David Marshall Lang (excerpt from the book”A Modern History of Georgia”/NY/1962)
     Maps and Illustrations: Andrew Andersen / 2003-2007






Continued from here

AWAKENING: 1855-94

Alexander II and the liberation of the serfs--Shamil capitulates-The integration of Western Georgia--The peasant question in Georgia--The rise of the Georgian intelligentsia--Land hunger and peasant discontent--The edicts of 1864--The War of 1877-78 --Commerce and industry--Russian Pan-Slavism and the lesser breeds--Ilia Chavchavadze and Georgia's re-awakening--Alexander III and Russian reaction--Great Georgian writers of the late nineteenth century


Alexander II and the liberation of the serfs

RUSSIA'S NEW SOVEREIGN, Alexander II, was at heart an honest conservative, forced by the logic of events to place in the forefront of his programme the liberation of the serfs. The humiliations of the Crimean War had exposed the bankruptcy of the old order, while the growth of industry in Russia underlined the chronic shortage of free labour. Enlightened public opinion, both at home and abroad, clamoured for the abolition of a system which reduced the bulk of the population of a European state to a condition similar to that of the mediaeval villein, or even to that of negro slaves on the American plantations. In 1856, on announcing the conclusion of peace, Alexander directed all thoughts to reform.

'May Russia's internal welfare be established and perfected; may justice and mercy reign in her law courts; may the desire for instruction and all useful work grow everywhere with new strength; and may everyone enjoy in peace the fruits of honest labour under the shelter of laws equally just to all, equally protecting all.'

To the Governor-General of Moscow, who expressed alarm at the implications of these amiable generalities, the Tsar replied: 'Better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait till it begins to abolish itself from below.' 52 For the next five years, both government and public opinion in Russia were occupied with preparations for the peasant reform of 1861 which, after some delay, was to be applied also to Russia's dominions beyond the Caucasus.


Shamil capitulates

In the meantime, there remained in the Caucasus defiant tribes who preferred their own native brand of liberty to any which the Russian Tsar might graciously provide. The termination of the Crimean War set free the Russian military command to terminate once for all the menace of the warrior Shamil and his Murids. Prince Baryatinsky, who succeeded Count Muraviev as viceroy of the Caucasus in 1856, worked out a systematic plan for the reduction of Daghestan. Its rapid success took the Russians themselves by surprise. Shamil's authority had for some time been waning, so that the Russians, who had greatly improved their communications system, were able to cut off the Murids from their sources of supply and gradually to squeeze them out of one redoubt after another. In August 1859, after a quarter of a century's desperate resistance, the terrible Imam was brought to bay. Surrounded on the rocky brow of Gunib, the surviving five hundred Murids put up a determined fight until, seeing the situation to be hopeless, Shamil surrendered to the Russian viceroy in person, and was sent into honourable exile at Kaluga in Russia. Simultaneously, the Russians were actively extending their grip over those areas of western Caucasia which still retained some vestige of independence.


The integration of Western Georgia

It was at this period that Mingrelia, the Colchis of the ancients, finally lost its autonomy. It will be recalled that the Dadian or ruling prince of Mingrelia had been placed under a Russian protectorate in 1803, but had retained a large measure of authority as a vassal of the cause, and organized a militia to help drive out the intruders. This invasion imposed a severe strain on the Mingrelian economy, and particularly on the peasants. When the Turks withdrew, the landowners attempted to reimpose their authority on their serfs, but were met with defiance. A peasant revolt broke out, led by a blacksmith named Utu Mikava. Most of Mingrelia was reduced to a state of turmoil. In the end, both parties welcomed Russian intervention--the landowners to safeguard their lives and property, the serfs in the hope of being guaranteed a status approximating to that enjoyed by crown peasants in Russia. Fate thus played into the hands of the Russian authorities, who sent in 1857 a commission to Mingrelia, and removed the Regent Catherine from office. A Russian-dominated Council of Regency was set up, nominally in the interests of the youthful heir, Nicholas Dadiani. In 1867, when Nicholas attained his majority, he was compelled to cede all his sovereign rights to the Tsar in exchange for 1,000,000 rubles, a grant of estates in Russia, and the title of Prince Dadian-Mingrelsky. The principality of Mingrelia thus became an integral part of the Russian empire.

A like fate soon overtook the free mountaineers of Upper Svaneti, high up in the Caucasus range looking down over Imereti and Mingrelia. The Russians had long been irked by the rebellious attitude of the Svanian princes, who spent their ample leisure in prosecuting blood feuds against one another, and in intrigues with Omar Pasha's invading Turks. In 1857, Prince Baryatinsky ordered Svaneti to be subdued by armed force, despite the existence of the treaties of 1833 and 1840, which established a protectorate over the principality of Western Upper Svaneti and the self-governing tribal area of Free (Eastern Upper) Svaneti. The ruling prince of Western Upper Svaneti was exiled to Erivan in Armenia. On his way to banishment, this Svanian prince, Constantine Dadeshkeliani by name, came to Kutaisi for a farewell audience with the Governor-General of Western Georgia, Prince Alexander Gagarin, a jovial man and a good administrator, who had built a boulevard and two bridges over the Rioni at Kutaisi and embellished the town with a public garden. At this interview, Constantine Dadeshkeliani suddenly drew his dagger and stabbed to death the Russian general and three of his staff.



When captured, he was summarily tried by court martial and shot. In 1858, the whole of Upper Svaneti was annexed to the Russian viceroyalty of the Caucasus. Thus ended the independent existence of this renowned nation of fighters and hunters, mentioned with respect by Strabo and the ancients, but sunk in more recent times into squalor and ignorance from which contact with European ways has only lately begun to redeem them.

The Russians were now able to subjugate Abkhazia, the autonomous principality situated immediately north-west of Mingrelia along the Black Sea coastline. It will be recalled that the Lord of Abkhazia, Safar Bey or Giorgi Sharvashidze, had been received under Russian protection as long ago as 1809, and confirmed in perpetual possession of his domains. In the intervening period, Abkhazia had been frequently involved in the Russian campaigns against the Circassians, with whom the Abkhaz, many of them Muslims, had cultural, ethnic and linguistic connexions. During the Crimean War, the Turks stirred up the Abkhaz against Russia at the time of null Omar Pasha's invasion of Mingrelia. Turkish envoys who arrived at the Abkhazian capital, Sukhumi, found the ruling dynasty of the Sharvashidzes divided: the Christian princes adhered to the Russian interest, but Iskander (Alexander), a Muslim, was prepared to help the Turks in return for permission to annex the neighbouring Mingrelian district of Samurzaqano. Omar Pasha had subsequently landed at Sukhumi, from which he advanced south-eastwards into Mingrelia. After the Crimean War was over, the Russians looked for a chance of extending their direct rule to Abkhazia. In 1864, they deposed the ruling prince, Michael Sharvashidze, and annexed his country by force of arms. Two years later, the Abkhaz staged a general revolt against their new masters, and recaptured their capital, Sukhumi. The Russians had to send 8,000 troops to quell this rising, which was suppressed with heavy loss of life.

The subjugation of Abkhazia coincided with Russia's annihilation of the national existence of the Circassians, that valiant North Caucasian people who had for a century been a thorn in the side of Tsarist colonialism. Cut off since the Crimean War from contact with Turkey and the Western European powers, the Circassians were no match for Russia's military might, especially after the surrender of Shamil and the Murids of Daghestan. In Chechnya and Daghestan, the Russians were satisfied with the submission of the local population to Russian law. But on the Black Sea coast, their plans involved the seizure of the wide and fertile Cherkess lands to provide for a part of the wave of Russian peasant migration which resulted from the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. The Russian government conceived the drastic project of enforcing the mass migration of the Circassians to other regions of the empire or, if they preferred, to Ottoman Turkey. The last shots in the long series of Russo-Circassian conflicts were fired in 1864. Rather than remain under infidel rule, some 600,000 Circassian Muslims emigrated to various regions of the Ottoman Empire, where their descendants may be found to this day. Many of the Russian, German, Greek and Bulgarian colonists who were endowed with the tribal lands of the Circassians near the Black Sea coast proved unable to endure the sub-tropical climate, and the wilderness invaded the orchards and gardens once cultivated by prosperous and highly civilized Circassian communities.


The peasant question in Georgia

While the emancipation of the serfs in European Russia did not for the time being affect conditions in Georgia and other regions of Caucasia, its application there was seen to be only a matter of time. We have already spoken of the economic and social changes which took place in Georgia towards the middle of the nineteenth century, and which gathered momentum under the viceroyalty of Prince Vorontsov. Patriarchal customs unchallenged over the centuries were breaking down as the Georgian people came into contact with European ways and acquired new tastes and habits. In 1858, the port of Poti was opened for Black Sea shipping, replacing the inferior anchorage of Redut-Kaleh. Agricultural exhibitions were held with increasing frequency, and silk, tobacco and cotton produced in substantial quantities. More corn had to be brought in to feed the growing population, while maize and wine were exported in bulk. From the 1840's onwards, the Georgians grew potatoes, cabbages and tea--the latter being introduced from China in 1845. Foreign capital was put into silk farms in Western Georgia. Iron foundries, brick works, glass works, a steam sawmill, helped to provide new occupations for the townsfolk. Landowners often loaned out their serfs to factories and plantations on a seasonal basis, in return for a cash payment. Many peasants were able to save up and purchase their freedom. There was an increasing tendency for feudal dues in labour or in kind to be commuted into a money payment. The basis of the old manorial economy was correspondingly weakened, while the improvidence of the Georgian gentry resulted in the forced sale or mortgaging of a large portion of their estates.

The steady increase in the population of Georgia meant that by the 1850's, land hunger was becoming acute. It is reckoned that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the average peasant holding amounted to from ten to twenty desyatins (one desyatin = 2.7 acres); by the time the Georgian serfs were freed, in 1864, the average holding had sunk to between five and six desyatins. The position was made worse by the seizure of communal lands, forests and pastures by the State and by powerful landowners. A class of rich peasants or kulaks was starting to emerge, with the inevitable concomitant of a poverty-stricken rustic proletariat. The so-called 'class struggle' in the Georgian countryside resulted in sporadic revolts and deeds of violence. Peasant unrest broke into disorders in Imereti in 1857, in Guria in 1862, in the Ksani valley and around Surami in Kartli in 1863, and near Tbilisi itself in 1864.


The rise of the Georgian intelligentsia

The Georgian peasant had vigorous champions among the younger generation of intellectuals, many of whom belonged to leading aristocratic families. The freer access to Russian universities which was one of the beneficial consequences of the educational policy of Alexander II in his early years made it possible for Georgian students to study at Moscow and St. Petersburg. Contact with the writings of such pioneer radicals as Belinsky and Herzen, and the personal influence of the fearless progressives Chernyshevsky and Dobrolyubov, soon produced in these Georgian students a state of mind highly critical towards Tsarist autocracy, the institution of serfdom, and the patriarchal ways which they had taken for granted in their native Georgia. These young Georgian intellectuals were known as 'Tergdaleulis', signifying 'those who had drunk from the River Terek', i.e., had crossed the Terek and gone for their education to Russia; among them were Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Niko Nikoladze, Raphael Eristavi, Iakob Gogebashvili--in fact, almost all the young men who were to lead Georgia's literary, political and scholarly life during the following half century. Several of them joined with the Russian students at St. Petersburg University in the political demonstrations of 1861, and paid for their audacity with a few painful months in Kronstadt fortress.

The first notable production of the new school in Georgian literature was the short novel Suramis tsikhe (Surami Castle) by Daniel Chonkadze ( 1830-60), who was the son of a poor priest who had himself begun life as a serf. For censorship reasons, this remarkable tale was given a mediaeval setting. Its message was none the less clearly understood by contemporaries. Serfdom as practised in Georgia is depicted by Chonkadze, not without a measure of exaggeration, as the rule of darkness and superstition, brutal violence and unchecked wickedness. The princes refuse to recognize peasants as human beings. 'They imagine that we are incapable of loving or hating, they deem us without hearts or the faculty of thought.' In one chapter, a prince seizes a poor woman who has tried to escape from his clutches, drags her home, yokes her to a plough with the oxen, and then forces her to drag along a heavy threshing board, flogging her the while until she falls dead to the ground. The poignancy of this vividly written tale is more effective than any social moralizing. Chonkadze's story may be compared in this respect with Uncle Tom's Cabin, or with Turgenev Huntsman's Sketches or Mumu.

After Chonkadze's early death, his message was taken up by several other brilliant poets and writers of the young generation. Prince Raphael Eristavi, who had witnessed the Mingrelian peasants' revolt in 1857, composed a poem called The Suppliant to his Judge, in which justice was demanded for the peasant class. Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaki Tsereteli, both offspring of leading princely families, published in the journals Tsiskari (The Dawn) and Sakartvelos moambe (The GeoqianMessenger Messenger) a number of remarkable articles and essays on social themes. Several of Akaki early poems, such as Glekhis aghsareba (The peasant's confession), showed indignation at the lot of the serfs. Indeed, Akaki was denounced as a traitor to his class, and on one occasion an enraged diehard, Prince Mikeladze, made a violent physical assault on the young poet.

Ilia Chavchavadze devastating novel Katsia adamiani? (Do you call this a man?), published in 1863, was another important literary expression of the crisis in Georgian society. The motto of the book--'Criticize your friend to his face, your foe behind his back'--shows the author's intention of depicting the seamy side of Georgian life in the hope of stirring his countrymen to mend their ways. Ilia's novel may be compared with Gogol Dead Souls or with the savage rustic satires of Saltykov-Shchedrin. The writer shares Gogol's disgust with the poshlost--the triviality and sordidness of life in the dim backwaters of the Tsarist Empire, and his description of the domain of Prince Luarsab Tatkaridze, a feudal lord of Kakheti, is one of the most picturesque pages of Georgian literature. Dirt, indolence, dilapidation are the prevailing features of the princely economy. 'The yard was as dirty as the soul of a superannuated bureaucrat. To reach the proprietor without getting filthy or collecting some kind of choice odour in the process was a great achievement.' The aristocratic interior was equally squalid, His Highness's sitting room being furnished with sofas spread with carpets kept in such a condition that every excellent movement of Their Excellencies' excellent limbs sent clouds of dust into the air, thus mercifully obscuring other sordid features of the apartment. Chavchavadze pokes fun at all kinds of hallowed features of Georgian life. His account of how the slow-witted Luarsab is tricked into marriage with the ugly Darejan, daughter of the most noble Prince Moses, son of Noshrevan, provides a hilarious commentary on the activity of the village match-maker. Little wonder that Luarsab and Darejan Tatkaridze became proverbial figures of fun, or that many a Georgian squire should have cursed Ilia and his clever young friends as harbingers of ruin and destroyers of traditional values. Indeed, at a meeting where Ilia was advocating the prompt emancipation of the peasants with their land, an outraged proprietor armed with a kinzhal--the deadly Caucasian dagger--hurled himself at the orator shouting: 'Let me get at him! I'll kill him on the spot!'


Land hunger and peasant discontent

In spite of much opposition, the Georgian nobility were eventually prevailed upon to accept a scheme for the liberation of the peasantry with an allotment of land to former serfs. The manifesto of 1864 proclaimed the emancipation of serfs in the Tbilisi area, while those of Imereti ( Western Georgia) were freed the following year. The Mingrelian peasants were liberated in 1867, those of Abkhazia in 1870, and those of Svaneti in 1871. In Georgia, as in Russia, the peasantry were saddled with redemption payments of fantastic magnitude to be paid off by instalments to their former owners, pending which they remained in an equivocal status known as 'temporary obligation'. In addition, about a third of each peasant plot was detached from the holding and handed back to the landowner by way of additional compensation. The peasantry lost their free access to forests and communal pasture lands. Former landless serfs, domestic bond serfs, and an important category of migrant agricultural labourers known as khizani were excluded from the settlement, and were condemned to an impoverished existence. Even after the reforms of 1864, the lot of the Georgian peasant could be summed up only too often in the poignant lines of Raphael Eristavi poem, Sesia's Thoughts:

Dust am I, to dust I cling;
A rustic born, my life is one
Eternal strife and endless toil,
And endless woe . . . till life is gone.
I plough, I sow, I labour on,
With muscles strained, in sun and rain.
I scarce can live on what I earn,
And tired and hungry I remain.
The owner of the land torments me;
Even the tiny ant's my foe.
For townsfolk, priests and native country
In blood-like sweat I plough and sow . . .
How long, O God, this endless grind,
This life of sorrow and of toil?
Alas! I fear that death alone
Will bring me rest within this soil!53

The land settlement imposed on the newly conquered Abkhaz proved particularly onerous. The Russian authorities failed to distinguish adequately between the various categories of free, semi-free and serf peasants which had existed in that somewhat primitive tribal society. Under the arrangements imposed in 1870, the landowners received up to two hundred and fifty desyatins apiece, while the peasants got only from three to seven per household, much of this being unfit for cultivation. Contemporary Russian officials admitted that the Abkhaz peasantry were left with little more than rocky mountain slopes and low-lying bogs. It is only fair to add that the Abkhaz peasantry had shown little disposition to co-operate with the Russian land commission sent to work out the details of the new arrangements, finally waylaying the commissioners and exterminating them. After a series of insurrections, many of the Abkhaz eventually joined the Circassians in exile in Turkey.


The edicts of 1864

Whereas the freeing of the peasantry marked a decided, if belated step forward in the evolution of Georgian society, the country still lagged behind metropolitan Russia in the matter of civil rights and local government reform. Georgia reaped no benefit from the Zemstvo law of 1864, which laid the basis of voluntary local government throughout European Russia. Instead, the peasant communities had village councils headed by a rural bailiff who was responsible to the Russian district authority for collecting taxes and carrying out compulsory work assignments. These village councils had little in the way of status, and were at the beck and call of the local Russian military commanders and police. The Georgians were likewise refused the benefit of the jury system as adopted in Russia in 1864. Legal business continued to be transacted exclusively in Russian and judgement enforced by administrators sent from St. Petersburg.

The Viceroy of the Caucasus from 1862 until 1882 was the Grand Duke Michael, brother of Tsar Alexander II. The future Russian Prime Minister Sergius Witte, who in his boyhood knew the Grand Duke personally, described Michael as a broad-minded and dignified man with gentlemanly instincts. He made himself extremely popular throughout the Caucasus, being a complete stranger to the narrow-minded chauvinism which developed in Russia towards the end of the nineteenth century and found expression in pan-Slavonic jingoism, anti-Jewish pogroms and other unlovely manifestations. The Grand Duke considered rather that since many of the Caucasian peoples had entered the Russian empire voluntarily and were serving with loyalty in Russia's army and civil service, there was no distinction to be made between them and the inhabitants of European Russia.54 The viceregal palace was always open to the Georgian aristocracy, while marriages between Russian noblemen serving in the Caucasus and Georgian princesses were of frequent occurrence.


The War of 1877-78

An important event of the Grand Duke Michael's viceroyalty was the recovery during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 of substantial areas of former Georgian territory which had been under Ottoman sway since the sixteenth century. With their Georgian and Armenian auxiliaries, the Russians had gained brilliant successes on this front during Paskevich's campaign of 1828-29, and had acquitted themselves very creditably here during the Crimean War. Each time, however, the complications of great power politics had wrested the fruits of success from the Russians' grasp during the subsequent peace settlements. This time, however, the Russians were able to turn their victory on this front into a territorial gain which they held until the collapse of the Tsarist Empire in 1917. While the main Russian and Turkish forces were locked in their usual massive combat on the Balkan front, the Grand Duke Michael captured Kars in November 1877, and blockaded Erzurum. The Congress of Berlin confirmed Russia in possession of extensive tracts of territory which had centuries before formed part of the mediaeval Georgian kingdom: Atchara-Kobuleti, with the port of Batumi, Shavsheti, Klarjeti, Kola-Ardahan, and the northern portion of Tao, comprising the district of Oltisi. From the military viewpoint, great importance attached to Russia's acquisition of the fortresses of Kars and Ardahan, controlling the approaches into Turkish Anatolia.


Commerce and industry

The last thirty years of the nineteenth century saw the beginnings of a minor industrial revolution in Georgia. This was accelerated by improved communications. Roads were built, and the main towns of Transcaucasia connected by the telegraph in 1870. Two years later, a regular service was inaugurated on the new Poti-Tbilisi railway. A branch line to Kutaisi was opened in 1877. Following the Russian annexation of the Black Sea port of Batumi after the war of 1877-78, a line between Batumi and Samtredia was opened in 1883, while Tbilisi was simultaneously connected by rail with the great Caspian oil town of Baku. The whole of Russian Transcaucasia was now spanned by rail from the Caspian to the Black Sea coast. In 1886, a further rail extension was built to link Kutaisi with the rapidly expanding coal-mining town of Tqibuli in upper Imereti. The manganese industry set up at Chiatura in 1879 soon attained international importance. By 1892, Chiatura manganese represented 38 per cent. of the entire world production of this essential mineral. Baku being on the land-locked Caspian, Batumi became the main outlet for Baku oil. In 1888, 21 per cent. of the world supply of oil passed through that port on its way to Russia and other consumer countries.

The population of Georgia continued to increase. In 1866, it totalled 1,300,400, in 1886, 1,731,500, in 1897, 2,034,700. There was a constant drift from the countryside to the towns. Between 1865 and 1897, the population of Tbilisi more than doubled --from 71,051 to 159 590. The capital of Georgia became more and more of a cosmopolitan city, complete with European amenities such as hotels, a horse tramway, new bridges, paved streets, a piped water supply, schools, and other municipal and government institutions, housed in imposing stone buildings.

Economic change brought with it changes in social relationships and habits of mind. Many Georgian intellectuals greeted these readjustments with approval, and were glad to see the old ruling class stirred from its torpor into fruitful enterprise. In 1874, the liberal journalist Sergei Meskhi noted 'a new and general trend and impulse' throughout Georgia, manifested as a craze for business activity and money-making.

'So long as the feudal system persisted in our land, everyone relied on the peasants' unpaid labour and concentrated on living in a carefree way. The landlord proudly declared: "What do I want with business, what do I want with money? My peasants' labour is my money!" Since the abolition of serfdom, our circumstances have altered: the erstwhile feudal lord has been deprived of his unpaid labour force and with it, of his effortless income and the means of living a carefree life. The smaller proprietors have come to feel with special acuteness, on their own hide, the impact of the fact that those days have passed away for ever when what they termed "business" consisted in hunting and revelry, and when they had need of cash only to gratify their desires in the direction of superfluous luxuries. Everyone has come to feel that the era when it was possible to live an insouciant, idle existence at the expense of other people's efforts has vanished completely, or is at least on the way out. . . . Times have changed indeed!'

Latterly, Meskhi went on, everyone has been engaged in a mad rush to think up some lucrative enterprise which will enrich him in a few years. One man is building a wine warehouse to supply the city with drink, another is trying to make a fortune out of milk--there is no limit to these bright ideas, and all their promoters are naturally keen to secure financial backing from the bank! In the wake of this mad bustle, there must be many disappointments, many false starts. But in the end, this burst of feverish activity may have the good effect of teaching the Georgians that there is no substitute for diligent learning, steady work and the careful thinking out of feasible projects and undertakings. 55

If the 1870's were, for Russia as for Georgia, a time of new ideas and new possibilities, they were also a period of frustration and disillusionment. The reign of Alexander II was drawing to its tragic end. The emperor whose accession and early reforms had aroused the most sanguine hopes, who had freed the peasants from servitude and carried through so many promising reforms, was spending his last years hunted like a beast by revolutionaries, and hiding in his palaces in a vain effort to ward off their bombs and guns. The landlords had never forgiven him the reform of 1861, while the peasants found that the yoke of serfdom had been replaced by the burden of poverty and debt. The intelligentsia, whose evolution Alexander's early reforms had done much to foster, were seething with resentment at the dead weight of autocracy which excluded them from participation in government, and deprived public opinion of all influence on the course of affairs. Symptomatic of this frustration was the Narodnik or Populist movement of the 1870's, in the course of which thousands of idealistic students and intellectuals abandoned homes and professions and tried to settle as peasants among the country folk to enter into communion with them and prepare them for the coming of the revolutionary utopia. But the muzhik refused to respond to the advances of these town-bred zealots, most of whom were rounded up and imprisoned or deported to Siberia. The hard core of the revolutionary intelligentsia turned to terrorism and conspiracy. One group of the Land and Freedom party broke away and formed a new body, known as The People's Will. In 1879, a rapid succession of spectacular acts of violence took place, in which the Governor of Kharkov was shot dead, and the Tsar narrowly escaped two attempts on his life. Neither arrests, executions, deportations, nor the prospect of constitutional concessions could save the emperor from his fate. In 1880, a workman blew up the imperial dining room at the Winter Palace. The following year, on 1 March, the bombs of the Nihilists reached their targets and Alexander II, the Emancipator, died a ghastly death.

Thinking people in Georgia could not avoid being affected by the general tension and malaise affecting Russia. 'What has come over us, what has happened to us?' asked the veteran poet and administrator Prince Grigol Orbeliani on the morrow of the war of 1877-78.

'What invisible agency has been exercising so lamentable an effect upon us, so that we are all heading for general ruin precisely at that moment when the external enemy no longer exists for us? From every side, from every household is heard nothing but the sound of weeping and wailing. Misery has stricken everyone, down to the lowest class of society. Where are we to look for a deliverer? This terrible thought keeps sorrowing me and adding to my weight of years.' 56




Russian Pan-Slavism and the lesser breeds

Particularly ominous for Russia's minority peoples was the alarming growth of official chauvinism, which came at a time when the intensification of self-conscious and articulate nationalism among the subject nations of the great multiracial empires--Austro-Hungary, Ottoman Turkey and Russia --confronted governments with new problems and demands. The liberation of Italy from Austrian rule had been a great fillip to this movement, while increasing restiveness was shown by the Hungarians as well as by the Czechs, Poles and other Slavonic peoples under Hapsburg rule. The Ottoman Empire, long in decline, faced continual trouble in the Balkans, where nationalist sentiment was inflamed by agents of imperial Russia spreading the sacred message of Orthodoxy and PanSlavism. Within Russia itself, the authorities lent their support to a sort of mystical Messianism, designed to enhance the prestige of the imperial dynasty and of 'Holy Russia' as champions of Christendom, and to stifle heresy and dissent at home and abroad. Pan-Slavism inside Russia was an ugly growth. Poles, Ukrainians and other Slavonic lesser breeds were coerced into conformity with Muscovite ways and ideas, while every attempt was made to assimilate Russia's Asiatic subjects and bring them into line. These efforts, needless to say, had scant success in the long run. The pride of the minority peoples was offended by official refusal to countenance use of local languages as the media for education or state business, and by the scorn poured by the dominant race on the cultural heritage of the smaller brethren.

Such resentment was especially keen in Georgia which had, after all, formed an independent and highly civilized kingdom within the Greco-Roman world when the ancestors of the Russians were still nomads wandering about the draughty steppes. The Georgians had accepted Christianity more than six centuries before the Russians, had been a bulwark of Christendom in the East for a millennium and a half, and had entered voluntarily under the Russian sceptre--only to be treated now as if they were barbarians. Thus, from 1871 the study of Georgian language and literature in State Schools was replaced by compulsory Latin and Greek. Admittedly, Georgian could be studied as a voluntary extra, but it was deprived of its place on the official time-table. In 1872, an inspector arrived from St. Petersburg and banned the use of Georgian as medium of instruction in the Tbilisi Theological Seminary, the main training college for the Georgian priesthood. The seminary thereafter became more and more a centre for nationalist resistance to Russian rule. It gained nation-wide notoriety in 1886, when an expelled student named Laghiashvili assassinated the rector, Chudetsky, a bigoted Russian who described Georgian as 'a language for dogs'. In his rage at this incident, the Russian Exarch of Georgia cursed the Georgian nation with a wholesale anathema. A venerable Georgian writer, Prince Dimitri Qipiani, who ventured a protest against the prelate's intemperate mouthings, was deported to Stavropol in the North Caucasus, where he was soon afterwards murdered in mysterious circumstances.


Ilia Chavchavadze and Georgia's re-awakening

Georgian patriotic resistance at this period was headed by Ilia Chavchavadze ( 1837-1907), the poet, novelist and orator, who had gained prominence as a firebrand at the time of the liberation of the serfs. With growing maturity, Ilia's stature as a responsible public figure rapidly increased. In 1875, he was elected Chairman of the newly founded Land Bank of the Nobility in Tbilisi, an institution designed to put the impoverished landed gentry on their feet by providing credit and capital, as well as fulfilling ordinary day to day banking functions. From then onwards, Ilia's life was devoted to practical activities of all kinds. In 1879, he helped to found the Society for the Spreading of Literacy among the Georgians. He financed new schools and supported the Georgian national theatre. In 1877 he launched the newspaper Iveria, an organ which played an outstanding part in reviving Georgian national consciousness. The Tbilisi gendarmerie could report with truth that

'the principal leader of the movement which aims at the intensifying of nationalistic trends is Prince Ilia Chavchavadze, Chairman of the Tbilisi Bank of the Nobility. . . . Prince Chavchavadze is a man of exceptional intellect and standing, and enjoys great ascendancy over the Georgians in general, and over free-thinking elements in particular.' 57

Ilia Chavchavadze and his associates were known as the Pirveli Dasi or First Group, to distinguish them from the more radical Meore Dasi or Second Group, founded in 1869 by GiorgiTsereteli Tsereteli and Niko Nikoladze. Both these early Georgian social and literary movements were, however, far more moderate in their aims than the young Marxists who later banded themselves together as the Mesame Dasi or Third Group, and formed the basis of the Georgian revolutionary Social-Democratic Party.

Chavchavadze's ideology at this stage of his career could justly be described as bourgeois-nationalist. One of his objects, which aroused criticism in radical circles, was to reconcile the various classes of Georgian society in the interests of national solidarity. In a series of articles which appeared between 1877 and 1881 under the title Life and Law, Ilia preached that the antagonisms which existed in other countries between rich and poor, high and low, either did not exist in Georgia, or could be easily dispelled thanks, apparently, to some superior, moral qualities vouchsafed to the Georgian nation. There was, Ilia taught, no real obstacle to a complete understanding between the different social classes. After Ilia's vigorous campaign on behalf of the serfs against their feudal masters not two decades previously, this doctrine appeared to many as novel and disconcerting. As one contemporary put it, Chavchavadze's aim was apparently to turn prince and peasant into brothers and inspire them both with a single common purpose--the peasant to ministering to the prince's stomach, the prince to ministering to his own stomach. This happy consummation would indeed remove all conflict of interest between them. 58 Such an interpretation of Chavchavadze's ideas does them less than justice. Ilia's real aim, which under the Tsarist censorship could not be proclaimed in print, was to unite his fellow countrymen, regardless of social status, into a closely knit national community capable one day of winning independence from the Russian overlord.

The efforts of publicists and authors like Ilia Chavchavadze were powerfully seconded by the new generation of Georgian school teachers and pedagogues. While forced to instruct their flock in the uncongenial idiom of Russian, the teachers drummed into their pupils contempt for alien ways and pride in their native Georgian heritage.

The most remarkable of these teachers was Iakob Gogebashvili ( 1840-1912), who studied at Kiev University and became familiar with Darwin's evolutionary theory and the political ideas of Russian radicals such as Herzen, Belinsky and Chernyshevsky. Returning to Tbilisi, Gogebashvili taught arithmetic and geography in the ecclesiastical school and later in the seminary. In 1868, he was appointed inspector of the ecclesiastical school, but was dismissed a few years later on orders from the Synod in St. Petersburg.

From then onwards Gogebashvili became a free-lance and devoted his energies to spreading education and enlightenment among his fellow-countrymen and their children. He played a prominent part in the work of the Society for the Spreading of Literacy among the Georgians. He was intensely proud of Georgia's language and literature, and wrote essays in which he urged people to show themselves true patriots in the educational sphere. He contrasted Georgian patriotism with the chauvinism of the great powers, and particularly with the Russian reactionary Pan-Slavists, whose ideal Russian patriot was a man who would crush all the smaller nations which Russia had annexed, and enslave all countries of Europe situated outside the frontiers of the Tsar's domains.

'Our patriotism is of course of an entirely different kind: it consists solely in a sacred feeling towards our mother land; . . . in it there is no hate for other nations, no desire to enslave anybody, no urge to impoverish anybody. Our patriots desire to restore Georgia's right to self-government and their own civic rights, to preserve their national characteristics and culture, without which no people can exist as a society of human beings.'

For Gogebashvili, there could be no revival of self-respect among his fellow-countrymen without a revival of interest in the Georgian language. 'The status of the Georgian tongue in Georgian scholastic institutions may be compared with that of a wretched foundling, deprived of all care and protection. Georgia's native language is treated just as a spiteful stepmother treats her stepchild.' 59 Throughout his life, Gogebashvili spared no effort in remedying this situation. His masterly introduction to Georgian for children, Deda Ena (Mother Tongue) has been republished several dozen times since its first appearance in 1876, and in modified form serves to this day as a manual in Georgian schools.


Alexander III and Russian reaction

After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II and the accession of Alexander III ( 1881-94), relations between the Russians and their Georgian subjects continued to be strained. A feature of Alexander III's reign was an increased persecution of everything which diverged from the officially accepted national type. Dissenting sects, the Uniat Church and the Lutherans in the western provinces, Lamaist Kalmuks, Buryat Mongols, and especially all Jews, suffered a systematic campaign of persecution and denigration. Under the influence of reactionaries like Katkov and Pobedonostsev, the Russian Press was effectively muzzled. Every effort was made to stifle the growing revolutionary movement and destroy the remnants of the revolutionary organizations. All manifestations of independent public opinion were treated as signs of sedition.

The intensification of Russian reaction had unpleasant repercussions in Georgia. Added obstacles were placed in the way of the Georgians' progress towards full civic rights. The government in St. Petersburg habitually sent to Georgia the dregs of the Russian civil service. Oliver Wardrop, one of the English pioneers of Georgian studies, visited the Caucasus in 1887. Most Georgians, he noted, knew Russia only as a foreign power that sent them tax-collectors, justices of the peace and other bureaucrats, many of them obnoxious. Russian magistrates, according to this observer, were arrogant when sober and odious when drunk. Wardrop himself once witnessed the reception accorded to a fine, tall mountaineer who came humbly to present a petition to a puny, besotted Russian magistrate. 'The representative of law and order was drunk, hopelessly drunk, and treated the suppliant in such a manner that I blushed to be in his company.' 60

In Western Europe at least there were signs of growing sympathy with Georgia and her people. Arthur Leist in Germany and Professor Morfill at Oxford were influential advocates of Georgian literature and culture. A special place in the affections of the Georgians is occupied by Oliver Wardrop's sister Marjory, who translated into English one of the most nobly conceived of Ilia Chavchavadze's poems, The Hermit, and later, Shota Rustaveli's classic epic, The Manin the Panther's Skin in the Panther's Skin. In 1894 we find Ilia writing to Marjory Wardrop:

'The renowned land of England knows little enough about our unfortunate country and orphaned people, which at one time had its own heroes, scholars, writers and poets, and through their endeavours steadfastly resisted the barbarian enemies of enlightenment.

Every Georgian will feel gratified that you and your respected brother have conceived a love for our universally forgotten land, ands desire to convey to your countrymen its bad and good sides, with all that affection and sympathy which so adorn a human being and are the priceless consolation of those who are oppressed by fate. It is to be wished that the noble and powerful people of England should know that even in our little country, the mind functions and the heart beats in a human way; that even here, men have their longings and their hopes; that even here, there exists faith and painful striving towards better days; and that this people of ours feels nothing human to be alien to it.

'All this has permeated our little literature, in so far as our burdensome situation permits . . .' 61


Great Georgian writers of the late nineteenth century

Despite official discouragement, the last decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a Georgian literary revival in which there emerged writers of a stature unequalled since the Golden Age of Rustaveli seven hundred years before. Ilia Chavchavadze himself excelled alike in lyric and ballad poetry, in the novel, the short story and the essay. Apart from Ilia, the most universal literary genius of the age was Akaki Tsereteli. Known as 'the immortal nightingale of the Georgian people', he was as versatile as Ilia, and also a prominent public figure. Many of his lyrics have been adopted as folk ballads and popular drinking songs. In his historical lay Tornike Eristavi, he conjured up the heroic days when Georgian arms played a part in the mighty wars of Byzantium. Akaki lost no occasion of expressing his contempt for Tsarist autocracy. In 1871, Ilia Chavchavadze devoted one of his most fiery poems to the downfall of the Paris Commune, which he mourned as a victory for tyrants and oppressors of the people. Ten years later, Akaki Tsereteli greeted with enthusiasm the news of the assassination of Alexander II, whom the Georgians by now regarded as among the chief tyrants of the age. 'Today a swallow brushed with its wings against my window. Spring! Spring! its bird-like chatter seemed to say, and hope sprang up afresh within my heart.' These verses were part of a poem entitled Spring which appeared in a Tbilisi paper, and within a few days was being recited all over Georgia. The Russian authorities, waking up too late to the true significance of the verses, threatened to send the audacious bard to Siberia. Later on, Akaki translated into Georgian The Internationale, the revolutionary hymn of the proletarians, and greeted the 1905 uprising with militant poems and slogans.

Another important poet of the period was Vazha-Pshavela ( 1861-1915), a true child of nature, who spent the greater part of his life in a small village in the Georgian highlands. The majestic mountain scenery, the ways and customs of the hill folk, their virile, jealous and combative spirit, and their rich folk-traditions, were important elements in Vazha-Pshavela's artistic inspiration. In his epics and heroic lays, Vazha-Pshavela depicts human characters of titanic power, locked in elemental struggle with supernatural forces, and torn by profound psychological conflicts. With unerring and often sublime touch, he transmuted the popular idiom of folk poetry into artistic form. In different vein, he excelled as author of nature stories, many of which have become children's classics.

The development of the Georgian romantic novel received powerful stimulus from the work of Alexander Qazbegi ( 1848-93). Qazbegi was a scion of the princely family which for centuries held sway over the upland region near the Daryal Pass and Mount Kazbek, where the Russian military road passes over the Caucasus range. Sent to complete his education in Moscow, he fell into bad company, and returned disillusioned and broken in health to his native mountains. There he sought refuge from worldly temptations by taking to the life of a simple shepherd, in which condition he passed seven years. Then followed a period of success and literary renown in Tbilisi, after which Qazbegi took to acting and travelled round Georgia as a strolling player. Overtaken in the end by poverty, he went out of his mind, and died after four sad years in Tbilisi asylum. Among his best-known novels are Elguja and Khevisberi Gocha. The setting of the former is the Georgian peasant uprising of 1804, in which the hill clansmen wreaked vengeance on their Russian oppressors. Khevisberi Gocha is an historical novel set in seventeenth-century Georgia; it exalts the concepts of liberty, patriotism and moral duty. Gocha, a patriarchal figure of heroic stature, slays his own son rather than forgive a betrayal of the national cause, even though that betrayal arose from weakness and not from any traitorous intent. In his descriptions of the wild and grandiose scenes of the Caucasus mountains, Qazbegi evokes with masterly power the inner conflict of the human soul. This tormented genius created many characters which live on in the minds of the Georgian people, as symbols of the days when free men and women loved and died among the eagles and the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus. He also wrote several fine dramas. Like virtually every important Georgian man of letters of those days, he was constantly harried by the Russian censorship, which prevented some of his best works from being published during his life time.

Between 1855 and 1894, during the reigns of Alexander II and III, the revival of Georgian national consciousness proceeded with rapid strides. The emancipation of the serfs dealt a massive blow to the decaying feudal order. The growth of capitalism, the spread of education, and the emergence of a vocal intelligentsia focused attention on the inadequacies of Tsarist rule, and heightened popular dislike for alien domination. The appearance of magnificently gifted writers gave the Georgians a new intellectual self-confidence. All this helped to pave the way for active participation by the Georgians in the revolutionary struggle which culminated in the events of 1917.



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52.   Sir Bernard Pares, A History of Russia, revised edition, London 1947, p. 396.

53.   Quoted in the translation by Venera Urushadze, in Anthology of Georgian Poetry, 2nd edition, Tbilisi 1958, p. 99.

54.   S. Yu. Witte, Vospominaniya (Reminiscences), Vol. I, New edition, Moscow 1960, pp. 38-41.

55.   S. S. Meskhi, Nadserebi (Collected essays), tom. I, Tbilisi 1903, pp. 211-14.

56.   Quoted by V. I. Kotetishvili, Kartuli literaturis istoria, XIX s. (History of Georgian Bterature in the 19th century), Tbilisi 1959, p. 405.

57.   Quoted by V. Gol'tsev, Stat'i i ocherki (Essays and sketches), Moscow 1958, pp. 258-59.

58.   Gr. Uratadze, Sazogadoebrivi modzraoba Sakartveloshi 1821-1921 ds. (The Social Movement in Georgia 1821 to 1921), Paris 1939, P. 19.

59.   Ia. S. Gogebashvili, Izbrannye pedagogicheskie sochineniya (Selected pedagogical writings), Moscow 1954, pp. 13, 18.

60.   J.O. Wardrop, The Kingdom of Georgia, London 1888, pp. 162-63.

61.   Translated and cited by D. M. Lang, in Georgian Studies in Oxford, Oxford Slavonic Papers, Vol. VI, 1955, p. 126.