Europe

Georgia country profile

  • 22 January 2016
  • From the section Europe
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.

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: Giorgi Margvelashvili

Image copyright Getty Images

Giorgi Margvelashvili took office in November 2013, bringing to an end the decade-long presidency of charismatic reformer Mikhail Saakashvili.

He cruised to victory with around 62% of the vote at an election the previous month.

Mr Margvelashvili, a former philosophy lecturer, assumed a weakened role because constitutional changes that come into force with his inauguration transferred a raft of key powers from the president to the prime minister.

He had little political experience and was seen as beholden to billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose coalition drove Mr Saakashvili's party from power in the 2012 parliamentary elections.

Mr Ivanishvili stepped down as prime minister after Margvelashvili's inauguration, saying his goal - ousting Mr Saakashvili - was now done. He denied accusations he would continue to run the show from the sidelines.

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty Images

Television is the main source of news, and accounts for the lion's share of the advertising market. There are dozens of cable operators and a handful of major commercial stations. Newspaper readership is generally low.

Government-funded Georgian Public Broadcasting has replaced the former state radio and TV. The state has relinquished other media assets, including newspapers and a news agency.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, and journalists often criticise officials. US-based Freedom House says Georgia "has the freest and most diverse media landscape in its region," although "objective news is only available from a few sources."

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Georgia's 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 Krushchev'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 peacekeepers are deployed.

1990 - Nationalist coalition wins multi-party parliamentary elections; former dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia becomes chairman of parliament.

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

1993 - Georgian troops driven out of Abkhazia by separatist forces.

1994 - Georgian government and Abkhaz separatists sign a ceasefire agreement, paving the way for the deployment of a Russian peacekeeping force in the region.

1995 - Eduard Shevardnadze wins elections to the restored post of president.

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