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Gamsakhurdia, Zviad


(19311999), human rights activist and writer.

Born the son of Konstantin Gamsakhurdia, a famous Georgian writer and patriot, Zviad Gamsakhurdia became a leading Georgian dissident and human rights activist in the Soviet Union. In 1974, along with a number of fellow Georgian dissidents, he formed the Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights and in 1976, the Georgian Helsinki Group (later renamed the Helsinki Union). Active in the Georgian Orthodox church, during the 1970s he wrote and published a number of illegal samizdat (self-published) journals. The best-known were The Golden Fleece (Okros sats'misi ) and The Georgian Messenger (Sakartvelos moambe ). Arrested in 1977 for the second time (he was first imprisoned in 1957), after a public confession he was released in 1979 and resumed his dissident activities. After the arrival of perestroika, he participated in the founding of one of the first Georgian informal organizations in 1988, the Ilya Chavchavadze the Righteous Society. An active leader in major demonstrations and protests in 19881989, he became the most popular anticommunist national figure in Georgia and swept to power in October 1990 as leader of a coalition of nationalist parties called the Round Table-Free Georgia Bloc. Elected Chairman of the Georgian Supreme Soviet, after amendments to the constitution, he was elected the first president of the Georgian Republic in May 1991.

His period in office was brief and unsuccessful. Unable to make the transition from dissident activist to political mediator and statesman, his increasing authoritarianism alienated almost every interest group in Georgian society. A coalition of paramilitary groups, his own government's National Guard, intellectuals, and students joined to overthrow him in a fierce battle in the city center in January 1992. He made his base in neighboring Chechnya and in 1993 attempted to reestablish his power in Georgia, leading the country into civil war. Quickly defeated after his forces captured a number of major towns in west Georgia, he was killed, or committed suicide in December 1993 in the Zugdidi region, Georgia.

See also: georgia and georgians; nationalism in the soviet union; perestroika

Stephen Jones

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