Monarchism in Georgia

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Georgia has a monarchic tradition that traces its origins to the Hellenistic period. The medieval Kingdom of Georgia ruled by the Bagrationi dynasty has left behind a legacy that lasts in Georgia even in modern times. The qualities and symbols associated with the Bagrationi monarchy have been crucial in the making of the Georgian nation and the subsequent construction of national history. Their rule ended with the annexation of Georgian lands by the Russian Empire early in the 19th century, although several branches of the dynasty survive to this day. The monarchic restoration was considered by various royalist groups throughout the 20th century. Although Georgia’s politics has been taking place in the framework of a presidential republic since the nation regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the debate on monarchy, particularly its constitutional form, has never actually ceased. The issue came up most recently amid a political crisis in late 2007.

Imperial Russian rule and Revolution[edit]

The Russian Empire absorbed the two principal Georgian kingdoms, those of Kartli-Kakheti and Imereti in 1801 and 1810, respectively. The members of the dispossessed royal dynasty fomented a series of rebellions against Russian rule, but all of them failed. The Russian administration, using a combination of military pacification and diplomatic persuasion, succeeded in winning a degree of loyalty of local elites. The Bagrationi princes themselves subsequently bowed to the inevitable and reconciled with a fait accompli.[1]

Shortly after the Decembrist revolt of 1825, royalist Georgians in St. Petersburg and Moscow, urged on by the grandsons of the penultimate king of Georgia Erekle II, the princes Okropir and Dimitri, tried to convince Georgian students in the two Russian cities that Georgia should be independent under the Bagrationi dynasty. Okropir visited Tiflis in 1829 and helped found a secret society with the aim of restoring the Georgian monarchy. Inspired by the French revolution of 1830 and the Polish insurrection of 1830-1831, the conspirators were united in their anti-Russian sentiment but divided in their program although the majority favored a restoration of the Bagrationi to the Georgian throne. The planned coup was prevented by the police in 1832.[2]

The loyalty of Georgian nobility to the Russian Tsar, won by liberal politics of the Imperial viceroy Prince Vorontsov (1844–1854), began to fade in the 1860s. Yet, after the Georgian royalist-led conspiracy in 1832, no Georgian movement or political party called for an outright independence until World War I.[3]

During the World War I years, Georgian émigrés, under the guidance of Prince Matchabelli established a National Committee in Berlin which considered a reinstatement of a monarchy in Georgia under the German protectorate. An influential lobby of the idea was Otto von Lossow, who suggested putting the German prince Joachim of Prussia on the Georgian throne. However, following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgians restored their independent state in the form of a democratic republic (May 26, 1918), the result of a long-time domination of Georgian political scene by Social Democrats. Georgian nobility, including the scions of the former royal dynasty, lent their support to a new republic. As a contemporary Western observer noted: "Like that of France, the Georgian nobility has a social rather than a political significance. The people are democratic in spirit; there is not the least chance of a revival of monarchy in Georgia, and the nobles will hardly have more political weight than their individual merit entitles."[4]

Soviet era and post-Soviet independence[edit]

The Democratic Republic of Georgia fell to Soviet Russia’s Red Army invasion in 1921. The subsequent political repressions, especially during the abortive August Uprising in 1924, forced many of the Bagrationi family members to flee the Soviet Union; some of them died in purges.

One of the émigrés, Prince Irakli of the House of Mukhrani (a collateral branch of the Bagrationi dynasty) (1909–1977), tried to enlist the support of European powers for a Georgian monarchist cause. After settling in Spain before World War II, Prince Irakli founded what he called the Royal House of Georgia and sought support from European governments for a Georgian monarchy independent from Stalin's Soviet Union. When Prince Irakli died in Spain in 1977, his son George became first in line to the royal house of Georgia and was recognised as such, albeit as a formality, by the government and parliament of the new independent republic in 1991, despite rival claims from others.[5] The legitimate rights of the Mukhrani branch, albeit senior genealogically, to the throne have frequently been questioned, however, due to the fact that the patrilineal descendants of the last king of Georgia to reign – the Bagration-Gruzinsky – still survive in Georgia, although close to extinction. This line is represented by Prince Nugzar Bagration-Gruzinsky (born 1950), the heir male of Georgia's last reigning king, George XII.

However, the two branches acted to resolve this conflict by uniting through the marriage of Prince David Bagrationi-Mukhraneli with Nugzar's eldest daughter, Anna Bagration-Gruzinsky, in February 2009. Prince David and Princess Anna became the parents of a baby boy on September 27, 2011, Prince Giorgi Bagration Bagrationi who, in his person, potentially unites the Mukhraneli and Gruzinsky claims. If no other Bagrationi prince is born in either the Gruzinsky or Mukhraneli branch who is of senior descent by primogeniture, and he survives those now living, Prince Giorgi will become both the heir male of the House of Bagrationi and the heir general of George XIII of Georgia.[6]

Nonetheless, speculation about the candidacy for a restored throne of other Bagrationis has occurred. Some monarchists have floated the name of Don Lelio Nicolò Orsini, a son of Don Raimondo Orsini and Princess Khétévane Bagration de Moukhrani,[7] but Princess Khétévane herself rejected the idea as impossible.[8]

As Georgia was moving towards independence from the Soviet Union early in the 1990s, monarchical restoration was an issue on the fringes of politics, but without actual candidates to a throne and popular support for monarchy. Various Georgian political groups tried to negotiate a return of Jorge de Bagration, Head of the Royal House of Georgia, and even sent a delegation to Madrid to persuade the reluctant prince. Some political activists, especially those associated with the National Democratic Party, speculated that a constitutional monarchy in Georgia would help abort any efforts by Moscow to keep Georgia inside the Soviet Union.[9] After Georgia’s declaration of independence on April 9, 1991, weak and fractious opposition groups again raised the issue of restoration hoping to neutralize Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first popularly elected President of Georgia, and his authoritarian tendencies.

During the rule of Eduard Shevardnadze (1992–2003), no serious consideration was given to monarchist ideas although several minor political parties, including the Union of Georgian Traditionalists led by the former parliamentary chairman Akaki Asatiani, continued to advocate constitutional monarchy as a viable alternative for Georgia's government.

Recent debate[edit]

The debate on a constitutional monarchy was revitalized with the emerging political crisis in Georgia late in 2007. The October 7, 2007 a sermon of Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, the popular head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, gave an impetus to a renewed political debate. The patriarch, who has always sympathized with the idea of constitutional monarchy, said, during his Sunday service at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, that the restoration of the royal dynasty was a "desirable dream of the Georgian people". He also emphasized that if the people of Georgia chose this model of governance, "a candidate to the crown should be selected among representatives of the royal dynasty, and he should be suitably raised to be King from childhood."[10][11]

The Patriarch’s sermon gave an unexpected continuation to the political crisis in Georgia. Although the Patriarch’s sympathies towards the monarchy are not something new for the regular parish to hear, several opposition parties immediately seized on the opportunity to advance their slogan "Georgia without a President", a reference to the model of parliamentary rule advocated by the Georgian opposition. Many politicians expressed their support to a constitutional monarchy, with a transitional stage in the form of a parliamentary republic.[7][10][11][12]

The authorities' response to the calls for a monarchy was restrained. Nino Burjanadze, a co-speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, has expressed skepticism about the idea and stated that Georgia will not be able to decide on such an important issue until its territorial integrity is restored, referring to the secession in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. President Mikheil Saakashvili, having jokingly remarked on his remote Bagratid ancestry, said that "serious consideration is necessary to this issue so that we do not add new problems to the already existing ones."[10] Giga Bokeria, an influential member of the parliament from Saakashvili’s United National Movement, tried to soft-pedal the Patriarch’s statement: "The patriarch didn’t suggest establishing monarchy today. He meant this may happen after Georgia resolves its fundamental problems."[11] He later alleged that the opposition’s call for a constitutional monarchy was merely a populist move: "they speak about constitutional monarchy here and do not say anything about it abroad. This is their double-standard policy."[13] Ilia II himself has avoided further comment on the topic.[11]

Meanwhile, the opposition New Rights party, which stood aside from the anti-government demonstrations staged by a coalition of ten opposition parties in October and November 2007, became the only major political group to add a more nuanced view on the establishment of a constitutional monarchy to their agenda. They issued a special declaration supporting the idea and proposing to hold a referendum on the issue, a suggestion which was also included in the pre-election campaign of David Gamkrelidze, a candidate from the New Rights/Industrialists bloc for the early presidential elections held on January 5, 2008.[10][11]

A monarchy option has always caused an ambiguous resonance in Georgia. On the one hand, the monarchy is considered a symbol of Georgian unity and independence, and on the other hand it belongs to a remote past, with a significant gap of more than 200 years in monarchic tradition. Thus, according to one survey conducted in 1998, only 16.3% of 828 respondents believed that a monarchy would be a good or very good form of government for Georgia when asked how suitable they think various types of government were or would be for Georgia.[14]

The skeptics say the restoration of the monarchy is technically impossible due to several reasons including the number of candidates and an unsettled question of succession to the Georgian throne. Additionally, they believe that the criteria for selecting the king will lead to major disagreements.[7] The birth of Prince Giorgi Bagration Bagrationi in September 2011 who in his person potentially will unite the two principal surviving branches of the family may help diminish such skepticism.[15]

The supporters of constitutional monarchy continue to argue that this form of state would best protect the interests of citizens of Georgia; a monarch "would reign not rule", and act as a safeguard of stability and national unity.[11] They see the return to monarchy as a "historical justice", referring to the fact that the native royal dynasty has never been rejected or overthrown by the Georgian people, but was dispossessed by a foreign power (i.e., Russia).[10][16]

Constitutional monarchy and dynastic restoration debate[edit]

Debate of constitutional monarchy was revitalized by the political crisis in Georgia late in 2007. The October 7, 2007 sermon of Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, popular head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, gave new impetus to an old option. The patriarch, who has always sympathized with the idea of constitutional monarchy, said, during his Sunday service at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, that the restoration of the royal dynasty was a "desirable dream of the Georgian people". He also emphasized that if the Georgian people chose this model of governance, "a candidate to the crown should be selected among representatives of the royal dynasty, and he should be suitably raised to be King from childhood."[10][11][17]

Last Georgian King George XII of Georgia. Russia abolished Georgian Kingdom of Kartli and Kakheti by annexing it in 1801.[18] Georgian royal dynasty of Bagrationi were deported and forced to flee the kingdom. But the direct branch of Georgian royal family continues until this day and topic of restoring monarchy is highly discussed in Georgian society.

Although the Patriarch’s sympathies toward the monarchy were not new to the ears of regular parishioners, several opposition parties immediately seized on the opportunity to advance their slogan "Georgia without a President", a reference to the model of parliamentary rule advocated by the Georgian opposition. Many politicians expressed their support for a constitutional monarchy, with a transitional stage in the form of a parliamentary republic.[19]

There has been a broad welcome from the opposition to Illia II's call to consider establishing a constitutional monarchy. “We, most opposition parties, believe that we should have a parliamentary form of government and its perfect form is a constitutional monarchy,” MP Zviad Dzidziguri of the Conservative Party said on October 8. “I always supported a constitutional monarchy, as an appropriate form of government for Georgia,” Salome Zourabichvili, the leader of Georgia’s Way, told reporters. Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili said on October 8 that his party also supports the proposal. Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, the leader of the opposition Freedom Party, said the proposal was “extremely positive.” The New Rights Party, in a statement issued on October 8, said that Georgia should be a constitutional monarchy. A lawmaker from the ruling party, Vakhtang Balavadze, said the issue should only be considered after the restoration of the country’s territorial integrity.[20]

The authorities' response to the calls for a monarchy was restrained. Nino Burjanadze, a chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia, expressed skepticism about the idea and stated that Georgia will not be able to decide on such an important issue until its territorial integrity is restored, referring to the secessions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. President Mikheil Saakashvili, having jokingly remarked on his remote Bagratid ancestry, said that "serious considerations are necessary of this issue so that we do not add new problems to the already existing ones."[10] Mr Saakashvili said: “My grandmother was also a Bagrationi. I say it for people, who want to restore the monarchy. It would be even better because we would avoid the need for elections and would decide everything based on family traditions,” Saakashvili told Georgian reporters in Finland on October 12.[21] “Of course, I am joking,” he quickly added, saying it was unfortunate that he had to stress that because “the opposition lacks a sense of humor.” Giga Bokeria, an influential member of the parliament from Saakashvili’s United National Movement, tried to soft-pedal the Patriarch’s statement: "The patriarch didn’t suggest establishing monarchy today. He meant this may happen after Georgia resolves its fundamental problems."[11] He later alleged that the opposition’s call for a constitutional monarchy was merely a populist move: "they speak about constitutional monarchy here and do not say anything about it abroad. This is their double-standard policy."[13] Ilia II himself has avoided further comment on the topic.[11]

Meanwhile, the opposition New Rights party, which stood aside from the anti-government demonstrations staged by a coalition of ten opposition parties in October and November 2007, became the only major political group to add a more nuanced view on the establishment of a constitutional monarchy to their agenda. They issued a special declaration supporting the idea and proposing to hold a referendum on the issue, a suggestion which was also included in the pre-election campaign of David Gamkrelidze,[22] a candidate from the New Rights/Industrialists bloc for the early presidential elections held on January 5, 2008.[10][11]

A monarchy option has always caused an ambiguous resonance in Georgia. On the one hand, the monarchy is considered a symbol of Georgian unity and independence, and on the other hand it belongs to a remote past, with a significant gap of more than 200 years in monarchic tradition. Thus, according to one survey conducted back in 1998, only 16.3% of 828 respondents believed that a monarchy would be a good or very good form of government for Georgia when asked how suitable they think various types of government were or would be for Georgia.[14]

The supporters of constitutional monarchy continue to argue that this form of state would best protect the interests of citizens of Georgia; a monarch "would reign not rule", and act as a safeguard of stability and national unity.[11] They see the return to monarchy as a "historical justice", referring to the fact that the native royal dynasty has never been rejected or overthrown by the Georgian people, but was dispossessed by a foreign power (i.e., Russia).[10][16]

Public opinion[edit]

Public opinions about the restoration of monarchy in Georgia.

Date Polling organization Question Yes No No answer Ref
October 23, 2007 "Kviris Palitra" (newspaper) "Do you support the idea of a transition to constitutional monarchy?"
45%
29.6%
25.4%
[23]
November 4, 2013 "Big Politics" (talk show) "Should Georgia have a King?"
78.9%
21.0%
[24]
November 5, 2013 "Barrier" (talk show) "Should monarchy be restored in Georgia?"
56.8%
42.4%
[25]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lang, David Marshall (1962), A Modern History of Georgia, pp. 42-70. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  2. ^ Suny, Ronald Grigor (1994), The Making of the Georgian Nation, pp. 70-71. Indiana University Press, ISBN 0-253-20915-3
  3. ^ Jones, Stephen F. (2005), Socialism in Georgian Colors: The European Road to Social Democracy, 1883-1917, p. 292. Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-01902-4.
  4. ^ Edward Alsworth Ross (1918), Russia in Upheaval, pp. 67-8. New York City: Century Co.
  5. ^ "Prince George Bagration of Mukhrani, Claimant to the throne of Georgia who became well known in Spain as a fearless motor racing and rally driver". The Times. 2008-02-02. Retrieved 2008-02-09. 
  6. ^ "Royal House of Georgia Birth Announcement". Royal House of Georgia Official Birth Announcement Prince Giorgi. 2011-09-27. 
  7. ^ a b c Nino Edilashvili (October 15, 2007).Is a Constitutional Amendment the Only Way out for Georgia?. The Georgian Times.
  8. ^ (Georgian)Tavberidze, Dea ლელიო ბაგრატიონის გამეფებას უარყოფენ ("The Bagrationi deny the possibility of Lelio Orsini to become a king"). Prime Time. October 26, 2010.
  9. ^ United States Congress (1990). Elections in the Baltic States and Soviet Republics: A compendium of reports on parliamentary elections held in 1990, p. 187. Washington, DC: Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Zaza Jgharkava (October 18, 2007). Will a Constitutional Monarchy Be Restored in Georgia?. Georgia Today, Issue #379.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Giorgi Lomsadze (December 18, 2007). Time for a King for Georgia?. EurasiaNet Civil Society.
  12. ^ Vladimir Socor (October 26, 2007). Georgian radical opposition fancying regime change. Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume 4, Issue 199.
  13. ^ a b Nino Khutsidze (October 31, 2007). 'No Compromise on Elections Date' (An interview with Giga Bokeria). Civil Georgia.
  14. ^ a b Silvia Iacuzzi (2002). Popular Support for Democracy in Georgia, p. 96. ISBN 3-8311-3981-4.
  15. ^ Lomidza, E, Weekly Georgian Journal (translation), 05.10.11, "Giorgi Bagration-Bagrationi Has Arrived"
  16. ^ a b Declaration of New Rights Party regarding advisability of re-establishing the Constitutional Monarchy in Georgia. The New Rights Party. October 8, 2007.
  17. ^ Georgian Church Calls for Constitutional Monarchy
  18. ^ Another Georgian Kingdom of Imereti was annexed into Russia in 1810.
  19. ^ Jamestown The Jamestown Foundation
  20. ^ Politicians Comment on Constitutional Monarchy Proposal
  21. ^ Saakashvili Jokingly Remarks on Constitutional Monarchy
  22. ^ (Georgian) პოლიტიკური გაერთიანება "ახალი მემარჯვენეების" დეკლარაცია საქართველოში კონსტიტუციური მონარქიის აღდგენის მიზანშეწონილობის შესახებ
  23. ^ 45 percent of Georgia support idea of constitutional monarchy, survey suggests The Messenger
  24. ^ თოქ-შოუ "დიდი პოლიტიკა" 04.11.13 TV3
  25. ^ გადაცემა "ბარიერი" 05.11.13 TV Kavkasia

See also[edit]