Georgia, in the pivotal Caucasus area of Eurasia, has been a source of rivalry among regional powers for centuries. With a current population of just 4.3 million, 1/4 of whom live in the capital city of Tbilisi, the populace is 86.8% Georgian — and is rapidly aging, with a median age of 38.6, fertility rate of just 1.75, and life expectancy to 77 years of age. There are more women than men, with a sex ratio 0.94 male:female; the literacy rate of 99.4% indicates a robust educational system. The economy is agricultural as well as industrial, with rich natural resources — but the youth unemployment rate, at 29.9%, is among the world’s highest.
Georgians have a very old culture, their ancestors having emerged from the Anatolia region in the 1st century BCE; they have a distinct language and alphabet, literary tradition since the 6th century, and academies of higher learning established in the 1200s. Shared values include loyalty to kin with kinship systems, honour, and hospitality.
Georgia has always been viewed as a crossroads between Asian and European cultures, a blend of Byzantine and Persian, Christian (84% Georgian Orthodox) and ‘pagan’ (animistic / indigenous). Today the country maintains an increasingly European identity. Hofstede Cultural Dimensions model identifies Georgian culture as moderately hierarchical, highly risk-averse, more short- than long-term in orientation, a blend of individualism and collectivism but significantly moreso the latter, more masculine than feminine in qualities, and low for indulgence / leisure. In comparison to its neighbouring cultural influences, Georgia is markedly less hierarchical than Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, and less long-term in focus; it is most similar to Iran, though more risk-averse and more long-term.
Following the fall of Constantinople (1453), Georgia was the only Christian realm surrounded by Muslim kingdoms, and an object of rivalry among Persia, the Ottomans, and Russia. The country was finally annexed by the Russian Empire in the early 19th century, to the empire’s collapse in 1917; it then became an independent democratic republic in 1918 to just 1921, when invaded by Red Army. An affiliated republic of the USSR since 1938, Georgia — the ‘most independence-minded of the Soviet satellites’ — declared sovereignty in 1989, and gained independence in 1991 when the USSR collapsed.
Georgia’s post-Soviet period has been somewhat tumultuous: having declared independence in 1991, later that same year a military coup took place, followed by 2 years of civil war as the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, bordering Russia, attempted to secede — areas that, in a 2008 5-day conflict with Russia, Georgia lost control over and which remain contested to this day. Georgia has become increasingly western-focused, to the concern of Russia: joining the UN in 1992 and CIS in 1993, it withdrew from the latter following the 2008 conflict — and is actively seeking EU and NATO membership today, while at the same time increasingly influenced by the US both economically and politically. Georgia’s age-old identity as the target of rival powers resurfaces once more.
The Rose Revolution took place in Georgia in 2003, a 20-day: peaceful change of power that also signified the society’s increasingly western orientation: the president was removed, triggering new elections for both president and parliament. In the aftermath, the presidential position has become largely symbolic (head-of-state is the prime minister), with a sociocultural shift toward greater alliance with Europe and a more western identity.
Gender inequality in Georgia, along with organised crime and corruption, is a matter yet to be resolved. The nation has a Gender Equality Council and Law on Gender Equality; yet, deeply rooted stereotypes prevail, with men perceived as dominant in social, economic, and political life. The wage gap is very large, at 35%, labour participation for women is at 72% but far less so in executive or other high-level positions, and female entrepreneurship is limited, the poverty risk high. Though the current (largely symbolic) president is female, women’s representation in parliament is just 11% at both national and local levels.