A Caucasian state of relative prosperity in the USSR, which since independence has been marked by political instability, territorial disputes, and economic fragilty.
Early history (up to 1991)
Georgia was a protectorate of the Russian Empire from 1783. Russian attempts to impose its own culture and language upon the Georgians led to a series of uprisings in the nineteenth century, which were brutally suppressed. It declared its independence at the outbreak of the Russian Civil War (1918), but was subjected again by the Red Army in 1921. In 1922 it joined the USSR as part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Republic (together with Armenia and Azerbaijan), becoming a separate Soviet Republic in 1936. Gorbachev's reformist policies revived nationalist hopes for independence, which were expressed at the parliamentary elections in 1990, won by the oppositional ‘round table’ party coalition. Under its leader, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, it became independent in April 1991.
Post-independence politics (1991–2003)
Gamsakhurdia's government became increasingly corrupt, until the opposition of the National Guard and civic unrest bordering on civil war forced him out of office in 1992. His successor, Shevardnadze, struggled to overcome the continued resistance offered by Gamsakhurdia's supporters. Too weak to maintain control over the separatist republic of Abkhazia, Shevardnadze was only able to restore some order within Georgia itself with implicit Russian assistance. This followed his agreement to allow the continued presence of 20,000 Russian troops, and the Russian use of its Black Sea port of Poti. Georgia was also in desperate need of Russian economic assistance, as in 1994 its Gross Domestic Product had declined to 25 per cent of its 1991 levels. Thereafter, the economy stabilized, as inflation was brought under control and state spending reigned in. The state nevertheless struggled to establish its authority against economic corruption, a thriving black market and rampant tax evasion. In 2000, the Justice Minister, Mikhail Saakashvili, led a campaign against government corruption. He was forced to resign, and became leader of the opposition movement.
Contemporary politics (since 2003)
Following rigged elections in favour of Shevardnadze in November 2003, Saakashvili led a peaceful ‘rose revolution’ which toppled the president. Saakashvili was elected President in January 2004 in fair elections. He reformed the police by raising pay, and pacified the separatist region of Adjaria. However, Abchasia and Ossietia continued to defy his authority, while his fight against corruption slowed down markedly as he continued in office.