[FOUNTAIN]Velvet revolutionsEmbracing the Caucasus mountain range between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, Georgia is known for its strong wine, spicy food and passionate “machos.” The Georgian founding myth is a story of pride. When God distributed the land on Earth to each race, the Georgians arrived late because they were busy eating and drinking. They were about to be left without land, but they served God their wine and food. Impressed by the delicacies, God gave Georgians the Caucasus region, which God had saved for himself.
But the land experienced a series of tragedies, as the major powers in world history eyed the strategic location. The Greeks invaded Georgia in the 8th century B.C., followed by the Persians and Romans. From the 13th century through the medieval period, Mongols and Turks ruled the region. From the 20th century until recently, Georgia was under the former Soviet Union’s rule.
The 75-year-old veteran President Eduard Shevardnadze, nicknamed the “Silver Fox,” was the pride of Georgia. In 1972, he was appointed the first secretary of the Communist Party’s central committee for Georgia. He continued to thrive in his career, being named foreign minister under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. As a result of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Georgia achieved independence. Mr. Shevardnadze returned to the region, which was devastated by civil war, and was elected president in 1992. But he, too, fell into the trap of corrupt family and friends.
Mr. Shevardnadze stepped down from the presidency Sunday, following three weeks of demonstrations. Since his decision avoided any bloody conflict, the transition of power in Georgia was compared to the “Velvet Revolution” of Czechoslovakia in 1989. The Czech Republic has grown into a model case in Eastern Europe under President Vaclav Havel’s leadership, persistently pursuing westernization and reform. The smooth process of transition tallies with the soft and graceful image of velvet.
Korea’s Democratization Declaration on June 29, 1987 came two years before Prague’s Velvet Revolution, taking a similar course of development and political meaning. But the 16 years since the declaration have been neither smooth nor graceful. Korea still seems to be in the process of a bloodless revolution. When he stepped down in February, Mr. Havel said he was able to achieve so much thanks to the patience of the Czech people.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.