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Georgia

History & Background


The Republic of Georgia has a long and difficult history that began in the Middle Ages. Georgia was an independent nation before and after its incorporation into the Russian sphere of influence, which has occurred twice in its history. It is once again a sovereign nation, a highly independent country that did not choose to join the Council of Independent States after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Like many nations that were incorporated into the Soviet Union in the twentieth century, for much of its recent history, Georgia was considered simply a region of the USSR. Before it became associated with the Soviet Union, it was taken into the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century. In 1918, at the time of the Russian Revolution, Georgia became an independent nation, and remained so until 1921. In that year, the Republic of Georgia was forced to become a part of the USSR. In the 1990s, the era of perestroika in Russia and the nations that were once called its satellites, the Republic of Georgia was one of the first countries to break away from the Soviet Union and declare its independence. It became a sovereign nation once again in 1991.

Despite its tense and complex relations with Russia, several of Russia's most important twentieth-century leaders were Georgians. Joseph Stalin, the Russian premier before, during, and after World War II, was from Georgia. So was Eduard Shevardnadze, the foreign minister of the USSR during its breakup, who later became President of Georgia shortly after it gained its independence. Lavrenty Beria, who lived from 1899 to 1953, was Stalin's head of the secret police (or KGB), and was also a Georgian. Despite his origins, he was especially brutal against Georgian dissidents. Beria was assassinated by the Russian administration that succeeded Stalin after his death.


Geography & Population: Although not well known to foreigners, Georgia has a distinctive character and significant national unity. It has its own primary language as well as several other languages that are used in special regions and by minority groups. Its culture, including its dance, music, and art, is significantly different from other formerly Soviet nations.

Georgia is a truly Caucasian nation—a nation that is located in the Caucasus region of the European and Asian continents. The Caucasus mountain range is located between the Caspian and Black seas; its northern parts are in Europe and its southern regions, which border Turkey and Iran, are in Asia. The Republic of Georgia's location is in southwestern Asia, bordering the Black Sea. Geographically, it falls between Turkey and Russia and is therefore influenced by both Europe and Asia. Georgia covers 69,700 square kilometers (26,911 square miles), which is about the size of South Carolina. The climate is warm and pleasant, similar to the Mediterranean region.

There are many natural resources, including forests, iron and copper, some coal and oil, and soil that can be used to grow tea and citrus. A good portion of the nation is woodlands and permanent pastures. Air and water pollution, lack of sufficient amounts of potable water, and some soil pollution from toxic chemicals are among the environmental problems the country faces.

The people of Georgia are many and are diverse: the total population is 5.4 million. About 70 percent of the people are Georgian, but 80 other nationalities and groups make up the balance. Some 6.3 percent are Russian, 5.7 percent are Azeris, 3 percent are Ossetes, 1.9 percent are Greek, 1.8 percent are Abkhazians, and 0.5 percent are Jewish. Two of these minority groups, Azeris and Abkhazians, have their own republics within the Georgian Republic. The urban population stands at 56 percent, while 44 percent live in rural areas. Life expectancy for men is 69.43 years and 76.95 for women, with an average for the whole population of 73.1 years. About half the population, or 2.76 million people, are in the labor force. Industry and construction employ 31 percent of workers, while 25 percent are in agriculture and forestry. The unemployment rate is about 14.5 percent.

Although there are other religions, the great majority of the people of Georgia, over 80 percent, are Christians. Most of them (65 percent) are Georgian Orthodox, 10 percent are Russian Orthodox, and 8 percent Armenian Orthodox. Eleven percent are Muslim, and the nations that surround the Republic of Georgia are generally majority Muslim. This predominant Christianity is one of the bases for the close relations between the Republic of Georgia and Western nations, including the United States.


Language: Language is a central issue in any educational system and the languages of Georgia are different from those of the rest of the world. The Caucasus region is also the source of the Caucasian languages, of which there are some 40. Only Georgian, however, is considered a modern language. There is some dispute about the nature of the language. Some sources call it part of the Indo-European language group. Others, however, say that Georgian is not a part of that group or of the Finno-Ugric or Semitic language families, arguing that it is part of the Ibero-Caucasian or Kartvelian language group.

The Georgian language probably evolved around the fifth century B.C. It has 33 characters, distinctive word formations, and complex rules governing its use of verbs. Many of the Georgian words place several consonants together with few intervening vowels. The name of the capital city, Tbilisi, is an example. Although the official language of the nation is Georgian, in some regions people also use Megruli and Chanuri. All three languages derived from Old Kartvelian. Several other regional languages are also in modern use.

Georgia's multiplicity of languages dates to ancient times, when there were so many languages used in the nation that Romans needed 130 interpreters to do business there. Because of its long association with Russia, a modern visitor can typically navigate in the nation by using Russian. But those who speak neither Russian nor Georgian need to engage interpreters: few in the population speak other languages, except for specific ethnic languages.


Political, Social, & Cultural Context: Georgia is a member of the United Nations and many international compacts. It has close ties to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both of which help the nation more fully develop its economy and, in the case of the World Bank, its educational system, as explained more fully in the summary.

Although Georgia is no longer subservient to Russia and has its own democratic government, there are Russian troops at military bases in Georgia. They serve as peacekeepers in two regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are separatist and sometimes threaten to break with the Republic of Georgia.

The United States and the Republic of Georgia have strong diplomatic relations and work closely together. Georgia receives the second largest amount of per capita assistance, among all the world's nations, from the United States. According to former Secretary of State James Baker, Georgia became important to the United States because it provided an opportunity to influence the institutions formed in the wake of the fall of the Communist Soviet Union. Moreover, Georgia was important because of Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia's president, who was thought to be heavily involved in ending the Cold War. According to Baker, that era in world history would not have ended in a peaceful way without Shevardnadze, whom Baker considered a hero.

Post-Soviet Georgia is attempting to move the economy and the people toward a market economy that could be connected with Western institutions. Recent developments include an efficient telephone system, including cell phones, and delivery from Federal Express. Georgian food remains popular, but French, Chinese, and other national cuisines are also available in the Republic.

The Georgian economy has demonstrated annual growth rates of about 3.5 percent in recent years, although 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. A key problem is the inflation rate for consumer prices, which stands at 19 percent. Another problem has been the inability to collect all the taxes that they levy, and there are continuing problems with tax evasion and corruption. Moreover, the nation lacks sufficient energy, despite extensive hydroelectric power and the exportation of some electricity. Because they lack adequate oil and coal, they must import energy sources. Nonetheless, some hopeful projections anticipate that economic growth could nearly double in the twenty-first century.


Historical Development: With free and compulsory schooling a part of Georgia's educational tradition, the nation's population is generally well educated. The nation of Georgia has a long history of attention to higher education; according to one authority, the Georgian population was the most highly educated of all the peoples under the USSR. One indication of the careful attention and expenditure of resources on education in Georgia is the number of physicians: there are 53.7 physicians for every 10,000 people in the nation. Moreover, a third of the working population of Georgia has some form of higher education or specialized middle education. This compares favorably to the United Kingdom, in which 11.2 percent of the population have some form of specialized education, and also to Japan, where 14.2 percent of the population have higher or other specialized education.

The history of education in Georgia dates from as early as the Middle Ages. Monasteries and academies functioned as vital centers of learning, which was important to the people of the nation because they assisted in preserving their national heritage when they were occupied by other cultures. By 1915, just prior to the Russian Revolution, there were 1,648 schools of all types in Georgia. In spite of that, most Georgians were illiterate. However, the era of Soviet connection increased the quantity of mass education and illiteracy was basically eliminated. The definition of literacy used by Georgia is the proportion of the population age 15 and over who can read and write. The total population is, therefore, 99 percent literate. One hundred percent of the men, according to Georgian government estimates, are literate, and 98 percent of females are literate.

Because of changes in the government in the 1990s, the education system of Georgia also changed dramatically. For example, in the era of the Soviet Union, the government provided for free education at all stages for all people. In post-Soviet Georgia, only nine years of primary education are compulsory and free for all; higher levels of secondary schools and the universities are free only for 30 percent of students, while others pay tuition. Perhaps the most significant change has been the granting of autonomous status to higher education institutions, which occurred in 1992.


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