The compulsory schooling applies from the age of six. The school is 11 years old, of which 9 years are compulsory. Admission to universities and other higher education requires 11-year school or 9-year compulsory school combined with secondary education. Georgian is the dominant language of instruction with the exception of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (82% of Georgia schools had the 1996/97 academic year as Georgian language); In addition, there are schools with teaching on e.g. Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian.
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New elements in the education system after the Soviet period are private schools and colleges, as well as the existence of fee-based education.
Higher education was already established in the 1000s-1100s in Georgia with the academies of Iqalto and Gelati. The first modern university, Dzjavachisvili University, was founded in Tbilisi in 1918. Colleges are now (1998) also in Suchumi, Kutaisi, Zugdidi, Batumi, Telavi, Gori and Achaltsiche.
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Tensions with Russia rose again in late 1999 and early 2000, which was linked to the war activity in Chechnya. Moscow accused Tibilisi of supporting and giving asylum to the Chechen separatists. An allegation Shevardnadze’s government vigorously rejected.
The private channel Rustavi-2 was closed in October 2001 after reporting corruption in the government. The closure triggered demonstrations demanding the departure of Shevardnadze and his ministers. His tenure was seen as the cause of the corruption, the civil war and poverty. Shevardnadze responded by firing his government. In November 2001, acting Foreign Minister Nino Burjanadze was elected President of Parliament at an extraordinary session.
In February 2002, military advisers from the United States arrived in Georgia, sparking protests from Russia. Washington responded that the purpose was to fight a group of Muslims linked to the al-Qaeda network. The group’s base was allegedly located at the border with Chechnya. Still, various media estimates that the United States was planning to build a military base. During the United States invasion of Iraq in March 2003, these plans were confirmed.
2003 Exit Shevardnadze
In November 2003, parliamentary elections were held. Initially, the official results confirmed Shevardnadze’s party’s victory, but thousands of people questioned the outcome and demonstrated in the streets. Opposition leaders broke into parliament and international observers could report many irregularities. The Supreme Court had to cancel the election result. Shevardnadze was forced to resign and go into exile. Georgia had undergone a relatively bloodless revolution. Nino Burjanadze was inaugurated as interim president. The United States benefits greatly from the power shift and will now be able to more directly control the flow of oil to Europe, through the pipeline being built through Georgia from the oil fields in Azerbadjan.
Immediately after the change of power, a number of opposition parties agreed to support Mikhail Saakashvili’s candidacy for the presidential post. He was 37, a lawyer, educated in the United States, a member of the National Party, and had begun his political career under Shevardnadze’s protection, though he ended up leading the revolution that overthrew his mentor. Although he was one of the ministers fired in 2001, Saakashvili became popular for his criticism of the corruption and pledge to fight poverty. He won the presidential election in January 2004 by an overwhelming majority – 96% of the vote, declaring that he would use “special funds” to “get rid of organized crime and the bandit”.
In March, tension with Aslan Abashidze, the leader of the semi-autonomous region of Asaria, increased in southwestern Georgia. Abashidze refused to acknowledge Saakashvili’s government, and Tblisi therefore imposed a partial economic blockade on Azaria. The border was closed – including ports, airports and airspace. Tblisi demanded from Asia that the constitution be respected – including freedom of speech, the conduct of political campaigns and the right to vote. In the Georgia election that month, Saakashvili won the majority of seats in parliament.
In May, Abashidze threatened to invade and blow up the bridges in the air that connected Azaria with the rest of the country. Saakashvili warned the separatist leader that if he did not disarm his troops, the army would strike against them. The consequence was that Abashidze went into exile in Moscow. Also in May, South Ossetia held elections not recognized by Tblisi.