Demography
Economics

Did Russian Empire Bring Any Economic and Demographic Benefits to Georgia?

16 December, 2020

On December 10, 2020, News Front, an online media outlet, published an article titled “Russia is our enemy?! – we had been 800,000 before the Treaty of Georgievsk and 5 million in 1991.” News Front refers to Dato Tskipurishvili as the author of the article. The author claims that owing to Russia, the population of Georgia grew over the past two centuries, whereas economy developed significantly creating best living conditions for Georgians. Tskipurishvili also notes that contrary to it, the recent 30-year partnership with the West did not justify expectations and Georgia should re-evaluate who its real enemy is.

Dato Tskipurishvili: “During the period of our cohabitation with Russians, before 1991, our population grew to 5 million and we had the best living conditions. Economically poor Georgians did not actually exist. Neither did slave Georgians exist. On the contrary, the majority of Georgians had been masters of their own lives. Following 1991, when the relations with Russia aggravated and we separated from them, we became the ally of the United States and Europe (a colony, to say more precisely). Why did the population of Georgia decline and why do not we make up even a half of what we had been in the nineties, to say nothing about being masters of our own lives.”

  1. The information as if Georgia had the best living conditions under the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union and no poor Georgians existed is false. In fact, in the second half of the 19th century, Caucasus was one of the economically poor provinces throughout the Empire and neither had it been a leading republic under the Soviet rule.
  2. The claim as if owing to Russia, number of Georgian population grew from 800,000 to 5 million is manipulative, because during that period, the rapid population growth globally was mainly driven by industrialization.
  • Economic situation in Georgia in the period of the Russian Empire and the USSR

After joining the Russian Empire, relatively peaceful period and foreign trade expansion promoted Georgia’s development. However, Georgia, like the entire Caucasus region, had never been a leading province of the Russian Empire. At the beginning of the 19th century, mostly agrarian Russian Empire significantly lagged behind Western countries in terms of economic welfare and industrial development, while the process of modernization was underway in central and peripheral provinces asymmetrically. Although, we had scarce data to describe Georgia’s economic development in the 19th century, prior to the 1860s, over 90% of Georgian population accounted for peasants most of whom failed to regain either their freedom or their own lands. Therefore, several peasant revolts took place in various regions of Georgia in 1840s-1850s with mainly economic demands (Bendiashvili Aleksandre, Daushvili Aleksandre, Natmeladze Makvala, History of Georgia in four volumes, p. 55-60). 

The second half of the 19th century saw the accelerated development of capitalism and industry in Georgia and throughout the Russian Empire. However, the Caucasus remained one of the most underdeveloped provinces of the Empire. In the 1880s, the Caucasus (except Baku) was among the poorest provinces with income less than fifty rubles per capita. For comparison, St. Petersburg province was an absolute leader with an average GRP per capita of 414 rubles. Baltic provinces in the North-West region were also relatively rich with income more than a hundred rubles per person.

The economic picture reconstructed on the basis of various data from the 1890s shows that by the end of almost a century-old rule of the Russian Empire, the Caucasus outstripped only Central Asia and step' provinces by GRP per capita, and this figure did not exceed 71.33 rubles per capita. Along with the Caucasus data, the table below also features Europe, uniting the data from several regions of the Russian Empire.

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Further, despite some reforms and positive changes implemented in the 19th century, the Russian Empire was the poorest empire in Europe by GDP per capita. In 1897, Russian GRP (in 1990 international dollars) amounted to 1,198 dollars, while the same figures were 2,848 and 2,760 dollars in Germany and France, respectively, and 4,428 dollars – in Great Britain (see the table below).

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The table clearly shows unequal wealth distribution among Russian Empire’s provinces. GRP per capita amounted to 6,630 dollars in St. Petersburg, while the same figure in Yakutia province (located on the territory of present Kazakhstan) was only 576 dollars. 

The Empire’s economic condition did not change at the beginning of the 20th century either. According to the data for 1913, Western countries were almost four-fold ahead of the Russian Empire by GDP per capita.

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According to another myth, Georgia had been one of the leading republics by economic indicators and population welfare. In fact, the first two decades of the Soviet era ended in severe economic and material crises for all Soviet republics largely due to compulsory collectivization of the 1930s and the World War II. It is problematic to compare the data of Soviet Republics of that period and determine exact figures. However, the indicators that are close to the reality can be calculated through various assessments. In the late 1930s before the World War II, USSR’s GDP per capita was about USD 1,440. It is noteworthy that the Western countries reached this figure in the middle and final years of the 19th century. 

We have relatively comprehensive data about Georgia’s economy for the 1970s-80s, when the country’s economic situation really improved compared to previous periods. However, during two decades (1970-1988), the national income of Georgian SSR was below the national incomes of other Soviet republics. For example, in 1970 Georgia’s national income amounted to 4099 million rubles. Six republics (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania) had a higher number the same year and Georgia ranked 7th. 

See detailed information about this issue in the article prepared by Myth Detector: 
Was Georgia the wealthiest republic in USSR?

  • Did Georgian population grow owing to the Russian Empire and the USSR?

Although the figures named by Dato Tskipurishvili comply with the number of Georgian population in 1783 and 1991, citing the Russian Empire or the USSR as the reason behind population growth almost over two centuries is a manipulation. In fact, this period coincides with rapid population growth worldwide, when the world’s population made a major leap and achieved doubling for several times in record short periods of time. This tendency was observed throughout the world and it was closely linked to the Industrial Revolution launched in the 18th century. 

Initially, rapid population growth started in Europe’s developed and industrial countries; later, from the second half of the 19th century, this tendency, along with industrialization, was first observed in the Russian Empire and then in the Soviet Union. As for the developing countries, a population explosion started here following the WWII and soon growth rates outstripped similar figures in the European countries. From 1930 to 1975, the world’s population doubled for the third time over the past 300 years and amounted to 4 billion. 

It is also worth noting that over the past 50 years, population growth rates slowed down significantly that became quite obvious in the 21st century. According to the UN World Population Prospects for 2015, by 2050, population will decline in 48 countries of the world, including European countries and Georgia, as well as the Russian Federation, which is ranked 19th by problem relevance. According to the same forecasts, Georgia is ranked 15th (see details in Myth Detector’s article).  

Thus, the demographic tendency emphasized by Tskipurishvili is not directly linked to the change of Georgia’s political course. It should be discussed in the context of processes ongoing in the world’s population, considering various factors affecting population growth.

Spread of the article

As of 10:00, December 16, News Front’s article was shared on Facebook 29 times. The article was shared to 11 public groups:  კოტე ჩიკვილაძის და გულბაათ რცხილაძის თანამოაზრეების ჯგუფი: Россия и Грузия (the Group of Associates of Kote Chikviladze and Gulbaat Rtskhiladze: Russia and Georgia)”, პატრიოტთა ალიანსის მხარდამჭერები ! ! ! (Supporters of the Alliance of Patriots); საქართველო და რუსეთი/Грузия и Россия (Georgia and Russia); СТАЛИН ВЕЛИКИЙ УЧИТЕЛЬ სტალინი დიდი მასწავლებელი (Stalin the Great Teacher); საქართველო და მსოფლიო (Georgia and World); МЕЖДУНАРОДНОЕ СТАЛИНСКОЕ ДВИЖЕНИЕ საერთაშორისო სტალინური მოძრაობა (International Stalinist Movement); რუსთავი 21 👁️ RUSTAVI 21; წინ საქარათველო უკეთესი მომავლისაკენ !!!, (Forward to the bright future of Georgia); პრემიერ-მინისტრი გიორგი გახარია (Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia); კახა კალაძე თბილისის მერი (Kakha Kaladze Tbilisi Mayor); ბიძინა ივანიშვილი - დადებითი და უარყოფითი. Bidzina Ivanishvili - positive a.


Prepared by Medea Sulamanidze


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