On the eve of Georgian elections, political struggle for power became intense. The competing parties put forward not only different ideas, but also tried to use different symbols. For political rallies, supporters of the ruling party wore white and red dress, linked to the national flag of the country. The point is that in the period preceding the Revolution of Roses the current flag of Georgia – red and white with five crosses – was simply a banner of the then opposition party – the “National Movement” (UNM) led by Mikheil Saakashvili.
Since the 1990s, independent Georgia has been using the national symbols created after the First World War, during the existence of the Democratic Republic of Georgia – the “First Republic” of Georgia, an independent state, named the Transcaucasian Federation right after the February Revolution. Between 1917 and 1921 – the almost four years before the Soviet Russia’s occupation, in use there were at first symbols of Georgian Mensheviks, which was created under the influence of the German flag, replaced by another tricolor flag. The Georgia of the later period had the flag of a Soviet Socialist Republic with symbols matching the heraldry of that time (the last change took place in 1951). After gaining independence, the government of the new state restored the flag of the Democratic Republic.
It is noteworthy that after the overthrow of Georgia’s first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia (1991-1992), Shevardnadze, who then came to power, did not touch the national symbols approved by his predecessor. But after the Revolution of Roses, the new leaders decided to get rid of the “remnants”. On 25 January 2004, the new national symbols were approved. The government was so eager to swear in a new flag that they approved the symbols of the state even before the President Saakashvili’s inauguration. The coat of arms and the flag of Georgia have clearly a Christian character – five red crosses, being the source of the popular “Five-cross Flag”, and on the arms there is St. George (one of the most respected saints in the country). A similar five-cross flag, according to the historical sources, was the country’s flag of Georgia also in the Middle Ages.
With the election approaching, it became clear that the opposition was trying to gradually distance themselves from the flag, giving it a status of a political symbol. For example, at campaign rallies of Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the opposition leader, the old tricolor flag has started to appear along with the state Five-cross Flag.
The leader of Georgian Dream intends to review many decisions of the current government, so it is possible that Georgia will restore also the old flag. The catch, however, here is that the opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili has close ties with the Georgian Orthodox Church – for many years he was engaged in its charitable activities: his name is associated with restoration of many churches, and the construction of the cathedral in Tbilisi (considered one of the highest in the Orthodox world). But the desire to restore the flag of the Republic and “Mensheviks” would displease the Patriarchate, since Christian symbols would be removed from among the state symbols. It is likely that during the political standoff the state symbolics will become an increasingly problematic issue.
Translated by MA