Georgia's Rose Revolution (2003)

The Lokashakti Encyclopedia of Nonviolence, Peace, & Social Justice

Georgia's Rose Revolution

The Rose Revolution in Georgia sought to overthrow President Eduard Shevardnadze. Shevardnadze was elected as president in 1995. A hold-over from the communist period, Shevardnadze was often seen as a puppet for the Soviet Union. In 2003, his actions would lead to the downfall of his regime and the institution of free elections in Georgia.

Parliamentary elections in early November of 2003 had a great number of seats up for grabs. The political landscape at the time saw such distrust of the Shevardnadze regime due to its intense corruption. Although these were not presidential elections, people took them as a decision on the future of Shevardnadze. If his party lost many seats, it would confirm the people’s distrust for his presidency and signal a shift in power.

The election process ended with Shevardnadze being victorious. However, there were many reports alleging that the election results had been rigged. External election observers deemed the results wildly false and altered to depict Shevardnadze as the winner. In response to the allegations, Shevardnadze disputed rigging reports. Mikheil Saakashvili, an opposition leader who had earlier resigned from Shevardnadze’s party due to his displeasure with corruption, claimed that his party had won the election, a result which independent observers supported.

Saakashvili urged all Georgians to demonstrate nonviolently against the Shevardnadze regime. Demonstrations began all over Georgia. Large groups of demonstrators (sometimes totaling over 25,000 people) protested periodically throughout the next couple of weeks for a repeat of the elections and the resignation of Shevardnadze.

On the 4th of November, citens held large rallies in protest of the election results. Saakashvili, leader of the United National Movement (UNM), called upon all opposition forces to "join up." Other rallies were planned to occur in the towns of Zugdidi, Telavi, and Gori. And opposition groups held another set of large rallies on the 8th of November. Two days later, thousands more gathered for a protest rally outside the parliamentary building where Shevardnadze had been meeting with leaders of the opposition.

The largest demonstration occurred on the 14th of November when between 20,000 and 30,000 took to the streets and gathered around the presidential building, chanting and dancing. In response to the massive unrest, Shevardnadze went on television and made a call for peace, warning that a civil war could be a possibility.

Woman handing roses to soldiersNGOs played a large role (as did American billionaire George Soros by donating millions) helping to organize the protests. While the protesters occasionally clashed with military forces, the protesters responded by giving the soldiers roses or kisses. Eventually, even some of the elite military forces stood in opposition to the current regime.

The final protest occurred on the 24th of November when protesters stormed the new session of parliament. Protesters carried red roses as they interrupted the parliamentary session. Saakashvili raised his rose in the air shouting “Resign!” in the face of the illegitimate leader, presenting it to him. The breach caused bodyguards of the president to evacuate him. It also prompted Russian politicians to set up a meeting with Shevardnadze regime and the opposition. Following the meeting, Shevardnadze announced his resignation.

In the upcoming weeks, presidential and parliamentary elections were held in which Saakashvili’s party won the majority. Throughout the entire campaign, demonstrators remained nonviolent.

Maurice Weeks, reprinted with permission from Swarthmore College's
Global Nonviolent Action Database, licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0

Selected material about Georgia's Rose Revolution
  • Areshidze, I. Democracy and autocracy in Eurasia: Georgia in transition. East Lansing, MSU Press, 2007.
  • "How the Rose revolution happened." BBC News. 10 May 2005.
  • Mydans, Seth. "President of Georgia Pleads For Calm as Protests Grow." New York Times. 15 Novemeber 2003.
  • "Opposition party leader calls mass protest rallies for 8 November." Prime-News Agency. 6 Novemeber 2003.
  • Paton Walsh, Nick. "Georgia leader quits in velvet coup: Shevardnadze forced out in tense standoff." Guardian (London). 24 November 2003.
  • ----. "Poll crisis takes Georgia to the brink: Thousands of protesters risk violent clampdown after Shevardnadze's talks with opposition leaders fail." Guardian (London). 10 November 2003.

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