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Crossing Continents Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 10:48 GMT
Surviving in Georgia
Eduard Shevardnadze
Eduard Shevardnadze
The former Soviet Republic of Georgia has experienced turmoil in recent weeks. The President dismissed the entire Georgian government after angry demonstrations on the streets of the capital, Tblisi. Andy Kershaw reports from Georgia.

 Listen to this programme in full

Promises of a western-style market economy have not materialised since independence for many Georgians, poverty is rife and the President is the first to admit that corruption on every level is rampant.

Corruption exposed

Earlier this year, the country's most popular television journalist, Giorgi Sanaia, was murdered after his "Panorama" style programme investigated allegations of official corruption.

Giorgi Sanaia
Journalist, Giorgi Sanaia, was murdered

More recently, in October, the security police raided the independent television station, Rustavi-2, where Sanaia worked.

The station is widely respected in Georgia and is known for criticising the President's policies, and for alleging corruption and other abuses by the authorities. It has won praise from all and sundry in Georgia for exposing what the state-run media prefers to ignore.

Protests

This raid was the final straw for thousands of students who took to the streets demonstrating against the police raid and demanding greater democracy.

Student demonstrations
Student demonstrations followed the raid on the "Rustuvi-2" station

Large crowds of protesters gathered outside Georgia's parliament, calling for Mr Shevardnadze to resign.

They said they feared for the freedom of the media in Georgia.

The crowds grew bigger and the demands broadened to include the resignation of the entire government as well as the president himself.

The President

In an attempt to defuse this most recent crisis and responding to the demands for freedom for speech, the President sided with the students and took the extraordinary step of firing his entire cabinet.

But the president stopped short of stepping down himself. He has now appointed new Ministers, but many of the faces are the same.

Eduard Shevardnadze
Born 1928
1972-1985: Georgian Party boss
1985-1991: Soviet foreign minister
1992: Georgian head of state
1995: elected President

Mr Shevardnadze is credited with creating a fragile peace in Georgia after the civil wars that broke out following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was re-elected in 2000 with a pledge to wage war on poverty and corruption.

But in recent years his popularity has been on the wane as Georgia struggles to improve one of the poorest economies of the former Soviet republics.

Pervasive corruption remains the biggest problem, as does Mr Shevardnadze's apparent inability to tackle it, or to take on the big commercial interests that block reforms.

Additional pressures

Stability in the Caucasus region is essential for Caspian oil and gas to be transported uninterrupted to world markets.

As the last Caucasus country in the east-west corridor, Georgia is key to the success of oil and gas pipeline projects.

Georgia could play an increasingly relevant role for US national security interests if oil supplies from the Gulf are threatened in the war against terrorism.

Georgian Music

In spite of economic hardship and civil strife, Tblisi is one of the most musical cities in the world.

There is a song for every occasion - from the folksongs collected from Georgia's remotest regions by the Amer-Imeri children's choir to the "Suliko" a sad ballad of lost love immortalised as Stalin's favourite song.

"Sing to survive" could be the Georgian motto.

Georgia is famous for its unique polyphonic singing. You can hear the Georgian Polyphonic choir by clicking on the link in the top right corner of this page.

Georgia: Thursday 20 December 2001 at 1100 on BBC Radio Four

Reporter: Andy Kershaw
Producer: Sue Ellis
Editor: Maria Balinska

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Georgian Polyphonic choir
Georgian Polyphonic choir
Andy Kershaw
In local Tblisi market
Mikheil Saakashvili
Former Justice Minister talks about why he resigned in July 2001
See also:

08 Nov 01 | Europe
02 Nov 01 | Europe
Links to more Crossing Continents stories are at the foot of the page.


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