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)

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

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice