Discussion of the Draft Constitution in Georgia (49.17)

<<No 49 : 14 May 1978>>

On 24 March 1978, the republic newspaper Dawn of the East published the Constitution of the Georgian SSR. Article 75 of the draft runs:

“The Georgian SSR provides for the use of the Georgian language in state and public organs, cultural and other institutions, and takes all possible care about its development.

“In the Georgian SSR, following the principle of equality, the free use of Russian, as well as of other languages used by the population, is provided for in all these organs and institutions.

“No privileges or restrictions in the use of any of these languages are permitted.”

In the republic a “nationwide discussion” of the draft began. A special session of the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR to adopt the Constitution was fixed for 14 April.

In the course of the discussion a proposal was put forward to preserve in the new Constitution the provision in the present Constitution stating that Georgian is the state language. One of the people who put forward this proposal is the well-known linguist, Academician Shanidze (80 years old). In the University of Tbilisi and many institutes, the collecting of signatures under this proposal was begun.

A few days before the special session was due to open, rumours began to circulate to the effect that a demonstration was being prepared. Leaflets appeared in the university. A day or two before 14 April, a certain Chkhaidze appealed to the KGB: “Save my daughter — she will perish!” She was saved: a search was made, and leaflets were taken from her.

On the evening of 13 April there was an atmosphere of unusual animation in the city. That evening the 8th regiment of the internal security troops was prepared for action. That same evening the Chairman of the Constitution Committee, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party E. Shevardnadze, summoned the Rector and the deans of the university and told them:

“Take care of our youth — our gold reserves, our future. We have the sad experience of ’56” (in 1956 a pro-Stalin demonstration in Tbilisi was fired upon — Chronicle). “As for your hero Gamsakhurdia [CCEs 45-48] — any day now he is going to appear on television and confess that he is an agent of foreign secret services.”

On 14 April, the demonstration began at the university building and went down Rustaveli Boulevard to the Government House, where the Session of the Supreme Soviet was being held. Several thousand people took part in the demonstration. The demonstrators carried placards with the slogan “Our Native Tongue!” and recited poems of the Georgian classics about the language. Some of the participants shouted “Freedom for Gamsakhurdia!” but others stopped them. As they passed the KGB building somebody shouted “Kote, Rote, where is your son?” (as if addressing the late Konstantin Gamsakhurdia).[Note 10]

Along the path of the demonstration soldiers of the 8th regiment and policemen stood at ten-metre intervals. Every five minutes police cars drove past Across the street from the university building a policeman and a man in plain clothes gave a continuous report of events from telephone boxes.

At about 9 pm a police car drove up to the university and from inside somebody shouted into a megaphone: “Your proposal has been accepted. If you do not believe me, if you doubt my words, it will be announced to you presently on television.” At the same time on Rustaveli Boulevard various people addressed the demonstrators, urging them to disperse, since their proposal had been accepted. The Minister of Internal Affairs exclaimed: “For once in your lives believe us!” Finally, Shevardnadze addressed the demonstrators. He read the final text of Article 75:

“The Georgian language is the state language of the Georgian SSR.

“The Georgian SSR takes care about the fullest development of the Georgian language and provides for its use in state and public organs, institutions of culture, education and others.

“In the Georgian SSR the free use in these organs and institutions of Russian and other languages used by the population is provided for.

“No privileges or restrictions in the use of any of these languages are permitted.”

He then made a short speech. At about the same time, copies of the Article were brought out from the printing-office and distributed among the crowd. Then the demonstrators began to disperse.

The next day Avtandil Imnadze, a cameraman who had filmed the demonstration, was arrested.

*

From Shevardnadze’s speech to the ‘Constitution’ session:

“In the course of the discussion the attention of the public was focused on draft Article 75, which had been formulated in a new way. We thought a lot about that article, and we received not a few proposals worthy of consideration. We carried out a study of public opinion among representatives of the workers, collective farm workers and the intelligentsia, and among students and youth as a whole.

“The Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party and the entire Constitution Committee, guided by the principle of continuity and basing itself on the democratic nature of our society and the Constitution, taking into account the results of the nationwide discussion of the draft Constitution, came, during the period of preparation for this Session, to the conclusion that it is expedient to allow to remain in force the well-known formula of the present Constitution proclaiming Georgian as the state language.”

*

There is no analogous formula in the Constitutions of the other [Soviet] republics.