Post-Soviet Peripheralization, Anti-Communist Memory Regime: Nation, History and Marketization in Georgia after Socialism

In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union began to fall apart. Mutually exclusive visions of post-Soviet nations emerged, directly contesting the basis of Soviet national-federalism. In the Georgian SSR these dynamics had serious consequences. The formal end of the USSR in 1991 unleashed seismic economic, social and geopolitical transformations into which post-Soviet Georgia was born. The country endured the sharpest relative decline in living standards and GDP of any former Union Republic. Georgia became an impoverished and newly peripheralized state embroiled in civil war, territorial dismemberment, ethno-national strife, and social collapse. The unyielding socio-economic problems of the 1990s in Georgia gave way to one of the first post-communist “color revolutions” – the 2003 Rose Revolution. Newly empowered elites and the allied NGO sector were ideologically committed to radical neoliberal economics and Atlanticism. Pursuing eventual membership of NATO and the EU was enshrined into the constitution. Western countries and international financial institutions went on to assume outsized political and economic influence in Georgia.
At the same time, anti-Communist memory politics became central to Georgia’s post 2003 nation building project. Wide reaching attempts to lustrate the history of the Georgian SSR (1921-1991) from the national history, through the narrative of “Soviet occupation”, were crucial in defining Georgia’s European identity, justifying radical neoliberal reforms, negotiating relations with the Russian Federation and explaining how the severe socio-economic decline of the 1990s – unprecedented in modern Georgia – happened and why. Despite a change of government in 2012, anti-communist memory politics persist today. In the post-Soviet South Caucasus as a whole, historical memory is a key feature of both governance and nation building. Nationhood and its boundaries are defined in terms of specific narratives about the past, while the material and political expressions (as well as uses) of this history constitute the nation’s memory regime. This paper will explore the emergence and establishment of Georgia’s anti-communist memory regime in the context of the country’s post-Soviet peripheralization and neoliberal state building since 1992. It will also explore the contradiction between the Georgian SSR as a historical period of national consolidation, economic growth and relative privilege within the USSR, and the centrality of anti-Soviet memory politics in the post-Soviet period.