On April 14, Georgia celebrated the Day of Georgian Language, a national holiday that recalls the 1978 mass demonstration in Tbilisi in favor of conferring official status on the national language. A new constitution, finalized in Moscow for the Georgian SSR, had failed to include an article along those lines. On April 14 that year, some 30,000 residents of Tbilisi, including many students, demonstrated in favor of enshrining the Georgian language in the constitution as Georgia’s state language. The republic’s leadership, headed at the time by Eduard Shevardnadze as First Secretary of the Georgian Communist party’s Central Committee, supported the demand and successfully urged Moscow to give in. The event is considered a birthday of the national emancipation movement in Soviet Georgia.
On the anniversary, Shevardnadze addressed a rally held in central Tbilisi on the twentieth anniversary of the 1978 event. He revealed that he had announced Moscow’s acceptance of the demonstrators’ demand before Moscow had actually made a decision. In effect, he confronted the Kremlin with a fait accompli in order to forestall any orders to crack down and the risk of bloodshed, Shevardnadze said. It was only afterward that the Kremlin conceded the issue. Shevardnadze has yet to reveal what arguments he used in order to obtain that concession for Georgia.
Language was not the only issue on which Shevardnadze bucked the Kremlin’s policy as leader of Soviet Georgia. He was recently honored in Israel for having opened a wide door to Jewish emigration from Georgia at a time when the Kremlin as obstructed such emigration from the USSR in general.
In a statement apparently timed to Language Day, presidential spokesman Aslan Abashidze announced that Shevardnadze has no objection to a proper reburial of the remains of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The president leaves the decision up to the Gamsakhurdia family, the spokesman said. Gamsakhurdia committed suicide–or was killed, according to another version–on December 31, 1993 after an unsuccessful armed rising against Shevardnadze. The reburial offer forms part of official Tbilisi’s reconciliation policy. (Georgian Radio, April 14; Georgian and Russian agencies, April 14 and 15)
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