U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Georgia, November 1998


Official Name: Georgia

PROFILE

Geography

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.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective -- Georgian(s).
Population (1997 est.): 5.16 million.
Population growth rate: -1.09%
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 
expectancy -- 68 years.

Government

Type: Republic.
Constitution: October 17, 1995.
Branches: Executive -- president with State Chancellery. Legislative -- 
unicameral parliament, 235 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. 
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.

Economy (1997)

GDP: $4.9 billion.
Per capita income: $980.
GDP growth: 11.3%.
Inflation rate: 7%.
Natural resources: Citrus fruits, tea, wine, nonferrous metals, 
textiles, chemicals and 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, 
Azerbaijan, Armenia.  Imports -- $656.6 million; Partners -- Russia, 
Turkey, Azerbaijan, U.S.
Work force ( 2.4 million): Agriculture -- 23.8%, trade -- 23.2%, 
transport and communications -- 10.5%, industry -- 10.2%, construction 
-- 5%, unemployment (1996 est.) -- 21%.


PEOPLE AND HISTORY

Georgian history dates back more than 2,500 years, 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 
7th to the 18th centuries.  After 11 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 Red 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.

Beset by ethnic and civil strife from independence in 1991, Georgia 
began to stabilize in 1995. However, more than 230,000 internally 
displaced persons present an 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 on the Ossetian-Georgian conflict, and negotiations are 
continuing in the Georgia-Abkhazia 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 
Asia.

Georgians are renowned for their hospitality and artistry in dance, 
theater, music, and design.


GOVERNMENT

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 Parliament.

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.  In most locations local 
elections took place on November 15, 1998, marking the first elections 
under the 1995 constitution.  Candidates from 11 political parties and 
two political blocks presented candidates.

Principal Government Offcials

President -- Eduard A. Shevardnadze
State Minister -- Vazha Lortkipanidze
Secretary 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, telephone (202) 393-5959, fax 
(202) 393-4532.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Since surviving assassination attempts in August 1995 and February 1998 
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 resulted in a progressive parliament led by 
sophisticated reformers.

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 (IDPs) 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 that would allow the IDPs, the majority of whom are ethnic 
Georgians from the Gali region, to return home, but the Abkhaz insist 
on virtual independence.

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 mining and guerrilla activity.  
Negotiations have not resulted in movement toward a settlement.  
Working with France, U.K., 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.  The UN observer force and other organizations are quietly 
encouraging grassroots cooperative and confidence-building measures in 
the region.

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.  In 1998, 
increased citizen awareness of civil rights and democratic values has 
provided an increasingly effective check on the excesses of law 
enforcement agencies.

Political Parties

There are 11 main political parties and two political blocks in 
Georgia.  Of these, four are pro-government and seven are opposition 
parties.  The Citizens Union of Georgia (CUG), a pro-government party 
formed in late 1993, is dominated by young reformers but also includes 
Soviet bureaucrats connected to Shevardnadze from his days as leader of 
Soviet Georgia.  The CUG's name recognition, financial support, and 
organization give it a distinct advantage over the other political 
parties.

The National Democratic Party represents the opposition in parliament.  
The party was formed in 1981 and has strong name recognition throughout 
most of the country.  The Union of Democratic Revival is a vehicle in 
Tbilisi for political representation of the Ajarian region.  The Abkhaz 
faction remains vocal and influential in pushing for resolution for the 
Abkhaz conflict.

ECONOMY

Georgia's economic recovery has been hampered by the separatist 
disputes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a persistently weak economic 
infrastructure, resistance to reform on the part of some corrupt and 
reactionary factions, and the Russian and Asian economic crises.  Under 
President Shevardnadze's leadership, the government has nonetheless 
guided the economy to impressive gains: slashing inflation, meeting 
most IMF targets through its July 1998 review, and qualifying for 
economic structural adjustment facility credit status, introducing a 
stable national currency (the lari), introducing free market prices of 
bread products, preparing for the second stage of accession to the 
World Trade Organization (the first stage has already been met), 
signing agreements that 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.  However, as a result of 
the fallout from the Russian and Asian economic crises, Georgia has 
been unable to meet IMF conditions recently.

Georgia's deficit fell from the 1996 rate of 6.2% to 3.6% in 1997.  The 
Government expects to continue reducing the country's deficit to 3% in 
1998.  President Shevardnadze recently announced that tax revenues have 
risen dramatically, and recent tax reform, encouraged by the IMF, 
should lead to further increases.  However, Georgia needs to implement 
its tax legislation and take concrete steps to meet IMF programs.  
Although total revenue increased from 1996 to 1997, these increases 
were lower than expected.  International financial institutions 
continue to play a critical role in Georgia's budgetary calculations.  
Multilateral and bilateral grants and loans totaled 116.4 million lari 
in 1997 and are expected to total 182.8 million lari in 1998.
	
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.  More than 
10,500 small enterprises have been privatized, and although 
privatization of medium- and large-sized firms has been slow, more than 
1,200 medium- and large-sized companies have been set up as joint stock 
companies.  A law and a decree establishing the legal basis and 
procedures for state property privatization should continue to reduce 
the number of companies controlled by the state.  

Due to a lack of investment, Georgia's transportation and communication 
infrastructure remains in very poor condition.  Parliament has set an 
agenda to start the privatization of the telecommunications industry, 
although there is still resistance to the plan and Parliament needs to 
draft implementing legislation. 

Georgia's electrical energy sector is in critical condition.  Shortages 
of electricity have resulted in public unrest.  In 1998, Georgia began 
to privatize its energy distribution system and expects to privatize 
its energy generation system by 2000.  Privatization is the only means 
to generate the capital needed to rehabilitate the sector.

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 advisors.  
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.


Georgian agricultural production is beginning to recover following the 
devastation caused by the civil unrest and the restructuring necessary 
following the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Livestock production is 
beginning to rebound, although it faces periodic 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 conflict in Abkhazia, an especially fertile 
area.

While approximately 30% of the Georgian economy is agricultural, crops 
spoil in the field because farmers either cannot get their produce to 
market or must pay costs that 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. 

FOREIGN RELATIONS

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 Sea 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 it is reaching out 
to its other neighbors and looking to the West in search of 
alternatives and opportunities.  It signed a partnership and 
cooperation agreement with the EU, participates in the Partnership for 
Peace, and encourages foreign investment. France, Germany, and the U.K. 
all have embassies in Tbilisi, and Germany is a significant donor.

Georgia is a member of the UN, the OSCE, and the CIS.  It is an 
observer in the Council of Europe.

U.S.-GEORGIA RELATIONS

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 programs, with emphasis on 
institution-building.  The U.S. is working with the Georgian parliament 
on draft laws and establishing procedures and standards consistent with 
the country's 1995 constitution.

The U.S. also 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 the Sixth Fleet and the 
Coast Guard to Georgia, and the Bilateral Working Group on Defense and 
Military Cooperation.
 

Principal U.S. Officials

Ambassador -- Kenneth Yalowitz
Deputy Chief of Mission -- Martin Adams
Political/Economic/Commercial Affairs -- Sandra Clark
Public Affairs -- Victoria Sloan 
Defense Attache -- David Penn 
USAID Director -- Michael Farbman

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.

The U.S. embassy's home page address is:  
http://www.sanet.ge/usis/usistbl.html







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-
4000. 

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 
877 FYI-TRIP (877 394-8747) gives the most recent health advisories, 
immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and 
drinking water safety for regions and countries.  This information is 
also available on the Web at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm.   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 an 
emergency. 

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; daily press briefings; 
Country Commercial Guides; 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 annually 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. 

[End of Document]

Return to Europe Background Notes Archive
Return to Background Notes Archive Homepage
Return to Electronic Research Collection Homepage