After Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia's ouster in 1992, Shevardnadze became head of an interim government in Georgia, his homeland, and later that year he was elected parliament chairman (head of state). Shevardnadze won the presidency in a popular election in 1995 after surviving an assassination attempt earlier in the year; he was again a target of assassins in 1998. He was reelected in 2000 by an unexpectedly large margin, leading to charges of vote tampering. Unhappiness with his continued rule and seriously flawed parliamentary elections in 2003 led to post-election demonstrations in Nov., 2003, that forced his resignation.
(born Jan. 25, 1928, Mamati, Georgia, U.S.S.R.) Soviet foreign minister (1985–90, 1991) and head of state of Georgia (1992–2003). He rose in the Komsomol hierarchy to become first secretary of its central committee in Georgia (1957–61). He later served as a member of the Soviet Union's Central Committee (1976) and a full member of the Politburo (1985). As foreign minister under Mikhail Gorbachev, he implemented the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988, new arms treaties with the U.S., and the Soviet Union's tacit acquiescence in the fall of the communist regimes of eastern Europe (1989–90), while promoting the reform policies of glasnost and perestroika. After the Soviet Union's collapse, he returned to the newly independent republic of Georgia, where he was elected chairman of the State Council (an office then equivalent to president) in 1992 and later that year chairman of parliament. He fought organized crime and tried to find solutions for separatist violence in the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After surviving an assassination attempt in August 1995, he was elected president of Georgia in November. His government faced numerous problems, including a failing economy and charges of corruption and cronyism. In addition, several elections were marred by allegations of irregularities and fraud. Faced with growing unrest, Shevardnadze resigned in November 2003.
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He joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1948 after two years as a Komsomol instructor and rose through the ranks to become a member of the Georgian Supreme Soviet in 1959. He was appointed Georgian Minister for the maintenance of public order in 1965 and subsequently became Georgian Minister for Internal Affairs from 1968 to 1972 with the rank of general in the police. He was appointed as General Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party by the Kremlin with the task of suppressing the grey and black-market capitalism that was growing in defiance of structure of the state and purge the local party ranks.
Shevardnadze gained a reputation as a fierce opponent of corruption, which was endemic in the republic, dismissing and imprisoning hundreds of officials. One of his first reported acts was to call for a show of hands by senior officials and promptly ordering all those displaying expensive black-market watches to take them off and hand them in. However, he never succeeded in entirely stamping out corruption. As late as 1980, he found it necessary to reiterate that economic and social development depended on "an uncompromising struggle against such negative phenomena as money-grabbing, bribe-taking, misappropriation of socialist property, private-property tendencies, theft and other deviations from the norms of communist morality." A corruption scandal in 1972 forced the resignation of Vasily Mzhavanadze, the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party. His downfall may have been precipitated by Shevardnadze, who was the natural replacement candidate and was duly appointed to the post. During his time as First Secretary, he continued to attack corruption and dealt firmly with dissidents. In 1977, as part of a Soviet Union-wide sweep against human rights activists, his government imprisoned a number of prominent Georgian dissidents on the grounds of anti-Soviet activities. These included the leading dissidents Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who later became the first democratically elected President of the Republic of Georgia. On the other hand, he managed to gain from the central authorities an unprecedented concession to the 1978 Georgian national movement in defense of the constitutional status of the Georgian language.
Shevardnadze's hard line on corruption soon caught the attention of the Soviet hierarchy. He joined the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party in 1976 and in 1978 was promoted to the rank of candidate (non-voting) member of the Soviet Politburo. He remained fairly obscure for a number of years, although he consolidated a reputation for personal austerity, shunning the trappings of high office and travelling to work by public transport rather than using the limousines provided to Politburo members. His chance came in 1985 when the veteran Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Gromyko, left that post for the largely ceremonial position of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. The de facto leader, Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, appointed Shevardnadze to replace Gromyko as Minister of Foreign Affairs, thus consolidating Gorbachev's circle of relatively young reformers.
He subsequently played a key role in the détente which marked the end of the Cold War. He was credited with helping to devise the so-called "Sinatra Doctrine" of allowing the Soviet Union's eastern European satellites to "do it their way" rather than forcibly restraining any attempts to pursue a different course. When democratization and revolution began to sweep across eastern Europe, he rejected the pleas of eastern European Communist leaders for Soviet intervention and smoothed the path for a (mostly) peaceful democratic transformation in the region. He reportedly told hardliners that "it is time to realize that neither socialism, nor friendship, nor good-neighborliness, nor respect can be produced by bayonets, tanks or blood." However, his moderation was seen by some communists and Russian nationalists as a betrayal and earned him the long-term antagonism of powerful figures in Moscow.
During the late 1980s, as the Soviet Union descended into crisis, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze became increasingly estranged from each other over policy differences. Gorbachev fought to preserve a socialist government and the unity of the Soviet Union, while Shevardnadze advocated further political and economic liberalisation. He resigned in protest against Gorbachev's policies in December 1990, delivering a dramatic warning to the Soviet parliament that "Reformers have gone and hidden in the bushes. Dictatorship is coming." A few months later, his fears were partially realised when an unsuccessful coup by Communist hardliners precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union. Shevardnadze returned briefly as Soviet Foreign Minister in November 1991 but resigned with Gorbachev the following month when the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.
In 1991, Shevardnadze was baptized into the Georgian Orthodox Church.
Shevardnadze's career as Georgian President was in some respects even more challenging than his earlier career as Soviet Foreign Minister. He faced many enemies, some dating back to his campaigns against corruption and nationalism in Soviet times. A civil war in western Georgia broke out in 1993 between supporters of Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze but was ended by Russian intervention on Shevardnadze's side and the death of ex-President Gamsakhurdia on December 31, 1993. Two assassination attempts were mounted against Shevardnadze in August 1995 and February 1998 which his government blamed on remnants of Gamsakhurdia's party. He also faced separatist conflicts in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which caused the deaths of an estimated 10,000 people, as well as an assertively autonomous government in Ajaria.
The war in the Russian republic of Chechnya on Georgia's northern border caused considerable friction with Russia, which accused Shevardnadze of harbouring Chechen guerrillas and supported Georgian separatists in apparent retaliation. Further friction was caused by Shevardnadze's close relationship with the United States, which saw him as a counterbalance to Russian influence in the strategic Transcaucasus region. Under Shevardnadze's strongly pro-Western administration, Georgia became a major recipient of U.S. foreign and military aid, signed a strategic partnership with NATO and declared an ambition to join both NATO and the European Union. Perhaps his greatest diplomatic coup was the securing of a $3 billion project to build a pipeline carrying oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia.
At the same time, however, Georgia suffered badly from the effects of crime and rampant corruption, often perpetrated by well-connected officials and politicians. Shevardnadze's closest advisers, including several members of his family, exerted disproportionate economic power. It was estimated by outside observers that Shevardnadze's inner circle controlled as much as 70 per cent of the economy: his wife edited and wrote for one of the country's major newspapers, his daughter was the director of a television film studio and her husband founded one of the country's leading mobile phone networks (with American funding). While Shevardnadze himself was not a conspicuous profiteer, he was accused by many Georgians of shielding corrupt supporters and using his powers of patronage to shore up his own position. Georgia acquired an unenviable reputation as one of the world's most corrupt countries. Eventually, even his American supporters grew tired of pouring money into an apparent black hole.
Despite growing tension, both sides publicly stated their wish to avoid any violence, a particular concern given Georgia's turbulent post-Soviet history. Nino Burjanadze, speaker of the Georgian parliament, said she would act as president until the situation was resolved. The leader of the opposition Mikhail Saakashvili stated he would guarantee Shevardnadze's safety and support his return as President provided he promised to call early presidential elections.
On November 23 Shevardnadze met with the opposition leaders Mikheil Saakashvili and Zurab Zhvania to discuss the situation, in a meeting arranged by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. After this meeting, the president announced his resignation, declaring that he wished to avert a bloody power struggle "so all this can end peacefully and there is no bloodshed and no casualties". However, it was widely speculated that the refusal of the armed forces to enforce his emergency decree was the main cause of his resignation. He claimed the following day that he had been prepared to step down the previous morning, hours before he actually did, but was prevented from doing so by his entourage.
Although it was unclear precisely what role foreign powers played in the toppling of Shevardnadze, it emerged shortly afterwards that both Russia and the United States had played a direct role. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell communicated regularly with Shevardnadze during the post-election crisis, reportedly pushing him to step down peacefully. Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov flew to Tbilisi to visit three main opposition leaders and Shevardnadze, and arranged on late November 23 for Saakashvili and Zurab Zhvania to meet Shevardnadze. Ivanov then travelled to the autonomous region of Ajaria for consultations with the Ajaran leader Aslan Abashidze, who had been pro-Shevardnadze.
Shevardnadze's ouster prompted mass celebrations with drinking and dancing in the streets by tens of thousands of Georgians crowding Tbilisi's Rustaveli Avenue and Freedom Square. The protesters dubbed their actions a "Rose Revolution", deliberately recalling the peaceful toppling of the Communist government in Czechoslovakia in the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989. Observers noted similarities with the overthrow of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević in 2000, who was also forced to resign by mass protests. The parallel with Yugoslavia was reinforced when it emerged that the Open Society Institute of George Soros had arranged contacts between the Georgian opposition and the Yugoslav Otpor (Resistance) movement, which had been instrumental in the toppling of Milošević. Otpor activists reportedly advised the Georgian opposition on the methods that they had used to mobilize popular anger against Milošević. According to the then editor-in-chief of The Georgian Messenger newspaper, Zaza Gachechiladze, "It's generally accepted public opinion here that Mr. Soros is the person who planned Shevardnadze's overthrow". IWPR reported that on November 28, in an interview held with the press at his home, Shevardnadze "spoke with anger" about a plot by "unspecified Western figures" to bring him down. He said that he did not believe that the US administration was involved.
The German government offered Shevardnadze political asylum in Germany, where he is still widely respected for his role as one of the chief Soviet architects of reunification in 1990. It was reported (although never confirmed) that his family had purchased a villa in the resort town of Baden-Baden. However, he told German TV on November 24, "Although I am very grateful for the invitation from the German side, I love my country very much and I won't leave it." He has begun to write his memoirs following his enforced retirement.
When Shevardnadze joined the Georgian state council in 1992 in the chaotic aftermath of the coup against Zviad Gamsakhurdia, he presented himself as being the best candidate to guide Georgia through its difficult rebirth as an independent nation. Over time, he seemed to have become convinced that his interests and those of Georgia were the same, justifying the use of unscrupulous tactics in the apparent belief that Georgia could not survive without him. His downfall ushered in a renewed period of uncertainty in Georgian politics. One positive aspect in the eyes of many observers was the fact that, under his rule, a vigorous civil society had become well established and would possibly be better able to meet the challenge than had been the case in the early 1990s.
Shevardnadze published his memoirs in May 2006 under the title pikri tsarsulsa da momavalze, or 'Thoughts about the Past and the Future'. During the 2008 South Ossetia war, he made public his attempts to restore Georgian diplomatic relations with Russia, and continues to argue for it.