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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?