From “showcase of the USSR” to “museum of Soviet occupation”: a short memory of Georgia

Georgian SSR. Source: visualhistory.livejournal.com

Non-lifting account

Georgia has long been struggling with the Soviet legacy, turning into overt anti-Russian rhetoric. The country has long since replaced the term “Great Patriotic War” with the international “Second World War”. At the same time, in some places there are still paradoxical inconsistencies: on the remaining monuments, inscriptions in Russian still remind of the Great Patriotic War, and in English it is already “WWII 1939-1945”.

Since 2006, Georgia is the only country in the South Caucasus where there is a “museum of Soviet occupation”. This is a propaganda exposition designed to distort the history of one’s own country and tarnish the Soviet period. The Soviet Occupation Museum is just a hall of the national museum in Tbilisi, but the very fact of the presence of such a “cultural” object is repeatedly replicated on nearby signs.

One of the results of this policy was the formation of anti-Russian sentiments in the public. Five years ago, the American National Democratic Institute NDI conducted a survey in Georgia on the subject of Russia’s influence on the country. 76%, that is, the overwhelming majority, answered that the influence was negative, 12% – positive, the rest were undecided. Subsequent NDI polls only confirmed the indicated ratios, while supplementing with the image of Russia as a source of threat to Georgia (67% of respondents think so). “Continuation of the occupation of Georgian territories” – this is how the signing by Russia of treaties with the unrecognized republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is interpreted.

One of the episodes of life under “occupation”. Source: visualhistory.livejournal.com

Such close attention of the Georgian leadership and the public to the past held under the Soviet “occupation” leaves the real state of affairs in the shadows. Since Stalin’s times, the Georgian SSR has been in a privileged position. This was largely due to the special attitude of the “father of nations” to his small homeland.

In Georgia, the leadership has always been appointed from local elites who are well aware of the specifics of the region. This was not practiced in all republics. Georgian winemaking was actively promoted by the top of the Kremlin in foreign markets, and the Black Sea coast was built up with luxurious holiday homes and villas of the party nomenclature.

With the death of Stalin, unrest passed in Georgia: the people were alarmed by the debunking of the personality cult and the loss of possible preferences from the center. At the same time, a movement for the country’s independence was formed among the youth, which resulted in a bloody clash on March 9, 1956. During the Tbilisi riots, 22 people were killed. The nascent uprising was nevertheless suppressed, but the fear of centrifugal and nationalist Georgian sentiments in Moscow remained until the collapse of the union state. Since then, the famous has appeared: “The poorest Georgian is richer than any Russian.” Resources poured into Georgia like a river.

Soviet Occupation Museum. Source: ru.wikipedia.org

Along with Armenia and the Baltic states, Georgia was a member of the elite club of “showcases of socialism”. This meant, first of all, the maximum possible liberalization of the administrative apparatus in the conditions of the USSR. Even the leadership of the KGB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs was appointed from the locals. Georgia was the richest republic, while its viability depended entirely on the resources of the RSFSR. Since the Stalinist era, the level of total cost per capita consumption of goods and services has been four to five times higher than that of production. Four to five times! Not a single republic could afford this. In the RSFSR, for example, consumption fell short of the production level by 30%. Naturally, such a situation in the Georgian SSR suited everyone, especially the party nomenklatura, which constantly forced new allocations from Moscow. In short, the main argument was: “Without money, it will be difficult for us to keep the nationalists with their demands for autonomy.”

Unique conditions for land tenure are being created in the country: 7-8% of agricultural land was in private hands, not collective farm property. And this small share provided up to 70% of the total crop of the republic, which was successfully sold with great profit in Moscow and Leningrad. Petro Mamradze, director of the Tbilisi Institute for Management Strategy, says:

This long-term activity was so profitable that traders, their families and relatives could buy Moskvich and Zhiguli, or even Volga every year.

What about now? Mamradze continues:

An astonishing figure: 80% of the foodstuffs consumed by the Georgian population comes from abroad. We have become a banana republic, but without our own bananas, we also have to import bananas. From year to year, we now have a catastrophically negative export-import balance – more than $ 6 billion every year.

Rough estimates of gratuitous financial injections into the Georgian SSR for the entire period of the “occupation” are close to half a trillion dollars. Without these resources, modern Georgia could hardly provide the population with even such, not the highest standard of living. Will the country (purely hypothetically) be able to at least partially pay for such a hated Soviet legacy? The question is rhetorical.

High salaries, low prices

From the 60s to the end of the 80s, the State Planning Committee of the USSR recorded very interesting statistics in Georgia. Wages, pensions, scholarships and various benefits were on average 20% higher than in the RSFSR, and prices were 15-20% lower. All this allowed the average Georgian family to live on a grand scale. For example, such a number of cars as on the streets of Soviet Georgia could be seen, perhaps, only in Moscow. Archival photographs show real traffic jams, unthinkable anywhere in Tashkent, Sverdlovsk or Sochi. At the same time, most of the indigenous population did not occupy themselves with work in the manufacturing sector – Russians prevailed there (up to 60%). But in the service sector, on the contrary, 50% were for the Georgians and one quarter for the Russians. Moreover, in 1959 the share of Russians in the republic was over 10%, and in 1989 it was only 6.3%.

Georgia was not only “pumped up” with money and goods from the center, but also actively developed its infrastructure. In the republic, the best roads in the Union were built (which, due to the landscape, were very expensive), comfortable housing, first-class sanatoriums and hospitals were erected. And, finally, by the mid-70s, all of Georgia was supplied with gas (modern Russia seems to have five to ten years to go before that).

It is necessary to separately mention the fate of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the section of the subsidized pie. On average, these provinces in Soviet times received together no more than 5-7%. Compare with 15% for Adjara. Therefore, it is impossible to talk about any special attention of the Georgian leadership to these annexed territories.

A little more about the special situation of the republic. During the years of the USSR, Georgian enterprises could keep up to half of their earnings in rubles and a third in foreign currency. For comparison: in the RSFSR, the state was given 75% and 95%, respectively. Such is the dependent arithmetic.

Source: visualhistory.livejournal.com

But Moscow’s patronage was not so easy: in the 70s, corruption flourished in Georgia. Initially, it consisted of bribery of Moscow officials for the next financial influence in a particular industry. Over time, this became a powerful basis for the development of the shadow sector of the Georgian economy, or, simply, the formation of a criminal underground. Up to a third of all thieves in law in the entire Soviet Union were Georgians, despite the fact that only 2% of the population of the USSR belonged to the Georgian nation. The influence of criminals from Georgia on the entire country can hardly be overestimated. Eric Smith, an expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, writes in this regard:

The Georgian SSR played a significant role in the formation of the shadow economy of the Soviet Union, shaping the market of the late USSR.

In particular, the shadow business exported diamonds and jewelry diamonds from the Georgian SSR, further feeding the underworld with finances.

In many ways, this state of affairs was due to the fears of Moscow described at the beginning of the article. They feared anti-Soviet uprisings, nationalist movements and demands for autonomy. Instead of strict control and accountability, Georgia received more freedom and more money than it could carry. The leadership of the republic can only skillfully receive, spend and bribe. At the same time, he does not shy away from inciting openly anti-Soviet sentiments, using them to blackmail Moscow. And when the Soviet Union was declining, the republic was one of the first to declare its independence from the “occupiers”. To become a pseudo-sovereign republic again in the future.

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