Tbilisi Events of 14 April 1978 and the Excerpts from the Western Press

News | Memory and Disinformation Studies | Article 14 April 2020

On 14 April, a large demonstration was held in Tbilisi. The citizens of Soviet Georgia protested an attempt of the Communist party to change the constitutional status of the Georgian language. In 1977, the new Soviet Constitution was adopted and the Highest Council of the Georgia SSR discussed the constitutional plan according to which the Georgian language would not be a state language on the territory of Georgia anymore, which caused a huge dissent in the society. The protest wave culminated on 14 April 1978.

 

The majority of demonstrators were students. However, the protest was supported by the intelligentsia as well. On the same day, there was an attack between the Soviet militia and protestors while the army was mobilized at the House of the Government. Due to the rising tensions, Eduard Shevardnadze, who was the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, addressed the demonstrators and reminded them the events of 9 March 1956. However, his speech was followed by the negative remarks from the protestors. After this, it became known that the Georgian language maintained its constitutional status, after which the situation calmed down in Tbilisi but the tensions flared in Abkhazia as this decision was perceived by them as a support of Georgian nationalist sentiments.

 

The western press also reported about these events. On 15 April, New York Times published an article “Soviet Georgian Take to Streets to Save Their State Language”, in which it is mentioned that the number of demonstrators was more than 20,000. The article also tells a story that an unidentified man called to New York Times bureau and said: “We are having a demonstration against the constitution, concerning language – we’ll be lucky if they don’t shoot us”. Also, New York Times published another article “Soviet Georgians Win on Language” on 18 April, in which it is mentioned that the Soviet government made an extraordinary concession and maintained the status of Georgian language as a state language.

 

Interesting notes are provided in the article by The Times published on 17 April. According to it, two American lawyers – Robert McKay and Eric Rayman, who were in Tbilisi at that time, reported that the Georgians shouted at the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, Eduard Sehvardnadze when he attempted to calm the demonstrators. As it is mentioned in the article, MacKay and Rayman talked to the eyewitnesses. According to the information provided by them, Shevardnadze asked the demonstrators: “My children, what are you doing?” but the crowd yelled back: “We are not your children”.

 

For commemorating the victory of the Georgian people on 17 April 1978, in 1990, this date was announced as a Day of Mother Tongue.

 

Here we suggest the photos of the articles by the New York Times and The Times. You can also find the articles here.

 

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Publication of this article was financed by the Open Society Institute Budapest Foundation (OSI) within the frame of the project - Enhancing Openness of State Archives in Former Soviet Republics and Eastern Bloc Countries. The opinions expressed in this document belong to the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) and do not reflect the positions of Open Society Institute Budapest Foundation (OSI). Therefore, OSI is not responsible for the content.

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