Georgia History, Language and Culture
History of Georgia
Georgia's history has been a constant struggle for survival against the aggression of powerful neighbours, interspersed with brief interludes of peace.
Georgia's power and influence reached an apex during the late-12th and early-13th centuries under Queen Tamar. The Mongol invasions from 1220 onwards brought this 'golden age' to an end.
At the end of the 18th century, King Erekle II forged a vital alliance with Catherine the Great of Russia but the royal lineage was deposed by the Russians in 1801, after which the whole region was steadily absorbed into the Russian Empire.
Georgia briefly gained independence from 1918, until the invasion of the Red Army in 1921. Although Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was himself a Georgian (his real name was Djugashvili), the republic suffered terribly during the purges of the 1930s and 40s. It is estimated that 10 per cent of the population perished between 1940 and 1945. Nonetheless, many Georgians continue to this day to idolise their most notorious son.
Agitation mounted steadily from the late 1970s until 1989 when, in an episode that was to trigger the final disillusionment with Soviet power, 20 people (most of them women) were killed and hundreds more injured when Soviet troops attacked a nationalist demonstration in Tbilisi.
In a referendum held in April 1991, an overwhelming majority voted in favour of independence from the Soviet Union. Zviad Gamsakhurdia was brought to power in May, but his chaotic government ended within months.
In March 1992, former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze was appointed and, after two terms in office, was replaced by Mikheil Saakashvili in 2004 as Chairman of the National Parliament.
The past two decades have been dominated by conflict with breakaway nations South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In 1994, after two years of sporadic fighting, South Ossetia was brought back under Georgian control, but violence flared again in 2008 into a full-scale war following claims and counter claims of attacks. Russia sent its troops to defend the breakaway region while also moving is forces into Abkhazia, and has since recognised both as independent states.
Religion in Georgia
Christian majority, mainly Georgian Orthodox church. Also Eastern Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and other Christian denomination minorities.
Social Conventions in Georgia
Georgians pride themselves on their reputation for gregariousness and hospitality. Visitors sitting in restaurants are likely to be offered drinks by complete strangers. They will then be invited to raise (and empty) their glasses in response to an endless string of elaborate toasts, preferably interpolating a few suitably enthusiastic toasts of their own into the sequence. Smoking is widespread. Visitors may also be entertained in private homes. On such occasions, gifts such as chocolates, flowers or alcohol are well received.
On social occasions foreign women will find themselves the object of immense flattery. Those finding such attentions oppressive should avoid giving any hint of encouragement. Appropriate clothing should be worn when entering a church; visitors should ensure they are not wearing shorts and women should cover their heads.
Visitors should also be aware that street crime is far from uncommon. Anyone travelling in the republic should be cautious when venturing out after dark, carry as few valuables as possible, and beware of the risk of being robbed and possibly attacked.