Georgia has been through numerous incarnations since the collapse of the Soviet Union. We track its progress from Communism to the Rose Revolution, from Michael Saakashvili’s controversial presidency to the ill-fated conflict with Russia. To this day not one but two Russian satellite states sit within its borders. How does it cope?
Stunning scenery, legendary hospitality – guided by journalist, tv producer and former member of Mikheil Saakashvili’s national security council, Dima Bit-Suleiman.
|DATES||Saturday 5th – Monday 14th October, 2019|
Led by Dima Bit-Suleiman
Single supplement: £500.00
Saturday October 5: Batumi
Sunday October 6: Batumi - History and Economic Ambitions
Monday October 7: Poti and Abkhazia
Tuesday October 8 - Kutaisi, Stalin’s Legacy, & South Ossetia
Wednesday October 9: The Legacy of the 2008 Conflict
Thursday October 10: Media Briefings – What Next for Georgia?
Friday October 11: Government
Saturday 12 October & Sunday 13 October: Tbilisi – Occupation line – South Ossetia
Monday 14 October: Tours Ends
There will be return transport to Tbilisi.
Transfers to the airport as well as additional hotel reservations can be arranged through Political Tours.
Dates: Saturday, 5 – Monday 14 October 2019
Cost: £4900 Single supplement: £500.00
All of your accommodation and meals with water are included, as well as local transport (except during your free time). Flights are not included in the price and need to be arranged by customers themselves or with an agent.
Following the news
Like all our tours the itinerary is focused on current affairs. Events on the ground may change and the final schedule may be adjusted accordingly.
As on all our expert-led tours the groups are deliberately small and will not exceed 14 people. Frequently we travel with 10-12 people. Limited spaces are available.
Travellers from most countries do not need a visa to visit Georgia, these include the EU States, Australia, New Zealand and USA. To check whether or not you need to obtain a visa, visit: https://geoconsul.gov.ge/en/visaInformation?process=2
FCO Website – Travel Advice
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes regularly updated travel information on its website www.fco.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo which you are recommended to consult before booking and in good time before departure. Where it considers it appropriate to do so, the FCO may advise against all travel or all but essential travel to particular countries or parts of particular countries. Similarly, the FCO may withdraw any such previously given advice. Where the FCO issues such advice, we may as a result cancel your tour or make changes so as to avoid the area concerned (see clause 10). Alternatively, we may ask you to sign a form confirming you wish to proceed with the tour notwithstanding the FCO advice. It is in the nature of the itineraries we offer that the FCO may have issued such advice in relation to the country or parts of the country we are intending to visit prior to confirmation of your booking. In this case, you will be asked to sign the above form before we confirm your booking.
Advice on health requirements may be obtained from your GP, or alternatively from the Department of Health leaflet Advice on Health for Travelers, or the Department of Health in the UK. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit http://www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk/destinations.aspx
It is also useful to travel with medications for traveller’s tummy – like imodium, probiotics and rehydration sachets.
We suggest you visit your own doctor or local travel clinic who will have the most up-to-date travel advice, and be able to recommend any vaccinations prior to travel based on your medical history.
Local currency is the Georgian Lari. ATMs can be found in major towns. Travellers’ cheques are not widely accepted.
Daytime temperatures in October will range from low to mid 20s Centigrade (C) (60-70 Fahrenheit (F)), with overnight temperatures dropping by around 8-10 C (43-54 F)..
There is no particular dress code for Georgia.
Men: Will need a jacket and tie for some of the meetings.
Women: You will need some smarter attire for one or two meetings.
Electricity supply is 220 volts, 2 round pin European plugs.
Wifi is available in all hotels, as well as many coffee shops and restaurants.
International Passenger Protection Insurance (IPP)
All our travel arrangements are covered by the UK’s package tour regulations and are financially guaranteed. We are a land-only tour operator and flights are not included.
Dima Bit-Suleiman has almost two decades of experience as a journalist and producer for many international TV companies including ITN, CNN, National Geographic and BBC. Born in the Soviet Union, Dima grew up in one of the most corrupt countries in the world, but after 2003 he saw Georgia change from a failing state into a regional leader. The 2003 Rose Revolution, led by Mikheil Saakashvili challenged the post-Soviet order of nepotism and corruption, transformed the country, inspired uprisings elsewhere (including Orange Revolution in Ukraine) and infuriated Moscow. Dima didn’t just witness these changes; he took part in them. In 2005 he worked for the national security council under President Mikheil Saakashvili and was part of a small team that prepared for the historic George W Bush visit to Georgia.
Comments on Recent Political Tours
“Political Tours gives you on-the-ground access that would otherwise not be possible. No matter what type of adventurous traveller you are, it is just not possible to easily meet with political leaders in other countries and hear the words directly from their mouth. Furthermore, PT takes the planning out of the question, meaning we could sit back and take it all in, rather than worrying about where the next meal was coming from or organising transport.”
SC, Traveller to Lebanon
“I would recommend political tours to anyone who seethes when they see an umbrella being wafted about in the air leading 80 audio-listening tourists behind. It is for the traveller who truly wants to discover life in a foreign country and understand the ins-and-outs of their political system. The discretion and individuality of these tours is what makes them so special and memorable.”
NG, Colombia and Jordan
“There is no way I could have lined up people for meetings and interviews the way you did. Getting to meet people involved in the war and politicians of later vintage offers a perspective on this that I would not otherwise have got. Let me also mention that the “reading list” you offered was very helpful.”
EL, Traveller on tours to Lebanon and Cuba
“They speakers were excellent in every respect. Nice blend of styles between them. They could deal comfortably with every question and handled the logistics well.”
“For me, the great thing about the tour is that it was interactive – we got to be junior journalists for a week, asking our own questions, exploring our own interests while learning about the country as it is today.”
LM, Baltics, Russia and Jordan
GDP (per capita): $11,481
Capital city: Tbilisi
Government form: Semi-presidential republic
Arising from a number of smaller states belonging to the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia, Georgia was first unified as a kingdom under the Bagrationi dynasty by King Bagrat III around the 8th century. The kingdom flourished during the 10th to 12th centuries, before falling to the Mongolian Empire in 1236. The Ottoman and Persian empires jostled for control of the kingdom, which was on the vital Transcaucasian trade corridor.
In the 19th century Georgia was annexed by the Russian Empire, though briefly gained independence from 1918 to 1921. Following the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union, Georgia was forcibly incorporated in the soviet bloc, after the Red Army invaded and occupied the country, forcing its government to flee. In the Second World War, Hitler sent his armies east with the objective of reaching the Caucasus oil fields, on which Georgia partly sits. His effort was halted by the Soviet forces, to which Georgia provided 700,000 soldiers alongside textiles and munitions.
During the war, Stalin expelled Chechen, Ingush, Karachi and the Balkarian peoples from the Northern Caucasus, relocating them to Siberia on suspicion of collaborating with the Nazis. Then, after the war, his efforts to override Georgian nationalism with an appeal for patriotic unity was largely successful. Following Stalin’s death, his successor Nikita Khrushchev pursued a policy of de-Stalinization, seeking to break down the strongman’s cult of personality that had taken hold across the Eastern Bloc. On March 9 1956, about a hundred protesters rejecting the policy were gunned down in Georgia.
A concurrent decentralisation programme implemented by Khrushchev was exploited by the Georgian Communist Party, who looking to build their own regional power base, turned a blind eye to a nascent shadow-capitalist economy in the vassal state. Corruption was widespread, which embarrassed Moscow.
Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia’s interior minister from 1964 to 1972, earned Moscow’s favour as a fighter of corruption and organised the ouster of Vasil Mzhavandze, the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party. Shevardnadze, with Moscow’s backing, took his place.
In 1978, tensions again flared between Georgian nationalists and their patrons in Moscow, after a ruling that the Georgian language be removed from the country’s constitutions. Mass protests broke out leading the Soviets to permit Shevardnadze to reinstate the language.
Shevardnadze continued to climb the ranks of the USSR, being promoted to Foreign Secretary of the union in 1985. His replacement, Jumber Patiashvili, was ineffective and largely unable to implement then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reformist policies, known as perestroika. Violent clashes between revitalized Georgian nationalist forces, Communist authorities, and minority ethnic groups broke out towards the end of that decade. In a pivotal moment, Soviet forced broke up a peaceful protest in Tbilisi, killing 20. The event led many to lean towards Georgian independence, which it gained following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Zviad Gamaskhurdia, a leading dissident, was elected president of Georgia in May 1991 with 86% of the vote, though he was perceived as ineffective and increasingly authoritarian. He was unable to quiet dissenting violent paramilitary groups, who ultimately brought about his ouster in a violent coup in December 1991. He managed to flee.
The new government invited Shevardnadze to return to the fore of Georgian politics, becoming its de facto president before winning the position democratically in elections in 1995. His tenure was rocky, leading to rising discontent over widespread graft and Shevardnadze’s attempt to manipulate the 2003 election in his favour. Amid mass protests known as the “Rose Revolution”, he resigned, ushering in the election of Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement party. Progress on democratisation and market reforms was steady though occasionally upset by Russian support for separatist movements in Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.
More recently, further democratic steps have been taken, with elections largely free though some worry about the hold oligarchs have over the young democracy. Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire philanthropist, ventured into politics in 2011, united a fractured opposition with his Georgian Dream coalition party. Saakashvili conceded defeat that year, making Ivanishvili prime minister, with another president announced after a year of fraught power-sharing. Ivanishvili then stepped down. Two elections since followed, representing a distinct example from other post-Soviet states in the stabilization of democratic institutions. That said, Freedom House still warns that “judicial independence continues to be stymied by executive and legislative interests.”
Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia’s interior minister from 1964 to 1972, a later president from 1992-2003.
Bidzina Ivanishvili, an oligarch who swept in the new political powerhouse, Georgian Dream, in 2011. Briefly served as prime minister and continues to have an outsized role in political life despite not holding office.
A little War that Shook the World – a book written in 2010 by former Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Ronald Asmus about 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. Describes well the state of affairs and political situation in Georgia just 10 years ago.
Stories I Stole – a book written by famous American journalist and writes Wendell Steavenson, who spent some time in Georgia in the 1990s – a period of turmoil and power cuts. It is a book of 20 individual episodes from her experience in Georgia with real people of different backgrounds. Explains well the recent history and the way of living the Georgians went through just 20 years ago, which is still strongly presented in the minds of older and mid age generations.
A Modern History of Georgia, by David M. Lang a broader classic history of Georgian civilization and its formation as nation from 3000 years ago till modern days (2001).
Georgia: in the Mountains of Poetry, by Peter Nasmyth – one of the first books written about modern history of Georgia. Peter Nasmyth spent some time here in the 90s and still is a co-owner of the first English book store in Tbilisi – the Prosperous Books.
Host and Guest – an epic poem, written by the Georgian writer and philosopher Vazha-Pshavela. It was written in 19th century, but still represents well the essence of Georgian cultural mentality, its relation to “good” and “bad”, approach to nature and the philosophy of the nation.. It is considered to be one of the “masterpiece of the Georgian literature”, which still is relevant even to the modern Georgian society.