Demography and economic geography. – State of Transcaucasia. According to Homosociety, the population estimated for 2014 by UNDESA (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) is 4,322,842 residents, with a slight decrease compared to the last census of 2002 (4,371,535 residents), the result of an almost zero natural increase (0.5 ‰) and, vice versa, of a high emigration flow (−3.25 ‰). There is a huge number of refugees, about 206,000, following the independence movements in Abkhasia and South Ossetia, which resulted in the conflict with Russia in 2008. About 53% of the population resides in urban areas, of which the most populated is the capital, Tbilisi (1,171,200 residents in 2013). In addition to the Georgian majority (83%), the Azerbaijani (6.5%), Armenian (5.7%) and Russian (1.5%) ethnic groups live together in the country, with high percentages of the population therefore they speak a language other than Georgian. In addition to the official Christian-Orthodox religion, at least 10% of the population declares themselves to be Muslim; the Armenian-Gregorian and Catholic groups were also consistent. Living conditions remain rather backward: more than 6% of the population does not have access to drinking water and health services, unemployment is 15% and a fifth of the residents live below the poverty line. More than half of the active population is employed in the primary sector, which contributes about 8.5% of GDP.
Economic conditions. – The economic trend in recent years has recorded considerable fluctuations, first with growths of over 10% thanks to the inflow of foreign capital in the years 2005-07 (following the construction of the Baki-Supsa, Baki-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipelines and the Baki-Tbilisi-Erzurum from the Caspian Sea to western markets), then with negative peaks (-3.8% in 2009) as a result of the Russian-Georgian conflict and the contraction of foreign aid and remittances with the explosion of the financial crisis. In 2013, the recorded growth was 3.2% (compared to 7.2% in 2011), with a GDP of US $ 16.1 billion, to which aid from abroad still contributes more than 4%.
History. – In the first decade of the 21st century, the socio-economic and political situation in Georgia was still precarious. With Michail Saakašvili, elected head of state in January 2004 with 96% of the votes, the country’s economy had strengthened and some structural problems such as widespread corruption had been addressed with some success; however large sections of the population were still excluded from the benefits of growth and the democratization process was proceeding slowly. This situation generated growing discontent towards Saakašvili, culminating in protests in November 2007 in which tens of thousands of Georgians took to the streets in Tbilisi. The president reacted with force and imposed a state of emergency, which was then lifted following international pressure. With the early presidential elections agreed for January 2008, these saw the confirmation of Saakašvili, with a widely reduced consensus (just over 53% of the votes) compared to 2004; while in the following May vote for the renewal of Parliament the candidates of the president’s political force – the United National Movement – won 119 seats out of 150.
In the month of August, tensions rekindled on the front of the self-proclaimed independent Republic of South Ossetia, which Saakašvili tried to restore to Georgia it lasted for a few days, also involving the other self-proclaimed independent Republic in Georgian territory, Abkhasia. With the mediation of Nicolas Sarkozy – then president of the European Council – on 12 August a ceasefire agreement was reached; two weeks later Russia recognized the statehood of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see unrecognized states), relying on the previous recognition of Kosovo (February 2008) by numerous states.
New demonstrations against Saakašvili occurred in 2009, without the president giving in to requests for his resignation; in the same year, a constitutional revision process also began which led to the approval, in October 2010, of some amendments that significantly broadened the powers of the prime minister. The opposition accused Saakašvili of having promoted the reform with the aspiration of becoming prime minister, since he was no longer able to compete in the presidential elections by virtue of the constitutional limit of the two terms. However, the United National Movement was defeated in the subsequent parliamentary elections (Oct 2012) by the newly formed Georgian Dream coalition, led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanišvili who assumed the post of prime minister. The ‘cohabitation’ between a premier and a president belonging to opposing political forces ended in October 2013 when, after politically convulsive months in which important exponents of the United National Movement had been arrested (including former premier Vano Merabišvili, then sentenced), Georgian Dream candidate Giorgi Margvelašvili won the presidential elections with over 62% of the vote. In the month following the elections, Ivanišvili resigned, leaving the post of prime minister to Irakli Garibašvili. In August 2014, an arrest warrant was issued against former President Saakašvili, accused of abuse of power and in the meantime moved to the United States. He was then appointed as a consultant to the Ukrainian government and Kiev in 2015 denied his extradition to Georgia. An arrest warrant was issued against the former president Saakašvili, accused of abuse of power and in the meantime moved to the United States. He was then appointed as a consultant to the Ukrainian government and Kiev in 2015 denied his extradition to Georgia. An arrest warrant was issued against the former president Saakašvili, accused of abuse of power and in the meantime moved to the United States. He was then appointed as a consultant to the Ukrainian government and Kiev in 2015 denied his extradition to Georgia.
Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia
In international politics, during the Saakašvili presidency, Georgia had accentuated its projection towards the West by aspiring in particular to a quick admission to NATO, which however did not materialize. The objectives of joining the Atlantic Alliance and of closer relations with the EU – with which Georgia signed an Association Agreement in June 2014 – were also part of the foreign policy guidelines of Sogno Georgiano, which however aimed at the same time to an improvement in relations with Russia. After the events of August 2008, following which Georgia decided to leave the Commonwealth of Independent States (see CSI), the first signs of a thaw had already been registered with Saakašvili, with the Georgian decision to drop the veto on Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization (Nov. 2011). A further step forward was then represented in 2013 by the lifting, by the Russian side, of the embargo on Georgian wines and water in force since 2006.