In the chaotic aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Georgia, which had been part of the Russian Empire since the early 19th century, took the occasion to declare itself an independent and democratic Republic. It was the 26th May 1918, a day which is still today celebrated as the country’s Independence Day. However, it wasn’t meant to last: it barely survived three years as an independent country before being engulfed by the Soviet Union in 1921. It took many more years before it re-instated its independence on the 9th April 1991, but due to its historical and political significance, the 26th May remains an important date for Georgians. This year marks the centenary of Georgia’s declaration of independence. To celebrate, here are some interesting facts you might not know about the country!
1 – Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the entire world. From archaeological and archaeobotanical studies, it appears that wine production has existed in the Southern Caucasus since approximately 6000 BC. The traditional Georgian wine-making method, which uses large clay jars, is called qvevri for the fermentation process. It’s so unique that is has even gained a place in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List!
2 – Between 2004 and 2006, the country went through an unusual reform of its police force. Newly elected President Mikheil Saakashvili, capitalising on his popular support, decided to undertake the daunting task of reforming the corrupted police services, which were seen by Georgians as the epitome of the State’s dysfunction. By the end of 2006, his administration had abolished the KGB-style security ministry and related police unit and dismissed every member of the country’s uniformed police (approximately 30 thousand officers), creating a new force from scratch.
3 – In 2007, the World Bank dubbed it “the number one economic reformer in the world”. That year, the country improved from rank 112th to 18th in terms of ease of doing business and its real GDP growth rate reached 12%. Since then, Georgia hasn’t stopped developing: the 2018 World Bank report confirmed it to be the highest ranked economy in Europe and Central Asia, and it even claimed a place in the top ten countries worldwide.
4 – According to the country’s Constitution, the Parliament should have two separate chambers: a Council of the Republic and a Senate. To this day, the Parliament remains unicameral.
5 – NASA sent a Georgian song in space. In 1977, when the Voyager 2 was launched on its interstellar mission, it included an audio-visual disk in the event that the spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life-forms. This contains 116 images, different natural sounds, a range of scientific information, spoken greetings in 59 languages, and 27 traditional songs from various countries. Chakrulo, a polyphonic folk song usually sung at festivals and celebrations, was chosen to be one of them.
6 – Georgia has a living culture of three different writing systems: Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli. The evolution of its written language has produced different coexisting scripts, each one reflecting a different aspect of this country’s diverse cultural and social identity. The educational system is based almost exclusively on Mkhedruli, but the other two continue to live on amongst the community of the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Asomtavruli, in particular, is still used intensively in iconography and engravings.
7 – Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was actually Georgian, born in the town of Gori. His cult survives in his hometown and support for his figure is still widespread amongst the older generations in the country.
8 – Body contact between men is the norm in Georgia. Hand-holding and hugging in public are normal and in fact expected. But don’t let that fool you into thinking homosexuality is tolerated. Research shows that its inhabitants express overwhelmingly negative attitudes towards the LGBTQ community, with over 85% indicating that homosexuality is never acceptable. This makes it the least accepted amongst all the marginalised groups in the country. Interestingly, biphobic attitudes are even stronger than the homophobic sentiment. Bisexuality is perceived as a fluid and unstable orientation, thus making it less desirable.
9 – Georgia has an incredible ecological diversity, boasting 12 different climate zones. You can find everything, ranging all the way from subtropical semi-desert to alpine climate.
10 – Georgians call their country Sakartvelo, which means “the land where Kartveli live” (Kartveli being the historical inhabitants of Kartli, the central region of Georgia). There are many theories concerning where the English version of Sakartvelo might have come from. The most popular one is that the name was coined by Christian reformers in the Middle Ages, inspired by the country’s patron St. George. However, modern scholars consider this theory erroneous and have traced the etymology back to the Persian root gurğ/gurğān (wolf/land of wolves).