Valiko Jugeli and the Сult of the People’s Guard in Georgia
Keywords:Valiko Jugeli, Noy Zhordania, Georgiy Kvintadze, Democratic Republic of Georgia, Red (People’s) Guard, A Heavy Cross, Ossetia
This article looks at the semiofficial cult of the Red (People’s) Guard in Georgia from 1917 to 1921. The guard originated in the chaos and uncertainty of late 1917 and played a key role in securing the power of Noy Zhordania and the social democrats in Georgia against Bolshevik and other challenges. It also served as the power base for its undisputed leader, Valiko Jugeli. The official and party press fostered a heroic cult around the Guard, its exploits, and its leadership, reflected in Jugeli’s diary-style memoir, A Heavy Cross (1920). The guard’s cultivated image was selfless, politically conscious, internationalist, and devoted to the revolution. Its many critics saw it as thuggish, undisciplined, chauvinistic, corrupt, and militarily ineffective. The mutual dependency between Zhordania and Jugeli ensured that the guard was politically untouchable in Georgia. The need to maintain the loyalty of the guard, and gain the support of Jugeli, was at times a crucial factor in the politics of the country. Ultimately, the power and influence of the guard eroded the effectiveness of Georgia’s armed forces, and its treatment of national minorities, particularly Armenians and Ossetians, helped Bolsheviks inside and outside Georgia undermine and then overthrow the Democratic Republic. After the Sovietisation of Georgia in 1921, the record of the guard was used to discredit the social democrats’ democratic credentials domestically and internationally. Since around 1990, the guards’ South Ossetia campaigns of 1918–1920 have been used to underpin the area’s claims for independence from rule by Tbilisi.
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