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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 February 2005, 12:07 GMT
Zurab Zhvania: Architect of revolution
Zurab Zhvania (left) with Mikhail Saakashvili
Zhvania lacked Saakashvili's charisma but was a better tactician
The boyish Mikhail Saakashvili may have grabbed the headlines during Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution, but the whole thing might have collapsed without Zurab Zhvania masterminding the tactics.

"He played a critical role, no less important than Saakashvili," said Jonathan Cohen of Conciliation Resources, an NGO that works closely with leaders in the region.

"He was a much more astute tactician", Mr Cohen said, and was instrumental in persuading then-President Eduard Shevardnadze to step aside peacefully, leading the way to a more democratic Georgia.

"He knew Shevardnadze better than Saakashvili did and was key in the way they negotiated him out of his role."

Zhvania was the person Saakashvili really listened to and in many cases, he managed to stop Saakashvili on the brink of fairly radical things
Paata Zakareishvili,
Center for Development and Co-operation
Zhvania, who went on to become prime minister in the wake of the revolution, was found dead at the home of a friend on 3 February 2005, the apparent victim of gas poisoning.

The death appeared to have been accidental.

It robbed Georgia of a man many had once predicted would be its president.

And it may have removed an important moderating influence on the current president, warned Paata Zakareishvili of the Center for Development and Co-operation in the capital Tbilisi.

"Zhvania was the person Saakashvili really listened to and in many cases, he managed to stop Saakashvili on the brink of fairly radical things."

He cited negotiations with the breakaway region of South Ossetia as an example.

"Without Zhvania there will be nobody to neutralise the more radical figures in Saakashvili's entourage," he said.

Shevardnadze ally

Zhvania became active in the former Soviet republic's politics in the early 1990s as an environmental activist.

He allied himself with Mr Shevardnadze after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Mr Shevardnadze returned from Moscow to take up the reins of power in the republic he had led in the 1970s and '80s.

Eduard Shevardnadze on a 1999 visit to Washington
Zhvania was close to Shevardnadze but grew disillusioned with him
He was instrumental in creating the Citizens' Union of Georgia, Mr Shevardnadze's party, and was once seen as his heir apparent.

But Mr Cohen said the relationship between the two men was never straightforward.

"There is always a Machiavellian element in Georgian politics about who's using whom. He was close to Shevardnadze for a number of years but he was cautious of him as well."

"He thought that reforming from within was the way to change things."

But by the late 1990s, many Georgians were becoming disenchanted with Mr Shevardnadze's rule.

The lush, fertile country once known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union had fallen into deep poverty and had lost control over several breakaway regions.


Zhvania stood down as speaker of the Georgian parliament in 2001 and went into opposition against Mr Shevardnadze, despite the president's offering him the state ministership - effectively making him head of government.

Zhvania refused because the deal would have left Mr Shevardnadze in control of the "power ministries" - those with armed forces at their disposal.

In opposition, he allied himself with Mr Saakashvili, another young reformer who had once been part of Mr Shevardnadze's inner circle but had turned against him.

"There was always a Blair-Brown type of rivalry between them", Mr Cohen said, comparing the two Georgian leaders to the UK prime minister and his chancellor.

"Saakashvili's charisma pushed him to the front - he's excellent at set pieces, motivating, charisma."

"Zhvania never had that, but he was someone with a much more sober take on things," Mr Cohen said.

President Saakashvili appeared on television in tears after Zhvania's death was announced.

"Georgia has lost a great patriot whose entire life was devoted to tireless and selfless service to our country. I have lost my closest friend, most trusted adviser and greatest ally," Mr Saakashvili said, addressing his ministers.

Why officials think the death was an accident

Timeline: Georgia
30 Jan 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Georgia
02 Feb 05 |  Country profiles

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