No Russian soap operas as Georgia marks anniversary

Wed Feb 25, 2009 2:07pm EST
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By Matt Robinson and Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia, still smarting from a brief war with Russia last August, halted broadcasts of Russian soap operas and songs on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of its 1921 occupation by the Soviet Red Army.

Cars drove slowly along the main Rustaveli avenue in the capital, Tbilisi, at 11 a.m. (0700 GMT), horns blaring and red-and-white Georgian flags streaming from windows. Children stood in line outside schools.

Tbilisi city council said it would consider renaming 10 streets that still bear prominent Bolsheviks' names and instead honor Georgian soldiers killed when Russian forces repelled Georgia's assault on the rebel South Ossetia region last year.

"We are expressing our protest against the (1921) occupation of Georgia, but we also want to say that the Georgian flag will always fly over Tbilisi and Georgia," said Tbilisi city council head Zaal Samadashvili.

Georgians are struggling to define their relationship with Russia and Russian society. Their deep historical and cultural ties have been marred by political hostility and war since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Red Army invaded Georgia on February 25, 1921, ending its brief independence and starting 70 years of Soviet rule.

Thousands of Russian troops are now again based in tiny South Ossetia and the lush Black Sea region of Abkhazia, which threw off Tbilisi's rule in the early 1990s and were recognized by Moscow as independent states after the war last August.

Russia says its troops are there at the request of the separatists to protect them from Georgian aggression, and that it was forced to intervene to protect civilians after months of skirmishes and Georgian accusations of Russian provocation.   Continued...

<p>Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks with students during a meeting at the Soviet Occupation Museum in Tbilisi February 25, 2009. REUTERS/Natia Papavadze/Pool</p>