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Georgia/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Nina Gunia-Kuznetcova

Following the October Revolution of 1917, the Republic of Georgia emerged as an independent democratic state. While independence was short lived (1918-1921), it was an important period during which the foundations for cultural policy were established. The main aims of Georgian cultural policy were to introduce democratic processes and to preserve national identity. An important achievement was the opening of the State University (1918) as a centre for scientific and cultural life.

The period of Soviet influence was as dramatic in Georgia as in other Republics of the Soviet Union. Stalin's rule (1929-1953) was characterised as a period of unconditional and implicit power over the official culture and ideology. Brezhnev's time in office (1964-1981) was considered a period of cultural stagnation. While the grip of Stalin's totalitarian system loosened, a conflict began to emerge within Georgia between the Communist system and the proponents of a Georgian national culture. Following perestroika, this conflict intensified, not only between the communistic bureaucracy and the national liberation movement but also between Soviet culture and Georgian culture based on non-ideological arts.

During this period, two events had a dramatic effect on the development and establishment of contemporary Georgian culture and identity. In 1978, following the adoption of a new Soviet constitution in Moscow, a proposal was put forward to change the constitutional status of the Georgian language as the official language of Georgia, which met with mass protest. These marches led to the formation of the national liberation movement and the April 9th 1989 anti-Soviet demonstration which was quashed by the Soviet army and led to several tragic deaths.

The paternalistic cultural policy pursued by the Soviet Union did have some positive influences on Georgian culture. It created an extensive network and well-functioning infrastructure of public cultural institutions; a well-shaped and widely accessible academic system of education supporting the arts and science; high culture, which was understood as a neutral link in state building; and a growth in mass culture consumption. Despite the ideological influences of official Soviet culture - nationalist in its shape and socialist in its content - there were some important creative achievements in Georgian theatre, cinema, art and music, created by outstanding artists and cultural professionals. These achievements helped to develop an understanding of culture as a system of values which determines and forms national identity and, as a result, unites the nation.

The post-Soviet period in the history and cultural development of Georgia is complicated and contradictory. Elections were held in 1990 and on April 9th 1991 the Parliament of Georgia unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence (under the first Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia) which established the Republic of Georgia as a new independent state. Between 1991 and 1992, Georgia lost control over the region of Inner Kartli, formerly the South-Ossetian Autonomous Territory, the Tbilisi War broke out and the government of Gamsakhurdia was overthrown. Edward Shevardnadze came to power (March 1992) and the political situation stabilised. Peace was established in Georgia and there was an increased drive towards building a new state. This did not last long, however. Supporters of the former president Gamsakhurdia engaged in successful military operations in Abkhazia. On September 27th 1993, Georgian authorities lost control over almost all of the territory of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic.

During the period 1993-2003, Georgia faced financial problems and engaged in a political overhaul aimed at balancing national and liberal-democratic ideas. The cultural infrastructure that remained from the Soviet period required reform. Cultural policy in Georgia had no clear strategic focus, even though it was declared as one of the state's priorities. Support for the arts was the extent of the reach of the state's policies.

The Rose Revolution took place on 23rd November 2003, after which President Shevardnadze retired. Since 2004, the country has being undergoing continuous reforms, including those of a constitutional nature.

During the period 1990-2004, Georgia had 6 different Ministers of Culture. Since 2004, cultural affairs, sports and youth affairs have been combined into one Ministry. Structural changes within the Ministry are ongoing.

Georgia has experienced many political and socio-cultural changes during the 20th century. Those which occurred over the past 25 years were the result of revolution and conflict; the most recent in the territory of so-called South Ossetia, and the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic (August 2008). Given these developments, it has been extremely difficult to install a sustainable system of policy development. In the field of culture, it has indeed prevented the creation and implementation of a long-term cultural strategy.

In October 2012 Parliamentary elections were held whereupon the power for the first time was handed over peacefully.

Chapter published: 12-02-2019

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