Georgia turns anniversary of First Democratic Republic into international event

photo of the author
photo of the author

On May 26, 1918, the National Council of Georgia - a multiparty legislative body elected as a result of the first multi-party elections - gathered in the center of Tbilisi, in the palace of the Russian governor of Transcaucasia on General Yevgeny Golovin Prospect. A hundred years later, on May 26, 2018, at 17:10 Tbilisi time, Georgian actors recreated the historic event - the declaration of Georgia's independence - in the same hall of the Governor's Palace.

Noe Zhordania, one of the leaders of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP), who was considered a close associate of the RSDLP founder Georgy Plekhanov, said this historical phrase: "One state died, but a new one was born!" Later, historians, based on papers, proved that the Georgian Social Democrats, unlike other parties represented in the National Assembly, were not dying to achieve independence from Russia, but the logic of confrontation with the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, pushed them to such a decision. Contrary to the sincere desire of Noe Zhordania and his fellow left-wing party members to see Georgia as part of Russian democracy, the Georgian Mensheviks played a historical role by establishing the first democratic state in the long history of Georgia - a parliamentary republic which abolished the death penalty and granted women the right to vote.

The Georgian Democratic Republic (GDR) was smashed by the Red Army led by the Bolsheviks Joseph Stalin and Sergo Ordzhonikidze as early as February 25, 1921. Nevertheless, it became the main symbol for modern Georgia, and the celebration of the centenary of the First Republic by the Georgian authorities has never been greater, who managed to turn an anniversary into an event of international significance. The presidents of Lithuania, Latvia, Armenia, Slovakia, Poland and Finland, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attended the celebrations in Tbilisi.

The Independence Day military parade has not been held for several years in the country, but the oath-taking ceremony on Freedom Square was impressive. The square was surrounded by not just military equipment, but also by huge screens where attendees could observe several thousand servicemen taking oaths in the cities of Georgia.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite was received in Tbilisi with special honor. The day before the festivities, the Lithuanian State Language Commission made a decision to officially use Georgian word 'Sakartvelo'  - the way the Georgians call their country. On the same day it became known that a similar decision was taken on Lithuania by the Georgian commission on state language  - now the Baltic country will be called "Lietuva" in all official documents. During the broadcast of the celebrations, the Georgian television presenters tried diligently to pronounce this Lithuanian word.

Attention was also drawn to the unexpected meeting of Armenian President Armen Sarkisyan with Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the ruling Georgian Dream Party.  It is not known how the Armenian president was able to meet with the "mysterious billionaire" - Ivanishvili is an absolutely non-public politician, he does not hold meetings, and does not occupy any posts despite the readiness to head the Georgian Dream party again. Experts believe that having insisted on this meeting behind closed doors, Sarkisan made clear with whom Yerevan intends to solve the main issues of the Georgian-Armenian relations, including the problem of opening trade corridors from Russia to Transcaucasia.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, speaking at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, announced the allocation of 40 million euro to Georgia as financial assistance and made it clear that in the near future the European Commission does not plan to consider the issue of restoring the visa regime due to the growing number of Georgian illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in the EU.

But ordinary Tbilisi citizens were not interested in big politics that day: the capital's municipality turned Rustaveli Avenue (the former General Golovin Prospect) into a huge colorful promenade with a lot of playgrounds, exhibitions and concerts. Hundreds of thousands of people walked along the country's main avenue, luckily this bright holiday is celebrated in late May, when weather in the Georgian capital is sunny.