The Regional Identity – Georgia’s Center and Periphery (1900-1917)

The question of the national identity is usually discussed according to the criteria, which characterize the nation - the language, the religion, the historical memory, the tradition, the territory. The peculiarities of their perception by the society acquire great significance. Naturally, they must be considered according to the requirements and spirit of the epoch, because the consciousness of the society changes during the centuries. Therefore, in addition to the above mentioned, the consideration of the development of the consciousness of the social strata  and the assessment of  the involvement of the center and periphery during the  evolution of the Georgian nation are significant for the consideration of the Georgian national identity [Songulashvili, 2011: 297].

The evaluation of the peculiarities of the public perception is very important for a complete study of Georgia's history of 1900-1917. The restoration of the Georgian reality needs the study of the attitude of different social strata (or groups) to the ongoing political, socio-economical, cultural and religious processes. The same can be said about the evaluation of the role and involvement of the center and periphery (or a city and a village) in these processes.

1900-1917 was a very difficult and interesting period. Georgia faced new challenges during this chronological stage.  1. On the one hand, it was an ideological continuation of the events, which had been taking place since the 60s of the 19th century - when the so-called heirs of Tergdaleulebi had tried to propagate nationalism, deepen knowledge, idealize the past and "raise" the cognition of the defense of national values.  2. The abolishment of serfdom in Russia (the second half of the 19th century) was followed by the establishment of capitalism and spread of a new economic system in Georgia. These processes facilitated the change of economic forms and stipulated reforms of political life and radical changes of the consciousness of the social strata. The main aim of the Georgian political and cultural elite became the defense of a peasant's rights and definition of his/her functions. 3. The 90s of the 19th century were followed by the appearance of new social strata (proletariat and bourgeoisie) and different political parties, which had their own views of freedom and Georgia's further development. Each of them tried to involve the representatives of lower social strata into the political processes" [Songulashvili, 2011:299].

An unsuccessful completion of anti-Russian rebellions of the first half of the 19th century "convinced" the Georgian cultural and political elite, that an attempt of the restoration of Georgia's independence had no perspectives at that period of time. "A new stage of national movement begins during the second half of the 19th century. Armed actions are replaced by the ideological battle and raise of appropriate consciousness of the population, which aims at the preparation of the Georgian society to overthrow a colonial yoke" [Malazonia, 2001: 4]. During the second half of the 19th century, the spread of capitalistic relations facilitated an industrial-technical progress. Therefore, the necessity of the prominence of an industrial-technical role in the educational processes became obvious for the Georgian intelligentsia.

The perception of the center and periphery/a city and a village by the Georgian cultural and political elite is very significant during the research of the national problem of 1900-1917. This  period comprises a new stage of the development of capitalistic system, the change of industrial techniques, the formation of a new social structure, the culmination of anti-Georgian policy of the Russian government and the threat of Russification of  the Georgian culture, traditions and consciousness.

The Georgian historiography paid attention to different questions of a city and a village. Many scientists studied the problems of their formation, development and relationship. My research deals with the involvement of a city and a village in the process of the development of the national idea.   

A city has undergone different stages of development during the centuries. It had its political, cultural and economic "loads" in different epochs. During 1900-1917 a life of a city achieved new dimensions: besides acquiring a new economic function, it became a cultural center and the main support of the political and cultural elite for the realization of new ideas and views. A city propagated national ideas in the direction of a village. An interesting article concerning this question was published in the newspaper "Mertskhali" in 1908. Its author underlined a role of a city, which gave the tone to the whole social life. Moreover, "a city directs a provincial life and influences it economically. Social, cultural and political issues, every new political course and social movement firstly appear in the city, establish there and only afterwards, gradually spread in the village. The more alive is a cultural-political life or a social movement in a city, the more alive is the life and movement in a village and vice versa, an impeded and weakened life of a city stipulates freezing of a provincial life" [A leading..., 1908: 1].

In 1900-1917 the cities acquired a new significance in Georgia. They were regarded as the main centers for making connections with villages. Moreover, the Georgian intelligentsia intended to bring a renewed style of life in a village, to raise the awareness of villagers in different spheres of life and to strengthen a national self-consciousness via cities. A lot of educational institutions were established for giving education and raising national consciousness in broad masses of society. A city faced new demands and challenges in the new epoch. In 1916 the newspaper "Samshoblo" stated: "Politically, a city has always had a progressive-democratic significance. A village has always been more scanty, isolated and powerless. Therefore, its subordination and enslavement was easier for despots. In the old times a political-social freedom remained only in the villages located in the mountains. A city was like a remote mountain, because it was inhabited by numerous groups of persons and it had better arms for fighting battles. Therefore, the solidity of the civil freedom was born and reared in cities" [Tsereteli, 1916: 2].

The importance of educational institutions raised in 1900-1917. They became the means of the involvement of broad masses of society in almost all questions of the state importance. Neither citizens, nor villagers missed these events. The establishment of capitalistic system facilitated the beginning of the new stage from the economic and cultural-political points of view. Capitalism stipulated the emergence of strong economic and commercial relationships between a city and a village. All the above mentioned influenced the development of culture. Therefore, the leading part of the society tried to open new schools for raising the intelligence of learners as well as for giving them an economic knowledge. These processes reflected positively on the condition of the state. "The school became a necessary tool of the contemporary development. Modern capitalism needs a profound knowledge of the population. A difficult apparatus of the management of the heavy industry will not work without it. The knowledge is needed for a proletarian of a factory, a peasant or a worker of the village" [Shvarts, 1906: 2]. Tbilisi and Kutaisi were the main centers for preaching a national idea. The representatives of the cultural and political elite gathered there. A lot of ideas, which originated in these cities were spread in the broad masses of society. It's worth mentioning, that the importance of Tbilisi of the end of the 19th century differed in the beginning of the 20th century. The consciousness of the society changed radically by means of the activities of the Georgian intelligentsia and the national program, which originated in the 60s of the 19th century. In 1916 the newspaper "Tanamedrove azri" stated: "Tbilisi is the only center, where all the threads of social and ideological lives are gathered. Kutaisi - a petty bourgeois city and the capital of a peasant province - is ideologically fed by Tbilisi" [A village..., 1916: 1]. It's worth mentioning, that in Georgia of the capitalistic epoch, a city acquired a great significance. Moreover, it had to say a new word regarding the revival of the statehood and the maintenance of the national values. Factually, it was the beginning of a new epoch from the economic and commercial points of view. After the abolishment of the feudal system, capitalism was established in Georgia. Despite some serious problems, it succeeded in the beginning of the 20th century. This fact explains why the Georgian cultural and political elite appealed to revive a life of a city and to raise the involvement of different social strata.

The Georgian traditions, history and geographical location determined a great role of a village in Georgia's life. During the centuries Georgia was regarded as an agricultural country. This fact facilitated the necessity of the maintenance and continuation of traditions in the new epoch. Moreover, the new era demanded the consideration of new challenges.

One of the main aims of the Georgian intelligentsia was the revival of a village and a transition to the new standards of peasants' household. In the feudal epoch the relationship between a landowner and a peasant was built on the economic policy. Everyone knew his/her functions. Everyone was accustomed to the existed system. The abolishment of serfdom and the establishment of capitalism changed the situation. The change of economic relationships transformed a peasant's consciousness. The feudal epoch "disappeared" and the necessity of a peasant's involvement into the new life appeared. It was not easy. The established customs had changed. During 1900-1917 the cultural and political elite tried to involve a village into the national processes and facilitated its accommodation with the capitalistic system. "A village -  the main pillar of our life - has not changed yet. We do not know how our peasant lives, how he/she struggles with today's inconsolable situation, what bothers him/her, what is his/her hope, how he/she co-operates with the nobility, priesthood and those state officials, who surround him/her and take care about his/her life, who gather the results of peasants' work in the behalf of the state and for the functioning of the national institutions. The events of the life of a village are not studied well. Therefore, there is no genuine idea about them" [Tpiliseli, 1902: 1]. Iveria nominated some facts, which impeded the success of a village. "What impedes the success of a village? The first - most of our lands are not isolated and a lot of quarrels are carried out. The second - a temporary obligation. The third - we have not got appropriately arranged                       public schools, where pupils can gain knowledge on the pedagogical basis" [Russia, 1902: 2].

These problems became the main challenges of the first 20s of the 20th century. Hence, the major problem was the spread of education in the broad masses of society. This process would facilitate the raise of intellectual potential and economic knowledge. Moreover, it would end with an economic success. It's worth mentioning, that education acquired a significant function in the new epoch. Schools and educational institutions had great importance for the maintenance of the national self-consciousness, the raise of a political level and an economic advance.

In the second half of the 19th century the Georgian cultural and afterwards, political elite aspired for the transmission to the processes, which characterized a capitalistic system. Hence, the transmission was not fast and easy. Villagers (peasants) had difficulties in accepting capitalistic rules. Although these processes proceeded painfully in the city, it was far more advanced than the village. In the beginning of the century, the adaptation to the economic system was a serious problem for a village. Hence, after the efforts of the Georgian cultural and political elite, the situation radically changed. The villagers realized the challenges of the new epoch and tried to improve their living conditions via getting more profound economic knowledge.

Firstly, the society looked indifferently at knowledge acquisition. Hence, the situation changed gradually. In 1917 the newspaper "Sakhalkho sakme" stated: "There is one significant condition in the village. A political work is going on somehow. People "acquire" political cognition, wake up politically and appear on the state arena. Hence, they feel the necessity of cultural-economic work. The same can be said about the revival and development of economy or the spread of knowledge and education. A village is ready for these processes and waits for them. Without them the situation will not change" [Pirtskhalava, 1917: 2].

The theme of a city (and especially, the theme of a village) occupied an important position in the media of the first 20s of the 20th century. Almost all newspapers and journals discussed the problems associated with citizens and villagers. A special attention was paid to the question of a province, because new economic and social reforms were painfully perceived by a village. Moreover, the taxes imposed by local officials and managers "hardened" the conditions of an impoverished village.       

The articles about Georgia's villages and cities were often published in the journals and newspapers. They discussed all problems, achievements and failures. The articles highlighted      household and social problems. The life of citizens and villagers attracted the attention of the Georgian cultural and political elite. Despite the fact, that the articles were printed in all organs, we must pay a special attention to the newspaper "Tanamedrove azri" under the editorship of N. Zhgenti (1915-1917). It described the events, which were urgent in the discussed epoch and depicted the spirit and demands of the villagers, their perception of the national idea and public affairs.

The newspapers and journals paid attention to all parts of Georgia and emphasized the problems of the population (the interests of the inhabitants of different parts were differentiated), for instance, in contrast to Megrelians, the representatives of Guria were very active in the question of knowledge acquisition. The situation in mountains and valleys was quite different. Besides the questions actualized by the elite, great attention was paid to the household            problems of the population. Moreover, newspapers and journals presented the situation in different parts of Georgia.[1]

As it was already mentioned, Georgia underwent particular changes in 1900-1917. This fact was related to the reforms carried out in the world. The same can be said about the events, which took place in our country. Moreover, the question of statehood became very urgent at that period of time. Therefore, the Georgian cultural and political elite, which had gained knowledge abroad tried to "move" the Georgian society to the new system. It propagated the idea of freedom in the population. It's natural, that a village was not an exception. Political reforms were accompanied by economic innovations. Feudal remnants were mostly presented in a village. It was necessary to eradicate them and to raise economic and political levels of villagers.  It's a well-known fact, that during the Middle Ages the Georgian orthodox church and ecclesiastics popularized national ideas in the society. In the new epoch, schools and teachers began working in the same  direction. Besides spreading education, schools tried to actualize the problems troubling society. "Today's village is a very difficult phenomenon. Various contradictory social and economic  relations are interlaced in one another. Different social groups are fighting. The war intensifies     and at the same time, develops this fight. It hastens the differentiation, which exists between the contemporary social and economic lives in a village and in a city. Therefore, the war hastens            the development of capitalism [An..., 1916:1]. The intelligentsia took care about the welfare of a village. Its representatives believed, that the villagers could facilitate the success of a village via brushing up their knowledge in the sphere of economy.

Education was related to the development of an economic knowledge. Therefore, the solution of the following actual problems of a village was necessary for its development: 1. Well-educated public figures, who could popularize a national idea, create special conditions for the maintenance of national values and get acquainted the population with the history and traditions of their country; 2. Persons having an appropriate education for bringing into the village new tools and culture, for establishing special schools, where the villagers could get a technical education, which would facilitate the growth of productivity and promote economic revival.

All the above mentioned can be summarized in the following way:  it is significant to evaluate the involvement of a city and a village (a center and a periphery) on the given stage of the consolidation of the Georgian nation. The study of the Georgian identity without this problem is impossible, even in case of determination of the separate characteristics of the identity.

[1] I do not aim at the detailed discussion of the life of a village. I try to find out how a village considers itself as a part of Georgia, how it adapts to the new economic system and how the villagers' consciousness changes.  


The letters of this time. The contemporary idea. №125 (in Georgian).
Malazonia D.
The Georgian hagiographic thinking in the second half of the 19th century. Tbilisi (in Georgian).
A leading…
A leading letter. Mertskhali. №1 (in Georgian).
Russia in 1902. Iveria. №2 (in Georgian).
Songulashvili N.
The Georgian social environment in 1900-1912 (peasantry). The works of the Institute of History at the Faculty of Humanities of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University. №5. Tbilisi (in Georgian).
The village ...
The village in1916. Tanamedrove azri. №1 (in Georgian).
Tpiliseli M.
The village and the villagers. Iveria. № 26. (in Georgian).
Pirtskhalava S.
In the village. Sakhalkho sakme. №33 (in Georgian).
A national question and the working class. Napertskali. №4 (in Georgian).
Tsereteli V.
A city and a village. Samshoblo. № 384 (in Georgian).