Zurab Zhvania - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Zurab Zhvania

Prime Minister of Georgia

Zurab Zhvania, politician: born Tbilisi, Soviet Union 9 December 1963; State Minister of Georgia 2003-04, Prime Minister 2004-05; married 1993 Nino Kadagidze (one son, two daughters); died Tbilisi, Georgia 3 February 2005.

For the past turbulent decade in Georgian politics, Zurab Zhvania was a permanent and reliable central fixture, nurtured and promoted by the veteran leader Eduard Shevardnadze.

By the time Zhvania had started to distance himself from the corrupt Shevardnadze and his circle, his ambitions to succeed him as President were trounced by the more charismatic and impulsive Mikheil Saakashvili. But no government would be complete without Zhvania, who ended up as Prime Minister. His early death - apparently from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas heater - robs the Saakashvili government of a stabilising influence.

Born of Georgian and Armenian ancestry into a family of physicists in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Zhvania grew up surrounded by science. In 1980, after leaving school, he entered the biology faculty of the prestigious Tbilisi State University. There he initiated a student laboratory where all the research work was carried out by students, something unknown in the hierarchical world of Soviet scientific research. His lecturers regarded him as a student of great promise and expected him to make science his lifelong career.

After graduation in 1985, he worked in the laboratory of the university's human and animal physiology faculty. But he was increasingly interested in wider work in society. Supported by well-known scientists, he joined with other gifted young people to found the Ecological Association to work within Soviet restrictions for greater environmental protection in Georgia.

But as ideological controls started to loosen and environmental activists could - if they wished - show their true colours as surrogate politicians, Zhvania left his scientific colleagues behind and founded in 1988 a political party, the Georgian Greens. He was unanimously elected party chairman.

His political breakthrough came in the elections of October 1992, contested by more than 50 political parties and blocs. Zhvania abandoned his scientific work on entering parliament in the election, where his Green Party - seen as the party of young intellectuals - was transformed into an influential parliamentary faction. Zhvania was soon elected as co-secretary of the European Greens.

As Zhvania's political career began to take off in Georgia's volatile immediate post-independence years, he backed the Soviet-era leader Shevardnadze as he rebuilt a power-base in the wake of his return to power. In 1993 Zhvania accepted Shevardnadze's invitation to join him as secretary-general of the newly founded party, the Citizens' Union of Georgia, a disparate alliance united around Shevardnadze's only policy: pragmatism. Zhvania hoped to push the party in a pro-democratic direction.

In November 1995, after the party won a convincing victory in the elections, Zhvania was elected speaker of parliament. He was now at the heart of the regime. It was he who persuaded Saakashvili to return from a promising legal career in the United States to commit himself to Georgia's future.

Despite Zhvania's growing concern over the corruption and stagnation of the Shevardnadze regime, which he voiced from 1998, he stuck with the President until November 2001, when he resigned as speaker. In 2002 he founded and became chairman of the United Democrats. He was soon joined by his successor as parliamentary speaker, Nino Burjanadze.

Ahead of the November 1993 parliamentary elections, Zhvania characterised the political choice facing Georgia as one between "a European way of development" or "another form of Soviet nostalgia". When they teamed up with the more charismatic Saakashvili in the wake of the rigged electoral outcome, the gang of three was unstoppable in a country weary of lawlessness, poverty, stagnation and corruption.

Following the ousting of Shevardnadze and his circle amid street revolts in Tbilisi, Zhvania became State Minister, retaining the renamed post of Prime Minister from February 2004 despite increasing tensions with Saakashvili.

A relative moderate over Georgia's decade-old struggles to regain control over the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, unlike many in Georgia Zhvania was less inclined automatically to blame Russia for the conflicts and other ills that befell the country.

He never lost his image as an urban intellectual, so different from the ruthless, hard men who dominated Georgian politics. Amid all the machinations of a volatile political system, he tried to hold fast to his vision of an open, liberal and forward-looking Georgia, based on principles of civic nationalism.

Although largely unsuccessful in ensuring that such a vision became reality under Shevardnadze, Zhvania hoped for the transformation of his country under Saakashvili.

Felix Corley

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
i100
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Project Manager (upgrades, rollouts, migrations)

£350 - £425 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager - 3 mont...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week