Skip to comments.Georgian Survivor Shevardnadze in Biggest Challenge
Posted on 11/23/2003 6:31:07 AM PST by TigerLikesRooster
Georgian Survivor Shevardnadze in Biggest Challenge
Sat Nov 22, 3:44 PM ET
TBILISI (Reuters) - Eduard Shevardnadze, whose wily skills helped him oversee the end of the Cold War and restore post-Soviet order in his homeland, faced his biggest challenge on Saturday after his rivals proclaimed his overthrow.
In scenes reminiscent of the fall of Communism over a decade ago, protesters stormed parliament and forced him to flee after a parliamentary election which the opposition said was rigged.
Shevardnadze, who survived two assassination attempts in the 1990s, responded by declaring a state of emergency and accusing his opponents of mounting a coup.
As partner to the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he strode across continents, playing a key role in the negotiations with the West and with eastern European countries which ushered in the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism.
For the last decade he has been in charge of what has become an impoverished, violent and unstable Caucasus mountain state with a population of about five million inhabitants, its territory reduced by separatist rebellions.
He was born in a village in western Georgia during the rule of tyrannical Soviet leader Josef Stalin, a fellow Georgian, and was immersed in Communist Party work from his early 20s.
Once a teacher, Shevardnadze worked his way up through the hierarchy, rising to lead the Georgian branch of the party in 1972. He left to work with Gorbachev as Soviet foreign minister and member of the ruling politburo in 1985.
Georgia, then a Soviet republic primed by generous subsidies from Moscow, revelled in its reputation as the palm tree-lined playground of the Soviet elite. But it was convulsed by the breakup of the Communist superpower in the early 1990s.
By the time Shevardnadze returned to take power in newly independent Georgia in 1992, a civil war had reduced the center of the capital Tbilisi to ruins and ethnic conflict raged in its South Ossetia region.
SEPARATISM, CORRUPTION, POVERTY
Georgia remains dogged by separatism, corruption and poverty. Up to 20 percent of the population has fled abroad seeking work.
"I returned to Georgia at an extraordinarily difficult time, in the heat of civil war, when the country was practically destroyed and on the brink of catastrophe," he once said.
"We were able to do the impossible. We saved Georgia."
He points to a modest economic recovery since the darkest days of the early 1990s, while acknowledging rampant corruption.
Detractors see him as a Machiavellian schemer and are scornful of his conversion from atheist party boss to a supporter of Orthodox Christianity, democracy and the free market.
Falling popular support exposed a deep rift between the 75-year-old veteran leader and reformers, as political and economic problems multiplied.
Failure to secure a breakthrough on Abkhazia, a Black Sea region which broke away from Georgia in a 1992-93 war, and the presence of Chechen rebels in Georgia's lawless Pankisi Gorge hurt relations with Russia.
Shevardnadze has said Georgia's modern security and prosperity can only be met by full integration with Europe and eventual NATO (news - web sites) membership.
One success was to persuade Washington to send U.S. military instructors to train and equip Georgia's ill-trained army to fight Islamic guerrillas thought to be based in the gorge.
But since the outbreak of the current crisis, Shevardnadze has launched a rapprochement with Moscow in trying to work out a solution to calm his opponents and uphold stability.
Georgia's main opposition leader said on Saturday Shevardnadze could stay in office temporarily only if it was to usher in an early presidential election.
Shevardnadze has said repeatedly in the past that he will not run in the next presidential poll, required by 2005 under the constitution.
Shevardnadze and wife Nanuli have two children, Paata, a diplomat with UNESCO (news - web sites), and Manana, a journalist and documentary film director. They have five grandchildren.