Monday, September 15, 2014

Living day-to-day: How are fatalism and economic prosperity interrelated in Georgia?


Authors Rahmato and Kidanu (1999) use the phrase “We live only for today” to describe a feeling whereby a person gives up on life and does not know or does not want to think about what will happen the next day. This phrase describes a state wherein people live day-to-day without hope for the future. This sense of helplessness or hopelessness with regard to the future is known as fatalism. According to Oxford dictionary, fatalism is a “belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable.” What can the study of fatalism tell us?  Research by Straughan & Seow (1998), Stephen & Shapiro (2010), and Ruiu (2014), has revealed that fatalism can play a large role in determining a wide range of behaviors such as financial savings decisions, occupational choices, health behaviors, and even natural disaster preparedness. This blog analyzes fatalistic beliefs in Georgia, and explores associations between fatalism, economic status and education.

The CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer 2013 data shows that just over a quarter of Georgians (28%) express fatalistic views by agreeing with the statement that, “Everything in life is determined by fate”. 39% hold the opposite view and 29% are neutral.

Note: This question was re-coded from a 10-point scale to a 3-point scale. The options 1, 2, 3, 4 were grouped into “Everything in life is determined by fate”. Options 5 and 6 were grouped into “Neutral”, and options 7, 8, 9 and 10 were grouped into “People shape their fate themselves”.

What are some potential consequences of being fatalistic? From an economic perspective, as Bernard, Dercon, and Taffesse (2012) claim in their paper, fatalism is equivalent to not making necessary “investments” to improve one’s well-being. Thus, a fatalistic person might refrain from making investments that would improve their well-being, because they believe such investments might not lead to significant changes. CB data shows that fatalism and a person’s economic situation are interrelated in Georgia; 35% of the population who describe their economic situation as “bad” also think that “Everything in life is determined by fate”. Only 19% of Georgians who describe their economic situation as “good” share the same belief.


Note:  Original answer options, “Money is not enough for food” and “Money is enough for food only, but not for clothes” were grouped to create the “Bad” economic condition category. The option “Money is enough for food and clothes, but not enough for expensive durables like a refrigerator or washing machine” was  renamed as “Middle” economic condition. Finally, the original answer options “Can afford to buy some expensive durables like a refrigerator or washing machine” and ”Can afford to buy anything they need” were grouped into the “Good” economic condition.

Bernard, Dercon and Taffesse describe this relationship between fatalism and a person’s economic situation as a vicious circle, whereby a person who believes they are unable to change their life might lack motivation to explore different paths towards a better life (and thus be unlikely to invest necessary resources in achieving a better life). As a consequence, a set of beliefs about the inability to make a positive change would be perpetuated.

What role does education play in this context? Education not only provides access to information, but also, according to Ruiu (2012), improves skills and can enable people to realize their abilities. According to Ruiu, education thus makes individuals less fatalistic, and based on his research, there is a strong negative association between fatalism and education. The CB also shows a negative association between education and fatalism in Georgia. 41% of Georgians who say they have achieved a primary education agree with the statement, “Everything in life is determined by fate”, whereas 22% of Georgians who have completed higher education share the same view.

Note: The following original answer options were grouped into “Primary”: no primary education, primary education, and incomplete secondary education. Secondary education and incomplete higher education were grouped into “Secondary”. Completed higher education and a post-graduate degree were grouped into “Higher”.

To conclude, fatalistic views are associated to an individual’s economic situation and education level, but of course, correlation cannot confirm causation. On one hand, CB survey data shows that fatalistic views tend to decrease as education increases in Georgia. On the other hand, Georgians who share fatalistic views are more likely to describe their economic situation as bad, compared to those who believe that people shape their fate themselves.

By: Tamuna Chkaidze

Monday, September 08, 2014

Is xenophobia on the rise in Georgia?


On September 1, 2014 new rules and regulations came into force for foreigners interested in visiting Georgia. Under the previous visa regime, citizens of 118 countries could stay in Georgia without a visa. Many with visa free travel privileges could receive a visa stamp at the airport that would be valid for 360 days, and simply renew their visa by crossing an international border and returning to Georgia. Even nationals of many countries not covered by this visa free travel regime could receive a visa upon arrival in Georgia. This was a liberal visa regime. Under the new visa regime, a shorter list of foreign nationals will be allowed to visit Georgia for 90 days (within a 180-day period), and can receive a visa stamp upon arrival. The new policy intends to bring Georgia in line with EU policy, and it was prescribed by the EU to allow easier access for Georgians to enter the Schengen Zone under the EU-Georgia visa liberalization action plan (VLAP).

Despite the fact that the policy brings Georgia in line with EU legislation, some have questioned the logic of the law. Specifically, many consider the law to be xenophobic and punitive, as Gavin Slade has argued. This change was likely made so that Georgia would not be an entry point for illegal migration to Europe via Turkey. With all of this in mind, readers may be interested in whether xenophobia is on the rise in Georgia. This post looks at the level of approval of foreigners marrying Georgian women, and at the level of approval of Georgian citizens doing business with other ethnicities between 2009 and 2013 (as a proxy for xenophobic attitudes in Georgia).  

If xenophobia were on the rise in Georgia, one would expect an increasing level of disapproval of doing business with foreigners or Georgian women marrying other ethnicities.  Yet, data from the Caucasus Barometer (CB) shows that xenophobia is not on the rise; approval rates for both interethnic marriage (27% on average) and for doing business with different ethnicities (77% on average) have not changed drastically from 2009 to 2013.


Note: Only ethnic groups that were consistently present in the CB from 2009 to 2013 were included in the average calculation. These include Turks, Russians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Kurds/Yezidis, Abkhazians, Ossetians, Americans, and Jews. This group is referred to as a ‘collection of ethnicities’. During the CB survey, respondents were asked “Would you approve or disapprove of people of your ethnicity doing business with,” and “Would you approve or disapprove of women of your ethnicity marrying,” followed by a list of ethnicities. Respondents were able to respond ‘approve’ or ‘disapprove’. Approve was coded as 1 and disapprove was coded as 0. In the graph above, averages of respondents’ answers to each ethnicity below or equal to 0.50 were coded as disapprove, and averages greater than 0.50 were coded as approve. The same method was used to calculate averages below. 

Although the above graph suggests that there has not been a pronounced increase in anti-foreign feelings in the last five years, some ethnicities are appraised as more favorable for marriage and business than other ethnicities. Generally, Russians, Americans, and Europeans of different ethnicities are viewed more favorably, and Yezidis/Kurds, Chinese, Iranians, Indians, and Turks are generally perceived as less favorable for marriage and business. The graph below shows views for marriage regarding these and other groups in 2013.
The figure also shows that marriages to ethnicities which tend to be Christian receive higher approval rates than to those generally associated with Islam and other non-Christian religions. The figure below gives averages of approval ratings for marriage and doing business with ethnicities that tend to be Christian, and with those that tend to be non-Christian from 2009 to 2013. The figure shows that Georgians have consistently approved of marriage (by 15 to 20 percentage points) with foreign ethnicities that tend to be Christian, than to those that tend to be non-Christian. It also shows that Georgians have been between 5 and 12 percentage points more likely to approve of business with foreign Christians as opposed to foreign non-Christians. Both trends have been stable over time.
Note: The category Christian in the above graph consists of Russians, Americans, Armenians, Ossetians, and Abkhazians. The non-Christian category consists of Jews, Turks, Yezidis/Kurds, and Azerbaijanis. Only ethnic groups that were consistently present in the CB from 2009 to 2013 were included in the average calculation. Calculations were made as described below the first graph in this blog post.

This blog post has shown that the average level of approval of doing business with foreigners, and Georgian women marrying foreigners, has not changed much in the past four years. The blog has also shown that differences in approval rates between specific ethnicities appear to be related to religion. Georgians are more likely to approve of marriage and business relations with ethnicities that tend to be Christian. Importantly, these levels have been quite consistent from 2009 to 2013 which suggests that, with respect to these specific factors, xenophobic attitudes are not on the rise in Georgia.

To explore issues related to marriage and business relations in Georgia, take a look at this blog post on Georgian nationalism, or examine the data directly with CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool.

Monday, September 01, 2014

A Tangled Path to Europe: A review of Bittersweet Europe

This week's blog post was originally published on Friday, August 29th on New Eastern Europe. The original version may be viewed here.

Review of Bittersweet Europe. Albanian and Georgian Discourses on Europe, 1878-2008. By: Adrian Brisku. Publisher: Berghahn Books, August 2013.


BriskuBittersweet

Since independence, Georgia has been on what has often looked like a quixotic quest towards joining the EU. Multiple wars, a resurgent Russia, breakaway territories and a consistently difficult economic situation which has gone through hyper-inflation and has had consistently high unemployment and underemployment over the last 25 years must, at the minimum, make prospects for EU integration seem distant at best to many in Brussels. Yet, with the recent signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union on June 27th 2014, Georgia is closer to its European dreams than ever. Remembering that the EuroMaiden protests, which were the match to the powder keg igniting the Ukraine Crisis, were set off by former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s failure to sign an association agreement that would have brought Ukraine closer to Europe and considering the historical ambivalence among elites in Albania and Georgia towards Europe over the course of the last 130 years, there could not be a more important time for academics, policymakers and journalists working on the Eurasian region to read Adrian Brisku’s Bittersweet Europe.

Brisku skillfully disentangles the often competing webs of discourse on Europe coming out of Georgia over the past 130 years. The book simultaneously decentres Caucasus watchers’ purview through placing Georgian discourse on Europe in a comparative perspective with Albania’s conversations on Europe over the same period. Furthermore, by implanting the conversation in broader pan-European historical frames, the author provides valuable insight into how Georgia’s relationship to Europe has been conditioned historically.

Since the Russian imperial period, discourse on Europe has been mixed, but one of the most important points of contention in Georgia has been whether the country would “look West” on its own or look north to Russia in order to look West to what Brisku describes as the “triadic Europe.” The triadic Europe which Brisku refers to is Europe “as geopolitically important; as a torchbearer of progress; and as the symbol of civilisation and high culture”. This distinction is valuable in that it lends an understanding to the often confounding claims of Europeanness from Georgian elites due to its ambiguous geographical location on the crossroads of Europe and Asia and the sometimes questionable reasoning behind such claims by providing the polysemous meaning of Europe in Georgia.

In diametric contrast to nationalist leaders today, the Georgian “Father of the Nation” and canonized Saint in the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia Chavchavadze, believed that Georgia should and would move towards Europe, but through its relationship with Russia, as Georgia was a part of the Tsarist Empire at the time. In opposition to this, Noe Zhordania, another aristocrat but one who had studied in France during his first term in exile from Georgia, developing an inclination towards French Socialism in the process, and the eventual first and only president of the independent, Menshevik, Georgian Republic of 1918-1921, thought that Georgia’s relationship to Europe should not be mediated through the Russian space. The contentions surrounding Europe and Georgia as a part of Europe would not end here though.

With the First World War and the Bolshevik takeover of Georgia, the discourse shifted. As the socialist state was supposed to be the vanguard of progressivism in the world, Georgia, as part of the Soviet Union, was meant to be in a position to help the working classes of Europe towards the progress represented by socialism. Much like how Karl Marx had flipped Georg W.F. Hegel on his head in philosophy, who and what represented progress had been spun around in the Georgian discourse.

Georgia has had a pro-European policy since independence, with short exceptions, and Brisku traces this shift back to the 1975 signing of the Helsinki Accords. In Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, through co-founding the Georgian Helsinki Group, began the discursive shift towards relations with Europe directly instead of through the mediation of the Soviet state. In doing so, he set the stage for changes to come. From this point onward, with one exception, and especially after independence, a pro-European discourse emanated from Georgia.

In a strange twist of irony, the exception to Georgia’s pro-EU discourse came from the same person who re-ignited it, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. This though, was not the dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia which founded the Helsinki Group in Tbilisi nor the man who led the anti-Soviet movement in Georgia to the Soviet Union’s collapse, but the Zviad Gamsakhurdia who was elected the first head of state of Georgia after independence. His rule was characterised by strong nationalist tendencies which alienated the country’s ethnic minorities leading to the de facto loss of control of South Ossetia for Georgia. From human rights advocate and dissident to human rights violator, Zviad Gamsakhurdia in his turn moved away from Europe due to European criticism of his human rights abuses.

The persistent question which has dominated and lay beneath the surface of the discourses on Europe in both Georgia and Albania is “Are we European?” From this underlying question, Brisku highlights the ethnocentric euro-centrism that emerged in both contexts from anxieties and insecurities and the overcompensation resulting from this question. In both contexts, prominent thinkers and politicians ended up emphasising the countries’ ancient histories and numerous invasions in order to justify their Europeanness in contrast to cultural and confessional differences compared to predominant conceptions of what it conventionally meant to be European. Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s third post-Soviet elected head of state stated in European Parliament that"since the time when Prometheus was chained to our mountains and the Argonauts came to our country in search of the Golden Fleece ... we are an ancient European nation." Hyperbole not intended.

Further contributing to these anxieties and adding to the reader’s understanding of how they emerged, the book tracks how European powers have interacted with the two countries historically. Being small countries, the feeling that interaction, and more importantly the frequent lack thereof, was based on Europe’s interests have contributed to anxieties in both nations.

The book concludes that the political and intellectual elite in Georgia and Albania have historically been “ambivalent” about their relationship to Europe. Today, in Georgia, we can see this ambivalence quite strongly. When it comes to policy, Georgian support for closer ties to the EU is unquestionable. The ruling Georgian Dream Coalition and the opposition United National Movement disagree on what seems to be just about everything, but the one thing that neither side has wavered from is their dedication to further Euro-Atlantic integration. Moreover, according to the study, “Knowledge and Attitudes towards the EU in Georgia: Changes and Trends 2009 – 2013” conducted by CRRC-Georgia for the Eurasia Partnership Foundation in 2013, 83 per cent of Georgians reported that they would vote to join the EU tomorrow if a referendum were to be held, with support consistently near these levels in recent years. At the popular and elite level, support for closer integration with Europe is clear.

Despite this clear policy direction, opposition to the recently passed anti-discrimination law, which was required for the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU, highlights that many Georgians still oppose or potentially misunderstand some features commonly associated with Europe, specifically the defence of sexual minority rights. Controversy surrounded the bill as a number of priests claimed that the bill would lead to the legalisation of gay marriage in Georgia (it wouldn’t and hasn’t), something the population of the country would largely be against. Moreover, the passing of the law at certain times was opposed by the Patriarch Illia II of the Georgian Orthodox Church, who is widely considered to be the most trusted person in Georgia. In this way, aspects of the cultural Europe, which Brisku identifies early on, are those which many Georgians today are still ambivalent about.

Overall, Bittersweet Europe offers a masterful juxtaposition of Georgian and Albanian discourses towards Europe in addition to the accompanying insecurities over Europe and Europeanness in both countries. This in conjunction to the decentring effect gained through the added context leads the reader to a better understanding of Georgia’s history and relationship to Europe - something needed now more than ever.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Emigration, Language, and Remittances in Georgia

As discussed in a recent blog post, household incomes in Georgia have risen steadily since 2008. The percentage of Georgians who have family or close relatives living abroad has also significantly increased from 37% in 2009 to 53% in 2013. 14% of Georgian households currently receive money from family members, relatives, or friends living in another country as an income source. This blog examines changes in interest in emigrating from Georgia over the last five years, while controlling for certain variables.

Since 2008, though the percentage of Georgians who have family living abroad has increased, interest in emigrating from Georgia, both temporarily and permanently, has barely changed. In 2008, 48% of Georgians expressed interest in emigrating temporarily, while 44% felt the same in 2013. Interest in permanently emigrating from Georgia has remained extremely low, at 8% in 2008 and at 7% in 2013.


In CB 2013, respondents were asked to describe their ability in English and Russian. Today in Georgia, 63% of Georgians say they have no basic knowledge of English, 15% say they have intermediate knowledge, and 6% feel that they have advanced knowledge. As might be expected, knowledge of English among younger Georgians is higher than among older Georgians. 41% of Georgians aged 18-35 years old say they have intermediate or advanced knowledge of English, while only 14% of Georgian aged 36-55 feel the same. Knowledge of Russian is more widespread among Georgians, with 70% of Georgians saying they have intermediate or advanced knowledge of Russian. Among 18-35 year old Georgians, 65% say they have intermediate or advanced knowledge of Russian, while 80% of 36-55 year old Georgians say the same. As a general trend, Georgians with more advanced language skills in English or Russian tend to express a higher level of interest in temporarily emigrating from Georgia. This trend is more pronounced among English speakers.

Similarly, more frequent users of the Internet are also more interested in temporarily emigrating. However, there is no discernible pattern between the desire to permanently emigrate and knowledge of English or Russian, or frequency of internet usage. Both Georgian men and women are equally disinterested in permanently emigrating (only 7% are interested), while slightly more Georgian men are interested in temporary emigration (49% of men and 39% of women).


In conclusion, though there has been no visible increase in interest among Georgians in emigrating over time, it is possible that this interest will eventually grow as more Georgians learn foreign languages and use the internet more frequently.

Monday, August 18, 2014

One step forward, two steps back? European integration in Georgia after the Association Agreement


So far, 2014 is shaping up to be the year that Georgia might begin to reap the benefits of its pro-EU and pro-NATO foreign policy. In June, Georgia signed the EU Association Agreement despite fears over Russian agitation. NATO has indicated its readiness to discuss a “substantive package” for Georgia, if not a Membership Action Plan. However, despite these gestures towards closer cooperation, some elements of the decision to sign the Agreement have caused friction. For example, the introduction of an anti-discrimination law in April, that contained protection for sexual minorities, was designed to make the Georgian legal environment more EU-compatible. However, the introduction of this protection resulted in backlash from the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC). Thus, although the signing of the Association Agreement is widely seen by Georgians as a step forward for the country, friction over values has the potential to push the integration agenda back.

The Association Agreement is a sign of strengthening political and economic ties with Europe. However, movement towards a shared cultural space and value system has received less attention in the run-up to the signing. As survey results from the 2013 Survey on Knowledge and Attitudes toward the EU show, political, economic and institutional ties were often cited as anticipated outcomes of the Agreement. Legal reforms aimed at lessening discrimination and protecting minority rights were not an integral part of the public debate about what EU integration would mean for Georgia.


Note: This survey was conducted by CRRC-Georgia for the Eurasia Partnership Foundation. The respondents could select one option from a show card

The adoption of the European-style anti-discrimination law in April 2014 has sparked a debate about the compatibility of traditional Georgian values with European norms, especially with respect to the protection of sexual minorities. This suggests that the widespread public support (88%) for strengthening ties with the EU in Georgia may be dependent on assumptions about the political or economic nature of the EU, rather than norms and values. Legal reforms related to the Association Agreement have had an immediate impact on Georgian life (unlike closer political and economic ties), and there are an estimated 350 EU laws in the pipeline. The law itself bans all forms of discrimination, whether on the basis of language, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Although the anti-discrimination law is just one of many legal components to the EU-Georgia cooperation, the vocal reaction of the GOC against the inclusion of sexual minorities, which the Patriarch deemed “the legalization of illegality,” suggests that the journey towards greater European integration might pose some challenges.

During a street party that followed the signing of the Association Agreement on June 27, 2014, the Patriarch addressed the crowd with a message of celebration and caution. While describing the event as “a happy day”, the Patriarch reinforced the idea that moving closer to Europe is “not only a huge honor, but also a huge responsibility” for a country with its own ancient culture and values. This is important, especially since that the majority of Georgians (82%) trust their religious institutions – much more than those who trust in the EU (33%). Moreover, in 2013, 52% of Georgians said that they would vote against EU membership because of harm to Georgia’s culture and traditions. Thus, it will be interesting to see whether this percentage increases in 2014. In an article in Foreign Policy, Peter Pomerantsev noted that, “the church's [GOC] opposition to some EU principles puts it on a de facto collision course with EU integration policy."



Thus far, the signing of the Association Agreement has resulted in a celebratory mood in Georgia. If integration is to continue moving forward, continued public support and the commitment of Georgian politicians, EU representatives and religious spokespeople will each be key. This blog has explored the climate in Georgia following the signing of the Association Agreement. It has also focused on attitudes towards the new anti-discrimination law and trust in the EU, as well as in religious institutions. You can read more analysis on trends in Georgians’ attitudes towards the EU here. Also, please visit our Online Data Analysis tool.

Monday, August 11, 2014

In the South Caucasus, the Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend


The three countries of the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) are geographically, historically and politically bound closely together. Nevertheless, these countries often find themselves in disagreement when faced with broader geopolitical questions regarding alliances, threats and visions about the future of the region. These countries are often divided on a variety of issues, such as whether or not to join the Eurasian Union, to sign the EU association agreements, or how to vote on the legality of the independence referendum in Crimea. While the South Caucasus is certainly a region in a geographic sense, there is little evidence of a regional identity that could point towards a future of increased cooperation or cohesion. Instead, a case of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ prevails, splitting the region into supporters and adversaries of the countries across their borders, which has consequences for both trade and foreign policy.


The majority of Armenian respondents to the 2013 Caucasus Barometer (CB) questionnaire named Russia as Armenia’s biggest ally (83%), while just under half of Georgian respondents named Russia as an enemy (44%), and 7% in Azerbaijan noted Russia as the main enemy of their country. A split can be seen in the case of Turkey, as most Azerbaijanis view Turkey as an ally (91%) and just over a quarter of Armenians view Turkey as an enemy of their country (28%).

The tension that characterizes cross-border perceptions in the region makes the borders themselves highly securitized spaces. Far from a free flow of people or goods, cross-border trade and travel is restricted between Georgia and Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Armenia and Turkey following a series of wars over disputed territories.

Nevertheless, perceptions of borders can ebb and flow throughout history. Administrative boundaries can become state borders, as in the case of the South Caucasus in the early 1990s, and state borders can become as open as administrative ones, such as in the European Union. Similarly, perceptions of neighbors can vary across different issue areas. While opinions and alliances in the South Caucasus are largely polarized, the will (if not the actual ability) to trade and interact on a commercial level yields a slightly less tense picture. Countries with a strong negative perception of other countries can be extremely reluctant to engage economically with that country. However, when positions are less polarized, the approval to do business is much stronger.

The 2013 CB asked whether people approved of doing business with a range of different ethnicities. The percentage of Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Georgians who approved of doing business with the titular groups of the countries they highlighted as their main enemies is shown below.





In 2013, Azerbaijanis overwhelming felt that Armenia was the main enemy of Azerbaijan, and only 1% said they approve of doing business with Armenians. However, although 66% of Armenians said the main enemy of Armenia was Azerbaijan, a significantly higher amount said they approve of doing business with Azerbaijanis (22%). For Georgians—who have the least polarized views—although 44% said Russia was the main enemy of Georgia, the majority said they approve of doing business with Russians (80%). Economic dependence and economic hardship certainly have a role to play in this pattern, with all three countries naming economic concerns (along with territorial claims) as core problems facing their populations.

However, even though Georgian export dependence on Russia is relatively low at 7%, cross-border trade would almost certainly increase if trade were to become more feasible. While it is not clear from this data whether openness to trade is driving reductions in hostility or vice versa, it is an important reminder that the practical need to coexist has the potential to ease relations between hostile countries. In a region such as the South Caucasus where perceptions of others across borders are so polarized, seeking common ground such as the need for economic development could be a potential arena for cooperation. To explore more aspects of cross-border relations, visit the CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A look at (in)Justice in Georgia as charges are brought against ex-President Saakashvili


On July 28, 2014 charges were announced against the former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili concerning the abuse of power. These charges make Saakashvili the highest public official from the former UNM government to be summoned by the prosecutor’s office to date. The ruling Georgian Dream party has praised this move as proof that the judicial reforms of May 2013 have established equality before the law. However, Saakashvili has denounced the charges against him as “purely political”. CRRC data from 2013 shows that domestic belief in the impartiality of Georgia’s judicial system has been recovering since the 2012 presidential elections. However, overall confidence in court neutrality remains relatively low. An assessment of both local and international attitudes towards the impartiality of the Georgian court system is therefore key to understanding the difficulties currently faced by the prosecutor’s office. This is especially true as the office and the government alike seek to convince observers that the process of charging high-ranking ex-officials is “absolutely open”.

In 2013, just under a quarter of adult Georgians reported that courts were impartial (22%) - a level similar to previous years. In contrast, according to 45% courts favor some citizens over others (down from 55% and 53% in 2009 and 2012, respectively). More Georgians tend to think there is favoritism than those who believe citizens are treated equally before the law; the level of mistrust in the impartiality of Georgian courts is an average of 47% from 2009 to 2013, while confidence in court neutrality is an average of 18% over the same period.


Note: The original survey question was, “Which of these statements do you agree with: 1. The court system favors some citizens OR 2. The court system treats everyone equally.” Answers stating that some citizens were favored by the court system (“strongly agree” and “agree”) were aggregated to represent distrust in impartiality, whereas answers stating a belief in equal treatment of all citizens (“strongly agree” and “agree”) were aggregated to represent trust in impartiality.

Overall, only 3% of Georgians express full trust in the court system (19% say they somewhat trust the court system), and 39% is undecided over whether to trust or distrust the system. Together with this, the ongoing lack of confidence in judicial impartiality has the potential to exacerbate inter-party disputes during a time when Georgia is faced with several recent high-profile court cases. For example, in addition to Saakashvili, the former Minister of Internal Affairs Vano Merabishvili, the former Chief Prosecutor Zurab Adeishvili, the former Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili, the former Mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava, the former Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia and the former Army Chief of Staff Giorgi Kalandadze have all had charges brought against them recently.

The most outspoken critic of these proceedings has been the United States, which has expressed concern about the decision to put these members of the previous government on trial. This unease has been mirrored by the EU, which has stated its intention to monitor the proceedings carefully. Several US senators have warned that these events impose “unnecessary challenges in moving [bilateral relations] forward”. The UN notes that there is a backlog of legitimate complaints from the period before the 2012 elections detailing abuses such as unfair trial, torture, ill-treatment and illegal expropriation. Yet, the UN insists that the investigation should avoid “the appearance of political retribution.”

Fears over the lack of impartiality of Georgian courts have remained high even though the prosecutor’s office invited foreign experts to Georgia earlier in July. The announcement that these experts were advising the prosecution on how to handle high-profile cases was immediately linked via local media to speculation that Saakashvili might have a case brought against him. International observers have expressed concern that the accountability of the prosecutor’s office is low and that lack of public trust is a primary concern. Thus, the charges against Saakashvili risk being interpreted as a political move regardless of the motivations behind the charges or outcome, especially since domestic and international confidence in judicial impartiality is low.

Suspicion that opposition politicians are being unfairly prosecuted would be a blow to both domestic and international trust in Georgia’s democratic processes, and could entrench the strong polarization in party politics. It is yet to be seen whether greater integration with Western institutions such as the EU will be compromised by these high-profile proceedings, or whether Georgians themselves will interpret the actions of the prosecutor’s office as impartial or political. What is clear, however, is that low trust in court neutrality poses a challenge to the stated desire of the prosecutor’s office to uphold equality before the law, especially as the process can be easily impeded by claims of partiality or the abuse of power.