THE FIRST GEORGIAN REPUBLIC (1918-1921): LESSONS FOR TODAY?
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THE FIRST GEORGIAN REPUBLIC (1918-1921): LESSONS FOR TODAY?
1 May @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
This May marks the centenary of Georgia’s declaration of independence in 1918. The country’s first republic lasted less than three years, having been crushed by a Red Army invasion in 1921. But in that time, Georgia was widely seen around the world, including by leaders of the British Labour Party who visited in 1920, as a model of an alternative kind of socialism, radically different from what the Bolsheviks were putting into practice in Russia.
There are parallels between Georgia’s three years of independence, between 1918 and 1921, and the country today. For example, Georgia’s efforts to win recognition from each of the Great Powers individually, and from the League of Nations, for its independence echo its attempts to become a member of NATO. As Georgia re-discovers its own history, particularly in this anniversary year, it is instructive to revaluate the first republic.
The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to an event with Eric Lee for a discussion on the 100th anniversary of Georgia’s independence and the lessons that can be learned from 1918.
Eric Lee is a London-based journalist and author. His most recent book is The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution 1918-192. Eric is the founding editor of LabourStart, the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement. He has been active on the democratic Left in three countries, having been born in the United States, but then living most of his adult life as a member of a kibbutz in Israel before coming to settle in the UK. Eric is the currently writing “The Eremin Letter, the story of whether Stalin had a secret career as a spy for the Tsarist police”.
On Tuesday the 1st of May the Henry Jackson Society was pleased to host Eric Lee for a talk on the themes of his new book The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution 1918-1921, on the year of the 100th anniversary of the independence declaration. He was joined by Dr Andrew Foxall of the society’s Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre, who chaired the event. Both speakers were keen to try and draw out any lessons and parallels that could be relevant for today from this fleeting period of history.
Mr Lee began with an overview of the story of the republic, recounting how it emerged from the chaos that ensnared the Russian state after the revolutionary activity of 1917 which saw the downfall of the Tsarist regime and the eventual coming to power of the Bolsheviks, along with the pressures of World War I and the Russian Civil War. After a brief period as part of the Trans-Caucasian Republic, Georgia declared independence on May 26th 1918. The ruling Georgian Social Democratic Party was largely made up of, and attracted support from, Menshevik elements of the communist movement which had infamously split from the Bolshevik wing which went on to establish its rule in Russia and the rest of the Soviet Union.
As such, Georgian socialism followed a very different set of ideals, and developed (for the short time it was able) down a very different path to its neighbours. The independent Georgian state was a multi-party system, in which women could vote and be elected to the constituent assembly, where minorities were granted full citizenship rights, and which eventually adopted what Mr Lee contends was one of the most progressive constitutions in the world at the time.
This great socialist experiment has been forgotten Mr Lee argues, because the Soviet Union came to be viewed as the embodiment of socialist values and ideas. With the collapse of the USSR these ideals have been largely discredited. There is a need today, especially for those on the left, to learn from the more moderate and liberal democratic socialist tradition, as exemplified by the short experience of the Georgian republic.
The other great lesson to be learned is regarding Georgia itself. Throughout the period of the first republic, Russia remained the ultimate security threat to Georgia, and this remains the same today. Realistically, the tiny Georgian state cannot defend against a serious Russian invasion. Before the Soviet armies invaded Georgia in 1921 Russia continued to cause problems, stocking ethnic divisions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, clearly foreshadowing the events of 2008 and beyond. In those early years Georgia understood that its only chance for securing its independence was in obtaining recognition from the great powers of the day, and from the League of Nations.
Today Georgia still remembers those lessons, reflected in its clear drive and commitment to join NATO and its necessary preference for collective security and defence.
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