Power Elites in Georgia: Old and New

Power is never completely impersonal while it is in the hands of certain people or groups of holders of power who are elites and leaders. Choices which are made by elites at a certain stages of state development, the level of power and authority that they exercise in society, determine the success of the process of forming and consolidating a new regime. According to the studies of G. Field, M. Burton and D. Higley, the stability of a regime is directly linked to the degree of consensus among its factions regarding existing institutions and rules of game.[1]

Georgia’s case can serve as an example of it. During the period of independence, three political regimes have changed in Georgia: the regime of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who came to power in 1990 and was overthrown by a military coup in 1992; then the regime that was led by old Communist party functionary and former USSR Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Shevardnadze who also was overthrown as a result of a “Rose Revolution” in 2003 led by Mikhail Saakashvili. Both regime changes in 1992 and 2003 were cause by rifts in the elite.

Speaking about Georgia, the country is divided into 67 districts and five independent cities. In most cases, the local power was concentrated in the hands of the President’s governors and groups linked to him. Thus the powerful regional elites became those who had personal ties with the country’s president and they formed a separate group in the structure of the national elite during Shevardnadze’s rule.

In reality there were unlimited control over the activities of the district administration from the leadership of the provinces and also its worth to note that the spread of corruption and clientalistic relationships at all levels of government was a feature of Shevardnadze’s reign.

Speaking about the administrative elites of the districts, the head of district administration created a team of colleagues that would fall apart with the departure of the leader from the position of the head of the district. A new administration head had to balance between three different interests: his personal, the interests of the provincial and the central government and the interest of local groups. [2]

Regarding the economic elite, its formation was related to the shadow of the Soviet period. Influential economic groups attempted to establish control over the district administration and in most cases it had illegal nature of the business.

The next type of elite existing during the Shverdnadze’s regime were criminal authorities, who operated in the districts. With their own influence they interfered in conflicts between different groups of regional elites and worked mainly with the old nomenklatura-type elite and business.[3] In the post Soviet Georgian society, so called “thieves in law” acted as a regulator of the power relationships between the various subjects of power.

Another type was Mkhedrioni (“army”) , who represented armed groups active in the years 1992-1995 and played a dual role. In the civil war they were one of the pillars of Shevardnadze’s regime and to some extent gained the official status of militia, however they often displayed criminal behavior and their leaders tried to establish control over the economy. Mkhedrioni in Georgia were something more than just government in government but it was the governmental power by itself.

And the last type of old elite was a party activists. Party activists who came to power after the 2003 revolution were unable to establish themselves in the leadership of the districts as it was in 1991-1992. The lack of resources, such as money or management experience, made the party elite dependent on the support of central authorities.

Considering Georgia in studies of post-Soviet states the terms “clans” and “families” are used. One of examples was Shevardnadze and his family. The dominant position of the family member and close relatives came to the light after the “Rose Revolution”. A Chief Auditor in the Shevardnadze government profited from corruption and assisted corrupt practices for the Shevardnadze family. Another example, the father-in-law of Shevardnadze’s son, Guram Akhvlediani, was the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and the leader of the most influential of the subgroups – the “clan Akhvlediani”, which developed business interests in mineral oil and aircraft and controlled the Poti port. [4]

Shevardnadze had many relatives so everyone had its own place under the “sun”. The Banking Sector also was and is occupied by the Georgian economic elite. TBC Bank of Georgia and its group received from the state the exclusive right of bottling Borjomi mineral water, one of Georgia’s largest exports. There also are foreign investors since 2000-2001, which reflected in the disposition of forces among the economic elite of Georgia.

They are individuals who gathered wealth in Russia in the 1990s. The best example is Bidzina Ivanishvili, ex-prime minister of Georgia, who operates primarily in the area of the business of television, began broadcasting his TV Company “Imedi”. But since he decided to leave its position as prime minister, he closed the channel, which served as a tool in his political career. His “Channel 9” had been on air since 1999. By 2003, Shevardnadze’s Union had crumbled and replaced by New Georgia, which promoted a programme of independence, integration into Europe, closer relations with US and NATO, the liberation of the economy and increases in salaries.[5]

This event marked the era of new emerging elites. Five major groups or parties opposed New Georgia: the National Movement, led by Saakashvili, the United Democrats by Nino Burdjanadze with Zhvania in the background, a left Labour party, conservative New Rights party and the Industrialists.

Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II is the only constant in Georgian political Olympus of the post-Soviet era. A few years ago, right after the victory of the «Rose Revolution», Ilia II expressed its concern with the fact that there is no one, nationally-elected President of Georgia was not able to delegate his powers to a successor in lawful way. When there raised a real danger that Mikhail Saakashvili will share the destiny of the exiles of Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze, Catholicos announced as the only way of overcoming this «curse of Georgian policy»[6] is the idea of monarchy.

The opposition seized on the initiative of the head of the Church, because it is consistent with its commitment to eliminate the Institute of a strong President. Till today, Ilia II, remains a national arbiter, spreading the values and ideas, religion and attitudes within the Georgian society, which was clearly seen during the events of the parade of LGBT party in Tbilisi.

After the reign of Shevardnadze, many may say that Saakashvili eliminated corruption but still he had hidden business with Azerbaijan Company “Socar” and many others. The share of the President on each litre was about 22 tetri (= 4 cents), i.e. only from this business Saakashvili clan received approximately 24 million per month.[7] During the Saakashvili’s anti-corruption campaign was designed, first, on the destruction of some of the businesses that they did not belong, and secondly, the creation of «elite corruption».

Yes, at the bottom they destroyed corruption, and participation in corruption was only the right of the political elite of the President and his entourage. The earlier mentioned group created by two members the «Mkhedrioni», which were members of the elite groups inside «Mkhedrioni» under the name of «Baratebi», has grown into a company with a significant regional importance. Business group has extensive contacts with the political elite of Georgia. Its main companion and defender until 2008 was an influential member of the Parliament of Georgia, after which he became a member of the government who has close ties with Saakashvili.[8]

In Georgia, the «elite corruption» or in this world called intellectual corruption when all money belongs to the ruling elite, which, under the flag of democracy actually owns all business, was just such a situation which continues to exist so far: the ruling elite controls all spheres of the economy, including strategic and small businesses. On the background of absence in the country new ideas, new motivations and the existence of income only in upper layers drives us to a situation when the market is frozen, we do not develop innovative businesses and do not receive new. Such situation has developed over the years in the economy of Georgia.

After the next presidential elections, Georgia transformed from a super-presidential to super-premier Republic with a touch of design of parliamentary governance. But the twist is that in contrast to the majority of parliamentary republics of European type, the head of state is not elected in the Parliament, but by a universal suffrage. And if the President is a person, disloyal to Prime Minister, he will soon become a headache for the government. That’s how the current president Margvelashvili was elected, being under the protectorate of ex-prime minister Ivanishvili.

Georgian elite mainly studied abroad and those who made the rose revolution were trained abroad and they had work experience in organization of such activities; and we can say that to the leader positions came more broad developed generation. During the Communists’ the knowledge of Russian language was obligatory because it gave access to all the resources planned by the Moscow Imperial center, it follows that Russian was the oldest language of the elite.

Today the English language has become the second language of the elite which lobbies its interests both within the country and abroad.
Attempts of first president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia to declare that the country needs to move in the direction of EU, failed. Eduard Shevardnadze also made some successful steps in that direction but the civil war in Georgia and absence of support from the West forced him to take pro-Russian side. Already Mikhail Saakashvili made significant efforts towards more close relations with EU.

The question of integration is one of those which coincided with the interests of ruling coalition of “Georgian dream” party and the party of ex-president Saakashvili. David Darchiashvili, a deputy of Georgian parliament and chairman of the issues on European integration Committee supported the political and economical integration, however many businessman and entrepreneurs assured that the economical advantageous for Tbilisi are very far perspective.

Also the fact that the relations with Russia improved after the defeat of Saakashvili, Georgian political and economical elite don’t want to disturb the development of trade relations. A perspective to sit on two chairs, EU and Russian, for our elite is seen as easily achievable goal.


[1] Different Governments in Tbilisi, same people in regions: local elites in the years of independence. Research paper. Giorgi Gotua. http://www.ge.boell.org/downloads/Giorgi.pdf

[2]Different Governments in Tbilisi, same people in regions: local elites in the years of independence. Research paper. Giorgi Gotua. Page 207 http://www.ge.boell.org/downloads/Giorgi.pdf

[3] Ibid page 208

[4] Power Elites in Georgia: Old and New. Research paper. Chapter 9. Zurab Chiaberashvili and Gigi Tevradze. file:///C:/Users/user Downloads/10_ChapterIX.pdf

[5] Power Elites in Georgia: Old and New. Research paper. Chapter 9. Zurab Chiaberashvili and Gigi Tevradze file:///C:/Users/user Downloads/10_ChapterIX.pdf

[6] Через революции-К царству. http://www.ogoniok.com/5023/16/

[7]Режим М. Саакашвили: что это было. М.С.Григорьев. Москва 2013. Стр 19 http://democracyfund.ru/userfiles/%D0%9C_%D0%A1_%D0%93%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B3%D0%BE%D1%80%D1%8C%D0%B5%D0%B2%20%D0%A0%D0%B5%D0%B6%D0%B8%D0%BC%20%D0%A1%D0%B0%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%88%D0%B2%D0%B8%D0%BB%D0%B8%20-%20%D1%87%D1%82%D0%BE%20%D1%8D%D1%82%D0%BE%20%D0%B1%D1%8B%D0%BB%D0%BE.pdf

[8] Купатадзе А. Изменения после изменений: цветные революции и организованная

преступность в Грузии, Украине и Киргизии (август 2010 г.) // http://research-repository.st-andrews.ac.uk/bitstream/10023/1320/6/Alexander%20Kupatadze%20PhD%20thesis.PDF

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