Death of Eduard Shevardnadze, aged 86. Reading stuff on MR, and dropping in to the forums, most days, I am constantly struck by how US centric this whole forum is at times. I read about the deaths of nonentities, witless celebrities whose lives flash by with all of the searing light, drama and irrelevance of a meteorite - celebrities, whose names for the most part, are utterly unknown to me. So be it. Cultural preferences in some parts of our western world dictate that such people are scrutinised, their every breath analysed, their every witless utterance dissected and afforded a prominence it in no way merits. The problem is that such a focus often overlooks the passing of someone who - while now living in deeply disappointed, almost despairing retirement, made a difference to his country and to the world in the time - or hour - he 'strutted and fretted his hour upon the stage' - except the difference is that, on this occasion, he did not 'signify nothing'. Eduard Shevardnadze, for those too young to remember, came from the country which is now called Georgia, in the Caucasus. I lived and worked there for two years, a few years ago, and returned there for several months two years ago. When Eduard Shevardnadze was born, in 1928, it was a part of the Soviet Union, having been annexed by Russia at the very beginning of the 19th century, during the last great period of Tsarist expansion. Shevardnadze's earlier career was mostly in the old CPSU - the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union. For bright young things, it was the only show in town, if you wished to make your mark. He rose high in the regional - i.e. Georgian Communist party, - in the 1960s and 1970s, becoming Interior Minister in the 1960s, and Georgia (Communist) Party leader in 1972, developing a reputation as a reformer, as someone who was not hidebound by ideology, and who was not corrupt and who attempted to fight the deeply entrenched corruption within the country. Despite that fact that Stalin himself hailed from the country (along with some of his foulest minions, Lavrenti Beria comes to mind, Ordzhonikidze, too), Georgia was a fairly liberal place - artistically, and an extraordinarily corrupt place (economically) after the death of Stalin in 1953, and after Nikita Khrushchev's thaw. Indeed, Georgia in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, supplied an awful lot of the Soviet Union's best artists, sculptors, dancers, writers, and movie directors. A relatively enlightened public space, and a degree of artistic freedom (impossible in Leonid Brezhnev's Moscow) were allowed to exist. However, prior to March 1985, unless you were anal in your obsession with Soviet politics (and most western Soviet watchers were not, despite what they claimed to know) you would hardly ever have heard of him. Certainly, the assembled diplomats and media who met him when the newly appointed General Secretary of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev, announced that he was appointing him Foreign Minister to replace the vastly experienced Andrei Gromyko could hardly contain their mirth, and burst out laughing. A former police chief, Interior Minister and Party chief from an obscure, (but beautiful, granted) republic of the old USSR, a man who had no international experience, no foreign languages (Russian didn't count), and no international contacts? What on earth was Gorbachev thinking? It transpired, but only slowly, that Gorbachev wanted someone who shared his reformist views, someone with integrity, and courage, in the key position of Foreign Minister, especially if one was to set about challenging perceptions, changing attitudes, transforming public opinion, and altering the course of history. It didn't happen overnight, but, along with the late - and utterly outstanding - statesman Alexander Yakovlev, Gorbachev's other key, passionately committed, and utterly loyal reformist supporter in his Politburo in those years was Eduard Shevardnadze, his Foreign Minister, a man whom James Baker, the US Secretary of State at the time, grew to admire and respect both as a man and as a Government Minister. Gorbachev's reforms could not have been implemented without the strong, and passionate support, both inside and outside the country - of both Yakovlev and Shevardnadze. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Shevardnadze, the only world statesman that Georgia had ever produced until then - with the single, striking exception of Josef Stalin, a figure who is viewed with uneasy and slightly, only slightly, embarrassed admiration in the republic - returned, after two years, in 1992, to his home republic to find the country engulfed in an insanely destructive civil war, with the demented poet president Zviad Gamsakhurdia (an expert, as it happened, on the post colonial writings of the Irish poet, W. B. Yeats), the first post independence president, hastily overthrown. To this day it is unclear whether Gamsakhurdia killed himself, was killed by someone else, or simply……died while trying to raise support for his cause. Georgians - initially - heaved a sigh of relief when Shevardnadze replaced him. While an outstanding Foreign Minister in Gorbachev's Government in the USSR, for a variety of reasons, - not all of them his own fault - Shevardnadze's terms as president of Georgia were a lot less successful. He survived assassination attempts (mother Russia not always blameless), the attempted secession of micro-republics (ethnic minorities clashing with a newly independent state's slightly neurotic sense of national self), civil war, extraordinary levels of corruption (with extended family members implicated), and the death of his wife to whom he was deeply attached. In those years, Georgia, which on paper, was - or should have been - a wealthy republic, very nearly became a failed state. In the final indignity, disgrace and shame, this exemplar of integrity from the 60s, 70s and 80s, was finally overthrown by his own people after the outcome of a very dubious election in 2003 was challenged by those who were defeated. Eduard Shevardnadze, to his credit, resigned, and allowed the Government of the "Rose Revolution" led by a triumvirate of Mikheil Saakashvili, Zviad Zhvania, and Nino Burjanidze to succeed him. I won't comment on Enoch Powell's observation that 'all political careers end in failure' except to remark that - at his best - Eduard Shevardnadze helped to change the world in a positive way, and attempted to make the part of it that he could personally have an influence over, that of the old Soviet Union, a much better place in which to live and work and strive. Most of us don't achieve a fraction as much in our lives. Following his resignation, he retired from politics, although sources described him as morose, brooding and somewhat bitter. The death of his wife - his closest companion - devastated him, and the legacy of the bitter civil wars of the 1990s had meant that he was unable to have her buried in her home area, but was obliged, instead, to have her interred in the grounds of his house, on a hill with a stunning view over looking the lovely city of Tbilisi, Georgia's atmospheric capital city. When I worked and lived in Tbilisi, a part of our HQ complex included the (surprisingly elegant - why, simply because someone was a moral monster, do I persist in finding it disturbingly surprising that they actually had good taste?) villa that once belonged to Lavrenti Beria, Stalin's fellow Georgian, and last Chief of Police. Across the road, lived Eduard Shevardnadze. Every day, during the work week, a claque - there is no other word to describe it - of individuals, - paid, of course, because any crowd that gathered daily, weekly, and monthly, in these sort of countries was not remotely spontaneous, and needed some sort of remuneration; anyway, this group would gather outside Eduard Shevardnadze's house, and would proceed to spend several hours cursing him, in a prolonged series of choreographed cursing chants; Georgians have a long and venerable tradition of Gregorian chant singing, and are well able to choreograph song, rhythm, and the curse of damnation. When my office window was open, which was always the case during the summer months, I could hear this claque, a sonorous chant of choreographed cursing, a hired chorus singing songs of the damned. It was, to be honest, something I found utterly repellant and deeply repugnant. Shevardnadze did an awful lot more good than bad, and deserved a lot better than that. RIP.