Human and economic geography
State of Transcaucasia. In the early 21st century. the demographic dynamics of the country (4,677,400 residents to an estimate of 2005) was characterized by a constant decrease due to the addition of a natural increase now nil and a strong emigration flow caused by the difficult economic conditions: half of the population lives in fact below the poverty line, while unemployment affects 30% of the active population.
According to Localcollegeexplorer, the country has a foreign debt of almost 2 billion dollars (about 50% of the entire GDP) and the trade balance is largely in deficit (imports are, in value, more than double that of exports). Foreign investors have shown themselves wary of a state so at risk, and only the beginning of the works (April 2003) for the construction of an oil pipeline and a gas pipeline between Baku and Ceyhan (see Azerbaijan) marked a turnaround, attracting capital from abroad (338 million dollars in 2003 against 100-150 in previous years). The oil and gas pipeline, inaugurated in 2005, allow the transport of hydrocarbons from the Caspian Sea and Central Asia to the west, bypassing Russia. A first breach in the Russian monopoly on such transport was opened in 1999 with the inauguration of an oil pipeline between Baku and the Georgian port of Supsa, on the Black Sea.
The difficulty on the part of the government to control some portions of the territory, corruption and the presence of a parallel economy, which represents more than 60% of the national one, are factors that inhibit economic recovery. Although up (8.4% in 2004 against 5.6% in 2002), GDP growth remains the lowest among those of the three Transcaucasian countries. The agricultural sector contributes to the formation of one fifth of the national income, employing over half of the active population. The climate allows the cultivation of subtropical products, such as, for only two examples, tea and citrus fruits; the production of cereals, grapes, flowers and tobacco is also discreet. The industry includes some steel and chemical plants, an oil refinery, a car factory and some textile and agri-food factories.
The widespread corruption of the state apparatus and the failure to resolve the ethnic conflicts that had troubled Georgia since its independence (1991), reappeared in all their gravity at the beginning of the 2000s, albeit in a political context strongly inclined to change. In fact, among the younger exponents of the ruling elite, educated in Europe and in the United States, a growing intolerance towards traditional methods of government and the men who were an expression of them – first of all President E. Ševardnadze (in position since 1992) – considered responsible for the lack of modernization of the country as well as for its lack of relevance at the international level.
The political clash, which therefore also assumed the connotations of a generational clash, began to manifest itself at the institutional level during 2001, when the Minister of Justice M. Saakašvili decided to resign his resignation (September), criticizing the lack of commitment of the government in fight against corruption. His complaints, added to the protests expressed by various parties for the interference of the executive in the media, fueled a growing opposition that gave rise to repeated street demonstrations. The stiffening of the executive only exacerbated the spirits, also causing the shattering of the majority party, the Union of citizens of Georgia, from which new political formations led by reformist leaders were born: Saakašvili, spokesman for the new Georgian nationalism,
In the following months the situation remained critical: the mobilization of civil society by the new parties and various opinion movements intensified – among which the one called Kmara (Basta), to which the student committees adhered, played a particularly active role – and the request for early elections and precise guarantees on the correctness of their conduct was repeatedly made. It was precisely the fraud carried out on the occasion of the elections, held in November 2003, that precipitated the situation. Believing that the victory of the pro-presidential parties, gathered in the For New Georgia block, was illegitimate, the opposition forces took thousands of demonstrators to the streets of the capital, who peacefully invaded Parliament, forcing Ševardnadze to flee. The latter, for its part, determined to avert a new civil war, he resigned, and power was assumed interim by Mrs. N. Burdžanadze. With the results of the legislative consultations canceled, new general elections were called. The presidential elections, held in January 2004, were won by a very large majority by Saakašvili (96.9% of the votes) who, assuming power, introduced (February) constitutional changes aimed, among other things, at setting 7% of the votes quorum necessary for parties to be able to enter Parliament, and to re-establish the role of prime minister (position assumed in February by Žvania and after his death in February 2005 by Z. Nogaideli). The subsequent legislative elections (March 2004) gave the victory to the coalition that had supported the newly elected president (formed by the National Movement and the United Democrats), who with 67.3% of the votes won 135 of the 150 seats up for grabs. The only other party that broke the 7% barrier was the New Right (7.5%), which were given the remaining seats. The new administration placed among its priorities the fight against corruption and the re-establishment of central authority throughout the territory, in view of the more ambitious project of assigning the country a leading role in the Caspian-Caucasian area, with the consequent reduction of Russian influence. In particular, Saakashvili aimed to bring the secessionist regions back under the control of the state, namely Agiaristan, the South Ossetia and Abkhazia, unilaterally proclaimed themselves independent, thus regaining control over their economic, customs and fiscal resources. While in the case of Agiaristan the president was able to achieve this goal relatively easily, without the use of weapons, in South Ossetia and Abkhazia the centralizing aims of the government met with firm resistance, and armed clashes reignited. In an attempt to promote dialogue, in January 2005 Saakašvili presented new proposals to guarantee the autonomy of the two regions, while restoring central authority. In foreign policy, Georgia accentuated in recent years the orientation favorable to the West, and in particular to the United States, entering into conflict with Moscow, reluctant to give up control of a crucial area for the passage of oil pipelines. In April 2005, the government reached an agreement with the Kremlin on the closure of the last two Russian military bases on the territory, which was established should take place by 2008.