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Economy of Georgia

The Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia was one of the most prosperous areas of the Soviet Union. Political turmoil following Georgia’s independence had a catastrophic effect on the country’s economy. The cumulative decline in real GDP is estimated to have been more than 70% between 1990 and 1994, and by the end of 1996, Georgia's economy had shrunk to around one-third of its size in 1989. Today, the largest share of Georgia's GDP is produced by agriculture, followed by trade, manufacturing, and transport. Georgia's main exports are metals and ores, wine, and nuts. Although Georgia experienced some years of growth in the mid-1990s, it was significantly affected by the Russian economic crisis of 1998-99. The later years of former President Shevardnadze's administration were marked by rampant cronyism, corruption, and mismanagement. Public disaffection resulted in the Rose Revolution of 2003. The new government, led by Mikheil Saakashvili, promised to combat corruption, stabilize the economy, bring order to the budget, and reorient the government and the economy toward privatization and free markets. The government has reduced the number of taxes from 21 to six: a flat personal income tax of 20%, profit tax of 15%, 18% value added tax (VAT), a variable customs tax, and property taxes up to 1% of self-assessed value of property. Based on this simplified system and low rates, Forbes rates Georgia fourth best in the world in terms of tax burden on its citizens. It has significantly reduced the number of licenses a business requires, and introduced a "one-window" system that allows an entrepreneur to open a business relatively quickly. Strict deadlines for agency action on permits have been introduced, and consent is assumed if the agency fails to act within the time limit. The World Bank has recognized Georgia as one of the world's fastest-reforming economies, and in 2010 ranked it as the world's 11th-easiest place to do business, an improvement from 115th in 2005 and now in the same tier as countries such as Australia, Norway, and Japan. The World Bank's "Anti-Corruption in Transition 3" report places Georgia among the countries showing the most dramatic improvement in the struggle against corruption, due to implementation of key economic and institutional reforms, and reported reduction in the bribes paid by firms in the course of doing business. Estimated economic growth was 6.5% in 2010; inflation reached 10.5% in the same year. The economy contracted by 4% in 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis and the 2008 Georgia-Russia conflict. In response to the damage suffered during the conflict, 38 countries and 15 international organizations pledged to provide U.S. $4.55 billion to Georgia at the Brussels donors’ conference on October 22, 2008. The pledges amounted to approximately U.S. $3.7 billion to meet the urgent post-conflict and priority infrastructure investment needs from 2008 to 2010, with the balance going to shore up the financial and banking sector, support improvements in health and education, and promote democratic governance and free media. This package includes U.S. $1 billion pledged by the United States. Official unemployment was 16.9% in 2009. A strongly negative balance of trade has been offset by inflows of investment and assistance from international donors. Although net investment inflows decreased in the immediate aftermath of the August 2008 conflict, private investment is returning. The Brussels aid package mitigated loss of private investment in the short term, allowing the government to continue to run a current account deficit of roughly 15%-20% of GDP. In 2009, foreign direct investment (FDI) fell to $759.1 million, down from $1.56 billion in 2008 and $2.01 billion in 2007. Over 44% of FDI came from the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and Egypt. The sectors with the highest levels of FDI were industry ($204.1 million), transportation and communications ($153.6 million), hotels and restaurants ($134 million), and real estate ($132 million). From 2004 to 2009, improved collection and administration of taxes and the widespread privatization of state-owned assets greatly increased government revenues. During that period, tax collections went up from 17.8% of GDP to 24.5%. The government was able to pay off wage and pension arrears and increase spending on desperately needed infrastructure such as roads and electric energy supply systems. However, tax revenues declined commensurate with the reduction in overall growth in 2008 and 2009. As Georgia’s economy has begun to recover, government revenues have grown concurrently, reaching approximately $2.2 billion in the first three quarters of 2010, up 13.8% from 1 year previous. Prior to 2004, electricity blackouts were common throughout the country. Since late 2005, however, distribution has been much more reliable, approaching consistent 24-hour-a-day service due to increased metering, better billing and collection practices, reduced theft, and management reforms. Investments in infrastructure have been made as well. Hydroelectricity output increased by almost 27%, and thermal by 28%, from 2005 to 2006. Through conservation, new hydroelectricity sources, and the availability of new sources of natural gas in Azerbaijan, Georgia has significantly reduced its historical dependence on Russia for energy supplies. Although the Enguri hydroelectric power plant, which supplies up to 40% of Georgia’s winter electricity supply, is located in Abkhazia with the dam located in undisputed Georgia, there have not been any significant disruptions in transmission to undisputed Georgia since the 2008 conflict. The banking sector remains relatively stable, though it was challenged by the 2008 conflict and global financial crisis. The sector is open to foreign banks, and several are operating in Georgia, including ProCredit Bank, HSBC, and Bank Republic. International financial institutions and international banking institutions own equity shares in several of Georgia’s banks. Interest on commercial loans remains high, though has started to drop as competition for credit-worthy customers has increased. The economy continues to be credit-challenged, as the price of loans remains high and borrower eligibility requirements remain strict. Georgia faces many challenges in expanding trade. The major market to which Georgia has traditionally been linked is Russia. (For example, at one time nearly 100% of the Soviet Union's citrus fruits were grown in Georgia.) In 2006, Russia imposed bans on all Georgian exports of wine, fruits and vegetables, and mineral water; severed all direct transportation links; and eliminated postal service and visa issuance. (Since January 2009, direct charter flights between Tbilisi and Moscow have taken place intermittently.) Georgia has since reoriented its trade relations toward the EU, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North America, and elsewhere. Georgia’s foreign trade turnover in the first three quarters of 2010 was $4.61 billion, up 17% from 1 year earlier. The value of exports was $1.09 billion, up 33.6% from 1 year earlier, and the value of imports was $3.51 billion, up 12.6 % from 1 year earlier. Georgia’s trade deficit for the first three quarters of 2010 stood at $2.4 billion, up 5% from 1 year earlier. Turkey remains Georgia’s largest trading partner, accounting for $212 million in the first quarter of 2010, followed by Azerbaijan ($137 million) and Ukraine ($127 million). Georgian trade with the United States accounted for $39.44 million in the same quarter. During the same period, Georgia’s largest export was ferro-alloys, amounting to $57 million; oil products were its largest import, totaling $119 million. The government has made considerable strides in controlling corruption, although challenges still remain. Shortly after President Saakashvili took office, his administration dismissed nearly the entire police force and replaced its ranks with better-paid and better-trained officers, immediately decreasing the largest source for daily corruption among the population. Several high-level officials have been prosecuted for corruption-related offenses. The government continues to make anti-corruption initiatives a priority, and Georgia’s global ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index improved overall from 133rd in 2004 to 68th best in 2010. Limited confidence in the Georgian court system remains a major obstacle to both foreign and domestic investment. The government publicly recognizes the importance of addressing these concerns, which requires the combination of judicial independence and informed, honest, fair, and competent judicial decision making. International donors have targeted foreign assistance to promote democratic reform, resolve regional conflicts, foster energy independence, assist economic development, and reduce poverty. In 2004, Georgia's debt to the Paris Club was restructured. An International Monetary Fund (IMF) Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) was approved in September 2008 to limit the shock of the August 2008 conflict on the economy through fiscal stimulus financed by donors and liquidity injections into the banking system; it fills part of Georgia’s balance of payments gap that opened as a result of the conflict and global economic downturn. The SBA makes $1.17 billion of credit available and has been extended through June 2011. Other donors such as the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) assist in energy and transportation development, legal and administrative reform, health, and many other areas.

GDP (2010, first 9 months): $14.733 billion.
GDP per capita (nominal 2009): $2,455.
GDP growth (2010 estimate): 6.5%.
Inflation rate (2010): 10.5%.
Natural resources: Forests, hydropower, nonferrous metals, manganese, iron ore, copper, citrus fruits, tea, wine.
Industry: Types--steel, aircraft, machine tools, foundry equipment (automobiles, trucks, and tractors), tower cranes, electric welding equipment, fuel re-exports, machinery for food packing, electric motors, textiles, shoes, chemicals, wood products, bottled water, tourism, and wine.
Trade (2010 est.): Exports--$3.8 billion. Partners--Turkey, United States, Azerbaijan, United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Turkmenistan. Imports--$6.1 billion. Partners--Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Germany, United States, Bulgaria.
Work force (1.99 million as of January 1, 2010): Agriculture--53.5%, industry--8.9%, services--35.5%. Unemployment (as of January 1, 2010): 16.9%.

Geography of Georgia

Location: Southwestern Asia, bordering the Black Sea, between Turkey and Russia Geographic coordinates: 42 00 N, 43 30 E Map references: Commonwealth of Independent States Area: total: 69,700 sq km land: 69,700 sq km water: 0 sq km Area-comparative: slightly smaller than South Carolina Land boundaries: total: 1,461 km border countries: Armenia 164 km, Azerbaijan 322 km, Russia 723 km, Turkey 252 km Coastline: 310 km Maritime claims: NA Climate: warm and pleasant; Mediterranean-like on Black Sea coast Terrain: largely mountainous with Great Caucasus Mountains in the north and Lesser Caucasus Mountains in the south; Kolkhet'is Dablobi (Kolkhida Lowland) opens to the Black Sea in the west; Mtkvari River Basin in the east; good soils in river valley flood plains, foothills of Kolkhida Lowland Elevation extremes: lowest point: Black Sea 0 m highest point: Mt'a Mqinvartsveri (Gora Kazbek) 5,048 m Natural resources: forests, hydropower, manganese deposits, iron ore, copper, minor coal and oil deposits; coastal climate and soils allow for important tea and citrus growth Land use: arable land: 9% permanent crops: 4% permanent pastures: 25% forests and woodland: 34% other: 28% (1993 est.) Irrigated land: 4,000 sq km (1993 est.) Natural hazards: earthquakes
Environment-current issues:
air pollution, particularly in Rust'avi; heavy pollution of Mtkvari River and the Black Sea; inadequate supplies of potable water; soil pollution from toxic chemicals Environment-international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: Desertification

Government of Georgia

Georgia is a republic in which the president is elected for a term of 5 years, limited to two terms. The constitutional successor is the speaker of Parliament. Parliamentary elections on November 2, 2003 were marred by irregularities and fraud according to local and international observers. Popular demonstrations ensued in the streets of Tbilisi. Protestors carried roses in their hands in events that became known as the Rose Revolution. President Eduard Shevardnadze resigned on November 23, 2003, and Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze assumed the role of Interim President. Mikheil Saakashvili was elected to a 5-year term as president in January 2004. Parliamentary elections were re-held in March 2004 and President Saakashvili's party, National Movement, combined with Speaker Burjanadze's party, the Burjanadze-Democrats, won the majority of seats. On May 24, 2005, the Parliament passed legislation to decentralize power from the central government in Tbilisi to local government authorities in the regions, although much remains to be done before meaningful decentralization is fully achieved. Elections were held on October 5, 2006 for 1,732 members of 69 local councils and seven city governments. An early presidential election was scheduled after President Saakashvili resigned in November 2007, following the government’s violent dispersal of protestors in front of Parliament. Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze assumed the presidency on an interim basis until January elections. On January 5, 2008, Saakashvili was elected to a second 5-year term with 53.45% of the vote. Levan Gachechiladze, the unified candidate of nine opposition parties, earned 25.68%. Voters also overwhelmingly voted in two plebiscites in favor of NATO integration and spring parliamentary elections. In the May 21, 2008 parliamentary elections, President Saakashvili’s United National Movement won an overwhelming majority with 119 out of 150 seats. International observers agreed that the government made efforts to conduct the elections in line with international standards but that the elections were uneven and incomplete in their adherence to those standards. Half of the opposition boycotted the new Parliament, citing voter intimidation, lack of balance by most media, and a lack of fair adjudication of complaints, problems also noted by the OSCE. As a result, by-elections were held in Tbilisi and Adjara on November 3, 2008. In the fall of 2009, Parliament passed legislation allowing those individuals who had refused to take their seats following the May 2008 elections to assume office if they so chose. In December 2009, Parliament passed a new electoral code, providing for the direct election of Tbilisi’s mayor for the first time and the expansion of Tbilisi’s city council, among other reforms. Municipal elections held on May 30, 2010 were evaluated by international monitors from the OSCE as marking evident progress toward meeting OSCE and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections, but noted that significant shortcomings remain, including a flawed election code, the misuse of administrative resources, and lack of balanced media coverage for opposition candidates. The United National Movement won the majority of seats in each of the country’s municipal councils, including in Tbilisi, and its candidate was elected mayor of the capital. On October 15, 2010, the Parliament approved a number of amendments to the constitution, including provisions that shift political powers from the president to the prime minister following the 2013 presidential election. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission considered the October 15 constitutional amendments to contain “several important improvements” but criticized the no confidence procedures as a potential source of instability due to the time frame involved in the process and a potentially cumbersome process. Civil society activists, opposition leaders, the Venice Commission, and others had urged the Parliament to extend the period of debate which would have allowed “greater public buy-in and credibility.” Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2012 and a presidential election is scheduled for 2013. Under Georgia’s constitution, President Saakashvili is prevented from running for a third term in 2013. POLITICAL CONDITIONS In 2004, the Government of Georgia initiated a variety of important reforms. The reform process is ongoing, and will require further implementation to achieve stated objectives. Specifically, the government has taken action against endemic corruption, receiving high marks from the World Bank. These initiatives have included reform of the notorious traffic police and implementation of a fair examination system for entering the university system. Further reforms have aimed at increasing respect for and strengthening the rule of law, such as 2006 constitutional amendments intended to increase the independence of the judiciary and 2007 legislation banning ex parte communication (prohibiting parties to a case from communicating with judges during the pre-trial investigation period and the trial). Legislation establishing a legal aid office was passed, making available assistance and representation in court proceedings to those indigent who request it. The Parliament passed a new, Council of Europe-compliant Criminal Procedure Code in October 2009, which entered into force in October 2010. The code encourages accountability and professionalism in the police force by barring the use of illegally seized evidence and includes better-defined rights and due process protections for those arrested. The code provides for the right to a jury trial for capital offenses and includes measures intended to increase the speediness of trials. Implementation of judicial reforms is ongoing, and has not fully addressed claims that the judiciary remains under pressure from the executive branch. The government launched an aggressive campaign to combat trafficking in persons, and Georgia has had a Tier 1 ranking in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report since 2008. Some concerns about limitations on political pluralism and other components of democracy continue, and various opposition parties have at times taken to the streets in protest, demanding the President’s resignation and early elections. In November 2007, protesters convening in front of Parliament were violently dispersed by police. Street protests organized by the opposition from April to July 2009 were generally met with restraint by the authorities and dissipated. More recently, the political environment has stabilized, in part because of greater government inclusiveness in the reform process, the focus of some parties on participation in the May 2010 municipal elections, and reduced public interest in street protest. There continues to be concern about the state of media freedom in Georgia, and more work is required to strengthen independent media and increase public access to information. In October 2010, the Georgian Parliament introduced legislation on a media freedom law which is expected to require more transparency in offshore ownership of media outlets; the government is currently soliciting views from Georgian opposition and civil society groups and the legislation is expected to be adopted in the spring of 2011. Russia continues to occupy the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On August 26, 2008, Russia recognized these regions as independent, in violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. February and April 2010 agreements between Moscow and the de facto Abkhaz and South Ossetian authorities, respectively, establishing Russian military bases in the separatist regions for 49 years, are inconsistent with the terms of the August 12 cease-fire agreement negotiated by French President Sarkozy and signed by Georgian President Saakashvili and Russian President Medvedev. The cease-fire agreement calls for the parties to: refrain from resorting to the use of force; ensure a definitive halt to hostilities; provide free humanitarian access to the separatist regions; withdraw forces to their pre-conflict positions; and open international discussions on security and stability in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In accordance with this agreement, as well, the EU, UN, and OSCE co-host ongoing Geneva-based talks on security and stability arrangements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The governments of Georgia, Russia, and the United States send representatives to participate in the talks, and de facto authorities from Abkhazia and South Ossetia also participate, as do representatives of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian governments-in-exile. The talks have established Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms (IPRMs) designed to foster stability on the ground, including on the administrative boundary lines and in the conflict areas. Other items on the agenda include security, unfettered access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia for international monitors and human rights groups, and the return of internally displaced persons and refugees. On November 23, 2010, in addition to the pledge already made in the August 2008 cease-fire, President Saakashvili pledged a unilateral non-use of force at the EU Parliament. The de facto authorities in Abkhazia continue to restrict the rights, primarily of ethnic Georgians, to vote, participate in the political process, and exercise basic rights such as property ownership, business registration, and travel. Ethnic Georgians also have suffered harassment by Abkhaz and Russian forces, forced conscription in the Abkhaz "army," a lack of funding for basic infrastructure maintenance, and limitations on Georgian-language instruction in the Gali district schools. The mandate for the OSCE mission to monitor the 1992 cease-fire in South Ossetia and to facilitate negotiations between parties to the conflict expired in 2008. The UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) established to monitor compliance with the 1994 cease-fire agreement in Abkhazia came to an end in June 2009. Neither mandate was extended after Russia blocked consensus among participating member states in the OSCE and vetoed a Security Council resolution to extend the mandate of the UN mission. The EU maintains a monitoring presence on the undisputed Georgian side of the administrative boundary lines between the separatist regions and undisputed Georgia, but is not allowed inside Abkhazia or South Ossetia by the separatists or occupying Russian forces. Membership in NATO remains a priority for Georgia. In support of this objective, Georgia's military continues to undergo a process of reform. In September 2006, NATO granted Georgia “Intensified Dialogue” on requirements for membership in the organization. In September 2008, NATO and Georgia established the NATO-Georgia Commission (NGC) to enhance NATO’s relations with Georgia, coordinate NATO post-conflict assistance efforts, and underpin Georgia’s efforts in political, economic, and defense-related reforms. In December 2008, NATO foreign ministers agreed that Georgia should develop an annual national program under the auspices of the NGC. At the June 2010 NATO Defense Ministerial and at the November 2010 North Atlantic Council meeting in Lisbon, NATO countries reaffirmed the Alliance’s continued support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and its aspirations for NATO membership as agreed at the April 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest.
Principal Government Officials
President--Mikheil Saakashvili Prime Minister--Nikoloz Gilauri Secretary of National Security Council--Giorgi Bokeria Speaker of Parliament--Davit Bakradze Foreign Minister--Grigol Vashadze Defense Minister--Bacho Akhalaia Interior Minister--Ivane Merabishvili Justice Minister--Zurab Adeishvili Ambassador to the United States--designate to the United States--Temuri Yakobashvili Georgia maintains an embassy in the United States at 1101 15th Street NW, Suite 602, Washington, DC 20005, telephone (202) 387-4537, fax (202) 393-4537. Government Type: Republic. Constitution: August 24, 1995; amended February, April, and June 2004; December 2005; and January 2007. Branches: Executive: president with State Chancellery. Legislative: unicameral parliament, 235 members. Judicial: Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, and local courts. Subdivisions: 67 electoral districts, including those within the two autonomous republics (Abkhazia and Adjara) and five independent cities. Major political parties and leaders: United National Movement-Democrats [Mikheil Saakashvili]; Industry Will Save Georgia (Industrialists) [Georgi Topadze]; Labor Party [Shalva Natelashvili]; National Democratic Party [Bachuki Kardava]; New Rights [David Gamkrelidze]; Republican Party [David Usupashvili]; Traditionalists [Akaki Asatiani]; Union of National Forces-Conservatives [Koba Davitashvili and Zviad Dzidziguri], Georgia's Way [Salome Zourabichvili]. Suffrage: Universal over 18 years of age.

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History of Georgia

Georgia's recorded history dates back more than 2,500 years. Georgian, a South Caucasian (or "Kartvelian") language unrelated to any other outside the immediate region, is one of the oldest living languages in the world, and has its own distinctive alphabet. Tbilisi, located in the picturesque Mtkvari River valley, is more than 1,500 years old. In the early 4th century Georgia adopted Christianity, the second nation in the world to do so officially. Georgia has historically found itself on the margins of great empires, and Georgians have lived together in a unified state for only a small fraction of their existence as a people. Much of Georgia's territory was fought over by Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Mongol, and Turkish armies from at least the 1st century B.C. through the 18th century. The zenith of Georgia's power as an independent kingdom came in the 11th and 12th centuries, during the reigns of King David the Builder and Queen Tamara, who still rank among the most celebrated of all Georgian rulers. In 1783 the king of Kartli (in eastern Georgia) signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russians, by which Russia agreed to take the kingdom as its protectorate. In 1801, the Russian empire began the piecemeal process of unifying and annexing Georgian territory, and for most of the next two centuries (1801-1991) Georgia found itself ruled from St. Petersburg and Moscow. Exposed to modern European ideas of nationalism under Russian tutelage, Georgians like the writer Ilya Chavchavadze began calling for greater Georgian independence. In the wake of the collapse of tsarist rule and war with the Turks, the first Republic of Georgia was established on May 26, 1918, and the country enjoyed a brief period of independence under the Menshevik president, Noe Zhordania. However, in March 1921, the Russian Red Army re-occupied the country, and Georgia became a republic of the Soviet Union. Several of the Soviet Union's most notorious leaders in the 1920s and 1930s were Georgian, such as Joseph Stalin, Sergo Orjonikidze, and Lavrenti Beria. In the postwar period, Georgia was perceived as one of the wealthiest and most privileged of Soviet republics, and many Russians treated the country's Black Sea coast as a kind of Soviet Riviera. On April 9, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia declared independence from the U.S.S.R. Beset by ethnic and civil strife from independence in 1991, Georgia began to stabilize in 1995. The separatist conflicts in Georgia's regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain unresolved, although cease-fires are in effect. In Abkhazia, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) maintains a peacekeeping force (in fact, composed only of Russian forces), and the United Nations maintains an Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), both of which monitor compliance with the 1994 cease-fire agreement. In South Ossetia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has the prime role in monitoring the 1992 cease-fire and facilitating negotiations. A Joint Peacekeeping Force composed of Georgian, Russian, and Ossetian troops patrols the region. The Georgian Government stakes much of its future on the revival of the ancient Silk Road as a Eurasian transportation corridor, using Georgia's geography as a bridge for the transit of goods, including oil and gas, between Europe and Asia. Georgians are renowned for their hospitality and artistry in dance, theater, music, and design.

People of Georgia

Georgia's recorded history dates back more than 2,500 years. Georgian, a South Caucasian (or "Kartvelian") language unrelated to any other outside the immediate region, is one of the oldest living languages in the world, and has its own distinctive alphabet. Tbilisi, located in the picturesque Mtkvari River valley, is more than 1,500 years old. In the early 4th century Georgia adopted Christianity, the second nation in the world to do so officially. Georgia has historically found itself on the margins of great empires, and Georgians have lived together in a unified state for only a small fraction of their existence as a people. Much of Georgia's territory was fought over by Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Mongol, and Turkish armies from at least the 1st century B.C. through the 18th century. The zenith of Georgia's power as an independent kingdom came in the 11th and 12th centuries, during the reigns of King David the Builder and Queen Tamara, who still rank among the most celebrated of all Georgian rulers. In 1783 the king of Kartli (in eastern Georgia) signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russians, by which Russia agreed to take the kingdom as its protectorate. In 1801, the Russian empire began the piecemeal process of unifying and annexing Georgian territory, and for most of the next two centuries (1801-1991) Georgia found itself ruled from St. Petersburg and Moscow. Exposed to modern European ideas of nationalism under Russian tutelage, Georgians like the writer Ilya Chavchavadze began calling for greater Georgian independence. In the wake of the collapse of tsarist rule and war with the Turks, the first Republic of Georgia was established on May 26, 1918, and the country enjoyed a brief period of independence under the Menshevik president, Noe Zhordania. However, in March 1921, the Russian Red Army re-occupied the country, and Georgia became a republic of the Soviet Union. Several of the Soviet Union's most notorious leaders in the 1920s and 1930s were Georgian, such as Joseph Stalin, Sergo Orjonikidze, and Lavrenti Beria. In the postwar period, Georgia was perceived as one of the wealthiest and most privileged of Soviet republics, and many Russians treated the country's Black Sea coast as a kind of Soviet Riviera. On April 9, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia declared independence from the U.S.S.R. Beset by ethnic and civil strife from independence in 1991, Georgia began to stabilize in 1995. The separatist conflicts in Georgia's regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain unresolved, although cease-fires are in effect. In Abkhazia, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) maintains a peacekeeping force (in fact, composed only of Russian forces), and the United Nations maintains an Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), both of which monitor compliance with the 1994 cease-fire agreement. In South Ossetia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has the prime role in monitoring the 1992 cease-fire and facilitating negotiations. A Joint Peacekeeping Force composed of Georgian, Russian, and Ossetian troops patrols the region. The Georgian Government stakes much of its future on the revival of the ancient Silk Road as the Eurasian energy transportation corridor, using Georgia's geography as a bridge for transit of goods between Europe and Asia. Georgians are renowned for their hospitality and artistry in dance, theater, music, and design. Nationality: Noun and adjective-- Georgian(s). Population (2010 est.): 4.6 million. Population growth rate (2009): -0.3%. Ethnic groups (2002 census): Georgian 83.8%, Azeri 6.5%, Armenian 5.7%, Russian 1.5%, other 2.5%. Religion (2002 census): Orthodox Christian 83.9%, Muslim 9.9%, Armenian Apostolic 3.9%, Catholic 0.8%; other 0.8%; none 0.7%. Language: Georgian 71% (official), Russian 9%, Armenian 7%, Azeri 6%, other 7%. Abkhaz also "official language" in Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia. Education: Years compulsory-- 9. L iteracy (2004 est.) 100%. Health: Infant mortality rate (under 5 years, 2010)--30 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy (2008)--72 yrs.
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