"Oh, fatherland! How I think of you now," lamented Euripides' Medea, the princess of ancient Colchis -- today part of the republic of Georgia. "In every way the situation is bad." Modern Georgians understand her sentiment only too well. In the first decade and a half since their independence from the Soviet Union, they have faced civil war, separatist movements, economic malaise, rigged elections, and dysfunctional government.
Recently, however, Georgians have started to take matters into their own hands. In November, they staged a bloodless revolt against their president, Eduard Shevardnadze, for overseeing fraudulent parliamentary elections. When Shevardnadze tried to open the new legislative session, protesters took over parliament peacefully, some handing out roses to the police. At first, Shevardnadze responded by declaring a state of emergency, but he soon thought better of his legacy. Within days, he agreed to resign. New presidential elections, which international observers deemed generally free, were held on January 4, 2004. By an overwhelming majority, the vote awarded the presidency to Mikheil Saakashvili, a 36-year-old Columbia University-educated lawyer who had led the demonstrations.
During his brief electoral campaign and tenure as president, Saakashvili has made all the right moves. He has promised to fight corruption, to reform government -- from the structure of the constitution to taxation policy -- and to improve relations with Russia while maintaining strong ties with the United States. What his government must do first, however, is find a way to win the allegiance of all Georgia's inhabitants, including staunch secessionists in the north and a prickly potentate along the Black Sea. Before it can become a real democracy, Georgia must become a real state.
The peaceful ouster of Shevardnadze was a signal event in the politics of Eurasia -- but only because it is unlikely to be repeated elsewhere in the region. Georgia is the only member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the association of 12 former Soviet republics, that can be said to have genuinely democratic aspirations. Some -- Russia,
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