From Perestroika to independence

Gorbachev’s liberalization opened the way for the development of numerous Georgian nationalist organizations, both political and paramilitary. From early 1989 there were frequent large nationalist demonstrations in Tbilisi and other cities. The independence movement gained further impetus on April9, 1989, when demonstrators in Tbilisi were killed or wounded by Soviet troops.

Simultaneously, nationalist movements appeared in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, organized in the Ossetian Popular Front and the Popular Forum of Abkhazia Aidgylara.

Georgia declares independence

In elections to the Georgian Supreme Soviet in the fall of 1990, the Round Table-Free Georgia bloc led by the nationalist writer and former dissidentZviad Gamsakhurdia won a majority of seats with 64% of the vote, against 29% for the Communist Party. Gamsakhurdia became Supreme Soviet chairman. In a referendum held in March 1991, 98% voted for independence.

Georgia declared independence in April 1991. In May 1991, Gamsakhurdia was elected president with 87% of the vote.

Civil war

Georgian nationalists were less united than these figures may suggest. Although Gamsakhurdia was at first by far the most popular figure, he had many rivals. The division of the Georgian nationalist movement into Gamsakhurdia supporters and opponents grew increasingly deep and bitter, resulting in a civil war from1991-1993.

Shevardnadze returns

Eduard Shevardnadze returned to Georgia, became chairman of the State Council, and formed the Citizens’ Union of Georgia (CUG). He slowly consolidated his position, eliminating rivals and their armed followers.

Parliament adopted a new constitution in August 1995 providing for a strong, but not an all-powerful, presidency. Parliament consisted of a lower house of 150 members called the Council of the Republic, elected by proportional representation; and an upper house of 85 members, the Senate, elected from single-mandate constituencies (except for 5 members appointed by the president).

In 2000, Shevardnadze won the presidential elections with over 80% of the vote, but the OSCE expressed concern at many irregularities noted by international observers.