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Eduard Amvrosiyevich Shevardnadze (Georgian: ედუარდ შევარდნაძე, Russian: Эдуа́рд Амвро́сьевич Шевардна́дзе; pronounced ed-oo-ard am-vro-see-ye-vitch she-va-rd-nad-zuh) (born 25 January 1928) is a Georgian politician. He served under Mikhail Gorbachev as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1990 and was the President of Georgia from 1995 until 23 November 2003, when he resigned in the midst of mounting criticism following disputed parliamentary elections. Shevardnadze's political skills earned him the nickname "Tetri Melia" ("White Fox"), while his former American negotiating partners, the first President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, reportedly preferred to use "Shevvy".
Shevardnadze joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1948 after two years as a Komsomol instructor and rose through the ranks to become a member of the Georgian Supreme Soviet in 1959. He was appointed Georgian Minister for the maintenance of public order in 1965 and subsequently became Georgian Minister for Internal Affairs from 1968 to 1972 with the rank of general in the police. He gained a reputation as a fierce opponent of corruption, which was endemic in the republic, dismissing and imprisoning hundreds of officials. One of his first reported acts was to call for a show of hands by senior officials and promptly ordering all those displaying expensive black-market watches to take them off and hand them in. However, he never succeeded in entirely stamping out corruption. As late as 1980, he found it necessary to reiterate that economic and social development depended on "an uncompromising struggle against such negative phenomena as money-grubbing, bribe-taking, misappropriation of socialist property, private-property tendencies, theft and other deviations from the norms of communist morality."
A corruption scandal in 1972 forced the resignation of Vasily Mzhavanadze, the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party. His downfall may have been precipitated by Shevardnadze, who was the natural replacement candidate and was duly appointed to the post. During his time as First Secretary, he continued to attack corruption and dealt firmly with dissidents. In 1977, as part of a Soviet Union-wide sweep against human rights activists, his government imprisoned a number of prominent Georgian dissidents on the grounds of anti-Soviet activities. These including the leading dissidents Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who later became the first democratically elected President of the Republic of Georgia.
Shevardnadze's hard line on corruption soon caught the attention of the Soviet hierarchy. He joined the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party in 1976 and in 1978 was promoted to the rank of candidate (non-voting) member of the Soviet Politburo. He remained fairly obscure for a number of years, although he consolidated a reputation for personal austerity, shunning the trappings of high office and travelling to work by public transport rather than using the limousines provided to Politburo members. His chance came in 1985 when the veteran Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Gromyko, resigned. Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev appointed Shevardnadze to the post, thus consolidating Gorbachev's circle of relatively young reformers.
He subsequently played a key role in the détente which marked the end of the cold war. He was credited with helping to devise the so-called "Sinatra Doctrine" of allowing the Soviet Union's eastern European satellites to "do it their way" rather than forcibly restraining any attempts to pursue a different course. When democratization and revolution began to sweep across eastern Europe, he rejected the pleas of eastern European communist leaders for Soviet intervention and smoothed the path for a (mostly) peaceful democratic transformation in the region. He reportedly told hardliners that "it is time to realize that neither socialism, nor friendship, nor good-neighborliness, nor respect can be produced by bayonets, tanks or blood." However, his moderation was seen by some communists and Russian nationalists as a betrayal and earned him the long-term antagonism of powerful figures in Moscow.
During the late 1980s, as the Soviet Union descended into crisis, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze became increasingly estranged from each other over policy differences. Gorbachev fought to preserve a socialist government and the unity of the USSR, while Shevardnadze advocated further political and economic liberalisation. He resigned in protest against Gorbachev's policies in December 1990, delivering a dramatic warning to the Soviet parliament that "Reformers have gone and hidden in the bushes. Dictatorship is coming." A few months later, his fears were partially realised when an unsuccessful coup by communist hardliners precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union. Shevardnadze returned briefly as Soviet Foreign Minister in November 1991 but resigned with Gorbachev the following month when the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.
The newly independent Republic of Georgia elected as its first president a leader of the nationalist movement, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a famous scientist and writer, who had been imprisoned by Shevardnadze's government in the late 1970s. Gamsakhurdia's rule ended abruptly in January 1992 when he was deposed in a coup d'état and forced to flee to the Chechen Republic in neighboring Russia. Shevardnadze was appointed acting chairman of the Georgian state council in March 1992. When the Presidency was restored in November 1995, he was elected with 70% of the vote. He secured a second term in April 2000 in an election that was marred by widespread claims of vote-rigging.
Shevardnadze's career as Georgian president was in some respects even more challenging than his earlier career as Soviet foreign minister. He faced many enemies, some dating back to his campaigns against corruption and nationalism in Soviet times. A civil war in western Georgia broke out in 1993 between supporters of Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze but was ended by Russian intervention on Shevardnadze's side and the death of ex-President Gamsakhurdia on December 31, 1993. Two assassination attempts were mounted against Shevardnadze in August 1995 and February 1998 which his government blamed on remnants of Gamsakhurdia's party. He also faced separatist conflicts in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which caused the deaths of an estimated 10,000 people, as well as an assertively autonomous government in Ajaria.
The war in the Russian republic of Chechnya on Georgia's northern border caused considerable friction with Russia, which accused Shevardnadze of harbouring Chechen guerrillas and supported Georgian separatists in apparent retaliation. Further friction was caused by Shevardnadze's close relationship with the United States, which saw him as a counterbalance to Russian influence in the strategic Transcaucasus region. Under Shevardnadze's strongly pro-Western administration, Georgia became a major recipient of U.S. foreign and military aid, signed a strategic partnership with NATO and declared an ambition to join both NATO and the EU. Perhaps his greatest diplomatic coup was the securing of a $3 billion project to build a pipeline carrying oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia.
At the same time, however, Georgia suffered badly from the effects of crime and rampant corruption, often perpetrated by well-connected officials and politicians. Shevardnadze's closest advisers, including several members of his family, exerted disproportionate economic power. It was estimated by outside observers that Shevardnadze's inner circle controlled as much 70 per cent of the economy: his wife edited and wrote for one of the country's major newspapers, and his daughter was the director of a film studio and one of the country's leading mobile phone networks. While Shevardnadze himself was not a conspicuous profiteer, he was accused by many Georgians of shielding corrupt supporters and using his powers of patronage to shore up his own position. Georgia acquired an unenviable reputation as one of the world's most corrupt countries. Eventually, even his American supporters grew tired of pouring money into an apparent black hole.
On November 2, 2003, Georgia held a parliamentary election that was widely denounced as unfair by international election observers, as well as by the U.N. and the U.S. government. The outcome sparked fury among many Georgians, leading to mass demonstrations in the capital Tbilisi and elsewhere. Protesters broke into Parliament on November 21 as the first session of the new Parliament was beginning, forcing President Shevardnadze to escape with his bodyguards. He later declared a state of emergency and insisted that he would not resign.
Despite growing tension, both sides publicly stated their wish to avoid any violence, a particular concern given Georgia's turbulent post-Soviet history. Nino Burjanadze, speaker of the Georgian parliament, said she would act as president until the situation was resolved. The leader of the opposition Mikhail Saakashvili stated he would guarantee Shevardnadze's safety and support his return as President provided he promised to call early presidential elections.
On November 23 Shevardnadze met with the opposition leaders Saakashvili and Zurab Zhvania to discuss the situation, in a meeting arranged by the Russians. After this meeting, the president announced his resignation, declaring that he wished to avert a bloody power struggle "so all this can end peacefully and there is no bloodshed and no casualties". However, it was widely speculated that the refusal of the armed forces to enforce his emergency decree was the main cause of his resignation. He claimed the following day that he had been prepared to step down the previous morning, hours before he actually did, but was prevented from doing so by his entourage.
Although it was unclear precisely what role foreign powers played in the toppling of Shevardnadze, it emerged shortly afterwards that both Russia and the United States had played a direct role. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell communicated regularly with Shevardnadze during the post-election crisis, reportedly pushing him to step down peacefully. Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov flew to Tbilisi to visit three main opposition leaders and Shevardnadze, and arranged on late November 23 for Saakashvili and Zurab Zhvania to meet Shevardnadze. Ivanov then travelled to the autonomous region of Ajaria for consultations with the Ajaran leader Aslan Abashidze, who had been pro-Shevardnadze.
Shevardnadze's ouster prompted mass celebrations with drinking and dancing in the streets by tens of thousands of Georgians crowding Tbilisi's Rustaveli Avenue and Freedom Square. The protesters dubbed their actions a "Velvet Revolution", deliberately recalling the peaceful toppling of the Communist government in Czechoslovakia in 1989. Observers noted similarities with the overthrow of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, who was also forced to resign by mass protests following rigged elections. The parallel with Yugoslavia was reinforced when it emerged that the Open Society Institute of George Soros had arranged contacts between the Georgian opposition and the Yugoslav Otpor (Resistance) movement, which had been instrumental in the toppling of Milosevic. Otpor activists reportedly advised the Georgian opposition on the methods that they had used to mobilize popular anger against Milosevic. According to the then editor-in-chief of The Georgian Messenger newspaper, Zaza Gachechiladze, "It's generally accepted public opinion here that Mr. Soros is the person who planned Shevardnadze's overthrow". IWPR reported that on November 28, in an interview held with the press at his home, Shevardnadze "spoke with anger" about a plot by "unspecified Western figures" to bring him down. He said that he did not believe that the US administration was involved.
The German government invited Shevardnadze to live in Germany, where he is still widely respected for his role during the 1990 reunification of the country. It was reported (although never confirmed) that his family had bought a villa in the resort town of Baden-Baden. However, he told German television on November 24, "Although I am very grateful for the invitation from the German side, I love my country very much and I won't leave it." He reportedly plans to write his memoirs following his enforced retirement. His wife Nanuli (whom he married in 1951) died on October 20, 2004.
Eduard Shevardnadze's political career was filled with contradictions. He was a product of the Soviet system, but played a central role in dismantling that system. He built his reputation on fighting political corruption, but came to be seen as using corrupt methods to shore up his own position. He achieved worldwide renown as possibly the most liberal foreign minister in the history of the Soviet Union, but was never nearly as popular in his own country. He succeeded in maintaining Georgia's territorial integrity in the face of strong separatist pressures, but was unable to restore his government's authority in large areas of the country. He helped to establish a viable civil society in Georgia, but resorted to rigging elections to maintain his powerbase.
When Shevardnadze joined the Georgian state council in 1992 in the chaotic aftermath of the coup against Zviad Gamsakhurdia, he presented himself as being the best candidate to guide Georgia through its difficult rebirth as an independent nation. Over time, he seemed to have become convinced that his interests and Georgia's were essentially the same, justifying the use of unscrupulous tactics in the apparent belief that Georgia could not survive without him. His downfall ushered in a renewed period of uncertainty in Georgian politics. One positive aspect in the eyes of many observers was the fact that, under his rule, a vigorous civil society had become well established and would possibly be better able to meet the challenge than had been the case in the early 1990s. It seems likely, though, that he will be better remembered for his liberation of eastern Europe than his undistinguished decade as President of Georgia.
External links and references
- BBC profile
- Foes of Georgian Leader Storm Into Parliament Building by Seth Mydans, from the New York Times Web Site.
- Georgian Interior Minister Vows to Enforce State of Emergency on the Voice of America News Web Site.
- People power forces Georgia leader out from BBC News online.
- de Waal, Thomas and Akhvlediani, Margarita. Shevardnadze: A Bitter Resignation. Georgia Alert #06, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 1 December, 2003.
- MacKinnon, Mark. Georgia revolt carried mark of Soros. Globe and Mail, 26 November, 2003.
- Sakevarishvili, Revaz, Akhvlediani, Margarita and de Waal, Thomas. "Rose Revolution" Sweeps Away Shevardnadze. Georgia Alert #01, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 24 November, 2003.
- Russians in Baden-Baden
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