Obituary: Zviad Gamsakhurdia

Zviad Konstantinovich Gamsakhurdia, politician: born 1939; President of Georgia 1991-92; married; died c31 December 1993.

ZVIAD GAMSAKHURDIA was a passionate nationalist, a highly cultured man, independent Georgia's first democratically elected President, but also a dictator who sowed conflict and destruction. His burial yesterday in Grozny, Chechnya (a Russian federation), the scene of his recent exile from Georgia, ended nearly two months of uncertainty as to how or even whether he had died.

A Mingrelian from west Georgia, Gamsakhurdia championed that region against the rest. As President he attempted to impose a monoethnic state, a disaster for non- Georgians. First South Ossetia tried to join North Ossetia in Russia, then Abkhazia aspired to independence. Then Ajaria sought Russian protection. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 heralded the rise of nationalism and ethnic exclusiveness. Georgia is living testimony to the destructiveness of this potent mixture and Gamsakhurdia was its high priest.

He was born into a Georgian family in 1939, in Tbilisi, the son of Konstantin Gamsakhurdia, a leading Georgian literary figure. Some of his forebears were princes. He graduated from the faculty of West European languages at Tbilisi State University, and obtained his doctorate in philology. He was a Shakespeare scholar, translated the bard into Georgian and was competent in Russian, French and German as well. In 1991 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Georgian Academy of Sciences for his book The Language of the Forms of the Knight in a Lordly Skin.

He became politically active in the 1950s, was arrested but continued to be politically active in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and became the editor of the first samizdat newspapers and journals. He was imprisoned between 1977 and 1979 and afterwards found a cultural haven in the Shota Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature. His interests ranged over Georgian culture, theology, anthropology, foreign literatures and mythology.

Under perestroika he relentlessly pursued a nationalist line: Georgia could only flourish when it was independent and free. He was speaker of the Georgian Supreme Soviet in 1990-91, and after Georgia had voted for independence in March 1991, he was its first democratically elected President, with over 87 per cent of the votes. Conflict with parliament began immediately, with Gamsakhurdia being accused of being dictatorial. The President regarded all criticism as a personal slight and developed paranoid tendencies. His mental stability was in question. Refusing compromise, Gamsakhurdia and his military men were inevitably opposed by other groups, based on clan and regional loyalties. Georgia descended into the pit of armed conflict and faced break-up.

Gamsakhurdia was finally driven into exile in Armenia in January 1992. From there he plotted his return but it was not until September 1993 that he appeared to have a chance of regaining his state. He repaired to his support base of Zugdidi, in western Georgia, while his arch-enemy, Eduard Shevardnadze, was fighting for his existence in Sukhumi, Abkhazia. It was not to be because Shevardnadze, shorn of alternatives, secured Russian military aid by conceding Russian dominance of the region. The Russians routed Gamsakhurdia's ill-trained, ill-equipped and undisciplined forces. There was no way back for the dragon of Georgia.

Gamsakhurdia never understood democracy to mean pluralism. His goal of a monoethnic Georgia was bound to cause conflict in a period of awakening ethnic identity. The conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia played into Russia hands. Indeed he saw the conflict as one fuelled by Moscow, his opponents orchestrated by the KGB.

Gamsakhurdia was a tragic figure. A fervent nationalist who was incapable of uniting Georgians, let alone non-Georgians. He was only rational when discussing literature. Politics to him was a blood feud. In this he was like a bandit ruling his own small area and determined to demonstrate to all the other banditti that he was dominant. Unfortunately the other banditti called on the largest bandit of all, Russia, to resolve the conflict.

His legacy will be that he wished his country well but that Georgian independence turned into an unmitigated disaster. Under Gamsakhurdia the country's economy collapsed and a proud nation was brought to its knees. He must bear part or perhaps much of the blame for this sad state of affairs.

(Photograph omitted)

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 People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape