TBILISI, Georgia – Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, who was fundamental in the change of governmental regime in this South Caucasus country several years ago, died today in Tbilisi by an apparent gas leak in the apartment he slept. Zhvania was one of the key leaders in the economic reform effort that has been underway in the country since that time, not to mention his role in strengthening civil society and religious freedom.
"The Jewish community mourns the sudden loss of Zurab Zhvania. As a Jew, he had a close relationship to the Jewish community in Georgia," expressed the Chief Rabbi of Georgia, Avraham Mikhailashvili. "He was a great friend and a genuine national leader, whose reforms led to the strengthening of the Jewish community and other religions in this country," asserted the Chief Rabbi.
Today Rabbi Mikhailashvili met with Zhvania's mother, who is Jewish, to extend his condolences and to offer her comfort in her time of grief. He has also been in touch with the authorities with respect to the preparations for his funeral.
The Prime Minister had provided assistance to the Jewish community with respect to the centennial anniversary of the Great Synagogue of Tbilisi, following in the path of supporting the community set by grandfather, Mikhael Goldbaum, who had served as a warden in the Synagogue.
"The Jewish community would like to express our sympathy to the people of Georgia and to the family and loved-ones of Zurob Zhvania, who was a true leader and unique individual. He will be sadly missed," stated Avraham Berkowitz, the Executive Director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS.
Born in Tbilisi in 1963, Zhvania began serving in parliament in 1992. He became parliamentary speaker in 1995 and led the moderate United Democrats opposition party. As a national leader, Zhvania followed a relatively conciliatory path, taking a moderate approach of consensus. He then helped lead the revolution that toppled the regime of Eduard Shevardnadze.
Zurab Zhvania is survived by his wife and three children.