Zurab Zhvania: The Georgian Statesman
Zurab Zhvania (Georgian: ზურაბ ჟვანია), born on December 9, 1963, and passing away on February 3, 2005, was a Jewish Georgian politician who served as the Prime Minister of Georgia from 2004 until his death. He also held the position of Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia from 2003 to 2004.
Zhvania was born in Tbilisi, then part of the Soviet Union, now the capital of Georgia, into a family of physicists. His mother, Rima Antonovna, had Jewish and Armenian roots, while his grandfather, Mikhail Goldbaum, served as a cantor in the central synagogue of St. Petersburg and later in Tbilisi.
His Jewish name was Zebulun. In 1985, he earned a bachelor's degree from the Faculty of Biology at Tbilisi State University and subsequently worked at the university until 1992.
He was married and had three children.
Zhvania began his political career in Georgian national politics in 1988. From 1988 to 1990, he was associated with the Georgian Green Party, in which he served as co-chairman. The Georgian Green Party was one of the opposition parties that played a role in leading Georgia to independence.
In September 1991, his party joined the opposition against the first president of independent Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The violent ousting of Gamsakhurdia in January 1992 led to the appointment of Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet Foreign Minister, as the head of Georgia shortly thereafter.
In 1992, Zhvania joined the Citizens' Union of Georgia, a centrist party founded by Shevardnadze. The party won the elections held that year and attracted additional reformists, including Mikheil Saakashvili. In 1993, Zhvania was appointed as the Secretary-General of the party. On November 25, 1995, after the party's victory in the elections, he was elected as the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia.
Zhvania had conflicts with Shevardnadze due to allegations of corruption. On November 1, 2001, he resigned from his position as Speaker of the Georgian Parliament and, along with Saakashvili, left the party. In 2002, he founded and led a new party called the "United Democrats."
On November 2, 2003, parliamentary elections were held in Georgia, which international observers, as well as the United Nations and the United States government, claimed were unfair. In response to this, Zhvania and opposition figures called for protests against Shevardnadze.
Eventually, after weeks of protests, Shevardnadze was forced to resign on November 23. Nino Burjanadze, the temporary Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, took over as the acting president of the country and appointed Zhvania as the Prime Minister.
In the subsequent elections held on January 4, 2004, the opposition emerged victorious, with Mikheil Saakashvili becoming the President and Zhvania being appointed as the Prime Minister of Georgia on February 18, 2004.
Zhvania's tenure as the Prime Minister of Georgia was relatively short, lasting only about a year. In the early morning hours of February 3, 2005, he was found dead along with Raul Usupov, the Deputy Governor of Kvemo Kartli, in Usupov's apartment.
They were discovered lifeless in the apartment after the guards outside heard no signs of life from within. Georgian authorities stated that both men died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty heating system in the apartment and ruled out foul play.
However, family members of Zhvania raised concerns about the official version of events, with Goga Zhvania, his brother, suggesting that he had been assassinated. Additionally, two days later, a fellow member of Zhvania's party and political ally, Badri Patarkatsishvili, was found dead in his home, reportedly by suicide. In May 2006, Georgia's former president, Eduard Shevardnadze, stated that he believed Zhvania had been murdered.
In 2007, Georgia's former Minister of Defense, Irakli Okruashvili, alleged that Zhvania's body had been moved to the apartment where it was found after his death. The circumstances surrounding Zhvania's death remain a subject of controversy and speculation to this day.
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