The Short Lived Democratic Republic of Georgia
Tbilisi, Georgia. Source: (gettyimages.com)
The Republic of Georgia, a small country roughly the size of West Virginia sandwiched between Russia and Turkey, is one of the new states that emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Most commonly known as the birthplace of one of the 20th century’s most infamous dictators, Joseph Stalin, Georgia also experienced one of the most repressive and brutal occupations of all the Soviet Republics.
But Georgia was not always a puppet state of its large neighbor to the north. In fact, between May 1918 and February 1921, there existed an independent Georgian state for the first time since its annexation into the Russian Empire in 1801. The Democratic Republic of Georgia was established on May 26th, 1918 and with it began a short but formative chapter in Georgian self-governance that colored the sentiments and spirit of its people until independence was finally regained in 1991.
Formation of the Democratic Republic of Georgia
During the turmoil and strife of the First World War and the Russian revolutions and civil war of 1917, Georgian dissidents saw an opportunity to realize their dreams of an independent nation. The ruling Social Democratic Party of Georgia was committedly Marxist but, at best, ambivalent to the question of independence. However, they adhered tightly to the Menshevik line during the fractious period of early Soviet political division, and this misalignment ultimately provided the spark for action.
After the Bolsheviks’ consolidation of power during the October Revolution, the Georgian people saw the SDPG as their last best hope for resistance. The party refused to recognize Vladimir Lenin’s legitimacy, and after a failed experiment in broader Caucasian self-governance, the Democratic Republic of Georgia was born, along with independent sister-republics in Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Challenges and Crises
The early days of independence saw a series of celebrated national achievements, from the foundation of the National University of Tbilisi to the restoration of the Georgian Orthodox Church. While these successes raised morale among the populace, the looming threat of the Red Army to the north could not be overstated.
The breakaway republic was quickly recognized by Germany and the Ottoman Empire, and even the British provided forces to defend against the threat of Bolshevik Communism following the Central Powers’ surrender. Strong international support proved helpful in deterring the Russians, but Georgian relations with neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan deteriorated rapidly amidst disputes about the newly drawn borders.
Domestically, the DRG faced a series of uprising and revolts that exacerbated already strained ethnic tensions in the fledgling country. Minority Ossetians, Abkhazians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Russians all bristled under the rule of the Georgian majority. Mass demonstrations and internal divisions paralyzed the government in Tbilisi, and these challenges ultimately proved insurmountable.
Soviet Invasion and Dissolution
By the autumn of 1920, Armenia and Azerbaijan had fallen to the Red Army, membership in the League of Nations had been denied, and the British deterrence force had evacuated, leaving the DRG surrounded and increasingly isolated.
On February 15, 1921, the Russian Red Army launched its invasion. The Georgians resisted as best they could, but the capital Tbilisi fell within a fortnight and the entire country was occupied by the 17th of March.
On February 25th, 1921, before the fighting had even concluded, the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed, and the few members of the SDPG who escaped capture emigrated to Europe or the United States. The DRG was no more, and the ensuing crackdown saw more than 72,000 Georgians shot and approximately 200,000 imprisoned or internally deported—out of a contemporary population of only 4 million.
Today, Georgia has emerged as a free and democratic country with a growing economy and a thriving tourism sector. Georgian wine and cuisine are drawing international acclaim, and the capital Tbilisi is in the midst of an unprecedented building boom. There are still many challenges to overcome, but Georgians see a bright future for their nation as they continue to heal, rebuild, and forge their own future as an independent nation.
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