Georgia was one of the first Soviet republics to declare independence and introduce a multiparty system in 1990. However, the country’s rapid political emancipation coupled with slow institutionalization led to various serious problems. The first non-Communist president Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s loss of power triggered a civil war, and two secessionist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke out. Later, President Eduard Shevardnadze managed to restore a limited degree of stability, which soon ended in a fragile, corrupt, and inefficient system of governance.
In 2004, the new government launched profound reforms aimed at modernizing the state, the economy, and society. In some respects, these reforms tangibly increased the capabilities of the Georgian state, resulting in better public protection and services. In other areas, such as democratic participation and conflict resolution, the new administration has failed to adequately address the complexities of the issues. Marginalization of the political opposition triggered a political crisis in 2007 that continued throughout 2008 and 2009. Russia and Georgia fought a war in 2008 that ended in occupation and formal recognition of independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia.
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The European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission, is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters. Established in 1990, the commission has played a leading role in the adoption of constitutions that conform to the standards of Europe’s constitutional heritage.
Initially conceived as a tool for emergency constitutional engineering, the commission has become an internationally recognised independent legal think-tank. Today it contributes to the dissemination of the European constitutional heritage, based on the continent’s fundamental legal values while continuing to provide “constitutional first-aid” to individual states. The Venice Commission also plays a unique and unrivalled role in crisis management and conflict prevention through constitution building and advice.
The Commission meets in plenary four times a year – in March, June, October and December – in Venice, in Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista.
You can see Venice Commission’s forthcoming opinion on the new Georgian legislation: http://www.venice.coe.int/site/dynamics/N_Opinion_ef.asp?L=E&CID=40
Concerns continued over the progress of investigations into crimes under international law during the war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008 and in its immediate aftermath. Despite some progress, solutions for the housing and integration of internally displaced people remained insufficient.
The May municipal elections, while assessed favourably by international observers, were accompanied by reports of harassment and intimidation of some opposition candidates. In October, amendments to the Constitution due to enter into force in 2013 were made which will significantly reduce the presidential powers, and increase the powers of the Prime Minister and the government.
The situation remained tense in and around Abkhazia and South Ossetia, regions of Georgia which had declared themselves independent in 2008 following the war between Russia and Georgia. Discussions in Geneva which began that year as part of the ceasefire agreement remained largely deadlocked.
Civilians also continued to suffer from harassment and insecurity in the Gali region of Abkhazia, where shoot-outs, killings and acts of arson were reported in June.