State Education Policy as a Mechanism for Constructing National Identity in Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921)

The research related to the construction of nationalism and national identity is still an important topic of interest in contemporary humanities and social sciences. Lowell Barrington excludes the availability of agreed definition in discussion on the concept of nationalism due to the varying interpretations of this concept. Nationalism as an ideology is a process that consolidates national features of a nation the outcome of which, faith of the group members, embraces the idea of establishing a national state (Barrington, 2006). The theory that serves as a basis for examining the issue in question refers to the political transformation of nationalism, nationalism as a political form. According to the Modernist theory, the political transformation of nationalism is considered to be the reason for the construction of a modern state. A lengthy discussion has been dedicated to this idea in “Nationalism and the State” (Breuilly, 1993) by A. John Breuilly who suggests that nationalism is a political form. He criticizes widely spread opinions about the origin of nationalism and believes that often the theorists decentralize the political nature of nationalism within the context of the emergence of modern nations. Focusing only on certain elements, such as culture, ideology, past, myths and history, would disregard the fundamental concept of nationalism, states A. John Breuilly (Breuilly, 1993). He defines nationalism as a political movement striving towards power and justifying the legitimacy of power by national arguments. In order to better understand the political goals of nationalism, A. John Breuilly suggests to carefully observe the space beyond the main scene of nationalism and examine what kinds of nonpolitical impulses create the environment for the development of political nature of nationalism. First of all, it is a national ideology that serves as a political tool in the process of nation-building. Reconstruction of the historical past, myths, and popularization of national identity through cultural patterns is a phenomenon that has a tremendous impact on national ideology and symbolism. The way through the political integrity towards political unity explicitly means that the ideal of the national unity is homogeneous and its division into separate economic, cultural and political unities is unacceptable. All three of them should be examined as interrelated. “Thus, according to Breuilly, nationalism is a distinctive “juggling” ideology that consolidates two beginnings: the nation as a unity of citizens and the nation as a cultural unity” [Davitashvili, 2003: 109].

We are aiming to examine the issue under consideration, i.e. State Education Policy as a Mechanism for Constructing National Identities in Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921) within the framework of the theory of political transformation of nationalism and determine that the vision of the 1918-1921 Democratic Republic of Georgia, in terms of planning and implementation of the education policy, represented the unity of the nation’s political and cultural nature. Education policy is a state policy that creates an intended mechanism for the formation of such unity. It incorporates legitimation of the development of civic consciousness, and cultural aspects for defining the distinctive character and identity of the people / nation. With regard to the issue under consideration, we are dealing with the address delivered by Noe Tsintsadze, Deputy Minister of Education “on reorganization of schools”. In addition, within the context of the issue in question, the discussion on the part of the constitutional committee on entitling national minorities to pursue education is considered as significant.

The representatives of the Modernist theory of nationalism regularly emphasize the most important and defining role of education in the process of formation of national identity. According to Benedict Anderson, a wider cultural system print media, literacy, and education – provides the basis for political objectives and movement (Anderson, 2003). Eric Hobsbawm states that the development of schools and universities is directly related to self-determination processes of the nation (Hobsbawm, 1962). Theorists of nationalism agree that the ruling elites themselves include the issues of cultural, educational and linguistic standards in their agenda. Through consistent policy, they outline the contours of the formation of citizens’ national identity.

Before proceeding to a discussion on the main issue, we consider it essential to say a few words about some important aspects of the construction of the Georgian nationalism.

From the second half of the 19th century, the Georgian intellectual elite learned to employ those mechanisms of modernization that ultimately was completed by the establishment of the Georgian cultural nationalism. The intellectuals of 1860s established the Society for the Spreading of Literacy among Georgians, restored the Georgian theatre, founded the Bank of the Nobility, and issued Georgian newspapers and magazines. Taking charge of the revival of nationality and Georgian culture was the utmost aim of Ilia and the tergdaleulis. Their practical efforts towards education, culture and economics provided the basis for political and economic unity of the Georgians (Jones, 2007). Therefore, their efforts represented consistent preparations for country’s future declaration of independence. The identification of the nation’s cultural patterns remains to be a central idea of nationalism until the idea of establishing a national state becomes part of the nation’s agenda. In other words, moving from the cultural to the political is also the typical trajectory for the development of the national idea that for different nations occurs at different points in time (Nodia, 2009). In case of Georgia, the occurrence of such type of trajectory in 1918 is verified by the declaration of Georgia’s independence. However, due to its short-lived existence, we are unable to consider it as an established and complete national state. We can only hypothetically assume and look for the signs which indicate that the Democratic Republic of Georgia of 1918-1921 indeed was a step (though uncompleted) from cultural nationalism towards the formation of the national state because of the Soviet Russian intervention of 1921 in the territory of the independent country.

The representatives of legislature of the first Republic and the intellectuals regularly discussed the ways of organizing the system of education and the need for proper planning and implementation of reforms. Through the study and analysis of the Georgian print media, publicistic works and the archival materials of the Ministry of public education of the period reveal that the ultimate goal of the Georgian reformers intended the elimination of the Russification policy in education, and nationalization and democratization of education as well as the development of the national concept of education which intended the nationalization of schools. In addition, the adjustment of the Georgian reality to the European education system was a key matter of concern for them. Through consistent efforts, they developed the concept of national policy which manifested itself in the nationalization of schools, elaboration of curricula, programs and text-books prepared from national perspective. Nationalization of education and adoption of the Georgian language policy led to the inclusion of the issue of national minorities in educational and cultural institutions into the agenda. On a legislative level, several statutes were developed that were distinct due to the democratic approaches towards national minorities. The right to education for national minorities, in an established form, was defined in Chapter 14 of the 1921 Constitution of Georgia, in which six articles out of nine dealt with the cultural, educational and linguistic choice of minorities and their rights to create the local communal, national and urban unions. The Constitution entitled them to access education and enjoy cultural self-determination ensuring non-interference on the part of the state, though expecting them to be loyal to the Georgian national project. Raising and regulating the issue of education in Abkhazian and South Ossetian regions represented an important challenge for the education policy of the Democratic Republic of Georgia.[1] In these regions, the government policy should not have caused an intense, conflicting response and should not have implemented a balancing policy. It is also important to emphasize that, apart from the school issue, extensive cultural and educational efforts were made in the army and the guard of the Democratic Republic of Georgia.

In the book entitled “Georgian Democracy” published in Paris in 1921, Wladimir Woytinsky states that the intellectual legacy of the 19th century served as a foundation for democratic educational activities in Georgia. The principles of the tergdaleulis for future development of the country were manifested in efforts to ensure education for the society and, specifically, for the younger generation. Most importantly, Europe should have been their main point of reference. A comprehensive reorganization of education was the most important concern for Georgian democracy: the democratic state should have reinforced social freedom and facilitated the development of national culture (Woytinsky, 2018). As Stephen Jones also indicates, the intellectual legacy of the tergdaleulis was immensely important for Social Democrats. It was the tergdaleulis who helped them become acquainted with the ideas of equality, personal rights as well as national freedom in Georgia (Jones, 2007). Georgian Social-Democrats, similar to the Austrian and German counterparts, provided the society with the model of socialism that was based on self-help, education and cultural development: “such efforts laid the foundation of initial elements of civil society in Georgia” [Jones, 46: 2007].

The most important event for Georgian history, the declaration of independence on May 26, 1918 was preceded by the restoration of autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church in 1917, and the establishment of the University in 1918. Against the background of the international, political and social situation of the time, these two events were a step forward to the consolidation of the Georgian society and to the proper benchmarks. The higher education concept developed by Ivane Javakhishvili and his associates created the proper system of educational reforms that corresponded to the development of the Georgian Democratic Republic in a European manner (Gaiparashvili, 2017). When delivering his address at the celebration dedicated to the establishment of the University, Akaki Chkhenkeli, on behalf of the National Council of Georgia actually defined the key patterns and objectives of the education policy of the future democratic government of Georgia. He considered the establishment of the University as a vital fact for the life of the Georgian nation and urged the future generation, to encourage the Georgian university and the educational system of the country, together with the development of the national culture, to be committed to democratic principles and serve the nation: “the most sacred duty of the Georgian University is to serve the legitimate demands of democracy, and come close to the people. If the national culture was only accessible to a small group of people in the past, today the national culture is national only when it becomes available to everyone. Noone should be discriminated. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn science. Science should protect democracy. The connection between democracy and science should be maintained in the Georgian University” [Newspaper “Ertoba”, 1918 :2]. The above speech delivered by Akaki Chkhenkeli could be considered as manifesto concerning national as well as European and democratic values of the country where the education policy of the Georgian Democratic Republic should have one of the key roles. Those who were in charge of educational system, understood that the society of individuals brought up by embracing national spirit and cultural equality, and full of civic responsibility, ensures the development of a new democratic country.  The above-mentioned vision and the convictions are addressed in Deputy Minister Noe Tsintsadze’s report entitled “On the reorganization of a secondary school”.

In his address, delivered at the Government meeting on July 17, 1919, Noe Tsintsadze discussed the adverse outcomes of the Russification policy within the Georgian educational system and, therefore, the needs for its transformation and its replacement with the new one. From the very beginning, he emphasizes the fact that in terms of its direction and content, the old educational system, the old secondary school is the child of old reality that does not correspond to the demands and goals of a new life. Its transformation and reorganization require a new basis for the establishment of a new school: Democratism with a social intention – this is a major basis to found our new school, the development of the entire harmonious nature of a man, namely his willpower – this is the main that the school is expected to accomplish” [CSHAG, Archive, 1935, Directory I,  File N518.p. 2]. Given the fact that a man is a social being, he is constantly engaged in his interaction with the environment. In other words, he is involved in a continuing process of socialization that allows him to acquire skills that are typical to a particular society. Besides, as a creative being, he participates in transformation and development of societal values. The principal goal of the social function of education is to prepare an individual to become an honorable member of society. When identifying social goals of education and school (social intention), Noe Tsintsadze considers the development of those competences that would be essential for the new democratic society in 1918. However, it is worth considering that the accomplishment of a new social function of education could not be easy in the context of a newly founded Democratic Republic, given the complex legacy inherited from the Russian Empire.

As we know, democracy is based on the principle of equality and is a model of a social order based on a defined system of values. Keeping in mind the very feature of democracy along with cultural equality, the idea of equality gives people the opportunity to develop by pursuing their chosen path. Since the idea of cultural equality was violated in the Russian imperial setting, the school was accordingly designed as a hierarchical structure. Through democratic governance the school should have become a unified organism not only by content but also by its composition which from practical perspective should have been accomplished by means of establishing a unified school system. A new school incorporated a three-stage system, i.e. public school, superior grade school and four-year secondary school with fifth graders admitted. According to the deputy Minister, a new school will be developed based on a bifurcation principle which meant the individualization and strengthening of students’ skills. They will be given an opportunity to independently select their desirable subject area. However, taking into account the available cultural inequality and social level, this idea remained unaccomplished at first.

Noe Tsintsadze’s report could be divided into several points which highlight important values in terms of school reorganization and, therefore, the introduction of the issue of formation of national identity. When Noe Tsintsadze poses the question about the purpose of the school apart from the transfer of knowledge, he treats an individual as a value. An individual is centralized in social relations. “the human being himself is the reality of life within the realm of which the human creative will develops. Indeed, appreciation of the human nature should be regarded as one of the important goals of the school, for the purposes of which the study of psychology should have an important place within the school curriculum” [CSHAG, Archive, 1935, Directory I, File N518. p. 2]. The principle of dichotomy of an individual and society contributes to the development of civic responsibility in individuals. Noe Tsintsadze identifies the growth of civic self-awareness as one of the most important goals of the new school system and believes that “the development of human willpower  takes place within the political setting and the young generation should be taught the laws of political life, and the civic issue among the young generation should be regarded as a crucial one” [CSHAG, Archive 1833, Directory I, File 181, p.180].

Fully functional interactions between an individual and society could not be accomplished if an individual is unable to understand the national roots of society and the country. This is possible only when they are taught the history, culture, traditions, geography of their country, along with the history of Georgia; political economy, logic, law, physical education and crafts would be added to the curriculum. Also, philosophy, natural sciences and mathematics. Noe Tsintsadze pays special attention to the study of subjects of humanities. The culture of new Europe is permeated with the ideas of humanism and advocates the principles of democratism. In his opinion, removing Latin from the curriculum and including of the modern European languages would bring Georgia closer to the leading countries of Europe. Noe Tsintsadze’s report highlights the main features upon which the educational system and new school of the democratic country should be based. The society of individuals who are brought up by embracing national spirit and cultural equality, and are full of civic responsibility contribute to the development of the new democratic country.

Protection of every citizen’s rights represents the highest value for a developed democratic country. Along with that, the issue of rights of national minorities and  of their self-determination are among the interests of a national state: “minorities need to understand that our republic is their republic and anything that harms the state, will harm them as well” [CSHAG, Archive 1833, Directory I, File 181, p. 180], – stated Pavle Sakvarelidze, the chairman of the constitutional committee.

In the chapter dedicated to national minorities living in Georgia in his book The Experiment: Georgia's Forgotten Revolution 1918-1921, the journalist and historian Eric Lee suggests that “The Georgian Social Democrats believed in the rights of national minorities.  However, the very issue was still the Achilles heel for those in power in the Democratic Republic” [Lee, 2018: 181]. Unlike Eric Lee, the historian Firuz Kazemzadeh accuses the Democratic Republic of extreme nationalism in his book “The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921”. The author claims that after coming to power, the Georgian Mensheviks could but bow to the resurgent nationalism of the Georgian people. The nationalist virus spread with unexpected speed, affecting all organs of the state. Another step in the direction of nationalism was the substitution of a national flag with the picture of St. George, Georgia’s patron, for the red banner of the revolution. The Georgian Constituent Assembly made the Georgian language the only one its members were allowed to speak. The only language which was common to all, Russian, was outlawed. Russian and Armenian citizens lost their jobs due to this decree, and so on. Finally, the author cites the English journalist’s phrase according to which he saw a classic example of an imperialist 'small nation’ (Kazemzadeh, 2016). One might get the impression that the author accuses the government of the Democratic Republic of intense and chauvinistic nationalism that led to instability and confrontation with inner and outer powers. We think that Firuz Kazemzadeh’s opinion consists of subjective attitudes. As verified in the constitution, the government of the Democratic Republic recognized the rights of national minorities in the territory of the Georgian state.  Most importantly, the government encouraged their cultural self-determination and their right to education. The right to education of national minorities was part of the consolidated state education policy that was expected to determine national identity of citizens of the democratic country.

On May 26, 1918, the very first day of declaration of state independence of Georgia, at the meeting of the National Council of Georgia, Noe Zhordania stated that any national minority living within the borders of the state has the same rights as the majority of the Georgian state – the Georgian population [Newspaper “Sakartvelo”, 1918, N102:1]. Articles 5 and 6 of the Act of Independence highlight that the independent state, within its borders, ensures civil and political rights of all citizens, notwithstanding their nationality, religious affiliation, social status and gender [Newspaper “Sakartvelo”, 1918, N102:1].  Besides, the declaration of the National Council of Georgia, dated June 15, 1918, underlines the rights of national minorities living in Georgia [Newspaper “Ertoba”, 1918, 123: 2].

National minority rights, and the issues of their education and cultural self-determination shaped into its final form in the 1921 Constitution of Georgia, being specified in chapter 14 of the Constitution. Representatives of all national minorities were entitled to develop and be taught in their mother tongue, and be able to establish self-governments and unions. For the protection of their rights, they were entitled to apply to the court even through those unions (Papuashvili, 2013). The declared promise specified in the legal act consistently developed in practice: each of the national minorities in Georgia had their own national council. Ethnically emerged political organizations pursued unrestricted operation. There were 80 Armenian, 60 Russian, and 21 Azerbaijani schools in Georgia. They laid the foundation for elementary education in Abkhazian and Ossetian languages (Janelidze, 2009).

The provisions elaborated by the constitutional committee are important for us, these provisions refer to the issues of right to education, language and cultural self-determination of national minorities. At the meeting of May 5, 1920, the constitutional committee approved that the chapter covering national minorities in the Constitution draft would be based on the project by Pavle Sakvarelidze, the member of the Georgian Constituent Assembly and the chairman of the constitutional committee. According to the project, national minorities were not restricted in their free political, socioeconomic and cultural development, and especially in their right to be taught and pursue their national-cultural affairs in their mother tongue. According to the project, individuals were free to self-identify their affiliation to any of the national minorities. Within the framework of the Constitution and the legislation, national minorities would be taught in their mother tongue, however, the law also required the knowledge of the state language [CSHAG, Archive 1883, Directory I. File N181. p.123].  The language issue was the most widely debated one among the members of the constitutional committee. The meeting held on May 8, 1920 to focus on the language issue is of importance. From this perspective, we would emphasize the idea of Levan Natadze suggesting that learning one’s mother tongue is the right, rather than obligation of a human, a person and further emphasizing that considering basic requirement of education science, learning at the level of elementary education is supposed to be pursued only in the languages of minorities: “the policy of old regime confronted this great principle, while we were fighting against the policy. The simplest definition of education is that learning in elementary schools is most fruitful in their mother tongues. Teaching of the state language should commence on the next level, at the superior grade school” [ CSHAG, Archive N1883, Directory I. File N181. p. 225].

Indeed, the representative of the Democratic Republic believed in the idea of cultural diversity in the democratization process of the country, considering it as a common privilege: “the more diverse the entire state culture, the deeper and stronger the culture of every nation” [CSHAG, Archive N1883. Directory I. File N181. p. 2]. Therefore, they believed, facilitation of cultural diversity and advancement of national minorities was, first of all, related to the national development of the Georgian population; however, not by restricting the interests of the Georgian people, taking into account the fact that Georgians are the majority of the population of Georgia, the national state. These are the foundations of the development of the national state, national and democratic state, they remarked [CSHAG, Archive N1883, Directory I. File N181. p. 121].

General state policy of the Democratic Republic of Georgia the integral part of which is the education policy, specifies that the vision of the 1918-1921 Democratic Republic of Georgia in terms of the planning and implementation of education policy manifests into the unity of political and cultural nature of the nation. The education policy is the state policy which itself represent a mechanism for the formation of such unity. It incorporates legitimation of the development of civic consciousness, and cultural aspects for defining the distinctive character and identity of the people / nation. In addition, the rights of national minorities in Georgia are regulated by legislation. It promotes preservation and development of their identity in the territory of the country, while expecting loyal attitudes toward the Georgian national project. The 1921 Constitution of Georgia is a clear representation of the Georgian model of democracy. However, it would be fair to note that the features of the Georgian model of democracy are to be examined also within the education policy of the Democratic Republic of Georgia of 1918-1921.

[1] The term “South Ossetia” was established in the period under consideration and it is applied in the empirical material of the research: newspaper articles, official documents and archival materials.


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