Europe

Georgia country profile

Map of Georgia

Situated at the strategically important crossroads where Europe meets Asia, Georgia has a unique and ancient cultural heritage, and is famed for its traditions of hospitality and cuisine.

Over the centuries, Georgia was the object of rivalry between Persia, Turkey and Russia, before being eventually annexed by Russia in the 19th century.

Since emerging from the collapsing Soviet Union as an independent state in 1991, Georgia has again become the arena of conflicting interests.

Increasing US economic and political influence in the country has long been a source of concern for neighbouring Russia, as have Georgia's aspirations to join NATO and the EU.

Tense relations with Russia have been further exacerbated by Moscow's support for the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, leading to a brief war in August 2008.

FACTS

Georgia

Capital: Tbilisi

  • Population 4.3 million

  • Area 69,700 sq km (26,911 sq miles)

  • Major languages Georgian, Russian widely spoken

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 71 years (men), 77 years (women)

Getty Images

LEADERS

President: Salome Zourabichvili

Image copyright EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Salome Zourabichvili assumed the largely ceremonial post in December 2018

Salome Zourabichvili first came to prominence in 2004, when President Mikheil Saakashvili appointed her foreign minister. She had previously served as ambassador to France, where she was born the daughter of Georgian emigres and worked in the French diplomatic service, before obtaining Georgian citizenship.

But she soon turned against the president, accusing him of being a "dictator", although she remained independent of the Georgian Dream party that defeated Mr Saakashvili in the 2012 elections.

Georgian Dream has since reduced the presidency to a ceremonial post, and all future presidents are expected to be chosen by an electoral college, not the public.

Ms Zourabichvili stood for the post as an independent in 2018, with the backing of Georgian Dream, beating pro-Saakashvili opposition challenger Grigol Vashadze in the run-off. She is due to serve a six-year term.

Prime Minister: Mamuka Bakhtadze

Image copyright VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Mr Bakhtadze pledges to continue moves to join the EU and NATO

Finance Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze took over as prime minister in June 2018, when his predecessor Giorgi Kvirikashvili resigned following disagreements with governing Georgian Dream party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Mr Bakhtadze was 36 years old on taking office, and has a background in corporate management.

He said he would continue Georgia's efforts to join the European Union and NATO, which he described as "crucial for the country's security and stable development".

He also plans to create a new economic model to improve the standard of living of ordinary Georgians.

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty Images

Television is the most popular medium although online media are gaining ground as news sources.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, and journalists often criticise officials. Freedom House says the media are "robust and competitive, but frequently partisan".

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Georgia's modern history:

1801-04 - Most of present-day Georgia becomes part of the Russian Empire.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A religious procession outside Tbilisi's Holy Trinity Cathedral

1879 - History's best-known Georgian, future Soviet leader Iosif Dzhugashvili (Joseph Stalin), is born in the town of Gori.

1918 - Independent Georgian state declared in wake of Russian Revolution.

1921 - Red Army invades, Georgia absorbed into emerging Soviet Union.

1956 - Protests against Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's de-Stalinisation policy turn violent and prompt calls for secession from the USSR; they are brutally crushed by Soviet forces.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Houses in old Tbilisi

1989 - Demands for more autonomy in the South Ossetia region lead to violent clashes between Georgians and Ossetians. Soviet - later Russian - peacekeepers are deployed.

1991 - Georgian parliament declares secession from the Soviet Union after independence is overwhelmingly supported in a referendum.

1993 - Separatists drive Georgian troops driven out of almost all of Abkhazia, which becomes an internationally unrecognised breakaway state under Russian tutelage.

2008 - Georgia is drawn into a war in breakaway South Ossetia, which sees Russian forces intervene and evict Georgia's forces from its remaining areas of control in the region, as well as Abkhazia.

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