Back  - Next 
Old city of Tbilisi. Photo: ESI

Suggested readings

One of the very best accounts of Georgia from the end of the Soviet Union to the Rose Revolution is a book by Peter Nasmyth: Georgia – in the Mountains of Poetry. The book describes the early descent into anarchy under Georgia's first elected president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia:

"Then came more worrying signs of clinical paranoia when he started referring to the Kremlin as 'satan' and 'anti-Georgian tendencies' massing in society around him – a fact expanded in his book The Spiritual Mission of Georgia (1991) which claimed outright the Holy Grail resided at Gelati Cathedral … with a zeal the Bolsheviks would have envied the new government set about taking over, transforming or abolishing every institution, organisation or structure of the Communists era. The chaos had begun …"

Nasmyth connects the developments he observes with Georgia's rich mythology, from Prometheus, chained to the mountains here by a jealous Zeus for the crime of giving mankind fire, to the local Caucasian legend of Amirani:

"another god-like man chained to this mountain. Amirani's sin had been to challenge the almighty (and here wise) Zeus or great spirit to a test of strength. But unlike Prometheus, Amirani's lack of psychological insight had been the cause of his imprisonment … Could this pre-Bronze age myth of a stubborn superhuman still supply links with the modern character?"

Born in a dark forest, Amirani had the "capacity to outdrink and outeat three ordinary men." He slew three-headed monsters and was extremely impatient. This impatience was his ruin, as it was for Gamsakhurdia:

"After Amirani had rid the world of nearly all its dragons, monsters and wild animals, he finally threw down the gauntlet to God himself. God warned him of its futility, that it constituted a punishable offence, but Amirani struck doggedly to this quest for omnipotence." God, so Peter Nasmyth, tried to persuade the warrior-hero that he must stop attempting the impossible." (p. 47)

God, so Peter Nasmyth, tried to persuade the warrior-hero that he must stop attempting the impossible. Since he refused to do this:

"he found himself chained to the rock of futile conquest, power and rage, for all eternity." (p. 47)

Then there is Thomas Goltz's Georgia Diary: A Chronicle of War And Political Chaos in the Post-Soviet Caucasus (2006), accurately described by its publisher as a fast-paced, first-person account "filled with fascinating details about the ongoing struggles of this little-known region of the former Soviet Union." The book takes the reader from 1992 through the Rose Revolution, the resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze to the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili. To get a taste of Goltz's style, read his description of Tbilisi in 1994:

"No, there was nothing quite like Tbilisi that late winter/early spring of 1994. A few lucky folks like Lawrence Sheets {of Reuters} had fireplaces in their apartments, but most homes depended on gas and there was none, or too little to talk about. Or electricity, aside from little spurts of juice after midnight, when televisions and radios would suddenly blare, waking up their owners – which was good, because the sudden surge in power also announced that city water would soon be gushing out of bathroom and kitchen spigots, and it was not uncommon to forget when a faucet was on or off. Yes, Georgia had hit rock bottom. It was beyond grim – and far worse than the exaggerated (and well-advertised) 'winter from hell' in Armenia the year before." (p. 199)

Barbara Christophe wrote a very interesting book (in German) on Georgia's failed state in Western Georgia – Metamorphosen des Leviathan in einr post-sozialistischen Gesellschaft  – but some of her findings are also available online in English under the title From Hybrid Regime to Hybrid Capitalism. Christophe looks, among many other things, at the actual outcomes of Georgian privatisation in the 1990s. As one result of voucher privatisation, she notes, there were "500,000 individuals, i.e. more than 10 percent of the population, performing at least nominally the role of shareholders":

"If one keeps in mind that in 2001 only 10 enterprises out of 1,773 Joint Stock Companies paid dividends to shareholders, one can easily comprehend that shareholders did not face any reasonable incentives to press for the observance of legal norms."

By the second half of the 1990s, she writes, many companies simply collapsed.

Other reforms did not fare better. A short article about Saakashvili in The New York Times in June 1998 gives a sense of the hope in the late 1990s, associated with young reformers in the governing party: "Tbilisi Journal: The 'Man of the Year,' Just 29 and Via Manhattan – Biography":

"Only 26, he had attended schools in Kiev, Strasbourg and Florence, held a degree from Columbia Law School and was winning a reputation for diligence and legal talent. After nightfall he was likely to be found either at the Metropolitan Opera or cheering for the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Now he is a superstar of Georgian politics, hugely admired and widely viewed as having unlimited potential. Mr. Saakashvili is among the most prominent of several dozen bright and energetic young people who are playing important roles in building a new post-Communist order here."

Saakashvili's attempts at judicial reform is the focus of another New York Times article from April 1999: "Georgia, Judging That Most Judges Shouldn't, Readies Replacements"

"In one of the most sweeping attacks on corruption in the former Soviet Union, most of Georgia's judges are to be forcibly retired next month and replaced by new ones chosen by competitive examination."

In the end, however, this reform failed, as did so many others. On Georgia as a (problematic) model of judicial reform, see also a World Bank report (2000): "Legal and Judicial Reform in Central Europe and Former Soviet Union."

On the weakness of Council of Europe conditionality to end torture in Georgia, see EurasiaNet article from 2000: "Torture Persists Despite Council of Europe Efforts":

"The Council of Europe was aware of torture practices in Georgia when it welcomed the nation into its ranks last April. It admitted Georgia on condition of compliance with several safeguards to "ensure strict observance of the human rights of detainees, and continue to improve conditions of detention in prisons and pre-trial detention centers." The failure of these measures to have an adequate short-term impact on the problem reflects both the complex nature of torture and the Council's over-reliance on political goodwill to combat atrocities."

To understand the growing sense of desperation in October 2000, read The New York Times article "High Hopes Are Ebbing" by Douglas Frantz:

"Rustavi was once a model of the Soviet economy, a new city built in 1948 for 160,000 residents whose lives centered on the bustling factories. Today, Rustavi is a model for the stubborn poverty gripping a vast region rich in oil, gas and strategic importance but short of the hope that even five years ago buoyed forecasts of a better tomorrow."

On outmigration due to poverty: "Hardship abroad or hunger at home – a study of irregular migration from Georgia" published in 2001 by International Organization for Migration.

On corruption, Christoph Stefes has written one of the most comprehensive books to date, comparing corruption in Georgia with Armenia and Azerbaijan: Understanding Post-Soviet Transitions. Corruption, Collusion and Clientelism, New York: Palgrave Macmillan (2006).

Stefes also wrote a good article in the Caucasus Review of International Affairs (CRIA): "Governance, the State, and Systemic Corruption: Armenia and Georgia in Comparison" (Vol.2, 2008). EurasiaNet has a number of very good articles on corruption in Georgia: Corruption: 2001 Anti-corruption campaign in Georgia: "Georgia's anticorruption campaign enters crucial phase" (2001); "Entrenched Corruption Begins at Georgia's Borders" (2001); "Georgia: Clock is ticking as higher education eaten away by corruption" (2002).

Georgia as a failed state is captured in the gripping documentary "Power Trip" by Paul Delvin. The filmmakers provide this synopsis:

"In an environment of pervasive corruption, assassination, and street rioting, the story of chaotic post-Soviet transition is told through culture clash, electricity disconnections and blackouts. AES Corp., the massive American "global power company," has purchased the privatized electricity distribution company in Tbilisi, capital of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. AES manager Piers Lewis must now train the formerly communist populace that, in this new world, customers pay for their electricity. The Georgians meanwhile, from pensioners to the Energy Minister, devise ever more clever ways to get it free. Amidst hot tempers and high drama, Lewis balances his love for the Georgian people with the hardships his company creates for them, as they struggle to build a nation from the rubble of Soviet collapse".

On the failure to overcome Georgia's electricity crisis in year 2000, please see New York Times article: "Tbilisi Journal; Where It's Dark and Cold Outside, and Inside, Too":

"This was not supposed to be yet another bitter winter in the gracious and fraying capital of this lovely and distressed country. An American energy company, the AES Corporation, bought the city's electric system last year and promised that Tbilisi's 1.2 million residents would no longer spend most of their winter days in darkness and their nights shivering without heat.

But overcoming the obstacles, from a broken-down power generating system and vast corruption to the effects of a summer drought and Russian meddling, proved too difficult. The electric system -- tweaked, massaged, seemingly held together with baling wire -- meets little more than half the demand. So people persevere through another winter with five or six hours of electricity a day, even less than in previous years. Essential services like hospitals, government offices and the subway have steady supplies; everyone else must improvise."

The World Bank has produced numerous studies on the electricity sector failures in Georgia and the rest of the Eastern Europe: World Bank Technical Paper No. 423 "Non-Payment in the Electricity Sector in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union" (1999); World Bank Working Paper No. 21 "Revisiting Reform in the Energy Sector: Lessons from Georgia" (2003); World Bank Working Paper No. 40 "Power's Promise: Electricity Reforms in Eastern Europe and Central Asia" (2004); World Bank "People and Power: Electricity Sector Reform and the Poor in Europe and Central Asia" (2007). There is also a short discussion of this in the World Bank's "Georgia: Poverty Assessment" (2009).

The World Bank provides different accounts of state failure and economic collapse before the Rose Revolution:

"Georgia: A blueprint for reforms" (1993): pages 2-11 give an account of what caused the complete collapse of Georgia's economy, unseen in any of the other post Soviet Union countries. The rest of the paper deals with proposed reforms.

On the collapse of agriculture and agro-processing see World Bank: "Georgia: Reform in the Food and Agriculture Sector" (1996).

On trade and economic development from 1991-2002, see World Bank: "Georgia: An Integrated Trade Development Strategy" (2003).

On the healthcare crisis in Georgia there is a good section in the UNDP "Georgia: National Human Development Report" (2000).

Regarding healthcare, please see this study from 2002 by European Observatory on Health Care Systems (2002), "Health Care Systems in Transition: Georgia."

For information on the political and economic changes taking place in Georgia from 1992 to 1997, a good resource are the Georgian Chronicle monthly bulletins available from the website of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, one of Georgia's most respected think tanks.

Wendell Steavenson's Stories I Stole (2002) is a literary, almost poetic account of Georgia's failing state before the Rose Revolution (she also wrote The Weight of the Mustard Seed on Iraq). Steavenson spent 2 years in Georgia, at a time when Shevardnadze's bad governance was testing people's patience to the limit. Read the chapter on Shuki (Electricity) for a fascinating description of the crippling electricity problems of Georgia before 2004. The conclusion of her book is both philosophical and pessimistic:

"This is my last paragraph but I can form no conclusions: the Caucasus, Georgia, would make a fool out of anyone with the temerity of prediction. I can say thought that things do not always get better and that sometimes they get worse and most often they just stay the same. It is depressing and true and universal: there is nothing to be done about it. The best we can do is to respect our family, love our friends, open a bottle of wine, drink it, and then open another one." (p. 249)

April 2010

 Back  - Next