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35 Years After April 9

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Friday, April 12, 2024
If we look at the history of post-Soviet Georgia, which is only a third of a century today, and observe the development of events, we will definitely come to April 9, 1989, which turned out to be a key date and greatly determined the further development of events.

On April 9, 1989, according to the decision made in Moscow, the units of the Soviet Army specially brought to Tbilisi brutally dispersed the protesters gathered on Rustaveli Avenue, whose main demand was the restoration of Georgia's independence. The purpose of the brutal dispersal was to intimidate the national movement and arrest its leaders. The Kremlin had prepared a 'justification', which was officially announced - it turns out that "the protesters were planning a coup".

The brutal crackdown and the introduction of military rule in Tbilisi led to the opposite result of the Kremlin's assumption. The Soviet government was completely discredited, the so-called 'moderates' lost their authority in the national movement and the public mood was radicalised, the members of the Communist Party publicly threw away their party mandates, the funeral of the dead on April 9 actually turned into silent protest demonstrations.

The 'legislative body' of the communist government - the Supreme Council, which had previously been of a formal nature, suddenly began to make decisions recognizing the Soviet occupation of Georgia in 1921 and effectively declaring the Soviet government illegal.

In the elections of October 28, 1990, the Communist Party was defeated. On the second anniversary of the April 9 tragedy, Zviad Gamsakhurdia announced the restoration of Georgia's independence based on the referendum held on March 31, 1991.

At that time, Gamsakhurdia also noted that Georgia was facing a great ordeal and a tough battle was waiting for it with the Russian-Soviet Empire. But then probably no one could have imagined how long and bloody this battle would turn out to be.

No one could have imagined that on the 35th anniversary of April 9, 1989, people would gather again on Rustaveli Avenue, in front of the Parliament building, and along with honouring the people who died then, they would protest the attempt to return the country to the orbit of Russia, whose current leader is the war with the neighbouring post-Soviet states and the agency left over from the Soviet period or created later. He is trying to restore 'historical Russia' through use.

The round date makes people look to the past, to evaluate achievements and failures. What did Georgia achieve and what did it fail to achieve in the last 35 years?

The most recent academic research on this topic was conducted a few years ago - The Future of Georgia, Research report, CRRC Georgia, 2021. However, the underlying estimates are likely to remain unchanged.

The population's attitude towards April 9, 1989 turned out to be as follows: according to a significant part of the respondents, "The 9th of April, 1989 was a positive event, because it helped Georgia on the road to independence."

21% of respondents fully agreed with this and 46% agreed. But even more think that April 9, 1989 was a tragedy. 66% of respondents fully agreed with this opinion and 29% agreed.

The majority of the population (64%) perceives the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 as a positive event for Georgia. The minority of the population did not agree with this opinion (28%), a small part did not have an answer to the question (8%), or did not want to (1%). Young people are more likely to agree that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a positive event.

Residents of Tbilisi, people with higher education and relatively affluent people are more likely to perceive the dissolution of the Soviet Union positively.

Georgia has gone through two conflicts on ethnic grounds, with the active involvement of Russia, and the 2008 war with Russia. The majority of the population thinks that ethnic conflicts and the 2008 war could have been avoided. According to 57%, the wars in the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region in the 1990s could have been avoided. Only 18% disagree with this, and many do not know (23%).

Regarding the August 2008 war, the majority of respondents (55%) did not agree with the opinion that everything was done to prevent the war; Only 28% agreed with this.

The study also included the question of what was the most negative outcome of the 2008 war, apart from the occupation of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. According to the majority, the most negative result was the death of people (62%).

The attitude of the respondents towards the first president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, is generally positive. The majority thinks that Gamsakhurdia was a true patriot (81%) and his overthrow was a bad event for Georgia (76%). According to half of the population (50%), the country would not have gained independence without Gamsakhurdia. The number of people who disagreed with the opinion that Gamsakhurdia was responsible for the war in Abkhazia (47% disagreed and 20% agreed) and Tskhinvali region (45% disagreed and 21% agreed) was significant. Almost a third of the population did not have answers to this question. Citizens found it difficult to name the successes of Shevardnadze's government (28%), or said that this government had no successes (34%). One in nine people (12%) said that the biggest success of Shevardnadze's government was gaining international recognition of Georgia's independence. According to 5%, the creation of the East-West energy corridor. All other answers were given by 5% of the population or less.

In contrast to the successes of the Shevardnadze government, the population has a clearer idea of its failures. A fifth of the population (21%) named economic collapse as the biggest failure. It was also considered a significant failure that nothing was done to prevent wars in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region (11%), failed to eliminate electricity shortages (9%), failed to manage the country effectively (7%), allowed a lack of law and order (6%) and more.

Unlike Shevardnadze's government, people have clearer opinions about the biggest successes and failures of the 'United National Movement' government. About equal parts of the population named crime fighting / law and order and economic growth (24% and 23% respectively). As for failures, the largest part of the population (27%) cited human rights violations, and 25% think that they could not prevent the 2008 war.

The survey also included questions about the successes and failures of the Georgian Dream government. The most common answer was that the current government has no success. The second most common answer was 'I don't know' (13%). The third most frequently mentioned answer was better protection of human rights (11%). The effective management of the risks of the Covid-19 pandemic (9%), the introduction of a universal insurance program (9%), visa-free travel to the European Union (7%), the implementation of the hepatitis C eradication program (5%), and the maintenance of peace (4%) were considered a success.

The biggest failures of the Georgian Dream were weak economic growth (26%), violation of the terms of the electoral system (9%) and 'Gavrilov's night' (8%), and it was also considered a failure that it could not fulfil the promise of restoring justice (8% ).

Overall, citizens are more optimistic. The majority (48% do not agree and 6% do not agree at all) with the opinion that "after gaining independence, there have been more failures than successes in the history of Georgia."

Even more disagree (56% strongly disagree and 7% strongly disagree) with the opinion that "after independence, Georgia has never developed in the right direction."

35 years after April 9, the majority of respondents would consider the EU membership candidate status a success and would actively protest against all attempts to hinder the progress towards European integration.