was a sign well understood by already tamed historians, and started actually the laborious process of rewriting the history of early Bolshevism. This gave rise to similar process in Georgia as well, where Beria used the convenient opportunity to direct his attack towards old Bolsheviks, who despised him as a newcomer into the party leadership and a person devoid of any principles or moral restrictions. Philip Makharadze became the first victim of the assault, accused by Beria at the 9th Congress of the GCP:
"Almost everything written to date on the history of the Communist Party of Georgia and the revolutionary movement of Transcaucasia does not reflect the genuinely active role of Comrade Stalin, who in fact led for many years the struggle of the Bolsheviks in the Caucasus. Let us take, for example, the works of Comrade Makharadze, from which our young generation is being taught."
Makharadze had no other choice but to admit his mistake, and to promise to rewrite his books taking the criticism into due consideration, which he actually never did. But this was not needed or expected, he was not a rival any more, although kept in office until his relatively peaceful death in 1938. The next victim was another old and highly respected Bolshevik - Mamia Orakhelashvili, accused at the next congress in January 1934 in wrong interpretation of history and Trotskyism. However the real apotheosis of Beria’s historiographic inventiveness took place in July 1935, when Beria for two days read aloud to several thousand party members in Tbilisi his reconstruction of the history of the Bolshevik organisation in Transcaucasia. This classical work providing the new evaluation of the Stalin’s role in revolutionary movement, got immediately reprinted in many languages and for nearest two decades served as a prescriptive example of new historical thinking.
The reconstruction of history went hand in hand with cleaning the party from less obedient members, testing the new approaches that should become routine in the next half of 1930s. The cleansing of party -Chistka - was carried out throughout the USSR from April 1933 to January 1934, and about one fourth of the total number were expelled. In Georgia, where the party had grown up to 57,737 strong before chistka, the number of Communists shrank to 48,431 by January 1934, which demonstrated much less decline than average Soviet figures. However, at the same time, a new wave of arrests started in Georgia, with the arrest of 17 leading agricultural specialists, who were accused and actually did confess under tortures, in criminal anti-Soviet activities. After the protest of the Transcaucasian GPU the poor men were released and their confessions forgotten, until the second attempt made in 1937 when they got re-arrested and finally shot.
The wave of arrests took impetus, and another move was the announcement by Beria at the party congress in January 1934 that a "Georgian national centre" involved in conspiring for an independence of Georgia had been discovered, with the participation of former Federalists, Mensheviks, and Trotskyists. Several days later at the 7th Congress of the Transcaucasian party organisations Mamia Orakhelashvili and other old Bolsheviks were condemned for their Trotskyist deviationism, and the general vigilance against the suspected enemies of the Soviet system was demanded, in line with Stalin’s famous thesis of the gradual strengthening the class struggle. Nevertheless a temporary reconciliation with the former opposition inside the party took place, marking a short and unstable silence before the advent of a terrible storm.
At the same time, in May 1934 Stalin sent a secret order to slow down the arrests in the rural areas. The number of detaineés in Soviet prisons and Gulag was to be reduced from 800,000 to half of this number. The state purchases by the state became obligatory, replacing the previous forceful requisitions of agricultural products. By the end of 1934 the Stalinist structure of ‘command’ economy has been finally established, to last basically unchanged during long decades to come, surviving the death of their inventor and the change of generations. Gradually the economic crisis gave way to growth, and in 1935 rationing was ended. The establishment of economic stability and the structuring of the society was accompanied by decisive change in international standing. After having established diplomatic relations with most of leading states, in September 1934 USSR joined the League of Nations, ending the period of international isolation and surprising the world with its economic successes and the image of social progress.
On December 1, 1934, Sergey Kirov, head of the Party Committee of the city of Leningrad got murdered. This was the ominous sign that the new chapter of Soviet history was turned, with most tragic implications for the whole population of the Soviet Union, and, the Georgian people.
Georgian Culture before and under Beria
Whatever were the political and social processes going on in Soviet Georgia during first years of Communist power, years of 1923-1927 (even until 1930 in some areas) appeared to be extremely fruitful from the viewpoint of the cultural achievements and education. The University of Tbilisi, after many years of efforts of the whole elite of the Georgian society was finally opened in 1918, and gradually became leading centre of spiritual life. Many scholars, having received their degrees in the leading centres of Europe and Russia, came to teach students and contribute to the development of national scientific thought. At that time the ideological oppression was relatively mild and the political leadership did not intervene in scientific discussions. Only at the end of this relatively quiet and fruitful period, with elevation of Beria and other devotees of pathological violence, was the founder and the rector of the University, distinguished historian and man who contributed enormously to the high standard of Georgian scholarship of that time, Ivane Javakhishvili, got expelled in 1926 from the University, labelled as reactionary and had to live further on under permanent danger of execution which became so common a practice.
Paradoxically, when the question of launching the university in Tbilisi was considered and discussed, an outstanding linguist and Javakhishvili’s teacher, of Georgian-Scottish origin, Nikolay Marr, fervently opposed the idea. He believed that there were not sufficient numbers of conspicuous scholars among Georgians that could secure the high quality of studies on stable basis, creating the critical mass of intellect as an insurance against possible provincialisation. Later Marr recognised the importance and the success of the new university, and even asked to be accepted as a professor there. The council short-mindedly refused to forget his old critical position and rejected the proposal, unable to see the prophetic wisdom of this outstanding intellectual of his time (even if later he like many others adopted rather authoritarian attitudes in asserting his Marxistised linguistics based on four-element stadial theory of development, which long after his death in 1949 served as a main target for Stalin’s polemic zeal in the field of language theory (the critique based on the ideas of Marr’s opponent Professor A. Chikobava). The prophetic wisdom later "betrayed" Marr, who adopted ultra-Communist rhetoric and shortly before his death even entered the party, however when in 1933 he was offered by high-rank party functionary Oragvelidze the rectorship at Tbilisi University, Russian Academy refused to let him go there. Only later, in 1970s and 1980s, when the first generation of scholars who had received their education mostly abroad died out, while the next one appeared unable to keep the level due to intellectual isolation and immobility, gradual degradation of the university proved the depth of the insight and the sad truth of Niko Marr, strengthened by special conditions imposed by Communist rule. Nevertheless, in early twenties the University was on its height and whatever the final outcome, its contribution to the intellectual life of the country could not be overestimated.
Other outstanding scientists working actively at that time included a neurobiologist David Beritov (Beritashvili), psychologist Dimitri Uznadze, virusologist Gogi Eliava, mathematicians A. Razmadze, G. Nikoladze and N. Mouskhelishvili, classical philologist Gr. Tsereteli, art historian G. Chubinashvili, and some others. However, terrible thirties gathered deadly tribute among the scientists, while the few who escaped had to seek resort in silence and depersonalising obedience.
Other areas of culture had also their brief Indian summer in late 1920s. Although there was significant ideological pressure even at that time, as illustrated by the story of a brilliant painter David Kakabadze, who in 1927, several years after his return from Paris, was called to the party headquarters and advised to abstain from modernist abstract manner (Kakabadze shifted to painting landscapes of his native Imereti and technological inventions) - most of the artists were still able to follow their relatively free muse. Georgian theatre reached its high point with two outstanding directors - a talented follower of K Stanislavski, Kote Marjanishvili (Marjanov) and a self-made genius, son of a Kakhetian priest, Sandro Akhmeteli (Akhmetelashvili). Rustaveli theatre, where both collaborated for some time, had triumphal staged several mostly classical or European dramaturgy. However, tyrannical and brutal Akhmeteli in 1926 ousted Marjanov, who formed a touring theatre, and produced several brilliant formalistic, but also politically somewhat conformist pieces, having died early in 1933 to escape the tragic fate of his younger rival and colleague, Akhmeteli. The latter, of rather leftist political orientation, got arrested and repeatedly interrogated in connection to the rebel of August 1924, nevertheless was freed and was able to carry out numerous brilliant productions, mostly the new and politicised interpretations of classics. However, his ultimate triumph was Gr. Robakidze "Lamara", a prize-winner at the 1930 Moscow Drama Olympiad. The success was so notable indeed that even after Grigol Robakidze defected to Germany the same year, "Lamara" continued to be staged to prove the achievements of Soviet theatrical art, although without the name of the playwright on the announces. In 1937 Akhmeteli after two years of being removed from the scene, having never actually escaped the supervision of Beria’s secret police, was arrested, accused of state treason and terribly tortured, before being shot on 27 June 1937 as a foreign spy.
History of Soviet Georgian literature, as with undoubted brilliance described by British scholar Donald Rayfield, was exemplar for the fate of the intelligentsia in general, but more tragically and shamefully spectacular due to special attention paid by Lavrenti Beria and other Communist leaders. Georgian literature of 1920s was especially rich in talents, most of whom got later either executed, or transformed into loyal sycophants of Soviet regime. To mention only the stars of the first rate, we should start with Galaktion Tabidze, undoubtedly the greatest Georgian poet of the century, and a great poet indeed. Tragic 1924 he met with his famous and penetratingly sad "The Wind Blows":
The wind blows, how it blows, how it blows,
The wind whirls the leaves off afar.
Arches trees, trees in ranks, trees in hosts.
Tell me where, where you are, where you are.
How it rains, how it snows, how it snows...
Translation by Donald Rayfield
Galaktion Tabidze avoided groupings, and escaped the major purges of 1930s. However, he did not escape Beria’s brutality, who called him to his office for having dared some freedom of expressions, and kicked him in the bottom of his stomach with such violence, that the poet had to stay for a month in the hospital. Nevertheless, he was not purged himself, his wife Olga Okujava, belonging to the family of old bolsheviks, got arrested in 1937, and until her death in 1944 never received a letter or assistance from her terrified husband, who hid his tragedy recorded in his notes in permanent drunkenness and silence. Tabidze commonly renown as simply Galaktion, was able to escape the purges, but not the tragism of his fate. He ended his life in the hospital for party nomenklatura, having committed suicide to escape further torture of obligatory conformism and betrayal of his ideals.
The fate of the most conspicuous prosaic writer, Michail Javakhishvili, was even more tragic. In 1923 he was arrested and sentenced to death for belonging to one of the opposition parties and for assisting the Menshevik government to retreat through Batumi. He was a rare and lucky exception to be freed by Orjonikidze at that time, saved by the appeal of the delegation of the Writers’ Union. After a series of brilliant novels published in 1920s, he even received a governmental award for writing epic story of a noble-hearted robber contemplating on social injustice - "Arsena of Marabda" - a very moderate compromise of high professional quality. However, he was not able to avoid bitter criticism by bolshevik critics and finally got accused for praising André Gide, who after publishing his Retour de l’URSS in 1936 transformed from a respected friend into a mortal enemy, and whom ironically Javakhishvili had never actually met. Being accused to be a counter-revolutionary terrorist, on July 27 he was labelled by the whole Presidium of the Writers’ Union, which saved him a decade earlier, apart from critic Geronti Kikodze, as "an enemy of the people, a spy and diversant, to be expelled from the Union and physically annihilated". And annihilated he was, a month later, after being tortured in Beria’s presence until he signed a confession.
Another influential literary figure was Grigol Robakidze, although the interest towards his exotic prose is somewhat fluctuating. Robakidze returned from Germany, where he studied, in 1908, and gradually became leading person among the young symbolists. In 1915 he became the founder and the leader of the new group of poets and writers that played an important role later on, especially during the next two decades - Blue Horns. Robakidze’s Nietzschean prose concentrated on the search of mythological archetypes and there realisation in the life of a nation, and although its intrigue is always artificial and displays much of pose, he was highly respected both by his compatriots and a number of important European literary figures, such as Stefan Zweig and Nikos Kazandzakis. After his defection in 1930, which along with Mayakovski’s suicide silenced most of his comrade poets for a long while, Robakidze led rather unhappy life, especially after the World War, as his several books on Mussolini and Hitler were believed to favour Nazism. Robakidze himself rejected such idea, but was never able to re-establish his fame in the west, while in Georgia all his books were extinguished and even his name hardly mentioned at all, if not as an ideological scapegoat. He died in Switzerland in 1962, never fully recovered from the shocks of his tragic life.
However, the life of his younger friends, members of the Blue Horns, was even more tragic. Paolo Iashvili, gifted poet from Kutaisi, became a leader in experimental poetry of early 1920s. In February 1921 he and his friend Titsian (Tite) Tabidze greeted Bolsheviks with red carnations. However, both most popular "blue-horners", beloved friends of Boris Pasternak and many other Russian poets, for whom they represented the contemporary Georgian poetry at its zenith, perished in terrible 1937. After having overtly supported the show trials and the death penalties, having labelled his former friend André Gide as "treacherous, black-faced Trotsky’s cur", fully demoralised, on July 1937 Iashvili shot himself with his hunting gun in the Writers’ Union building, which at its session condemned the poor man for such an anti-social behaviour: "...His suicide in the writers’ house in the course of the session was a provocative act which arouses loathing and indignation in every decent gathering of Soviet writers".
Titsian Tabidze’s fate was possibly even worse - he was tortured to death under Beria’s orders, though he named with tragically bitter humour only the 18th century poet Besiki as his accomplice in anti-Soviet activities. Similar fate was allotted to his another pen-mate Nikolo Mitsishvili (Sirbiladze), who was the first of the Blue Horns to be arrested and shot in 1937. The only surviving member of the Blue Horns - Kolau Nadiradze, lived through all these hard years and died in 1991, having adapted to such extent to the Communist requirements, that his later contemporaries were already unable to recognise the talented troublemaker and promising poet of early 1920s under the deeply rooted disguise of the aged conformist. Nevertheless, he too had escaped the purges just by lucky chance - his interrogator got in his turn arrested before the trial.
An interesting aspect of the Beria’s story is that this creative and theatrical torturer was able to gain certain respect and even acceptance from intelligentsia, with which it played continuously the cat and mouse play. When Beria came to power, while most of old Bolsheviks in Transcaucasian power structures refused to collaborate with him and some even left for other better places, intelligentsia got cheated by the illusion that he would respect their talents and their work, as he openly liked to demonstrate. After Philip Makharadze, who accused mediaeval poet Rustaveli of being a protagonist of feudalism, and blamed 19th century poet and leader of national movement to support bourgeois idealism, Beria seemed to be more refined and capable of understanding. Beria liked to remind the intellectuals that while the Germans were burning Heine’s books, he was reprinting Rustaveli. The illusions on behalf of Beria came soon to end, with the unprecedented campaign of terror started by him after the brief "sweetness".
The Great Purgatorio
The assassination of Sergey Kirov on December 1, 1934, marked indeed the new chapter. Whoever was behind this event, it served as a pretext for a wave of terror and arrests. The blame for assassination was finally laid on the Left-Deviationists and Trotskyists. Old Communists and Lenin’s party comrades Zinoviev and Kamenev, who not long ago had joined ranks with Stalin against Trotsky, got arrested and accused of a long list of anti-party and anti-state activities. At their show trial in January 1935 both accepted their political responsibility for the Kirov’s murder and sentenced to prison.
The Central Committee in Moscow called for "continuous revolutionary vigilance", and after series of additional arrests carried out by the Commissar of Interior Yezhov, the all-Union checking of the party documents and the cleaning of the party started. The checking - proverka - was particularly intense in Transcaucasia, were about 19% of party members were expelled. It was followed by fervent attack against the remains of old Bolsheviks, among other events leading to a suicide of Beso Lominadze in Magnitogorsk, and a brutal campaign against Avel Enukidze, one of the oldest Social-Democrats in Transcaucasus and a Secretary of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets in Moscow (Beria accused him for having "deliberately and with hostile intent falsified the history of the Bolshevik organisation in Transcaucasia...", and the same year Enukidze shot himself). Most of Georgian intellectuals of that time got under fire of harsh criticism and accusations. The reign of terror was finally established in Georgia. In his article published in August 1936, Beria stated that "a Communist who shows conciliation and rotten liberalism towards double-mindedness in whatever form it takes commits the greatest crime against the Party, the Soviet power, and the Motherland".
As it could be expected, Zinoviev-Kamenev conspiracy had close ties with Georgian deviationists, and some of them got soon arrested and shot. Soon after another show trial held in November 1936, and depressed with the news of his brother arrested, the Soviet "Iron" Commissar of Heavy Industry Sergo Orjonikidze shot himself on 18 February 1937, joining the long mortal list of old Bolsheviks. His compatriots and old comrades/rivals Mdivani, Toroshelidze, Okujava, Kavtaradze and some others got accused by Beria at the 10th Congress of GCP held in May 1937 in Tbilisi to have created the "Trotskyist Centre for Espionage, Sabotage and Terrorism". Most of these got arrested in July 1937, along with former leaders of Georgian NKVD, and executed, followed later in the end of the year by Mamia Orakhelashvili. Even former Abkhazian leader Nestor Lakoba, who had suddenly died in Tbilisi in December 1936, after having spent an evening together with Beria, was posthumously accused of Trotskyism.
Not only the old Bolsheviks and acquaintances of Beria and Stalin became the victims of this terrible period. Nobody could be sure of his future, or of the future of his family. Any person could be arrested and executed within several days (his family would receive a sentence text stating that such and such got ten years of prison without the right of correspondence - these last words meaning actually - the person is already shot). The NKVD groups made arrests late at night, so that the whole terrorised country would listen with painful attention any late steps sounding in the night - one more victim is to disappear forever. Or, a sudden rumour should spread that someone is under suspicion, and even the closest friends would try to avoid meeting him. The families of the arrested were often taken along, a wife or a husband to share the fate or spend long years in Siberian camps, while the children should be taken to over-swollen orphanages. A neighbour should easily inform to NKVD if there was a chance of improving the living conditions at the expense of the arrested, or a colleague could easily get rid of a rival. Any absurd accusation could work, and tortures would make the victim accept his guilt whatever it could be. Perhaps to characterise the psychological atmosphere of the time it is worth recall the situations, when Stalin’s image appeared on the cinema screen or he was named aloud. Nobody would dare to abstain from applauding, and such applause would continue for a very long time, with some people even fainting from the strain, as everybody was afraid to stop first - even this could serve as a pretext for the arrest.
On December 5, 1937 the new Soviet "Stalin" Constitution was adopted, symbolising the decisive progress towards bright future. With it the Transcaucasian Federation got dissolved, and Georgia became again a full-fledged member of the family of the "sovereign" Soviet republics. Certain motion towards the strengthening of the position of the Georgian language and culture could be noticed, especially in Abkhazia, homeland of Beria. New Abkhaz alphabet was created on the basis of Georgian letters with the addition of six new letters for the sounds non-existent in Georgian. While many Abkhazians suffered from terrible repressions, Georgian mountaineers from Ratcha and Svaneti, and many Mingrelians and also Armenians, were moved to Abkhazia to colonise the depopulated lands.
In December 1937 an 750 anniversary of Rustaveli’s famous poem "the Knight in Tiger’s Skin" was organised with great pompousness. The leaders of the country were eager to demonstrate their concern for the national culture, but also took into account Stalin’s personal interest in the poem - he was rumoured to having even translated a strophe of it into Russian. The new translator of the full text of the poem, former federalist and now a conformist philosopher Shalva Nutsubidze inventively exploited this fact and announced that he had included the genial translation into his text, without specifying its precise location. This appeared sufficient to make the heavy and awkward translation free from any criticism.
About the same time Beria ordered the construction of the museum for the folk art to be constructed in the place of one of the oldest monuments in Tbilisi - Metekhi church built in 13th century. A prominent artist and collectioner of fine art, Dimitri Shervashidze gathered a delegation of conspicuous scholars led by art historian Giorgi Chubinashvili, who visited Beria and asked him to preserve the monument. Beria reacted in characteristic way - after the delegation left, he called Shevardnadze and proposed him to become a director of the new museum. Shevardnadze’s brave refusal cost him his life, but the Metekhi church was saved.
The mass reppressions led to extremely high social mobility. The purges opened up the positions for 260 raikom secretaries, hundreds of directors of enterprises, commissars, editors of newspapers, and thousands of the lowest level party and state bureaucracy. The new elite was created, more obedient and with shorter memory. Although by the end of 1938 the intensity of terror somehow declined, the horrified population was unable to relax, as the slaughter and arrests still continued even if at a reduced scale. For Georgia this also coincided with the replacement of Beria, who on December 8, 1938 was appointed the new Commissar of Interior instead of Yezhov, now commissar of water transport (to be later in 1939 arrested and shot in 1940). Beria’s post in Georgia was given to Kandid Charkviani, who continued efficiently to maintain the cult of Stalin and Beria in Georgia. The last show trial in Georgia took place without Beria’s direct involvement although prepared by him - in January 1938 five employees of the Animal Husbandry Research Institute got sentenced to death for the "sabotage" activity.
In February 1939 the 12th Congress of the Georgian Communist Party, now chaired by Charkviani, discussed the results of the Second Five-Year Plan. Although Charkviani congratulated the Congress with having fulfilled the Plan, the tempo of industrialisation was low, and lagged behind the average Soviet indicators. Neither the new plan was concerned with the development of Georgia, its attention mostly concentrated on agricultural production of tea and citruses, apart from the ambitious plan of drying up the Kolkhida swamps along the Black Sea shore. According to Charkviani’s memoirs, Stalin was dissatisfied by the low rate of the industrialisation in Georgia, and demanded that several new factories be constructed - metallurgical works (although no iron ore was available in the neighbourhood), and an aircraft production. In September 1940 at the Politburo meeting Stalin personally decided both factories to be constructed in Tbilisi, to avoid the construction the additional living facilities. He continued to be involved in Georgia’s affairs, and controlled even such activities, as the selection of the scenario for a new patriotic film "Giorgi Saakadze", and suggesting the corrections to the plot by selected authors (Antonovskaya and Chorni).
Thus, by the time of Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Stalinisation of the Georgian society was completed. In 1941 the Georgian statistical figures showed 92.2% of peasants in collective farms, 3% in sovkhoz, 3.4% remaining individual farmers. But the reality was hidden behind these and other statistics - that was fully obedient, subjugated and conformist population, ready to applaud to any idea or hint coming from great Stalin, ready to die at his first call. And such call soon came, after June 22, 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.
From World War II to the XX Party Congress
Soviet Union was caught totally unprepared when Hitler launched his attack. Without any prior warning German army attacked and crossed Soviet border and rapidly moved towards the east. The Red Army, unprepared and in addition undergoing change of equipment, retreated in full disorder, while Nazis advanced without any serious resistance.
One of the directions of the Germans’ movement was towards the south-east, the Caucasus and the Baku oil, ardently needed by German military economy. However, though the North Caucasus was soon occupied, and the Nazi flag raised on the top of the Mount Elbrus, the highest peak of the Caucasus, Transcaucasia was spared from major fighting due to events in the Volga/Stalingrad region.
Georgians contributed greatly to the defence of the USSR, and played an important role in preventing the Germans from penetrating into Georgia from their advanced bases in North Caucasus. But also, as a region close to the front line, Georgia supplied the southern front with munitions, food and war materials. Most of manufactures or factories were shifted to producing such materials, also repairing tanks and other technique. The aircraft construction works were moved from Taganrog in Russia to the town of Kutaisi in West Georgia, and already December 1941 the firs "Lag" aircraft was produced. Another important military production was the automatic rifles of Spagin, obsolete as it was. Nevertheless food, manganese and coal supplies, along with the repair of weaponry were the main responsibilities of the republic.
However, the greatest contribution to the war effort were hundreds of thousands of Georgians who fought and experienced enormous losses during the military operations, led either without competence (the army was totally decapitated due to recent great purges), or with general neglect of care of this seemingly inexhaustible and cheap resource - the manpower. The whole society got mobilised, both regular regiments and partisan bands were organised. some of the troops sent to guard the Turkish border, but others were most actively participating in the military action with Germans. Especially tragic was the fate of 224th Georgian infantry division sent to Crimea and almost totally extinguished there. Since 1938 the Georgian national military units have been merged into mixed troops during the reorganisation of the Red Army. However, poor knowledge of Russian by many Georgians caused the recreation of national units. These units were often readily sent to most dangerous cites, and suffered greatly from poor commandment. However, mobilisation was not always successful. E.g. the administration failed to mobilise conscripts in the mountainous region of Svaneti, and after several attempts the Svans were permitted to contribute to the war by leading somewhat autonomous guerrilla action in the bordering north Caucasian area.
In Georgia at that time, like elsewhere in the Soviet Union, government was changing its attitudes towards just recently suppressed patriotic and even nationalist feelings, although a trend became noticeable even before the war. Even the church was now considered to be an ally, and the habitual demonstrations of the League of the Militant Atheists (145,000 strong) against Patriarch Kalistrate Tsintadze ceased. The Tbilisi film studio produced several patriotic films like "Giorgi Saakadze", celebrating as a great patriot a controversial and conspicuous feudal adventurer of 17th century who repeatedly changed sides, having fought at different periods of time for and against Persia, Turkey and Georgia. The theatres staged patriotic dramas, the composers wrote music full of patriotic pathos, while K. Gamsakhurdia started publishing his monumental historical novel "David the Builder". However, Georgian patriotism did not always go hand in hand with Soviet patriotism. So, at the same time in 1942 at Tbilisi Opera House leaflets were distributed calling on the people to overthrow Russian Communist rule and proclaim Georgian independence. Several conspiracies against Soviet rule have been discovered, among them the most renown so called ‘student’s case’, supposedly initiated and closely monitored by the secret services. Almost all of these young people were shot for plotting against the regime, and only just recently the relevant documents became available to researchers. A minor rebel took place in mountainous Tusheti in Eastern Georgia, in 1942-1943, seemingly linked to the anti-Soviet processes going on in Ingushetia. The end was brutal, along mediaeval customs the heads of the leasders have been cut off in the rebellious village Samani to cause dismay among the population.
Soon after the first successes in the war the government returned to old suppressive practices. In the northern Caucasus Stalin ordered the deportation in 1943-1944 of the entire Karachay-Balkar and Chechen-Ingush peoples as punishment for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. The Chechen-Ingush Autonomous SSR was obliterated from the map of the USSR. The territories of the punished peoples got redistributed to their neighbours believed to be more loyal. Georgia to received significant territories in the north, as Klukhor rayon was formed as part of Georgia, and the region of Elbrus and Baksan valley and a smaller part of Ingush territories were passed over to her.
However, other deportations took place in Georgia itself. Overnight, in late autumn of 1944 about 90 000 Muslims from southern Georgia, from the Meskheti region bordering Turkey, where gathered, put into cattle wagons and deported to Central Asia. Most of them were Muslim Georgians, who called themselves Yerli, but also Muslim Armenians - Hemshils, Kurds, and Turkic nomads like Tarakama Turks, also some Ajarans - another Muslim group of Georgians from neighbouring Ajara with capital in Batumi. The great majority of the deported Meskhetians were either elderly, or women and children, as most of the men were helping to wage the war against Germany, and perishing in the battles on the western front, while they families were dying of terrible conditions during their transportation, or after being settled in the least enjoyable lands of the Soviet Central Asia. The local population there was warned to be cautious with these pro-Turkic renegades who were accustomed to murders and violence (in line with the long going tradition, the same was told to Meskhetians about the Central Asians), and a special term was coined to designate them by the secret services - Meskhetian Turks, which appeared to be rather long living and is now the best known title for this group, also called Ahaska Türkleri (Akhaltsikh Turks).
The plan of deportation was prepared by the head of the Commissariat of Internal Affairs, Lavrenti Beria himself, and signed by Joseph Stalin, both Georgians. This barbaric act, one among others applied towards several northern Caucasian peoples, such as Balkars and Chechens, Crimea Tartars caused of pro-German feelings, or Volga Germans, in the case of Meskhetians had special geopolitical connotations. Stalin was preparing to demand from his allies the northern part of Turkey to be passed on to the USSR after the victory, and he actually did this at the Potsdam meeting in 1945 and later. However, after Stalin’s death Molotov officially stated in July 1953 that "the governments of Armenia and Georgia deem it possible to waive their territorial claims against Turkey. The Soviet government consequently states that the Soviet Union has no territotial pretensions against Turkey."
Georgians in the war outside USSR
Georgian emigration concentrated mostly in Germany and France, and their government in exile in Paris, was always a sort of an unpleasant reminder for the Kremlin leadership. Already in 1930 former Minister of Interior Noe Ramishvili was murdered by a Georgian assassin, reputedly in pay of the Soviet secret services. Later with strengthening of Stalin’s and Beria’s positions, more attention got paid to ex-Soviet emigration in general, and Georgian in particular. Georgian émigrés too did their best to cause problems for Soviets, but their resources were too limited. Nevertheless, the International Committee for Georgia, the President of which was Monsieur Jean Martin, director of the Journal de Genève, kept up a running fight against the admission of the USSR to the League of Nations, which nevertheless took place in 1934. The pressure and terrorist acts carried out by Soviet diplomats and secret services were by far more effective but sometimes inadequate. As historian David Lang wrote, "The importance which Stalin attached to the activities of the G. émigrés was displayed in 1938, when the Soviet Embassy in Paris brought effectual pressure to bear on a pusillanimous French government to ban a celebration of the 750th anniversary of Shota Rustaveli, which was to have been held at Sorbonne."
However, the rise of Nazi Germany gave Georgian exiles an opportunity to pay back to Soviets, and some of them joined the Fascist movement. A Georgian Fascist Front was formed, the nucleus of which consisted of a nationalist organisation called "Tetri Giorgi". The leaders of the Front included general Leo Kereselidze and the former anarchist and professor-sumerologist Mikhako von Tsereteli, both having maintained strongly pro-German position since the World War I, and even previously accused of co-operating with German secret services. During the war, on the German side a Georgian Legion under leadership of Colonel Shalwa Maghlakelidze was formed from exiles living in Western Europe, combined with Soviet prisoners of war of Georgian extraction. There emerged an unexpected obstacle to this enterprise caused by the intervention of Rosenberg and other exponents of German Nazism, who preferred all Georgians to be sent to extermination camps as non-Aryans. The Georgians under Nazi domination were saved by active position of Alexander Nikuradze, a Georgian scholar highly respected by Nazi elite, and some influential Germans.
At the same time many Georgians abroad made their name for their struggle against German Nazism, among them perhaps the most famous was Amilakvari, a legendary figure in French Resistance. In Italy Phore Mosulishvili got also renown as a brave fighter against Nazis, however most of Georgian émigrés fought under the auspices of the French Foreign Legion. One of the most dramatic events was the rebellion of the Georgian prisoners of war on the Dutch island of Texel, brutally suppressed by Germans. However, perhaps the deepest respect during the war was deserved by a Georgian not for the conduct in military action. Georgian priest Father Grigol Peradze, who lived in Warsaw, in outstanding sacrificial act replaced by himself a Jewish woman and was taken to the concentration camp and gas camera, having left behind brilliant scholarly works on the history of mediaeval Georgian Church and its relations with the Holy Land.
The Post-War Decade
In May 1945 Berlin fell. On the 1 May two Soviet soldiers, a Russian and a Georgian - Yegorov and Kantaria, raised the Soviet flag over the gloomy remains of the Reichstag building in Berlin. Certainly, the nationality of the two brave soldiers was approved by Stalin himself, who by his choice of a Georgian paid tribute to his rather specific nostalgic patriotism. Several days later German Army finally capitulated, followed by Japanese. The war that caused enormous losses and harm to the Soviet people in the first place, came to end, giving start to the new wave of international expansionism of the Soviet power.
Georgian losses in the war were terrific, according to most assessments exceeding 10% of the population.. Up to 600,000 Georgians fought in this war, while more than half of this number - 307,000 - perished in the war, while 45,000 became invalids. Even more tragic was the fate of Georgian prisoners of war, who being passed on by the Allied Forces in the hands of Soviet NKVD, actually determined their tragic fate - Soviet concentration camps that were less orderly, than German ones, but not less horrible.
At the same time Lavrenti Beria was awarded by a titles of Soviet Marshal and the "Hero of Socialist Labour" for his outstanding contribution to the victory, while all the military success was ascribed to the genius of Generalissimus Stalin. Beria retained most of his control over the state of affairs in Georgia, remaining along with Stalin himself a member of its Central Committee, while the central square in Tbilisi wore now his proud name.
Beria’s agents continued to take revenge over not only his old enemies, but also the most prominent of Georgian "émigrés abroad, no matter what was there attitude towards the Nazi regime. In 1946 one of the leaders of Georgian emigration in Germany - Tite Margwelaschvili, got decoyed to East Berlin by Soviet secret services who used philosopher Shalva Nutsubidze as an entice. Margwelaschvili, who took along to visit his new Georgian friends in East Berlin his 16 year old son, has never seen him again and was soon shot, while the son, later conspicuous German-language writer Giwi Margwelaschwili, after spending long time in the concentration camp, was taken to Tbilisi and never saw Germany again until the Gorbachev’s perestroyka. Another outstanding figure lured and arrested in East Berlin was General Shalwa Maghlakelidze, who however survived and left memoirs describing the history of the "Bergman" Division and his dramatic life. Conspicuous Georgian historian Ekvtime Takaishvili, who supervised the national treasury taken by the Menshevik government to their French exile, returned to Georgia bringing back the treasury with some additions, as a result of Stalin’s good relations with General de Gaule. However, Takaishvili had to spend his long unhappy days in Tbilisi under the home arrest, seemingly considered to be too old to be imprisoned.
Gradually Stalin became less happy with Beria’s control over his fiefdom - Transcaucasus and Georgia, and decided to restrict his powers there. In 1951, after warm commendations for the successful completion of the 4th Five-Year Plan between 1946 and 1950, Stalin and his assistants claimed to have unearthed a nationalist organisation centred on Mingrelia. N. S. Khrushchev stated in 1956: "As is known, resolutions by the Central Committee of the CP of the Soviet Union concerning this case were passed in November 1951 and in March 1952. these resolutions were made without prior discussion with the Politburo. Stalin had personally dictated them. They made serious accusations against many loyal Communists. On the basis of falsified documents it was proved that there existed in Georgia a supposedly nationalistic organisation whose objective was the liquidation of Soviet power in that republic with the help of imperialist powers. In this connection, a number of responsible Party and Soviet workers were arrested in Georgia. as was later proved, this was a slander directed against the Georgian party organisation.... Thousands of innocent people fell victim of wilfulness and lawlessness. All this happened under the "genial" leadership of Stalin, "the great son of the Georgian nation", as the Georgians like to term Stalin." Partly this move was directed against Beria, who was himself a Mingrelian. In November 1951 Beria’s close associates in the Georgian elite - Second Secretary of TseKa Baramia, Minister of Justice Rapava, Prosecutor-General Shonia had been removed in accordance to Stalin’s personal orders.
In March/April 1952 Beria, now Vice-President of the Soviet Council of Ministers, came to Tbilisi to attend a meeting of the Central Committee of GCP. Akaki Mgeladze replaced Candid Charkviani in the position of the First Secretary of the Georgian Central Committee. In six months he replaced half the members of the TseKa. Among others Valerian Bakradze, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and a personal nominee of Beria, was also removed. Mgeladze and his Deputy, Minister of Security N. Rukhadze, started accusing Beria’s agents of nationalist deviation, and other anti-Soviet attitudes and activities, finally reducing his control over Georgia.
However, gradually Stalin got older, and in these last days of his bloody dictatorship he might have recalled his old poem "Old Ninika", published in 1896 when he was 17 and a promising young poet welcomed by the leader of patriotic movement, celebrated poet-patriarch Ilia Chavchavadze, to be murdered a decade later paradoxically as a result of the joint conspiracy of Bolsheviks and Okhranka, certainly not without some involvement of his former protégé:
Our Ninika has grown old,
His hero’s shoulders have failed him
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
How did this desolate grey hair
Break an iron strength
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But now he can no longer move his knees,
Scythed down by old age,
He lies down or he dreams or he tells
His children’s children of the past.
Translation by Donald Rayfield
Soon, on 9th March 1953, Stalin’s death brought crucial changes to the disposition of power in Kremlin, and hence, in the whole of USSR. Beria briefly became a leading figure among the Kremlin heirs, but the very horror which he evoked among his rivals served against him. However, he had enough time to make the changes in Tbilisi leadership. On 14 April, 1953, a meeting of the Central Committee of GCP was held. Secretariat under Mgeladze got dismissed and a new one under Mirtskhulava created. V. Bakradze ascended once again to become the Prime Minister, while his opponent Akaki Mgeladze made a confession, stating that all the cases that he had created against Beria’s clientele he had done due to motives of personal ambitions.
However, Beria soon fell a victim to a Kremlin conspiracy led by Khrushchev. He was arrested in July 1953 at the Politburo meeting and supposedly shot immediately (his party-comrades and opponents were too afraid of him to leave him alive), although his execution was announced later to have taken place later in December, after a trial and death sentence. This naturally gave rise to new changes of political elites throughout the USSR, but the more so in Georgia. With Beria fell other prominent Georgians and Tbilisi Armenians who previously followed him to the Moscow - V. G. Dekanozov, a former Soviet Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Minister of Internal Affairs in G.; B. Z. Kobulov, a former Deputy Minister of state Security, and later of Internal Affairs; S. A. Goglidze, a former Commissar of Internal Affairs in Georgia. They were along with others put to death for conspiring with Beria to liquidate Soviet regime and restore capitalism. In Tbilisi Rukhadze was immediately imprisoned, and later executed in November 1955. In September 1953 Vasili P. Mzhavanadze, a former Lieutenant-general of Soviet Army who had served also in the Ukrainian party apparatus under Khrushchev, was ‘elected’ first secretary, while the second secretary according to the general rule became a Russian P. V. Kovanov. On 29 October 1953 Givi D. Javakhishvili, a geologist of 41, appointed as Prime Minister. The status of Georgian leadership was enhanced by electing Mzhavanadze as candidate to the Politburo later on. Georgian political elite, along with the whole country, was slowly entering a totally new stage of Soviet history, later named Khrushchev thaw.
From Thaw to Perestroyka
In February 1956 the 20th CPSU Congress was held in Moscow. After the moderately reformist official report maid by the First Secretary Khrushchev nobody was expecting any revolutionary changes to take place. However, late at night on the 25 February special closed session of the Congress was called to hear the revelationary report of Nikita Khrushchev devoted uncovering the crimes of Stalin and his surrounding. Khrushchev pronounced openly the truth that many of those present were aware of but would never dare to say aloud. The era of Stalinism came to end, though his legacy was to dominate the Soviet reality for several decades still to come, and survive even the disintegration of the USSR.
After the XX Congress, although the Khrushchev’s report was kept in secret, the general process of liberalisation that started with the death of Stalin, acquired new impetus. Most of the victims of the purges got rehabilitated, as a rule posthumously. Those who survived were allowed to return to their homes from Gulag camps and special settlements. After the Congress also most of deported peoples were allowed to return to their homelands, even if sometimes to rather shrunken territories, as it happened in the case of Ingushs, a significant portion of whose land including the capital - Right-bank Vladikavkaz, was passed on to Ossetians, believed to be more loyal to Russian/Soviet interests. The Klukhori rayon where more than 2 thousand Georgians were settled there in December 1943 were returned to Karachai, the same as territorries in Ingushetia.
Many Georgians, however, were rather unhappy with the difamation of Stalin, whom they got accustomed to be proud of for his Georgian origin and considered to be an outstanding leader of a great country. Soon after the famous speech of Khrushchev on the ‘personality cult’, the events in Georgia took tragic direction. While liberalisation and ‘thaw’ was taking place in the Soviet Union, 1956 was also the year of bloody violence in not only in Hungary and Poland, but also in Tbilisi, though on a reduced scale. Georgian youth, bred on the panegyrics and permanent praise of the genius of Stalin, was proud to consider him being a Georgian that ruled over great Russia, and, as believed widely, dominated the world. Now sudden shock of denigration of Stalin was considered as a révanche taken by Khrushchev over the dead giant of history, which was not very far from truth, and as national humiliation. Several days in advance to the third anniversary of Stalin’s birth, March 9 1956, groups of students participated in spontaneous demonstrations and meetings by the huge monument of the ‘Great Leader’ near the Kura embankment. Finally the officials allowed the celebration of the anniversary to be held, but when crowds of students moved through the streets towards the monuments, frightened Mzhavanadze lost control and passed on the responsibility to the army. Suddenly the shooting started from several buildings, and the army troops pursued the escaping students. Although no precise numbers of casualties is known, at least several tens of young people were killed and several hundred wounded and arrested. But the lesson was learned. For some twenty years no open confrontation ever took place, until the new generation of young people came too scene, so strong was the shock and bitter frustration. At the same time Vasili Mzhavanadze was awarded for his passive loyalty by being elected to be a Candidate Member of the Presidium of the Central Committee, in June 1957. Also, some cultural events and celebrations were considered to be a sort of compensation fore brutal suppression of 1956. In 1958 the pompous celebration of 1500th anniversary of the founding of the city of Tbilisi by King Wakhtang Gorgasal took place, preceded by Georgian cultural festival held in Moscow.
Tbilisi was preparing for the visit of the high guests. Several days before their arrival the huge Stalin monument in the park on the top of Mtatsminda mount which dominates the city, was hastily removed, although the massive basement was left behind, either in hope of its former upper part to be brought back, or to be replaced by any other adequate figure. However, later this caused a very negative reaction on the part of Castro, who, having learnt the story, used it as a pretext for circumcising the visit, leaving Tbilisi much earlier than planned and causing thus a certain coolness in relations. Castro nevertheless took along the most precious present he could have got in Georgia, two cubs of the Caucasian herdsmen’s dog renown for its size and strength. However, the most symbolic event that took place in Tbilisi, showing also the new possibility of introducing humouristic element in relations with the Communist leader that was unthinkable under previous leadership. A few hours before Khrushchev and Castro were supposed to pass through the central streets of Tbilisi in an open car, with thousands of citizens and schoolchildren already freed from there tasks and ordered to occupy respective positions, another open car slowly proceeded through the streets. Public first met with astonished silence two well-known madmen, Kika and Mikho, each resembling respective great leaders Nikita and Fidel respectively; then the street exploded with laughter, merry shouts and applause. This comic episode never reflected in media was an illustration of the deeply rooted resistance against Khruschov’s denigration of old idols, Stalin in the first place. Certainly, only Stalinists, who had strong support both among Moscow and Tbilisi party and KGB elites, could have organised such deadly mockery without resulting massive persecution or even a lesser reaction.
Another less comic episode illustrates better the attitudes of the Socialist leaders and their families towards the cultural heritage of smaller nations, to say nothing of the general human values. When visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Tbilisi, Nina Petrovna Khrushcheva (Kukharchuk) liked the golden cross adorned with pearls that belonged some eight centuries ago to the legendary Queen Tamar, and expressed her desire to present it to one of the new African client prime-minister’s wife. Only the brave and principle behaviour of the Director of the Museum, Shalva Amiranashvili, saved the famous cross of sharing the fate of many other items of art given as gift to numerous international clientel of Soviet leaders.
Georgia appeared to be fatal for Khrushchev. In October 1964, while he was spending his holidays in Georgia, enjoying the sunny autumn days at the Black Sea coast, the political elite in Moscow decided to look for a more tame leader. Georgian security was ordered to organise the operation, and unexpectedly Khrushchev got arrested and taken to Moscow, to sign his resignation and retire in peace. Mediocre Brezhnev became the Secretary General of the CP, while Andrey Kosygin became the Prime Minister, and Suslov, the main figure behind the changes, dominated the ideological field. This did not change much for Georgia, other than strengthening the position of its security service, while Vasili Mzhavanadze continued to rule in the country. This uninterrupted 19 year rule in Georgia was characterised by extreme flourishment of corruption, criminalisation of the society and well developed underground economy. Everything could be bought, and the functionaries were trying to use their positions to extract as much profit as possible, in the form of bribes or shares in the profits. This reign of corruption was deeply rooted in total depreciation of values after the Communist take-over and the mass repressions that cut the continuity of traditions, bringing only cynical pragmatism or social obedience in exchange. Shadow side of the Communist façade had reached indeed extraordinary proportions, and as H. Carrére d’Encausse describes, "Mzhavanadze cultivated a system of corruption that spread throughout the political life of Georgia. Everything was occasion for payoffs, and the party’s secretary and his wife, ambitious, arrogant, wielding their authority in every aspect of public life, they acquired dachas, furs, and diamonds".
The period of 1960-s, although they did not seem to be rich with spectacular events, was very important for the formation of mass consciousness and generally shared attitudes inside ethnic groups, Georgians in the first place. After the repressive system became more loose, and was paralleled by the de-mythisation of Communist ideology which was especially notable on the periphery, the ideological vacuum was to be filled by some new values and myths. Political and ideological cynicism, nationalism and profiteering came in exchange, to dominate the decades to come. The West only recently hated and resented became gradually a model and an example of the economical success. Nineteen years years of Mzhavanadze also curtailed somehow the extreme social mobility characteristic for the early Soviet period, and thus gave opportunity for creation of more-less stable and stratified society, with its educated and hence liberal elite and hedonistic value system. After continuous changes the new intelligentsia emerged, characterised with nationalistic aspirations and ideological pragmatism. The number of Russians went down (from 1959 to 1970 - from 10.1% to 8.5%), and unlike other Soviet republics, the social status of Russians was relatively low. Less children went to Russian schools compared to the previous period of Russian language dominating the career seekers, and the difference in the ideological atmosphere at Georgian and Rusian schools (ideological cynicism versus loyalty to Komsomol slogans) was stark. The period was characterised as well by the revival of arts, and the cinema in the first place. The success of the Georgian films and of Georgian football teams became the source of national pride and concern.
In 1972 the then Georgian Minister of Interior, Eduard Shevardnadze, was able to present to Moscow substantial evidence of widespread corruption in all layers of Georgian party and state bureaucracy, starting from its very top - the First Secretary of GCP. Although Mzhavanadze had strong positions in Kremlin, partly due to his Russian wife’s intimate friendship with her counterparts in Moscow, including the first lady, the scandal was too difficult to hide. An article in Pravda that appeared on March 7 1972 signalled the end of his career. In a few months Vasili Mzhavanadze was replaced, and later occupied the sinecure position of the Chairman of the Committee of War Veterans. On September 29, 1972, Eduard Shevardnadze succeeded Mzhavanadze as the new head of the Georgian Communist party. Mzhavanadze fell from power, but the Moscow government remained silent about the corruption that caused his disgrace. However, Shevardnadze was given responsibility for cleaning out the Augean stables, which he started immediately with great zeal and limited effectiveness. This took place under the slogans of a struggle against corruption and ‘negative phenomena’, and while many of those involved in corruption and shadow economy were arrested and persecuted, the law enforcement system itself stayed to be the cradle of the most malicious corruption. The main direction of struggle was directed against the shadow businessmen, who in Mzhavanadze’s times not only were able to enjoy significant freedom of hands and economic success, but also became certain of their stable position and the power of their wealth. Some of them even dared to oppose the young Minister of Interior, unaware of his great skill of survival and action. Such was the renown case of Lazishvili, an underground millionaire who used his conspicuous manager’s talent to build a shadow empire of industrial production (mostly of knitted clothes, renown in the whole USSR for their quality), based on the most modern western equipment and market principles. Lazishvili got arrested and had to spend long sentence in prison, only on the eve of perestroyka granted the opportunity to move to a madhouse with better conditions of living, before finally being freed. There were many others that shared this dire destiny, and Georgia became famous in the Soviet Union for its vanguard struggle against corruption and "negative phenomena", to be followed much later on the all-Soviet scale by Andropov’s brief reign.
Several legal processes attracted overall attention, such as that of the Rector of the Medical Institute Gelbakhiani accused in 1973 of establishing of the monstrous system of bribeery at the students’ selection process, was followed by the arrest and death sentence of the former Minister of Finance Ananiashvili, not to mention numerous less scale functionaries accused of economic crimes and corruption.
Notwithstanding demagogic rhetoric, stern rule and full prisons, Shevardnadze’s innovative approach and charismatic personality gained during the early period of his rule certain support and co-operation on the side of Georgian intelligentsia, who liked his openness to dialogue, wide interest, and struggle against corruption. He invited many previously non-engaged persons, especially journalists, to the official positions, bringing thus the new blood and more open minds there. However later, when it became clear that the thousands of functionaries and shadow businessmen arrested for bribes and economic crime would not reduce the corruption intrinsic to the current societal mode, and resenting the anti-nationalist rhetoric of the First Secretary, intelligentsia lost hopes and interest towards the new leader, though he was still respected and feared.
The changes were in the air, notwithstanding the heavy atmosphere of what later would be called the "Brezhnev stagnation period". Like elsewhere in the USSR, the dissident movement started in Georgia by publishing and disseminating the ‘samizdat’ literature. One of the most active groups, led by a philologist Zviad Gamsakhurdia, "a samizdat poet with interesting surreal verse that reflected his study of T. S. Elliot and his absorption in the theories of Rudolf Steiner", as described him D. Rayfield, published in 1973: three issues of an underground magazine "The Golden Fleece" which gave much information about the deportations, the destruction of Georgia’s monuments, tortures and violence in the Soviet detention system, and the corruption of early 1970s. One of the most popular was the issue of Muslim Meskhetians, inhabitants of South Georgia, who had been deported due to the personal decision of Stalin and Beria late in 1944, accused of pro-Turkish feelings that paradoxically had been supported previously. The Meskhetians (also known as Meskhetian Turks since their deportation) were not allowed to return back to Georgia even after the 20th Party Congress, sharing this fate with Crimean Tartars and Volga Germans. However, more than two hundred thousand Meskhetians never quit their intention and hope to return to their homeland, and their case gained strong support among Georgian dissidents and intelligentsia. This issue is of specific interest, as after the start of perestroyka and strengthening of nationalist movement, the viewpoint concerning the return of Turkophone Meskhetians and even concerning their ethnic identity, and the majority of nationalist leaders opposed the idea of their repatriation. At that time, however, Shevardnadze took into consideration the general mood and permitted the resettling in Georgia of a few families.
By mid 1970s ethnic Georgians became majority in Tbilisi, due to rapid growth of the city due to rural migration. In general, while on the surface the Russian cultural intervention seemed to become more evident, in fact the Georgian nationalism which preserved its impetus after late 1950-s still had strong roots. Apart from Abkhazia with full domination of Russian, less and less Georgian children studied at Russian schools, every cultural event or sport battle of a national significance attracted great interest and support. Discussions on the issues of historical chronology of Georgian (as compared to e.g. Armenian) cultural monuments, were common even among less competent but nevertheless fervent discussants. As a result, the society gradually ripened for resisting any attempt to reduce the role of national language and culture, undertaken from time to time by the Moscow ideologists, who evidently understood the danger of nationalism in multi-ethnic society with dying ideology.
At the same time the Soviet power was still not ready to tolerate any dissent, and as ordered from Moscow, Zviad Gamsakhurdia and his friends Merab Kostava and Victor Rtskhiladze got arrested in April 1977 and accused of anti-Soviet activities. The closed legal proceedings took place in early 1978, but quite a while earlier the Central TV from Moscow broadcast the record of Gamsakhurdia’s recantation. Zviad Gamsakhurdia recognised his mistake in leading anti-Soviet propaganda, admitted assistance of several western journalists, and promised never to get involved in similar action. The recantation was a great victory of the secret services, a strong blow both on emerging Georgian national movement and the Soviet dissent as a whole. As a result, Gamsakhurdia applied later in July 1979 for a pardon and got a rather mild exile sentence, being ordered to live under police supervision in North Caucasus, while Merab Kostava who stood until the end with his principles, partly saved the face of the movement, but never escaped his severe sentence. His three plus two year (prison and exile) sentence spent in Russian detention camp was later prolonged on the basis of a forged case (attack on a militia-man), and he only got released with perestroyka, in 1987.
However, the national movement was still alive, shifting to younger generation of students. After the new Soviet constitution was adopted in 1977, the time came for the republics to renew in their turn their constitutions. In April, during several days in succession, the constitutions were considered by the Supreme Soviets of Azerbaijan Armenia, and Georgia. This happening papered unexpectedly to take dramatic form in Georgia, were the controversy arouse because of the clause in the draft new constitution concerned with the state language. In contrast with old "Stalin" constitution of 1937, Georgian language was no more mentioned as a state language. Not much attention was paid to this issue in other republics, but in Georgia, which became especially sensitive due to the deteriorated inter-ethnic relations in its autonomies, and also traditionally considering its language with unique alphabet to be of great importance for the development of its culture, a demonstration of protest burst out during the session of the parliament on the 14 April 1978. The demonstration, organised by a few patriotically directed students and initially small, was soon joined by other citizen, and though partly blocked of by police, was able to reach the square before the Parliament building and express clearly their demands - to specify in the constitution Georgian tongue as a state language. Such practice was a rare case in the Soviet Union, and caused strong confusion among the parliamentarians, who were peeping in fear from the windows of the building. fear. Many citizens of the older generation, who only too well remembered the bloodshed of 1956, were weeping in anticipation of something terrible to happen - the youngsters dared to challenge the unchallengeable. However, Shevardnadze was quick to react. He contacted Moscow and asked for the permission to amend the constitution. While the shocked Kremlin was contemplating the issue, Shevardnadze came out and spoke with the crowd, explaining the situation and his willingness to do what he can. Such unprecedented bravery uncommon among the Party leadership (with the dramatic exception of Mao Tse Tung in his marasmatic age) soothed the emotions, although rumours were coming of Soviet Army preparing for the action. Nevertheless, Moscow gave its consent, and Georgians the first time in many years returned to their homes with the feeling of victory. and victory it was indeed, if even only symbolic. Ironically, Moscow decided to change the respective clauses in all Transcaucasian constitutions, so that the Azeri Constitution, which was already adopted by the time of the decision, had to be amended already post factum when published in the newspaper, without any consideration by the marionette Supreme Soviet, respected only when needed for advertising the Soviet democracy.
However, as a rule when any of the greater nations of the Soviet Union revealed some elements of national feelings, the same took place with the smaller ethnic groups of the autonomies. While it is difficult indeed to judge whether the element of manipulation was decisive in such cases, or this was the spontaneous reaction caused by the instinct of ethnic survival. Anyway, the events in Tbilisi triggered the strengthening of the national feelings among the Abkhazians, who felt permanently endangered by the unfavourable demographic balance gradually diminishing respective portion of Abkhazians in the autonomy where they used to enjoy at the same time some privileges of being the "titular" nation (i.e. one that gave title to the territory, an invention of Soviet national policy that conceived the embryo of most post-Soviet conflicts).
The tensions grew between the Abkhaz minority (about 18 per cent of the half million people who lived there) and the Georgian majority (45 to 48 %), the conflict at first expressed itself mainly in political manifestations. The Abkhazians accused Georgians of keeping them materially and culturally underdeveloped in order to obliterate the Abkhazian idebtity, in the face of their diminishing proportion in Abkhazia. They demanded that the autonomy be passed on and annexed to Russia, preferring to be a minority directly under dominant Soviet ethnos. A letter with respective demands, signed by 130 prominant Abkhazians, was sent to Moscow. As a reaction a special commission from Moscow visited Abkhazia, and although its leadership was explicitly advised to abstain from any secessionist demands, or any attack against the constitutional status of the Georgian language. At the same time some of the basic complaints were considered as legitimate, and respective changes were introduced. The Sukhumi Pedagogical Institute was transformed into the university, Abkhazian TV broadcasts were introduced, and there was certain increase of investment in the development of the local enterprises.
The Central Committee under Shevardnadze was not solely struggling with the nationalism, corruption and other "negative phenomena". As all bureaucratic structures, it was working on all sorts of initiatives and projects that seemed to be in agreement with Leninist ideology, but also permitted for applying personal inclinations and preferences, imagination or even manias of its functionaries. One of the most peculiar cases was the Department for Socialist Traditions, which under the leadership of a very inventive lady-boss worked hard on introducing new "traditions" like all sorts of feasts commemorating writers, artists, or other, or "Tbilisoba" - the Tbilisi Day - taking place usually in October, when it was possible to order the rural regions to bring in the city the new crops of fruit, vegetables or wine. However, the most outstanding invention of the Department was the new ritual of "socialist baptism" named "Buduoba" (as "budua" is god-father in the dialect of Guria, native region of Shevardnadze). Several cases of Buduoba ritual actually took place, and a few happy children could later have opportunity to boast of a popular singer Nani Bregvadze as their "budua-mother".
Brezhnev paid his last visit to Tbilisi not long before his death. He was to award Georgia for extraordinary success in building socialist economy, and establishing new socialist values. Enormous preparations took place. It was decided to organise the meeting and demonstration at a new place, a huge square before the Sports Palace, so that the space itself was adequate to the scale of the event. Monumental Lenin’s head was constructed to adorn the square, however it came out later that the head had a very practical function - old man Brezhnev had problems with his kidneys, and the toilet that could be requested any moment was incorporated into the head of the great Communist Leader. Another important service - a reanimation cabinet for the poor man who had in addition severe cardiac disease aggravated by his age and unhealthy diet - was arranged in the premises of the neighbouring bakery, and the place was ready to host the high guest. The host, Eduard Shevardnadze, pleased the high guest with eloquent and over-exaggerated praise of his outstanding contribution to the Soviet victory in the World War II and the building of socialism, and left behind his famous phrase about the "sun, which raises for Georgia from the North", at least after the October Revolution.
Soon, in 1982 Leonide Brezhnev died, to symbolose the end of the "great stagnation", which was to be followed soon by the great illusions of perestroyka and final collapse of the great power. However, outstanding longevity of his clever and powerful successor, former KGB chief Yuri Andropov would not allow him to reform the society as he would like to, during his brief reign from November 1982 to his death in February 1984, being severely ill most of this time. Nevertheless Andropov started his rule with unexpected dymamism, launching campaigns against corruption and alcoholism. On December 11, 1982, Moscow leading newspaper Pravda followed immediately by other media, reported that a Politburo meeting had been devoted to discussing corruption and condemning this moral degradation within the governing class. On December 18, a decree effective on January 1 instituted a system of sanctions designed to halt corruption. Special investigation teams started studying the economic performance of enterprises and institutions, new wave of arrests followed. Actually, Andropov moved in the direction already tested by Shevardnadze in Georgia, with same result - corruption could not be halted by cosmetic arrests and investigations, as it became the very essence of post-Stalinist Communist state, that could be stopped either by the return to the pactices of the great purges of the Terrible Thirties, or by reforming the general functional pattern of the society. The population, full of worst suspicions and in expectance of the reppressions, kept silent.
Even more fruitless were the outcomes of Andropov’s campaign agains alcoholism. The campaign took even comical overtones in Georgia, which was not as endangered by alcoholism as Russia, however the wine and the rituals that were based on excessive use of beverages were stable. The local party committes and functionaries made their best to prohibit such rituals as wedding festivities or the kelekhi - gathering with food and beverages after somebody’s funeral. These customs were especially strong in the mountains, were also the influence of the party committees was much weaker. (E.g. Muslim Ossetians traditionally hold seven bunquets in the year following a death in a family, while the number for Christian Ossetians was twelve.) However, the local customs appeared much stronger than imposed prohibitions, and in the Georgian society with strong inter-family links and overlasting behaviourial codes they caused just anecdotes and only strengthening of the roots of now half-secretive practices. Nevertheless, the anti-alcoholism campaign hit a strongest stroke to the Soviet economy essentially penetrated by the beverage trade, and the great losses of the state incomes together with the illness of Andropove soon brought the anti-alcohol campaign to a cease-fire. However, the damage to the Georgian economy, strongly dependent upon the production of wine and alcoholic liquors, was very strong.
In 1983 the Soviet leadership decided to celebrate the anniversary of the Russian-Georgian treaty of 1783, signed in Georgievsk stanitsa by the representatives of the Catherine the Great and the Ambassador of King Erekle II of Kartli and Kakheti. This treaty was considered by Russian historical tradition as creating the legal basis for the annexation of Georgia in the beginning of the 19th century, which was presented in Soviet historical textbooks as a great event that saved the Georgian nation from total annihilation by the Muslim world. Whatever the reality, Soviet propaganda machine decided it to be a good case for strengthening the unity of Soviet ethnic brethren and allocated heavy funding on festivities and another specific form of spending money - construction of the tens of monuments along the Georgian Military Highway, as symbols of great friendship between two brother-nations - elder brother, Russia, and the smaller, Georgia. The monuments, mostly representing Russian poets who have travelled or fought in the Caucasus during the last century, such as Lermontov, were erected by the road. However, the monuments were constructed in great haste, and in the conditions when most funding precipitated in the pockets of the art bosses of Moscow and Tbilisi, the quality and durability of these mostly plaster of Paris statues hardly permitting them to stand proudly until the end of festivities: in a years time very few were left, while Lermontov’s statue, which also attracted attention by its suspicious form and aesthetic qualities, was replaced by a more durable and acceptable figure.
Monumental constructions were fashionable throughout Soviet Union, but in Georgia they found some of the most ugly realisations. Some old buildings have been destroyed in the very centre of Tbilisi, to give room to the Republic Square which by its constructive backwardness (author - Tony Kalandarishvili) actually blocked off the traffic routes from neighbouring districts. The square got special adornments - huge and totally functionless parabolic constructions which were immediately named by the public "Andropov ears". The Party Secretary responsible for the construction works (G. Andronikashvili) and the Minister for Construction Works (G. Mirianashvili) were as professionals fully aware of the uselessness of the new initiative, but it was not in the spirit of time to take active position. Personalities like Dimitri Shevardnadze who were able to save Metekhi church several decades ago, were no more available, or had no influence. Another monumental construction of dubious value pleased the sight of those entering Tbilisi along the Military highway, baptised with bitter humour as "how to steal a million" (author - Z. Tsereteli), however this monumental nonsense soon fell down with enormous sound but happily without casualties. The imitation of the same author of the Liberty statue guarded the road to the city airport. Being an artist, a sculptor or a decorator, provided necessary contacts and links, commercial talents and respective patron-client system were securing orders and job available - became a very profitable profession in Georgia. Hordes of Georgian sculptors, architects, designers and commies-of-art invaded provincial Russian towns in the search of job and profit, and much of the Soviet architectural kitsch of that time was rooted in the students’ classes of the Tbilisi Academy of Fine Arts.
Soon, however, Andropov finally died, and another strange figure, a ‘live corpse’ as he got cold with bitter humour, Chernenko, came to the piedestal of Soviet power. Chernenko was clearly a temporary figure, and his almost immediate death following next year opened the way to dramatic metamorphosis of perestroyka.
From Perestroyka to Independence: Another Try
In Tbilisi Gorbachev’s ascent to supreme power did not attract much attention initially, although some more observant Georgians got interested in him already after his first visit to London in 1983, where he was met as a future heir to Kremlin herontocracy: However, the very first steps of perestroyka brought immediate changes to disposition of power in Tbilisi. At the beginning of July 1985 Shevardnadze got appointed Foreign Minister to succeed Mr. ‘No’ - Andrey Gromyko, and became full member of the Politburo, while one of the secretaries of TseKa in Tbilisi - Jumber Patiashvili ascended to the position of the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia. This latter immediately started cleaning his new fiefdom from Shevardnadze’s people, backed in this by Kremlin (Ligachev in the first place, although already in a sort of disfavour by that time), which did not like its appointees in Moscow to maintain roots elsewhere. Within a few months Patiashvili eliminated three ministers, two secretaries of Central Committee (one of them and his dangerous rival Soliko Khabeishvili got arrested under the pretext of corruption and nepotism, which sounded cynical for the party elite where almost everyone was continuously involved in such practice it one or other form), not to count top officials of police, heads of newspapers, and regional party secretaries.
Patiashvili used to quote and mention with great respect his predecessor, now Soviet Foreign Minister, but there was certainly no doubt who was now the master here. He also eagerly demonstrated that in spite of the continuous struggle with corruption and other "negative phenomena", the moral climate in the republic was in dire need for a hard hand. At the 27th Party Congress held in 1985 he stressed that the struggle with the corruption is still very far from the end, and said that Georgia could purge this mentality oriented to private property only with real class warfare.
However, the changes were in the air, and even the militant speeches of the First Secretary were unable to revert the pace of new ideas of dissent and liberalism mixed with nationalism grown on the soil of 1960s and 1970s. One of the areas where these ideas found less resistance was the environmental protection, rapidly becoming a subject of concern for most emerging political movements throughout the USSR. Although later, when the former Soviet republics achieved political independence and encountered severe economic difficulties, the alarmist slogans and environmentalists’ concerns shifted to the second plane, in mid 80s the emerging elites canalised their political aspirations to such concerns. In Georgia one of such issues became the project of constructing a giant railway tunnel through the great Caucasian range, to link Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia with mountainous region of Khevsureti in East Georgia, and then with the main railroad Baku-Tbilisi. The battle against the "Project of the Century" which was planned and designed in Moscow, and was totally ignoring the environmental and cultural concerns of Georgian mountaineers and Ingushs, coincided with many other similar struggles elsewhere in USSR, and with the starting shortage in construction funds. Thus the project got suspended, and naturally all the oppositionary political groups ascribed the victory to their efforts.
Another environmental issue that attracted the attention of public after the railroad was the construction of the Khudoni hydro power station, equally unacceptable from the viewpoint of the environmental concerns. The suspension of this project was another success of opposition, later regretted by many when the energy crisis several years later changed the attitudes of both population and the politicians towards this ambiguous issue. However, the struggle against Khudoni served as a good basis for the formal establishment of the environmental movement registered officially as the "Georgian Ecological Association", to give later birth to the party of Georgian Greens. The Communist leadership attempted to maintain control over the emerging social activity by creating a special umbrella organisation penetrated by secret services, under the name of Rustaveli Society, but there was no great success, as the latter itself developed along the general nationalist and anti-Communist lines under the leadership of a philologist and historian Akaki Bakradze, although the latter had become himself a Party member under Shevardnadze.
Other political parties too have been created, or turned to open activities as in the case of dissident groupings, and gained popularity due to overtly anti-Communist rhetoric and nationalist slogans. Merab Kostava, released after his prolonged sentence in 1987, was able to return general respect to defamed Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who after his recantation had little chances of political leadership. However, Kostava publicised his statement that his old mate Gamsakhurdia’s recantation was a deliberate and planned action agreed among them, and that the only aim of it was to preserve freedom for the latter not to behead the pro-independence movement. Unexpectedly this appeared an effective action, and soon the rating of Zviad Gamsakhurdia rocketed up, this process strengthened by some stupid (or deliberate) insinuations against him published in official media. There was impression that volens-nolens the officials were effectively supporting his becoming an unrivalled leader among anti-Communist forces.
In November 1988 the Georgian Parliament granted itself a right veto all-Union laws, this decision rather unexpected from the normally extremely obedient Soviet fictitious structure. However, it was gradually becoming clear that there are new forces emerging that deserve respect and obedience, and also even among most loyal Communists the national aspirations were strong and waiting for the reduction of ideological pressure to let the steam out. The same time the new law was publicised strengthening the position of the Georgian language in the republic as a whole, met with great dissatisfaction by the ethnic minorities.
The year 1988 became crucial for the development of the new political elites. Baltic experience of creating the Popular Fronts, as suggested by ethnic Georgian Moscovite linked to reformist branch in secret services Boris Kurashvili, was considered as valuable experience in all republics with rapidly emerging pro-independence attitudes, and the Popular Front of Georgia was created, uniting radical politicians like its future chairman Nodar Natadze, and moderates, later to join pro-Shevardnadze or centrist parties. Although Natadze was in minority at the initial stage, as most founding members supported the idea of slow and gradual movement to more sovereignty, due to Gamsakhurdia’s backing and political naïveté of his moderate opponents Natadze became the Chairman of the Popular Front, thus preventing this supposedly supra-party organisation to become a genuinely unifying force of the national liberation movement. Emissaries from the Popular Fronts of the Baltic states visited Tbilisi regularly, hoping to exploit the secessionist movement in Georgia to strengthen their anti-Russian standing.
However, with the growth of pro-independence political opposition among Georgians, the similar and closely linked processes developed among the ethnic minorities, like this happened everywhere in the Soviet Union, leading to collisions and inter-ethnic strain. One of such events (traditionally, all the bloody clashes were named in Soviet media euphemistically as ‘events’) that took place in Fergana valley in Uzbekistan had immediate connection with the Georgian nationalist movement. The victims of the Fergana events were Meskhetians, a Turkic speaking muslim minority from southern Georgia deported to the Central Asia in 1944. The incident broke out in the little town of Kusavia on May 23, but within several days the sporadic clashes turned into riots, numerous gangs of young Uzbeks in blind fury plundered and set fire to the houses of Caucasians, mostly Meskhetians, killing and destroying everything in their way. Although their is strong suspicion that the riots have been provoked and manipulated by secret services, no clear evidence is available. Anyway, soon tens of thousands of Meskhetian refugees were seeking now asylum outside Uzbekistan, and naturally Georgia was the most desired asylum. However, both the party elite and the nationalist movement congenially rejected to possibility of providing asylum to Meskhetian refugees. While the official attitude was no surprise, the turnover of the former dissidents who some years ago called for bringing back the Muslim Georgians as they defined Meskhetians, was spectacular. Gamsakhurdia, Natadze, Akaki Bakradze and other nationalist leaders strongly opposed the idea of bringing masses of muslim Turks (now Meskhetians were considered as such) to Georgia, especially until Georgia is not independent and able to control the demographic situation on its own. Only a few important political figures in opposition, among them Merab Kostava, continued to defend the case of Meskhetians, but the population got already frightened of the image of hundreds of thousands of hostile muslim Turks invading Georgia, and would not accept the arrival of any Meskhetian refugees.
However, much more dangerous tensions emerged inside Georgia. The emerging nationalism of the Perestroyka period was considered a threat by the ethnic minorities. The Abkhaz and Ossetian minorities linked their hopes to support by Russia and, paradoxically, to the restoration of the USSR. On 17th June 60 leading Abkhazians wrote a letter to Gorbachev and 29th Party Congress, listing the grievances held against Georgian nationalism, and suggesting a radical shift of status of Abkhazia, namely the recreation of the Abkhaz SSR of the early 1920s, "so that Abkhazia could henceforth meaningfully control its own destiny", as stated later by the speaker for Abkhaz nationalism B. G. Hewitt. In Tbilisi political opposition considered Abkhazian secessionism as a result of Russian manipulation aimed at weakening the pro-independence movement in Georgia. On February 18th 1989 several thousand people marched in Tbilisi to protest the Abkhaz secessionism, accusing Abkhazians also of sabotaging inter-ethnic relations by keeping the Georgians in Sukhumi out of all leadership positions. Second move took place in Abkhazia. On 18th March 1989 the ideas expressed in the "Abkhazian letter to Gorbachev" were endorsed at the public meeting of mostly ethnic Abkhazians held in the village of Lykhny where the secessionist movement got impetus ten years earlier in 1978, taking the form of the "Lykhny Declaration" and signed by 37,000 locals, demanding full secession from Georgia and sovereign membership in the USSR. Quite naturally, this fact became immediately known in Tbilisi, and added a lot to already existing tension. The conflict at first expressed itself mainly in political manifestations increasingly nourished by supporters such as emissaries to Sukhumi of the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, the Cossacks of Krasnodar and Stavropol regions, and by militant statements from Georgian officials, to develop later into bloodshed and war.
In January 1989 the nationalist umbrella organisation was created in South Ossetia under the name of "Adamon Nykhas" (or Popular Shrine), under the chairmanship of a lecturer of Pedagogical Institute in Tskhinvali, Alan Chochiev. In March Chochiev published an open letter in the support of the Abkhaz secessionist aspirations, also calling for the administrative status of the South Ossetia to be upgraded and transferred to the Russian Federation. This caused an outcry of protest among Georgians, and more and more voices were heard especially among Gamsakhurdia’s supporters for the abolition of the ‘autonomous oblast’ status of the South Ossetia.
In the end of April and the beginning of May the warm spring brought around the new wave of manifestations, initially directed against Abkhazian secessionism, but later shifting to the general demand of the Georgian independence. There was no immediate reaction from Moscow, but later the suspended silence suddenly changed with action. On the 8 of May, Russian tanks entered the city of Tbilisi, as a demonstration of force and the readiness to use violence to subdue the demonstrants. However, the agitated people got even more excited, an there were several cases when the crowd was able to stop and turn back the tanks by lying on their way. After this brief demonstration the tanks left the city, but already the population was expecting violence to break out. Two different previous experiences, of 1956 and 1978, were discussed as a model, but nobody could really know what should happen. Some of the national leaders in their excitement could even welcome the use of violence on the side of Soviet troops, assuring the listeners that you had to pay with blood if you want independence, and that such violence shall necessarily awaken the people. And the violence came.
On April 8 Jumber Patiashvili, the First Secretary of the Communist Party, addressed the demonstrators, exhorting them to remain calm and dissolve. Simultaneously, as it became known later, he maintained contact with Moscow demanding some radical measures to be taken to bring the situation under control.
"On Sunday, April 9, 1989, Tbilisi, the Capital of Georgia, was the scene of one of the bloodiest clashes in the Gorbachev era", would write later French historian Hélène Carrere d’Encausse. Soviet soldiers armed with shields, batons and shovels attacked the crowd of the manifestants early in the morning, while excited youth sang and danced to overcome uneasy expectation of something terrible to happen. Twenty persons, mostly young girls, died as a result of the violence directed towards the peaceful crowd, there were numerous wounded and poisoned by the gas used by the soldiers. Although it seems plausible that there were casualties among the soldiers as well, but no such information was allowed to leak by the military, who the same evening declared the state of emergence that brought one more death when a car driver was shot dead by the soldiers early in the morning next day.
The events of 9 April had far-reaching influence upon the future development of events. Even in Russia, the Soviet troops were said to have developed "Tbilisi syndrome". However, for Georgia this was a shock that one hand brought general disillusionment in any positive attitude to be expected from Russia if not for its own political profit, and at the same time it created neurotic state of minds characteristic for the revolutionary periods of history. Myths about hundreds if not thousands of victims of Russians’ brutality were created and widely circulated, without any realistic grounds. nationalistic feeling dominated everything, seconded my the anti-Communist emotion. Jumber Patiashvili had to resign, former Head of the KGB Givi Gumbaridze becoming the new First Secretary of Communist Party, but even he tried to keep low profile. The only two popular figures among old party elite were now the Komsomol Leader Cecilie Gogiberidze and the Minister of Health Irakli Menagharishvili (also formerly a Komsomol functionary) who had shown concern for the people and elementary bravery in facing the decisions to use repression against the crowd. The population massively acquired the victim’s self-image, and was mainly occupied in watching the Moscow TV broadcasts in expectation that finally the truth will be loudly pronounced. Like so often Moscow was now again the main focus of attention, as the traditionally infantile attitude developed during long years of brainwashing was still to look for justice from outside to be granted.
There, in Moscow, the Congress of People’s Deputies appointed a special commission headed by a popular deputy and a widely known lawyer, later to become the Mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. The committee heard the acting military commanders, the republic’s leaders, numerous experts and witnesses. However, no clear conclusions were made, as there was too much half-truth in all what was said, and the threads led to highest levels of the powers structure in Moscow. Even the visit of Andrey Sakharov to Tbilisi shed little light to the mystery. The major question was never answered, namely, whether it was the local government, who never controlled the armed forces; or the Soviet troops and their Commander-in-Chief in Transcaucasus General Rodionov, later in 1996 to be promoted to the high position of the Minister of Defence of Russia - but there were some decisions the army never made without asking Politburo for advice; Was it Gorbachev himself who made the fatal decision? But he claimed that he was out of the country and just arrived back, and was not informed of what was happening, whether this be a demonstration of ultimate cynicism or of the actual loss of control. This question was never answered in a way that should sound verifiable, either in Tbilisi or in Moscow, and this vagueness made the psychological climate in Georgia even more strenuous.
National passions intensified not only among Georgians after April 9. The summer brought violent clashes in Sukhumi, Abkhazia, with a score of casualties (mostly Georgians) and several hundred wounded in July. Abkhazians and Georgians clashed over an attempt to transform the Georgian faculty of the Abkhazian University into an affiliate of the Tbilisi State University, this considered as a threat to the existence of the former by Abkhazs. Strikes paralysed public transportation and blocked of the railroads in Western Georgia, bringing economy to a critical slowdown. Also the Azeris in the south-east of Georgia, numbered more than three hundred thousand, got aroused to political and religious activity, demanded autonomous status like Abkhazian. These were followed by activation of Ossetians, reviving their old demands to get united with the Northern Ossetia, and thus joining Russia. It seemed as if Georgia was going to pieces, and the population sought its relief in listening to populist slogans calling for national revival and blaming external forces and manipulations in all the mischief.
Long before independence and perestroyka the brain washing, dissemination of myths and gossips, and covert operations were common. Soviet secret services continued the long tradition of Tsarist Okhranka perhaps not that original but allowed to operate in favourable environment being completely out of any public control. Certainly these services, if not very creative, were rather efficient when solving familiar, common tasks, and flexible enough on operational level to act effectively even in the new environment, being strong by their omnipresent networks and organisational culture (this did not protect however against strategic, systemic failures). Not only secret services, but every other centre or locus of power, like military regiments, political groups or criminal networks played their part in the new environment of political laisser faire that emerged by the end of perestroyka. All they contributed to various covert manipulations or operations influencing political reality and aimed at changing it in certain strategic direction. However, in Georgia as in whole FSU all this above-described refined technology served no effective goal. The structures accustomed to operate in stable political environment appeared like their former subjects totally unprepared to the new realities, and only contributed to more chaos and destruction. While many efforts and involvements could be observed in the political processes that took place in post-perestroyka Georgia, no clear strategy, or rational approach could be noticed.
Soon after the movement for independence strengthened in the republics such as Baltics and Transcaucasus, Moscow reacted by creating legal background for preventing them from secession. On April 3, 1990 a special law to regulate the secession procedure was rather unexpectedly passed through the Supreme Soviet, to be labelled immediately as a law on "non-secession", due to its clear orientation at preventing any chance for secession for the republics. But it was too late, and according to long-going Soviet tradition nobody was o pay too much attention to such laws. Baltic republics stated that they do not need to secede formally, as they had never actually joined USSR on any legitimate basis. The general attitude was similar in other secessionist republics like Georgia, and this new law served as a catalyst for radicalisation of the nationalistic strategies, having made it clear that Moscow is not to give in without greater pressure. At the same time the law gave additional motivation for ethnic minorities in the republics to hope for more control over the situation, as far as according to the law no secession was actually possible without their consent. This increased further the inter-ethnic tensions, and the general feeling that some radical action is needed urgently, until it is too late and the train is gone.
In the meantime the Communist leaders made everything to radicalise the national movement and make it be dominated by Zviad Gamsakhurdia. At his first demand the First CP Secretary Gumbaridze provided hundreds of buses to organise a protest march to Tskhinvali, causing farther deterioration of the relations with Ossetians, but also clearly defining who was the real leader of the republic. The Supreme Soviet of Georgia While the elections to be held to the Supreme Soviet got postponed, finally the procedure for the elections was defined and the elections took place on 28 October 1990, based on the mixed majoritarian/proportional system. Nationalist and anti-Communist block of parties Round Table - Free Georgia won 53% of the vote, while the Communists took 29%, other parties failing to pass the 5% cut-off and obtaining just a few seats in majoritarian single-mandate constituencies. Hence the Round Table dominated the Parliament, while the Communists obediently supported all the decisions. Later in December 1990 the Georgian Communist Party declared its independence from the CPSU.
Meanwhile, a period of bloodshed and violence began in the Tskhinvali region. Already in June 1990 Ademon Nykhas organised a demonstration in Tskhinvali. In August 1990 Ossetian Soviet issued a unilateral Declaration of Sovereignty, while on September 20 it passed as well a resolution transforming South Ossetia into a "Soviet Democratic Republic", which Moscow was requested to incorporate into the USSR. Both Georgian and All-Union Soviets responded by declaring the resolution to be non-constitutional, however the South Ossetian Oblast Soviet scheduled parliamentary elections for December 9. The new Parliament met on December 11 and subordinated itself to the direct control of Moscow. The Georgian Parliament responded on the same day by abolishing the region’s autonomy, which, as the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast, it had enjoyed since 1922. Several ethnic Georgians were killed the next day in Tskhinvali in retaliatory attacks, and Gamsakhurdia introduced the state of emergency in Tskhinvali. On January 6, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev demanded that Georgia restores the status of South Ossetia and withdraws the troops from its territory by January, otherwise facing the Soviet military intervention. This gave Gamsakhurdia a pretext to declare, that the Ossetian nationalists "are agents of Gorbachev, who is applying pressure on us through this war".
The fighting, with sporadic cease-fires, continued throughout 1991. In the midst of tensions and clashes, engendered in a climate of intolerance, tens of thousands of Ossetians from different parts of Georgia fled, mainly to North Ossetia in Russia, while significant numbers of ethnic Georgians also left Ossetia for elsewhere in Georgia. Both sides used heavy weapons, and continuous shelling of Tskhinvali and neighbouring Ossetian and Georgian villages left large areas in ruin. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev demanded that the fighting cease, but although there was a short cease-fire in February 1991, with Russian troops patrolling the city of Tskhinvali, the fighting soon restarted and continued until the changes in Georgia’s leadership that took place a year later, led finally to negotiations.
The Soviet Union was rapidly moving towards its end. Yeltsin and Russian leadership opposed Gorbachev’s attempts to revive USSR. Nevertheless In February 1991 the Gorbachev’s new Union Treaty referendum was to take place. Georgian Parliament refused to participate, and instead Georgia held its own referendum on independence on March 31, and the Georgian Parliament declared independence on the 9th of April, celebrating thus the two year anniversary of the tragic events of 1989. Several weeks later, on another anniversary - 73 years after the first declaration of independence in 1918 - on 26 May 1991 Zviad Gamsakhurdia became elected President of Georgia with overwhelming 87% of vote, winning over five other candidates.
After long period of blood, repressions and totalitarian hypocrisy Georgia finally re-entered its independence lost with the Soviet invasion 79 years ago, having now the official status recognised internationally, a President elected by a free vote, and the Parliament, strongly supporting the President. Most of the population had strong confidence in their political leaders, the ruling Round Table-Free Georgia coalition. In euphoria, everything seemed to develop in right direction, if not for several minor issues, not considered at that time to serve as harbingers of the tragic events to come shortly.
Along with the economic disaster and civil disorder, among the most sensitive issues were the inter-ethnic relations. Insensitivity to the needs and demands of the ethnic minorities - Abkhazians, Ossetians, Azeris, Armenians - the nationalistic and chauvinistic rhetoric that could only deteriorate these relations was one more demonstration of the suicidal tendencies that led to catastrophe. Intelligentsia although itself the main source of nationalist myths and aspirations, disliked the dangerous extremism of the new leadership, the subsequent breakdown of economic relations and standstill in production, chauvinistic propaganda, especially anti-Ossetian attitudes, and especially the international obstruction.
Georgia, like other FSU and Eastern European states, suddenly lost its traditional political, ideological and economical environment and had to seek its place in the new world, having to deal not only with unfamiliar market or interstate relations, but also with new social realities, responsibilities, standards, demands and even technological ideas. Like other NISs, Georgia appeared to acquire independence quite unexpectedly and hence being completely unprepared to it, its freedom suddenly dropping from above due to complicated and obscure political games going on elsewhere. Thus, there was no widespread preliminary concept of independent existence, no real political parties existed capable of undertaking responsibilities, no political programs or ideologies having any other bases than just rejection of communist past, and some sweet patriotic myths. Overall shock, sudden loss of the reference frames and customary codes of social behaviour created unprecedented chaos in minds, total confusion and hysteric susceptibility to populist rhetoric, patriotic fantasies and simultaneously to greed, crime and corruption. This was an excellent soil for all sorts of manipulations of minds (and bodies), conducted with different skill and effect, but unmistakably by all active participants in ambitious political games. What is observed on the surface is mostly primitive nationalist slogans or para-magic rituals commonly exploited by all successful political leaders in each FSU country, often mixed with legal, economic and political ignorance, and senseless tautologies. At the same time we can sometimes notice other forces and interests hidden behind the scene, powers much more skilled and experienced, episodically revealing themselves in critical situations of civil clashes, in strange and unexpected changes of leaders’ decisions, their uncontrolled remarks, or Herostratic revelations.
A great game with negative non-zero sum and with nobody to win, that is the tragic reality in which Georgia was destined to participate, with dire outcome in forthcoming military action and mass brutality in Ossetia and Abkhazia, military coup and the civil war, bread lines and unprecedented criminality. The independence started with pain and violence, but through these pain and violence the new hope got born.
This short list includes books in English that were used as major sources, along with a number of others, mostly in Georgian and Russian. However in general there are next to no comprehensive coverages of the Georgian history of the period, with a happy exception of a highly professional but sometimes uneven work of Professor Ronald Suny from the University of Chicago.