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First Democratic Republic

(Material is from A. Mikaberidze, Historical Dictionary of Georgia (2007) and is copyrighted so please do not use it without explicit written permission)


The revolutionary upheaval of 1917 in Russia and the collapse of the imperial government created unexpected conditions for the outlying regions. In February 1917, leading Georgian political parties gathered in Tbilisi where the necessity to declare independence became clear. The Russian Provisional Government established the Special Transcaucasian Committee (Ozakom) to govern the region. In November 1917, the first government of the independent Transcaucasia was created in Tbilisi as the Transcaucasian Commissariat replaced Ozakom following the Bolshevik seizure of power in St. Petersburg. Headed by the Georgian Social Democrat Evgeni Gegechkori, the Transcaucasian Commissariat was anti-Bolshevik in its political goals and sought the separation of Transcaucasia from Bolshevik Russia. 

In late 1917 and early 1918, the Commissariat took measures to suppress the Bolshevik influence in Georgia and ordered the seizure of the Tbilisi arsenal, the disarming of pro-Bolshevik troops, the closure of Bolshevik newspapers, etc. Among other reforms were the Commissariatís decree on land, the abolition of social distinction, changes in labor conditions and the circulation of currency (bonds). In February 1918, the Transcaucasian Commissariat surrendered its authority to the Transcaucasian Seim that was to oversee the secession of Transcaucasia from Soviet Russia. Following the Trebizond Peace Talks with the Ottoman Empire, the Transcaucasian Seim proclaimed the establishment of the Transcaucasian Federation that united Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, facing the renewed Ottoman attacks and hoping for German help, Georgia soon ceded from the Federation and the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the National Council of Georgia on 26 May 1918. 

As the best organized and most numerous political party, the Social Democrats (Menshevik faction) organized the first government of independent Georgia. Based on a multiparty system, the newly established government also included the National-Democratic Party, Social-Federalists, Social-Revolutioneers and other political organizations. Although supporting internationalist ideology, the Social Democrats soon parted with their co-revolutioneers, both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, in Russia. Thus, the actual ideological basis of the Democratic Republic of Georgia became European-style democratic socialism in contrast to the Russian model of socialism and it was oriented towards the middle classes of the Georgian society. 

The newly-born Menshevik government faced challenges from every direction. Bolshevik uprisings were instigated in various regions, particularly in Abkhazia and Ossetia, where separatist calls were made. In May-July 1918, the Georgian forces under Giorgi Mazniashvili and Valiko Jugheli defeated the insurgents and restored the central authority in Abkhazia. In 1919-1920, similar oubursts of separatism were suppressed in Ossetia. In the south, Armenian forces contested the Georgian control of the Lori region in December 1918 but were routed the following year. In Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki regions, the Ottomans instigated another series of separatist movements but the insurgents were crushed by General Giorgi Kvinitadze in 1919.

The independence of Georgia was recognized by Soviet Russia on 7 May 1920 and a special treaty was signed between Tbilisi and Moscow with the consent of the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. This act was followed by de jure recognition by Germany, Turkey, Britain, France, Japan, Italy, etc. The three years of independence proved to be of great political and cultural significance. Major economic and educational reforms were implemented, more than a thousand schools were established, the national theater revived, Tbilisi State University, Tbilisi Opera and Conservatoire, Shota Rustaveli Theater were established. However, despite its initial success, the fledgling Georgian republic had no chance of succeeding because, as the Bolshevik government in Russia emerged victorious out of the Civil War in 1919, it turned its attention to the Transcaucasia. 
 


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