U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Georgia, November 1998
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 (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
Education: Years compulsory -- 11 . Literacy -- 99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate -- 22.5 deaths/1,000 live births. Life
expectancy -- 68 years.
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.
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
Georgians are renowned for their hospitality and artistry in dance,
theater, music, and design.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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 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
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:
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
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
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
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
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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