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Commentary: Who Will Be Georgia’s New President? By Irakli Kakabadze, Chair, Gandhi Foundation Georgia

Commentary: WHO WILL BE GEORGIA’S NEW PRESIDENT?

By Irakli Kakabadze, Chair, Gandhi Foundation Georgia

New presidential elections are fast approaching in Georgia. They are scheduled for October 28, 2018.  It is very interesting that this time the ruling “Georgian Dream'” party which holds an absolute parliamentary majority and has unilaterally formed four governments over the last six years decided not to nominate a presidential candidate for this election cycle.  Leaders of the majority party declared that they will support one of the independent candidates for president.  Georgia’s current president, Giorgi T. Margvelashvili has not announced his plans about running for re-election.   Many experts think that Mr. Margvelashvili will not run this time and will retire.  His candidacy was actively promoted by the Georgian Dream party in 2013 and once he was elected president, he chose to distance himself from the ruling party.  This won him a reputation as a moderately independent president, with pro-Western and pro-democracy values.

There are indications that the sole independent female candidate for presidency, Mrs. Salome Zourabishvili will get the support of the ruling party and along with it, its administrative resources, which will give her a big advantage in the presidential race. Mrs. Zourabishvili was born and raised in France, the daughter of immigrants from the first independent social-democratic republic of Georgia (1918-1921).  She was educated in France and the United States and served as a French diplomat at different missions throughout her career.  In 2004, former Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili tapped her as his Foreign Minister and she presided over the Russian troop withdrawal from Georgia in 2005.  After a disagreement with Saakashvili on a number of issues, she left her post as Foreign Minister and joined the opposition, becoming actively involved in protests from 2006 to 2009.   She continued her career as a UN diplomat in New York City overseeing the problems of disarmament.   After her service at the UN, she returned to Georgia and ran as an independent candidate for parliament in 2016 and beat the former Minister of Culture in the Saakashvili government, Nickoloz Rurua.  Since then she has been a member of the Georgian parliament, was moderately independent and conservative.   If elected, she will become the first female elected president of Georgia.   Her political views are close to those of the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. However, she proclaimed that she will be ‘first of all a women’s president’, which caused a lot of debates in the social media.   Her good relationship with Bidzina Ivanishvili, head of the ruling party and Georgia’s prime billionaire, will be key in this upcoming presidential struggle.

However, experts are not completely sure that Mrs. Zourabishvili will have the unconditional support of Ivanishvili’s crew.  There are a number of strong opponents within the voting electorate.  Mr. Grigiol Vashadze is representing the United National Movement of Georgia, the former ruling party of Mr. Saakashvili.  Mr. Vashadze is also a moderate figure, who also has a long and distinguished diplomatic record – first in the Soviet and Russian Foreign Services and then as Saakashvili’s Foreign Minister.   Unlike many of Saakashvili’s party members, Mr. Vashadze is not known as a hothead and even among his opponents he commands some respect as a distinguished statesman.  This gives him some chance at winning. Some experts state that Mr. Vashadze also has a good personal relationship with Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is Georgia’s strongest power-broker.  This relationship between current and former ruling regimes is called ‘co-habitation’ by the Georgian populace.  If you ask a regular cab driver or construction worker in Tbilisi, they will express their resentment at this ‘cohabitative’ state of events; they see it as an elitist plot against ordinary blue-collar inhabitants.

One additional moderate candidate is the former speaker of the Georgian Parliament during the Saakashvili period, Mr. David Bakradze.  Mr. Bakradze belongs to the group that split from Saaakshvili’s UNM and calls itself “European Georgia”.   This is the group led by Mr. Giga Bokeria, liberal former deputy foreign minister, who is well regarded as one of the smartest politicians in Georgia.  There have been talks in Georgian media that ‘European Georgia” was also paid by Georgia’s leading oligarch and now their financial situation is the best amongst all parties.  One group of experts is betting on Mr. Bakradze as next president of Georgia.   They note that even though he is from the formal opposition party, he will be a very convenient opposition president for Bidzina Ivanishvili and he will  help to consolidate the image of contemporary Georgia ‘as a democratic state’ with divided powers.

 Another former speaker of the Parliament, Mr. David Usupashvili, is also running for the Presidency.  He is respected for his honesty and high professionalism as a constitutionalist and human rights defender.  It should be noted that during Mr. Usupashvili’s chairmanship of the Parliament of Georgia (2012-2016) Georgia had its best human rights record.  A number of experts indicate that the current parliamentary leadership is not up to his standard.  Mr. Usupashvili is also considered a good dealmaker, although lacks charisma to attract large masses of electors.  He also enjoys a good relationship with Bidzina Ivanishvili and it is possible that Georgia’s leading figure would bet on him.  But, here again, there are many questions unanswered.

There are number of other less significant candidates. There is still time to apply for this job.  However, popular perception in Georgia says that the next president of Georgia will be chosen not by the Georgian people, but by Mr. Ivanishvili. The one most pleasing to him, will get the job.

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Ten Years of Occupation

2018 marks two important dates for the country of Georgia.  In May, all Georgians, including many Georgian-Americans, commemorated Georgia’s 100th birthday.  The modern state of Georgia began its life in 1918 and survived three years (1918-1921) before falling to a Communist invasion and almost seventy years of Soviet oppression.  2018 also marks the 10-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Georgia.  On August 8, 2008, Russian forces, some 80,000 strong, swept into Georgia once more.  The pretext was that Russia was responding to a Georgian attack on the separatist enclave of South Ossetia. This ignores the context of almost weekly provocations by Russia leading up to August 2008. Today, in violation of the cease-fire agreement agreed upon in 2008, Georgia remains occupied by Russian troops. They are visible from the main highway which connects East and West Georgia, and are located just 40 miles from Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city. “Temporary” housing built to house Georgians displaced by the war are also visible from the highway.  The cease-fire line continues to advance into Georgian territory, as Ossetian irregulars and their Russian backers arbitrarily shift the border further onto Georgian land.  This creeping “borderization” deprives Georgian farmers of access to their lands and homes, and leads to provocations, arrests and the murder of Georgian citizens by Russian border guards.

Georgians worldwide are extraordinarily proud of the longevity of their culture and traditions. They have a unique language, are Orthodox Christians, and are dedicated to the preservation of their culture, and their historical connections to the West.

Georgia (Sakartvelo to Georgians) is an ancient land that predated the formation of Rus or Russia. Georgia has survived despite the many invasions and foreign interlopers who have sought to control the strategically placed land which Georgians inhabit. Georgia’s orientation was always westward, and it remains so today.  But Georgia is occupied, Russia continues to meddle in its internal affairs, and Georgia’s Western friends are preoccupied.  Georgia was the first Ukraine.  There should be no concessions to Russia until it observes the conditions of the peace agreement of 2008, which Russia itself signed.

The Georgian Association in the USA believes that Western silence in the face of the ongoing Russian occupation of Georgia will encourage Russia to continue its meddling in the sovereignty of other countries.  The United States Congress and European Union should all make plain their opposition to such Russian behavior, which is a threat not only to Georgia and the region, but to global peace.

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Meeting of Georgian Association President at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia

President of the Georgian Association in the USA, Elisso Kvitashvili was recently in Tbilisi where she had an opportunity to discuss possible collaborative projects with the Department for Relations with Diaspora in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In discussions with Aliona Chkhouta, Head of the Division for Relations with the Diaspora, and Giorigi Merabishvili, Head of the North American division, ideas were exchanged about furthering Diaspora Department support for existing or additional Georgian Sunday schools (kindergardens) in the US, and enlisting young Georgian-Americans as possible “Young Ambassadors” as part of a broad outreach effort by the Diaspora Department.  As the Georgian Association plans further cultural events in the US later in 2018-2019, Chkhouta and Merabishvili confirmed interest in supporting our efforts perhaps through the sponsorship of young Georgian speakers and scholars. Now that the relationship has been established check our facebook page in particular for more announcements on additional collaboration.

General Andronikashvili and Feneral Tsulukidze

“The National Liberation Movement in Georgia (1921-1990)

The following article is an extract from the exhibit “The Democratic Republic of Georgia – 100 years” currently on display at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi.

The Bolshevik occupation regime started to subdue the population by force.  Georgian clergy and the Orthodox Church found themselves outside the law.  All anti-Communist organizations were dismissed by declaring “self-liquidation”. Prohibited parties moved underground and continued to fight for Georgia’s liberation by secret conspiracy.

In 1921, anti-Soviet revolts erupted in Svanetia, Racha-Lechkhumi and Khevsureti.  Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia Ambrosi addressed the Genoa International Conference in a memorandum and demanded the withdrawal of Russian occupation troops from Georgia.  In April 1922, the Independence Committee was formed to lead the liberation movement and its “military center” was established.  Guerrilla forces activated and spread throughout Georgia.

Khaikhosro (Kakutsa) Cholokashvili led the groups in Kakheti and Khevsureti.  The members of the squad were bound together by an oath and they were given the name “Shepiculni” (bound by oath).  In the summer of 1922, turbulence started in Khiziki, Pshavi and Khevsureti.  In March 1923, the entire military staff of the military center Generals Aleksandre Andronikashvili, Konstantine Apkhazi, Varden Tsulukidze and others were arrested and shot.  Nevertheless, in August 1924, a large uprising that was supported by Georgia’s emigrated government (in Paris) began.  To organize the revolt, Noe Khomeriki, Valiko Jugeli, Benia Chkikvishvili and others illegally returned from immigration.

Significant armed demonstrations took place in Guria, Samegrelo, Svaneti, Imereti and Kakheti.  Nevertheless, the revolt proved to be unsuccessful and resulted in massive casualties.  The government responded to protesting Georgians with mass repressions.

The National Movement weakened but did not die out completely shifting its attention to peaceful protests through expressions of culture, the arts and literature.

Several illegal organizations led by Levan Gotua, Adam Bobghiashvili, Kote Khimshiashvili and others were established in Georgia during World War II, but Soviet Special Forces destroyed all of them. The Soviets used bloodshed to restrain peaceful demonstrations in Tbilisi on March 9, 1956 and April 9, 1989.  A rare exception occurred in April 1978, when student youth demonstrations demanding that the state maintain the primacy of the Georgian language was met with compromise.

The dissident movement with representatives like Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia started in the 1970s. The patriotic poetry of Mukhran Machavariani, Akaki Bakradze’s critical letters and public lectures encouraged the emergence of powerful national political organizations such as the Ilia Chachavadze Society, National Independence Party, People’s Front and others.  Student activities intensified, and the role and influence of the church and Catholicos Patriarch Ilya II rose significantly.

The overall crises in the Soviet Union and the rise of the national movement gave Georgia the opportunity to restore its independent statehood again on April 9, 1991.

Ilia Chavchavadze

The National Liberation Movement in Georgia (1801-1917)

The following article is an extract from the exhibit “The Democratic Republic of Georgia – 100 years” currently on display at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi.

The Russian Empire dissolved the Kartli-Kakheti Kingdom at the start of the 19th century, incorporating it in its boundaries as a province.  And when in 1810 the Imeretian Kingdom was annexed as well, Russia ruled over the entire Georgia, fully eliminating Georgian statehood, and stripping the Georgian Church of its autocephaly.

However, within all layers of Georgian society the imperial regime was met with resistance, resulting in the first public protest in Kakheti in July 1802. In the name of Emperor Alexander I, a petition was drawn up requesting the restoration of the Bagrationi royal reign in Kartli-Kakheti. The years after, particularly during 1804, 1812-13, and 1819-20 were marked by large anti-imperial uprisings, followed by an even larger scale revolt known as the 1832 Conspiracy plot.  The revolt, a significant movement aimed at restoring the Georgian independent state, was headed by Alexsandre Orbeliani, Solomon Dodashvili and Elizbar Eristavi.

In the 1860s, the Terg Daleulis movement (Terg Dadeulis were Georgian intellectual and political leaders who had received education in Russia in the 1860s) took the national liberation to a new stage.  Ilia Chavchavadze and his like-minded associates changed tactics by not only openly opposing the Russian Empire, but also by using more peaceful methods to fight the foreign rule.  Their thoughts, literary and public writings, artistic creations, as well as groups such as the Society for Spreading Literacy among Georgians, the Bank of the Nobility and the Land Bank strengthened national self-consciousness, consolidating and reinforcing the Georgian spirit.

The next generation of Georgian national political forces attempted to raise awareness among the European Community for support of the idea of Georgia’s liberation through civilized humanity.  A prime example was the newspaper Sakartvelo (Georgia) founded in 1903 in Paris, and its French add-in La Georgie propagating the idea of restoring an autonomous Georgian state.

With more than 2000 signatures, the petition The Memorandum of the Georgian People was drawn up at the initiative of Varlam Cherkhezishvili, Mikheil Tsereteli and Giorgi Gvazava and sent to the Hague Peace Commission in 1907.  The petition outlined the Russian Empire’s illegitimate actions in Georgia and called for the international community to acknowledge the historic and legal right of the Georgian people to have its national-territorial autonomy recognized. Varlam Gelovani, a Georgian deputy and member of the Socialist-Federalist party, officially appealed to the State Duma-Russia’s supreme legislative body, to grant Georgia autonomy on December 13, 1912.  And in June 1916, Mikheil Tsereteli gave an extensive speech at the Lausanne Conference on Georgia’s rights.”

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საქართველოს საგარეო საქმეთა სამინისტროს პროგრამა – ,,იყავი შენი ქვეყნის ახალგაზრდა ელჩი”

საქართველოს საგარეო საქმეთა სამინისტრო ახორციელებს საქართველოს ახალგაზრდა ელჩების პროგრამას – „იყავი შენი ქვეყნის ახალგაზრდა ელჩი“.
 
პროგრამის მიზანს წარმოადგენს ,,ახალგაზრდა ელჩების“ მიერ ადგილსამყოფელ ქვეყნებში საქართველოს პოპულარიზაცია, უცხოელ მეგობართა ქსელის შექმნა და ქართული დიასპორის წარმომადგენლებთან ურთიერთობა.
 
პროექტის შესახებ დეტალური ინფორმაცია შეგიძლიათ იხილოთ ამ ბმულზე: https://bit.ly/2tcaGkB
 
 
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia is implementing the young Ambassador’s Program:
“Be Your Country’s Young Ambassador”.
 
The aim of the program is to promote Georgia in the host countries by the “Young Ambassadors”; establish a network of foreign friends and closely communicate with the Georgian Diaspora representatives.
 
Detailed information about the project can be found on this link: https://bit.ly/2tcaGkB (Only in Georgian)
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Program of Anniversary Conference: Centennial of the First Georgian Republic

Levan Mikeladze Foundation

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  CSIS

 

Georgian Association in the USA

In collaboration with

Levan Mikeladze Foundation

And

Center for Strategic & International Studies

Invite You to a Special Anniversary Conference:

Centennial of the First Georgian Republic:
Past, Present and Future of Georgia

 

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May 9, 2018
9:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Center for Strategic & International Studies
1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036
RSVP Information

Conference Program

09:30 –10:00 Registration

 

10:00 – 10:30 Welcoming Remarks:

Elisabeth Kvitashvili, President, Georgian Association in the USA

Redjeb Jordania, Son of the First President of the Georgian Republic Noe Jordania

Tina Mikeladze, President, Levan Mikeladze Foundation

Ambassador David Bakradze, Ambassador of Georgia to the United States

 

10:30 – 10:40 Address by Bridget Brink, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

 

10:40 – 12:00 Panel 1 – First Republic: Connecting History to Modernity

Speakers: Stephen Jones, Professor, Mount Holyoke College

Beka Kobakhidze, Visiting Fellow at the Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Oxford/Associated Professor at GIPA

Grigol Gegelia, Doctoral Candidate, European University Institute (EUI), Florence, Italy

Discussant: Laura Jewett, Regional Director for Eurasia Programs, NDI

Moderator: Jeffrey Mankoff, Deputy Director, Russia & Eurasia Program, CSIS

 

12:05 – 13:00 Lunch

 

Remarks and Introduction by Ambassador Tedo Japaridze, Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister of Georgia

Keynote Speaker: Hon. Richard Armitage, Former Deputy Secretary of State/Co-Chairman, Supervisory Board, Levan Mikeladze Foundation

 

13:00 – 14:30 Panel 2 – Georgia’s Evolution, 1991-2018: Internal and External Dynamics

Speakers: Ambassador Archil Gegeshidze, Executive Director, Levan Mikeladze Foundation

Svante Cornell, Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute

Luke Coffey, Director, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy, Heritage Foundation

Nino Japaridze, Vice President, Edison Research

Miriam Lanskoy, Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia, NED

Michael Carpenter, Senior Director, Biden Center

Moderator: Olga Oliker, Director, Russia & Eurasia Program, CSIS

 

14:30 – 14:45 Coffee Break

 

14:45 – 16:15 Panel 3 – Economic Security of Georgia: Domestic, Regional, Global Perspective

Speakers: Mercedes Vera-Martin, Mission Chief for Georgia, IMF

Anthony Kim, Editor, Economic Freedom Index, Heritage Foundation

Jonathan Elkind, Former Assistant Secretary of Energy

S Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute

Kenneth Angell, Overseas Private Investment Corporation

Anita Baracsi, JSC Bank of Georgia

Moderator: Mamuka Tsereteli, AGBC/CACI/Georgian Association

 

16:15 – 16:30 Coffee Break

 

16:30 – 18:00 Panel 4 – Western Strategies Towards Georgia: 1991-2018

Speakers: Ambassador Kent Brown, Former US Ambassador to Georgia

Ambassador William Courtney, Former US Ambassador to Georgia

Ambassador Kenneth Yalowitz, Former US Ambassador to Georgia

Ambassador Richard Miles, Former US Ambassador to Georgia

Ambassador John Tefft, Former US Ambassador to Georgia

Ambassador Alexandra Hall Hall, Former UK Ambassador to Georgia

Moderator: Hon. S. Enders Wimbush, Senior Partner, Stratevarious Inc.

 

6:00 Closing Remarks by Tsotne Dadiani, Board Member, Georgian
Association in the USA

 

6:05 – 8:00 Reception

 

Supporting Organizations

America-Georgia Business Council
American Friends of Georgia
Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
American Research Institute for South Caucasus
Wines Provided by
Georgian Wine House

 

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Georgian Association to Commemorate the 100 year Anniversary of the first Georgian Republic!

Dear Friends,

Please join the Georgian Association in the USA on May 9, 2018 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the first Georgian Republic. The Georgian Association, with support from the Levan Mikeladze Foundation, will celebrate this important historic occasion with a day-longconference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), followed by a gala reception. Mr. Redjeb Jordania, the son of the first republic’s President, Noe Jordania, will be joining us for the celebration. Other guests will include US and Georgian government officials, former US ambassadors to Georgia, representatives of academia, think-tanks and private sector, and members of the Georgian-American Community.

Please save the date for this event for which a formal invitation will be sent in Spring 2018.

On behalf of the Board of Directors,
Elisabeth Kvitashvili
President, Georgian Association in the USA
www.georgianassociation.org

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Georgian Independence

On May 26, 1918 Georgia reestablished a sovereign state and self-government which had been lost in the wake of the annexation of Georgia in 1801 by the Russian empire.  The Democratic Republic of Georgia was recognized in 1918-21 by the Governments of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark.  On May 7, 1920, the Republic of Georgia signed a Peace Treaty with the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in which Soviet Russia unquestionably recognized “the freedom and independence of the Government of Georgia” (Article I) and renounced all “interference in the internal affairs of Georgia” (Article II).  In February 1921, the Soviet Army invaded Georgia, occupying the capital city of Tbilisi on February 25th.  Almost immediately the resistance of the Georgian people to Soviet Russian rule manifested itself in numerous popular insurrections and demonstrations.  The constant theme of these events was a demand for self-determination, reestablishment of independence and an end to Soviet Russian occupation and russification of Georgia.  Since that time and until Georgia reclaimed her independence in April 1991, Georgians struggled incessantly against Soviet Russian rule. Among key events were the:

  • Insurrection of 1924 when Georgian nationalist groups succeeded for a short period in taking over a number of cities from Soviet elements before thousands of nationalists were massacred by the Red Army and the opposition movement took refuge in the Caucasus Mountains from where they continued to attack Soviet forces for many years. A number of the leaders also relocated to Turkey and eventually Europe.
  • Uprising of 1956 during Khrushchev’s rule which was crushed with dozens dead or wounded when troops fired indiscriminately on demonstrators especially those gathered at Tbilisi University.
  • Demonstration of April 14, 1978 when over 20,000 marched in Tbilisi protesting an attempt, under Brezhnev, to amend the Constitution of the Georgian Soviet Republic and eliminate Georgian as the official language of the republic. Demonstrators took to the streets under the threat of tanks and armored personnel carriers which had surrounded the center of the city. For the first time in Soviet history a popular demonstration was successful in overturning a decision from Moscow and the Georgian language was kept as the official language.
  • Numerous demonstrations including mass demonstrations in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and other cities on February 25, 1989 on the 68th anniversary of the occupation of the Republic of Georgia by the Red Army. Over 30,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Kashveti Church in Tbilisi before proceeding to march to Tbilisi University. Along the way, Russian troops attacked the peaceful crowds of demonstrators leaving about 20 people killed and 100 injured. Banned poisonous gas was used by the Russian troops. Leaders of various nationalist groups read a declaration addressed to the UN Secretary General calling for the creation of a UN Commission to recognize Georgia’s occupation by Soviet Russia and place Georgia as a territory under an international trusteeship. A number of leading nationalist leaders including Zviad Gamsakhourdia, Merab Kostava, Gia Tchantouria and Irina Sarichvili were arrested as a result of the many protests in 1988-89.
  • These events in 1989 were followed two years later, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, by the Supreme Council of Georgia declaring independence on April 11th after a referendum held on 31 March 1991.