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The path towards independence

By M. Alkhazashvili
(Translated by Diana Dundua)
Wednesday, April 2
March 31 was both the birthday of Georgia’s first president, and the day the referendum for independence from the Soviet Union was held.

Last year there was political controversy over the date. Some in the opposition wanted Georgia’s independence to be celebrated on April 9, not the current date of May 26.

May 26, 1918 was the birth of the Democratic Republic of Georgia.

That state did not last long. In 1921, the Soviet Union annexed Georgia. The Soviet administration marked February 25, the date the Red Army occupied Tbilisi, as the creation of the state.

During Gorbachev’s perestroika, the Georgian national liberation movement grew in strength. Anxious that the past not be forgotten, activists pushed for recognition of the illegal annexation of Georgia and the violation of the May 7, 1920 agreement in which Russia recognized Georgia as an independent state.

By the end of the 1980s, Georgian publications had unveiled the facts manipulated by the Soviet administration for 70 years.

At that time, Georgians thought their independence would be restored by Moscow officially recognizing the unlawful annexation and occupation of the country.

In 1990, the forces of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, soon to be Georgia’s first president, won in multi-party elections. The new administration declared a transition towards independence—but Moscow was not willing to talk about recognizing the past annexation.

The ‘transition period’ soon lost its utility, and Gamsakhurdia initiated the referendum on independence.

The referendum asked, “Do you want the independence to be restored on the basis of the May 26, 1918 independence act?”

With overwhelming approval, Georgia’s independence was restored on April 9, 1991.

But that independence is still incomplete. Russia continues to occupy portions of the country by supporting the separatist regimes in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Unfortunately for Georgia, the restoration of independence has been more challenging than for most other former Soviet Republics.