Thursday, September 01, 2016


Eduard Shevardnadze, Former Georgian President, Dies

By Antoine Blua

Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Georgian president and Soviet foreign minister, died on July 7 at the age of 86.

In the course of his decades-long career, Shevardnadze went through numerous incarnations, seamlessly transforming himself from a tough Soviet Communist Party boss to the reformist perestroika-era foreign minister who helped end the Cold War to president of an independent Georgia.

His political career ended abruptly on November 23, 2003, when he resigned at the peak of Georgia's "Rose Revolution," a popular uprising sparked by disputed parliamentary elections:

"Now I see that what is happening would not end without blood if tomorrow I have to exercise the powers that I have in this situation," he said, as jubilant opposition supporters cheered his fall from power. "I have never been untrue to my people and so now I declare that it is better that the president resign, that everything ends."

Shevardnadze was born on January 25, 1928 in the Guria region of what was then the Transcaucasian Republic of the USSR. He joined the Communist Party in 1948 at the age of 20 and rose steadily through the ranks.

He boosted his career when, as First Secretary of a district in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, he exposed corruption by the city's top Communist official. Shevardnadze was promoted to Interior Ministry of Soviet Georgia in 1965, where -- with Moscow's support -- he continued his anti-corruption campaign, arresting tens of thousands of party and KGB officials.

Interview: Shevardnadze Wanted To Share Gorbachev's Nobel Prize


In 1972, Shevardnadze became First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, the republic's effective ruler, a post he held until becoming Soviet Foreign Minister in 1985. 

Amid growing nationalistic sentiment in Georgian society, Shevardnadze angered many of the republic due to his controversial efforts to demonstrate loyalty to Moscow -- including raising the profile of the Russian language.

Shevardnadze burst onto the world stage in 1985 when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev named him foreign minister. As Gorbachev's top foreign policy official, Shevardnadze oversaw the warming of Soviet relations with the West that eventually led to the end of the Cold War.

Archival Video: Shevardnadze Survives Assassination Attempti
July 07, 2014
In video shot on August 29, 1995, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's damaged motorcade is seen after a failed assassination attempt against him. Shevardnadze is shown in a hospital where he was treated for injuries sustained in the bomb attack. It was the second of three assassination attempts against the president. (Reuters)

WATCH: Shevardnadze Survives Assassination Attempt

In a landmark speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September 1987, he lauded arms control efforts between Moscow and Washington and called for a world free of nuclear weapons.

"The Soviet Union and the United States of America have finally pronounced together the first word of a nonnuclear lexicon," he told the assembly. "When that word becomes deeds, the world will acquire new knowledge. It will be convinced that nuclear arms and security are not synonyms and that security will be strengthened when these weapons disappear."

Back To Georgia

He also played a key role in the withdrawal of Soviet military forces in Afghanistan in 1989 and in Moscow's decision not to suppress the democratic uprisings throughout the Soviet Union's Eastern European satellites the same year.

Amid increasing differences with Gorbachev over the pace and direction of reform, Shevardnadze resigned as foreign minister on December 20, 1990, warning of a "creeping dictatorship" and accusing the Soviet leader of backsliding on efforts to democratize the country.

"I am resigning. Do not react, do not rebuke me. Let it be my contribution, if you wish, my protest against the dictatorship that is coming," he said. "I cannot conform to the events taking place in our country and with the ordeals our people will face. I still believe, I believe, that dictatorship will have no chance and future will be with democracy and freedom."

Archival Video: Rose Revolution Ousts Eduard Shevardnadzei
July 07, 2014
In video shot on November 22, 2003, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze is seen fleeing from a session of parliament as opposition leaders rush into the hall during the Rose Revolution that brought Mikheil Saakashvili to power. The following day, Shevardnadze negotiated with opposition leaders on the transfer of power, and then announced to journalists that he had resigned. (Reuters)

WATCH: Rose Revolution Ousts Eduard Shevardnadze

Eight months later, in August 1991, Shevardnadze's words appeared prophetic when hardliners in the Communist Party and KGB staged a coup against Gorbachev -- a failed effort that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After the failed coup, Shevardnadze briefly served again as Soviet Foreign Minister for one month until the USSR formally dissolved in December 1991.

Shevardnadze later returned to his native Georgia. In 1992, he stepped in to fill a power vacuum after the presidency of the newly independent country's first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, collapsed amid massive civil and political unrest. 

  • Eduard Shevardnadze in 1972 as the newly elected leader of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party
  • Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Eduard Shevardnadze at a 1981 meeting in Tbilisi dedicated to the 60th anniverary of the establishment of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.
  • Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and other officials welcome U.S. President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan in 1988 in Moscow.
  • Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze meets with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1989 in London.
  • Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze flanks Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at a 1987 news conference in Washington.
  • Eduard Shevardnadze announces his resignation as Soviet foreign minister at the 1990 Congress of People's Deputies in Moscow.
  • President Eduard Shevardnadze tours the combat zone during the 1993 Georgian-Abkhaz war.
  • Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze being treated for injuries sustained in a bomb attack on his motorcade in 1995 in Tbilisi.
  • Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze visits Boris Yeltsin at the Russian president's summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in 1994.
  • Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze gestures during a news conference in Tbilisi in 1998.
  • Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma shakes hands with his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze on arrival in Tbilisi in 2000.
  • Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze toasts with a glass of freshly extracted oil as he visits an oil field in Taribana near Tbilisi, during his 2000 election campaign.
  • Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze speaks to his wife Nanuli as their daughter Manana, two granddaughters, and daughter-in-law stand behind them during the 2000 presidential inauguration ceremony in Tbilisi.
  • Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze meets with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Chisinau, Moldova, in 2002.
  • President Eduard Shevardnadze minutes before being driven out of the parliament chamber by angered opposition leaders in November 2003.
  • Former President Eduard Shevardnadze speaks to RFE/RL's Tbilisi Bureau Chief Marina Vashakmadze in October 2009.

PHOTOS: Eduard Shevardnadze -- From Cold War Hero To Fallen Leader

Shevardnadze was elected chairman of Georgia's parliament, the effective head of state, in 1992. When the presidency was restored, he won a five-year term in 1995. He was re-elected in 2000 amid widespread claims of vote rigging.

His presidency was marred, however, by high crime, rampant corruption, and widespread poverty. He survived three assassination attempts, in 1992, 1995, and 1998. 

His presidency -- and political career -- ended with the so-called Rose Revolution, which was triggered by disputed parliamentary elections held on November 2, 2003.  After weeks of street demonstrations, crowds broke into parliament on November 23 as Shevardnadze was addressing its first session, forcing the president to flee with his bodyguards and resign.

After his resignation, Shevardnadze retired peacefully in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

In December 2003, the deposed leader explained to RFE/RL his views about ruling a country:

"Ruling the country is not an ordinary business, but this is an art, a science," he said. "Not everyone can rule a country. I have great experience in ruling the country, but it would not be true if I say that I ruled the country in an ideal way."

Shevardnadze is survived by a daughter, Manana, and a son, Paata.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report.

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