U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Georgia, July 1997
Released by the Office of the Special Advisor to the Secretary for the
New Independent States
Official Name: Georgia
Area: 70,000 sq km; slightly larger than South Carolina.
Cities: Capital - Tbilisi (pop 1.3 million 1994)
Terrain: Mostly rugged and mountainous
Climate: Generally moderate; mild on the Black Sea Coast with cold
winters in the mountains.
Nationality: Noun and adjective-Georgian(s).
Population: 5 million.
Population growth rate: -1.02%
Ethnic groups: Georgian 70.1%, Armenian 8.1%, Russian 6.3%, Azerbaijan
5.7%, Ossetian 3%, Abkhaz 1.8%, other 5%.
Religion: Georgian Orthodox 65%, Muslim 11%, Russian Orthodox 10%,
Armenian Apostolic 8%.
Language: Georgian (official), Abkhaz also official language in Abkhazia
Education: Years compulsory-11. Literacy-99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate-22.5 deaths/1,000 live births. Life
Work force: 3.1 million; employment:1.7 million; unemployment may be
more than 20%. Industry and construction 31%. Agriculture and forestry
25%, other 44%.
Constitution: October 17, 1995.
Branches: Executive-president with State Chancellery. Legislative-
unicameral parliament: 232 members. Judicial-supreme court, prosecutor
general and local courts.
Subdivisions: 63 districts, including those within the two autonomous
republics (Abkhazia and Ajaria ) and seven cities. (1994)
Political parties: Citizens Union of Georgia, National Democratic Party,
People's National Democratic Party, United Republican Party, Georgian
Popular Front, Georgian Social Democratic Party, All Georgia Revival
Union, Greens Party, Agrarian Party, United Communist Party of Georgia
Socialist Party and others.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
GDP (1996): $3.5 billion (4.5 billion lari).
Per capita income (1995 estimate) $1,080.
GDP growth (1996): 11%.
Natural resources: citrus fruits, tea, wine; nonferrous metals;
textiles; chemicals; fuel re-exports.
Industry: steel, aircraft, machine tools, foundry equipment,
(automobiles, trucks and tractors,) tower cranes, electric welding
equipment, machinery for food packing; electric motors, textiles, shoes,
chemicals, wood products, bottled water and wine.
Trade (1996): Exports--$199.4 million; partners Russia, Turkey, Armenia,
Azerbaijan; agricultural products; machinery; ferrous and nonferrous
metals; textiles, chemicals; fuel re-exports. Imports--$570.8 million;
partners Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey; fuel, grain, machinery.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
Georgian history is over 2,500 years old, and Georgian is one of the
oldest living languages in the world. Tbilisi, located in a picturesque
valley divided by the Mtkvari river, is more than 1,500 years old. Much
of Georgia's territory was besieged by its Persian and Turkish neighbors
along with Arabs and Mongols over the course of the seventh to the
eighteenth centuries . After eleven centuries of mixed fortunes of
various Georgian kingdoms, including a golden age from the 11th to 12th
centuries, Georgia turned to Russia for protection. Russia essentially
annexed Georgia and exiled the royalty in 1801. Pockets of Georgian
resistance to foreign rule continued, and the first Republic of Georgia
was established on May 26, 1918 after the collapse of Tsarist Russia.
By March 1921, the Tsarist army had reoccupied the country and Georgia
became part of the Soviet Union. On April 9, 1991, the Supreme Council
of the Republic of Georgia declared independence from the U.S.S.R.
Georgia's Cultural contributions
Georgians are renowned for their hospitality and artistry in dance,
theater, music and design.
20th Century History
Beset by ethnic and civil strife from independence in 1991, Georgia
began to stabilize in 1995. The more than 230,000 internally displaced
persons present on enormous strain on local politics. Peace in the
separatist areas of Abkhazia and south Ossetia, overseen by Russian
peacekeepers and international organizations, will continue to be
fragile, requiring years of economic development and negotiation to
overcome local enmities. Considerable progress has been made in
negotiations of the Ossetian-Georgian conflict.
The Georgian government is committed to economic reform in cooperation
with the IMF and World Bank, and stakes much of its future on the
revival of the ancient Silk Road - as the Eurasian Corridor, using
Georgia's geography as a bridge for transit of goods between Europe and
Georgia has been a democratic republic since the presidential elections
and constitutional referendum of October 1995. The President is elected
for a term of 5 years; his constitutional successor is the Chairman of
The Georgian state is highly centralized, except for the autonomous
regions of Abkhazia and Ajaria, which are to be given special autonomous
status once Georgia's territorial integrity is restored. Those regions
were subjects of special autonomies during Soviet rule and the legacy of
that influence remains. Local elections have not yet taken place in
Principal Government Officials
President-Eduard A. Shevardnadze
State Minister-Niko Lekishvili
Chairman of the Security Council-Nugzan Sajaia
Chairman of Parliament-Zurab Zhvania
Foreign Minister-Irakli Menagharishvili
Ambassador to the United States-Tedo Japaridze
Georgia maintains an embassy in the United States at Suite 424, 1511 K
Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005
Since surviving an assassination attempt in August 1995 by reactionary
forces opposed to reform, President Shevardnadze has consolidated his
leadership and moved ahead with an ambitious and courageous reform
agenda. Elections on November 5, 1995,described as the freest and
fairest in the Caucasus or Central Asia, gave him the presidency and a
resulted in a progressive parliament led by sophisticated reformers.
Georgia's location, nestled between the Black Sea, Russia and Turkey,
gives it strategic importance far beyond its size. It is developing as
the gateway from the Black Seas to the Caucasus and the larger Caspian
region, but also serves as a buffer between Russia and Turkey. Georgia
has a long and close relationship with Russia, but is reaching out to
its other neighbors and looking to the West in search of alternatives
and opportunities. It signed a cooperation agreement with the EU,
participates in the Partnership for Peace, and is encouraging foreign
The Abkhaz separatist dispute absorbs much of the government's
attention. While a cease-fire is in effect, more than 230,000
internally displaced persons (IDP's) who were driven from their homes
during the conflict, constitute a vocal lobby. The government has
offered the region considerable autonomy in order to encourage a
settlement which would allow the IDPs, the majority of whom are ethnic
Georgians from the Gali region, to return home, but the Abkhaz insist on
Currently, Russian peacekeepers, under the authority of the Commonwealth
of Independent States, are stationed in Abkhazia, along with UN
observers, but both groups have recently had to restrict their
activities due to increased land-mine sowing and guerrilla activity.
Russian-led negotiations have not resulted in movement toward a
settlement, and the Georgians have recently appealed to the Western
powers to become more directly involved in the process. Working with
France, UK, Germany, and Russia and through the UN and the OSCE, the
U.S. continues to encourage a comprehensive settlement consistent with
Georgian independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. In the
meantime, the UN observer force and other organizations are quietly
encouraging grassroots cooperative and confidence-building measures in
the region. As a result, 20,000 IDP's have returned to the Gali area.
The parliament has instituted wide-ranging political reforms supportive
of higher human rights standards, but problems persist, largely as a
result of the unwillingness of certain law enforcement and criminal
justice officials to support constitutionally mandated changes.
Mistreatment of detainees is a significant and continuing problem, as is
corruption within certain state agencies and monopolies.
Citizens Union of Georgia is not a party in the American sense but an
amalgam of groups/individuals who support President Eduard Shevardnadze.
The National Democratic Party represents the opposition in parliament.
The Revival Union Party is a vehicle for political representation in
Tbilisi of the Ajarian region. The Abkhaz faction remains vocal and
influential in pushing for resolution of the Abkhaz conflict.
Georgia's economic recovery has been hampered by the separatist disputes
in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a presistently weak economic
infrastructure, and resistance to reform on the part of some corrupt and
reactionary factions. Under President Shevardnadze's leadership, the
government has nonetheless guided the economy to impressive gains--
slashing inflation, meeting almost all IMF targets and qualifying for
economic structural adjustment facility credit status, introducing a
stable national currency (the lari), introducing free-market pricing of
bread products, preparing for membership in the World Trade
Organization, signing agreements which allow for development of a
pipeline to transport Caspian oil across Georgia to the Black Sea, and
passing laws on commercial banking, land and tax reform.
The Government expects to significantly reduce the country's deficit by
nearly xx% in 1997. President Shevardnadze recently announced that tax
revenues have risen dramatically, and recent tax reform, encouraged by
the IMF, should lead to further increases. Despite this fact, the tax
collection rate is the lowest in all the new independent states. The
international financial institutions continue to play a critical role in
Georgian's budgetary calculations.
There has been strong progress on structural reform. All prices and
most trade have been liberalized, legal framework reform is on schedule,
and massive government downsizing is underway. While over 6,300 small
enterprises have been privatized, privatization of medium- and large-
sized firms has been slow. Recently a law and decree establishing the
legal basis and procedures for state property privatization were
adopted. This will reduce the number of companies controlled by the
state. Georgia's transportation and communications infrastructure
remain in very poor condition due to the lack of investment, and the
energy sector has been described as the worst in the Caucasus and
To encourage and support the reform process, the U.S. is joining other
donors in shifting the focus of assistance from humanitarian to
technical and institution-building programs. Provision of legal and
technical advisors is complemented by training opportunities for
parliamentarians, law enforcement officials and economic advisers. The
U.S. is increasingly willing to impose conditions on assistance in order
to encourage improved performance on key issues and privatization of key
sectors, including energy. Georgia continues to depend on humanitarian
aid, which is increasingly targeted to most-needy groups.
Georgia is reaching out to the international community. A member of the
CIS, it also participates actively in the Partnership for Peace. In
April, Georgia signed a partnership and cooperation agreement with the
EU. France, Germany and the UK all have embassies in Tbilisi, and
Germany is a significant donor.
Georgian agricultural production is beginning to recover following the
devastation caused by the civil war and the restructuring necessary
following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Livestock is beginning to
rebound, although it faces periodic outbreaks of disease. Domestic
grain production is increasing, and will require sustained political and
infrastructure improvements to ensure appropriate distribution and
return to farmers. Tea, hazelnut, and citrus production have suffered
greatly as a result of the ethnic cleansing and landmine-sowing in
Abkhazia, an especially fertile area.
While approximately 80% of the Georgian economy is agricultural, crops
spoil in the field because farmers either cannot get their produce to
market or must pay costs which drive market prices above those for
imported goods. In concert with European assistance, Georgia has taken
steps to control the quality of and appropriately market its natural
spring water. Georgian viniculture, well supported during Soviet times,
is internationally acclaimed and has absorbed some new technologies and
financing since 1994.
Georgia is a member of the UN, the OSCE and the CIS. It is an observer
in the Council of Europe
Following the defeat of the disparate Georgian militias in Abkhazia in
September 1993, Georgia began the process of building a modern army.
Substantial progress has been made, including the creation of a single
military force under a unified command structure, answerable to elected
civilian officials. However, there is no professional NCO corps and few
trained junior officers. The enlisted personnel are conscripts unable
to evade military service. Total strength is estimated at 12,000-
15,000. The forces are plagued by desertion problems, poor discipline,
and equipment shortages. The military has little transport, supply, and
or communications capability. The Georgians are actively participating
in the Partnership for Peace (PFP) and other military exchange programs.
The U.S. provides Georgia with bilateral security assistance, including
through the International Military Education and Training (IMET)
program. Evolving U.S.-Georgia partnerships include programs by the
Georgia (U.S.) National Guard, visits by a Coast Guard cutter to
Georgia, and a Georgian delegation hosted by the U.S. Coast Guard.
U.S.-Georgia relations have been and continue to be excellent. Georgian
leaders note that U.S. humanitarian assistance was critical to Georgia's
recovery from civil war and economic difficulties following
independence. U.S. assistance currently is targeted to support
Georgia's economic and political reform program, with emphasis on
institution-building. The U.S. is working with the parliament as it
drafts laws and establishes procedures and standards consistent with the
country's 1995 constitution. The U.S. is also intensifying its support
for Georgia's economic reform program.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy chief of Mission-Lawrence Kerr (Martin Adams - designate)
Political/Economic/Commericial Affairs-Molly O'Neal
Public Affairs-Omie Kerr (Victoria Sloan - designate)
Defense Attache-Maj. James Howcroft
The U.S. embassy in Georgia is located at 25 Antoneli Street, Tbilisi
380026, telephone 995-32-98-99-67, fax 995-32-93-37-59.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100.
The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is
required). The CABB also carries international security information from
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of
Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see
"Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous
areas, are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a
country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in
this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; country commercial guies;
daily press briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service
posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov.
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or
fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is
available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the
NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
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