Recent events in Georgia, a former Soviet republic on the shores of the Black Sea, underscore how quickly euphoria can turn into tragedy.
In only seven months as president, power went so quickly into the head of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a nationalist hero, that his former allies turned against him in a violent bid to oust him from office. Early Monday, the 52-year-old translator of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Allen Ginsberg slipped out of Georgia, leaving his loyalists to continue the bloody battle against the opposition.
Gamsakhurdia's self-removal from power comes as a relief to all those who want Georgia and the other former Soviet republics to succeed. At the same time, the violent way in which he was deposed causes concern.
In the next few weeks, Georgia's opposition will have ample opportunity to prove to its own people, the other former Soviet republics and the outside world that the bloodshed was only a desperate temporary means to an end. It can prove that by joining the Commonwealth of Independent States (which Gamsakhurdia boycotted) and making sure that human rights and democratic principles (which Gamsakhurdia often trampled) are scrupulously honored.
Unlike many of its neighbors, Georgia is blessed by inventive people, fertile lands, and a pivotal position both on the Black Sea and on the Turkish border. During his brief rule, Gamsakhurdia, tragically, seemed bent on increasing internal polarization. Georgia's new rulers can do better than that. By being peacemakers at the end of a bloody conflict, they can earn the respect of their own nation and nations around the world.