Georgia - Introduction
Georgia has had three Presidents since achieving independence. Each started their terms as dynamic, modernizing leaders who wanted to rebuild Georgia, but over time lost touch with society. But the country has come from being a corrupt -- and often dangerous -- post-Soviet backwater to a star example of democratic transition.
Georgia possesses the advantages of a subtropical Black Sea coastline and a rich mixture of Western and Eastern cultural elements. A combination of topographical and national idiosyncracies has preserved that cultural blend, whose chief impetus was the Georgian golden age of the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, during long periods of occupation by foreign empires. Perhaps the most vivid result of this cultural independence is the Georgian language, unrelated to any other major tongue and largely unaffected by the languages of conquering peoples--at least until the massive influx of technical loanwords at the end of the twentieth century.
Since independence, Georgia has had difficulty establishing solid political institutions. This difficulty has been caused by the distractions of continuing military crises and by the chronic indecision of policy makers about the country's proper long-term goals and the strategy to reach them. Also, like the other Transcaucasus states, Georgia lacked experience with the democratic institutions that are now its political ideal; rubber- stamp passage of Moscow's agenda is quite different from creation of a legislative program useful to an emerging nation.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia embarked on major structural reform designed to establish a free market economy. However, as with other post-Soviet states, Georgia faced a severe economic collapse, aggravated by the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Agricultural and industrial output diminished to the extent that by 1996 the Georgian economy had shrunk to about a third of its size in 1989.
Despite some signs of growth in the late 1990s, Georgia was badly hit by the Russian financial crisis of 1998. Public disaffection with this and the rampant corruption and mismanagement of former President Shevardnadze’s regime led to the Rose Revolution of 2003. President Saakashvili’s new government promised a programme of privatisation, stabilisation, reduced regulation and an anti-corruption drive. Tackling corruption and improved collection and administration of taxes have been major achievements.
The conflict with Russia in August 2008 caused an inflow of IDPs as well as substantial damage to infrastructure, increasing demands on public expenditure. GDP growth slowed in 2008 to 2% and as foreign direct investment declined, the economy contracted by almost 5% in 2009.
Georgia imports nearly all its gas and oil supplies but has a strong hydropower capacity. It has overcome chronic energy shortages by renovating hydropower plants and relying less on natural gas imports from Russia. Georgia plans to capitalise on its strategic location and develop its role as a transit point for oil, gas and other goods. The development of projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the EU initiative for regional transport integration (Transport Corridor Europe Central Asia – TRACECA), and commercial development of Georgia’s Black Sea ports are all important elements of this strategy.
South Ossetia became de facto independent from Georgia during the 1991 Georgian-Ossetian conflict; however, it remained commonly recognised by the international community as an integral part of Georgia. Despite a declared ceasefire and numerous peace efforts, the conflict has remained unresolved. To maintain stability in the region after the 1991 conflict, a peacekeeping force was formed in 1992 under an OSCE mandate of Russian, Georgian and South Ossetia’s troops. The peacekeepers were subjected to the authority of a Russian commander. In practice, these troops failed to cooperate, and tensions have gradually grown between Georgia on one side and mostly Russian-supported separatists on the other. On August 7, 2008, following separatist provocations, Georgian forces launched a surprise attack against the separatist forces. On August 8, Russia responded to Georgia’s act by military operations into Georgian territory, which the Georgian authorities viewed as Russia’s military aggression against Georgia.
The Russian-planned military campaign lasted 5 days until the parties reached a preliminary ceasefire agreement on August 12. The European Union, led by the French presidency, mediated the ceasefire. After signing the agreement, Russia pulled most of its troops out of uncontested Georgian territories, but established buffer zones around Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On August 26, 2008, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, making them a part of what Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called Moscow’s “zone of privileged interests." Since then, Russia has deployed troops to five military bases on occupied Georgian territory.
Georgia's recorded history spans over 4,000 years. Its language is unrelated to any outside the immediate region and is one of the oldest in the world with its own distinctive alphabet. The capital Tbilisi is more than 1500 years old. Georgia was well known to both the ancient Romans and Greeks and featured in the Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts, who travelled there in search of the Golden Fleece.
Argonauts is one of the most important and well-known myths of ancient times – the story of a Greek named Jason, who tried to obtain the Golden Fleece. Most of the parts of the story took place in the Kolkheti Kingdom – Western Georgia of today. About 1200 BC, the Argonauts became the first European "tourists" to arrive in Georgia while seeking the legendary Golden Fleece. They thought that it was possible to mine for gold with the help of the Golden Fleece (a sheep skin). It is unknown whether Medea (the daughter of the King of Kolkheti according to the legend) was an actual person. However, it is well known that, a long time ago, metal mining and wine production were very much developed in Georgia and the country was very famous for textile and medical plants, is well known.
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