Tuesday, December 15, 2009

SDA on South Caucasus Data | Video Tutorials

Earlier this year, CRRC launched Survey Documentation and Analysis (SDA), a web-based interface for statistical analysis loaded with information from the 2008 Data Initiative (DI). Based on interviews with more than 6 000 respondents in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, the program contains a whole variety of information available to everyone at www.crrccenters.org/sda.

If you feel hesitant about using statistical programs – think again! SDA is a user-friendly program that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of statistics. To help get you started there are now two short video tutorials available on Youtube and if you spend just 12 minutes watching part I and II you will be able to fully explore all the data available in SDA (you can also have a look at the first lesson here). You’ll be able to get answers to all those questions you’ve always been wondering about, for example how do men and women’s opinions about the Georgia-Russia war differ between the three countries? Or what is the difference in health status between respondents of different income level? Have a look at these videos and you’re ready to get started and explore the extensive data yourself!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Georgian Media as Business | Data Snapshots



In terms of the business findings, CRRC's Media Survey (undertaken in September/October 2009) generated extensive data that is available to help media make good business decisions. One recent presentation, summarized here, focused on showing the diversity of data that is available. 

Internet clearly will influence the media environment, with 19 percent saying that they have access to the Internet. When browsing the Internet, social networking sites are most popular (59 percent), followed by doing emails (36 percent) and then listening to music and watching movies (34 percent). For those that do not have Internet access at home, 36 percent say that the main reason is that it is too expensive. Twenty percent say that the problem is that they do not have access in their area. Only 7 percent say they do not want to use it. While price is the main reason for not getting Internet, 49 percent also say they do not know how much Internet costs in their settlement. (Details on how much different groups would be willing to pay is also available.) 

Yet a significant challenge, little discussed, is that free-download sites (ranked among the top ten sites in Georgia) may get the public to form the expectation that content is always for free. This expectation is a very significant risk to the media business in Georgia which needs to convince the public to pay for quality content. Intellectual property concerns, while not on the agenda right now, will soon become relevant.


While newspapers have limited circulation, not all of it is a matter of cost. Only 21 percent say that they don't read newspapers because they are too expensive. Twenty-three percent say they currently are not interested in reading newspapers, and 22 percent that newspapers simply are not sold in their area, implying that there are some potential customers that could still be won over. Again, the prices that different groups would be willing to pay are also available.




As for television, consumers clearly say they want quality coverage, delivered professionally. This seems important in attracting and retaining viewers. However, television is used in different ways by different groups. When switching on TV, the majority of men (65 percent) actually watch, while the majority of women (59 percent) use it as a kind of radio, running the TV while engaging in other tasks. Current TV advertising does not seem to popular, with almost 80percent saying that they usually switch channels if there's a long block of advertising.


These are only some data points, and that much more targeted data can be made available if media professionals or researchers are interested in finding out what the audience wants. 

[This research has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the CRRC and can be in no way taken as to reflect the views of the European Union.]

Monday, December 07, 2009

The "Attitudes Towards European Integration" Survey

Georgia's government openly seeks greater cooperation and, eventually, convergence with the EU. The CRRC and the EPF have recently released the results of their "Attitudes Towards European Integration" survey, along with its summary report. The results show that Georgia's population seemingly strongly supports its government's drive toward Europe. The survey itself, in addition, is an excellent tool for analyzing and fostering a greater understanding of an important subject for the citizens and the government of Georgia.

Some interestingly high numbers from the survey include 81 percent of the respondents who said they think Georgia should become a member of the EU in the future, and 79 percent who said they would vote for EU membership were a referendum held on the issue. Furthermore, 68 percent of the respondents said that EU membership would either significantly or somewhat improve Georgia's national security. Being a part of what EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana calls the "bigger element of Europe" (Erlanger, "Europe's Foreign Policy," NYT, Nov. 30, 2009) not only includes the potential for increased trade with and mobility throughout the EU, it means being a part of a phenomenon that has brought peace, prosperity, and stability to a large part of Europe – and one that continues to gain momentum.

In contrast to Georgia’s enthusiasm, the EU’s approach toward deeper cooperation with Georgia is often lukewarm. Many commentators have noted this, and have even gone so far as to warn Brussels against adopting such a passive attitude (see, for instance, Vasalek, "What Does the War in Georgia Mean," CER, 2008 & Kucharczyk, "Time for the EU," European Voice, Aug. 21, 2008). Some of the survey's results may indicate that Georgia's citizens are aware of the EU's sometimes less-than-heightened interest: Although 37 percent said that a majority of Europeans supports Georgia's EU membership, 53 percent either did not know or refused to answer. Moreover, when asked whether a majority of EU Member States supports Georgia's inclusion, 39 percent said "yes," while 51 percent either did not know or refused to answer.

There are, nevertheless, at least two means by which the Georgia-EU relationship can be reciprocal and more constructive. First, for its part, the EU can continue with and strengthen cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). There should be a greater political will within the EU to inject life into a relationship that often finds itself to be lagging within the ENP (European Neighbourhood Policy). The recent meetings in Brussels on October 26, 2009, between the EU and the foreign ministers of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, which were led by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, are a start – especially in terms of practical steps to be taken. Visa-free travel to the EU for citizens of the South Caucasus, for instance, was one of the major subjects broached at these meetings. Although Bildt stressed the need to better facilitate mobility between the EU and the South Caucasus, no definitive commitments were agreed upon.

The numbers from the survey arguably support the ministers' requests: A fair number of the respondents – 30 percent – said they would be interested in working in the EU, a number that increased to 42 percent of the respondents under the age of thirty-five. In addition, 37 percent of the respondents aged thirty-five or under expressed interest in studying in the EU.

Second, for its part, Georgia can foster a greater understanding of the EU among its citizens by disseminating more information on EU affairs to its citizens through various media outlets and further studies and surveys such as these. In fact, the survey revealed that Georgia's population often lacks sufficient information on the EU. Forty-four percent of the respondents either did not know or refused to answer the "What do you expect from the Eastern Partnership for Georgia" question, and 17 percent answered "restoration of territorial integrity" – decidedly not the EaP's principal aim. Only 9 percent answered "political and economic integration with the EU." In all, 66 percent of the respondents stated that they would like to have more information on the EU.

A well-informed populace is one way to get Brussels to pay more attention to Georgia, where so much progress that is on par with other potential EU members has occurred. It also places Georgia in a unique position, i.e. to be an example to other nations on similar courses of development by taking matters into its own hands rather than passively waiting for directions from the EU.

For all the information on the survey, the report, and other documents from the EU, please visit EPF’s site.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Georgian Media | Georgian Public Broadcaster

CRRC recently undertook a major study of Georgian media. On the blog, we will publish some small excerpts that have not made it into the main report (the link to these reports will be published on the blog). One aspect not covered in that much more detail is the Georgian view of their Public Broadcaster (GPB). The GPB, you will remember, is financed from the government budget, and the GPB is intended to follow the general principle of serving the broader public interest. So how does it do?

60 percent of Georgians say the receive news on politics and current events in Georgia from GPB at least several times a week. But the GPB is not the first news station on people's minds, with only 25 percent saying they usually turn to GPB for news and shows related to current events. GPB is more popular in rural areas, and among people that are actually reading newspapers. Age also seems to be a factor, as the slide illustrates.



Trust levels in the news broadcasted on the GPB are not high, with only 26 percent saying they fully or somewhat trust GPB. 18 percent say they fully or somewhat distrust GPB. Significant amounts either say they neither trust nor distrust the news broadcast on the GPB (27 percent), or that they do not know (20 percent). Fifty-one percent believes the news coverage reflects the interests of the government, and 11 percent believed it reflected neither the interest of the government nor those of the opposition. (Twenty-six percent said they did not know, and 4 percent refused to answer.)

As for the financing, 40 percent correctly identified that GPB is primarily financed by government. Forty-two percent said they did not know what is the main source for financing the GPB. This suggests that the majority of Georgians do not realize that the GPB is primarily financed from public resources.

Contact CRRC in case you're interested in pursuing a more detailed analysis.


[This research has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the Caucasus Resource Research Centers and can be in no way taken as to reflect the views of the European Union.]

Monday, November 30, 2009

Starting at Home | Georgia First Lady on Europeanizing Georgia

Georgia’s First Lady knows how to get a lively debate going. Invited by the Institute for European Studies at Tbilisi State University, Mrs. Saakashvili-Roelofs visited Tbilisi State University on 10 November to hold a keynote speech on the “Importance of EU Experience for Georgia’s Domestic Development”. It turned out to be an interactive and thought-provoking debate, in which the Pirveli Lady explicitly engaged the audience, mostly consisting of undergraduate students. Dutch-born Mrs. Roelofs was accompanied by her brother Egbert, who is currently living and working in France.

Keen on addressing the core questions underlying the Europeanisation debate in Georgia, Mrs. Saakashvili-Roelofs started by asking whether Georgia is indeed a part of Europe. After discussing this question with the audience, she concluded that although Georgia is geographically split between a European and an Asian part, its politics remain firmly directed towards Europe. Illustrating this, the First Lady recounted her husband telling the President of a new EU member state: “Congratulations, you’re now in the European House. But please don’t close the back door.”

When the First Lady asked if, and how, Georgia would truly benefit from joining the European Union, several students were eager to discuss the benefits a potential EU membership would give them: it would make it easier for them to travel, and to study at European universities (CRRC’s recent EU survey shows 37 percent of those under 35 years of age interested in studying at a European university).

Despite acknowledging the general economic advantages of EU membership, the First Lady also placed some critical comments. In particular, she expressed her worries that EU membership could bring an end to traditional Georgian craftsmanship and raise the prices of Georgian products, since EU regulations on agricultural and commercial products would homogenise Georgia’s traditional ways of production and lead to the bankruptcy of those artisans who would not be able to modernise their business. “What are the alternatives for economic integration with the EU?” Mrs. Saakashvili-Roelofs asked the audience. Could Georgia, with its highly skilled population, not become an economic hub and a tax haven, like for instance Singapore or Dubai?

Above all however, the First Lady stressed that EU accession would require the Georgian population to embrace European values. In particular, Georgians would have to become more aware of their civic duties, such as assisting the government in improving public health. Wearing a seatbelt, for one, seems to remain a cultural taboo in Georgia, and interest in Tbilisi’s free breast cancer prevention programme remains low. However, the audience was quick to suggest effective solutions to this problem, like “handing out free t-shirts with seatbelts printed on them”. On a more serious note, Mrs. Saakashvili-Roelofs then stated that if Georgia wanted to become a true member of the European community, it would have to learn to embrace its weak and marginalised groups, like mentally and physically handicapped people, and respect every individual's decision to live life in their own way. 

The First Lady concluded on a positive note, saying that Europeanisation is a two-way street and that Europe can also learn from Georgia. She praised the strong sense of community in Georgia, and the many families who choose to take care of their elderly family members rather than sending them to retirement homes - as is often the case in Western European countries. And, of course, she did not forget to mention Georgia’s traditional dances, songs and its rich literature.

The Institute of European Studies at Tbilisi State University regularly hosts events and regular talks. Check their website to get onto their mailing list.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Religiosity and Trust in Religious Institutions | Paper with CRRC Data

Robia Charles, a fellow at CRRC Georgia from January to June 2009, has written a paper to examine determinants of trust in religious institutions in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia - three countries with low levels of religiosity as measured by attendance, prayer and fasting, yet high levels of trust in religious institutions. The analysis employs individual-level survey data from the Caucasus Research Resource Centers’ (CRRC) 2007 Data Initiative and uses advanced statistical techniques to show that while religious practices do not determine trust in religious institutions, the importance of religion in one’s daily life is a strong indicator of trust in religious institutions in each country.

However, the results show some differences between the three countries with regard to two types of control variables-trust in secular institutions and socioeconomic factors. Georgia is the only country in which interpersonal trust is a significant indicator of trust in religious institutions. Residence in the capital is only significant in Azerbaijan. Armenia is the only country in which both education and age are significant.

To read the actual paper, which also tests two theories of trust in institutions, click here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

TI's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index: Georgia's Score in Context

Transparency International (TI) released its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) on 17 November, and Georgia’s score rose slightly to 4.1, compared to 3.9 in 2008, which marks a minor improvement. The CPI uses a scale where "0" equals highly corrupt and "10" denotes not at all corrupt. New Zealand, for instance, came in first with a score of 9.4, whereas Somalia came in last with a score of 1.1.

The methodology behind the CPI reportedly includes a combination of surveys and assessments from over the last two years of both resident and non-resident experts and business leaders from ten different independent institutions. For a country to be included in the index, at least three different sources must be available, and, according to the index, seven surveys were used for Georgia.

According to TI, the CPI is meant to be a "snapshot," not an indicator of progress over time, to gauge perceptions of corruption in the public and political sectors. A degree of caution should therefore be used when interpreting the CPI results, as they do not necessarily reflect the views of the wider public but the expert opinions of a small group (a third party) of public sector analysts.

The scores, however, are inevitably used to compare countries, and individual scores from the prior year are always mentioned in the media, i.e whether they have risen or dropped.

On a regional level, Georgia's scores are rather positive. Armenia scored 2.7 and came in 120th place, which was a slightly negative decrease from last year (2.9). Azerbaijan received a score of 2.3 (143rd place), a fair improvement from its mark of 1.9 in 2008.

Overall, Georgia's ranking places it 66th out of 180 countries. Interestingly, that score puts Georgia above EU Member States Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, all of which scored 3.8 (tied for 71st place). Moreover, Georgia's score ties that of EU candidate Croatia and is above FYR Macedonia (3.8, 71st place), another EU candidate. Georgia also scored better than Montenegro (3.9, 69th place), Serbia (3.5, 83rd), Moldova (3.3, 89th), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (3.0, 99th). (Note that though the confidence intervals overlap substantially in the index, Georgia’s point estimate was still higher than in these other countries.)

For the 2009 CPI results and the methodological brief, go here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The South Ossetia Crisis: a War of Ideologies

Many scholars have commented on the influence of the Russia-Georgian war on foreign policy strategies in the Caucasus. In contrast, little attention has been given to its effect on public perception in the countries of the Caucasus.

It is therefore noteworthy that public opinion plays a key role in a recent article by Anar Valiyev, entitled “Victim of a ‘War of Ideologies’ - Azerbaijan after the Russia–Georgia War”. Because of the war, Valiyev argues, Azerbaijanis have become less supportive of Western-style “unmanaged” democracy, preferring instead a more controlled and Moscow-backed “sovereign democracy”.

Interestingly, he asserts that the Russia-Georgia war “significantly changed Azerbaijanis’ perceptions of the democratic West and negatively impacted their perceptions of the United States and the European Union. Georgia’s defeat and the subsequent political turmoil demonstrated the viability and stability of the sovereign democracy and made the Russian model of governance more attractive to the people of Azerbaijan.”

In order to illustrate this premise, Valiyev places a great emphasis on public opinion polls, including CRRC’s Data Initiative. He emphasises the value of these statistics, noting that they are almost the only method enabling to track the political development and the perceptions of the Azerbaijani society before and after the South Ossetia crisis.

For one, surveys held by CRRC show an interesting change in Azerbaijani public support for NATO membership. Whereas about 60 percent of the population supported NATO membership in 2006 and 2007, only 48 percent of the respondents supported the military block in November 2008. At the same time, the share of the population that was neutral on the question rose significantly. To Valiyev, this increasing undecidedness about joining NATO is a direct result of the West’s failure to effectively engage with Russia during the South Ossetia war.

Azerbaijani public support for EU membership was characterised by a somewhat similar development. The year 2008 saw a sharp increase in the percentage of people taking a neutral stance on potential EU membership for Azerbaijan (from 37 to 48 percent), while there was a decline in both the percentage of people supporting and the percentage of people not supporting EU membership. This shift indicates, Valiyev concludes, an increasing confusion among the Azeri public about the role of the EU in the Caucasus.

Other CRRC statistics used by Valiyev demonstrate how public trust in the Azeri armed forces dropped from 81 to 68 percent between 2007 and 2008, and how President Aliyev’s popularity rose to a record 82 percent after the war. Some additional survey material refers to popular support for enhancing economic relations with Western countries and Russia.

There is no conclusive answer as to whether the developments in public perception are a direct result of the Russia-Georgia war. However, Valiyev’s article makes for an engaging read, and highlights the value of survey data to expose the ideological dimension of conflict.

We recommend you to read the article at: http://heldref-publications.metapress.com/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,4,4;journal,1,23;linkingpublicationresults,1:119920,1
Alternatively, it can be found in Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization (Issue: Volume 17, Number 3 - Summer 2009).

Monday, November 09, 2009

CRIA: 2009 Autumn Issue

The Caucasian Review of International Affairs’ (CRIA) Autumn issue has arrived.

Since 2006, the non-profit, quarterly academic journal has been publishing works from a wide array of international scholars, analysts, and researchers. Committed to providing a better understanding of regional affairs, the CRIA is unique as a free, peer-reviewed online academic journal devoted to covering the South Caucasus.

In the interest of promoting an exchange of ideas and dialogue on this fascinating part of the world, the CRIA publishes papers, comments, book reviews, and interviews, as well as its weekly Caucasus Update, all of which provide in-depth analysis on affairs in the Caucasus as well as the wider region.

Representing several different academic institutions, the CRIA’s international advisory and editorial boards lend their expertise and experience to the journal, and its readership continues to grow. Further, the CRIA was recently added to Columbia International Affairs Online, and is now included on a large list of international citation indexes and research databases, and in numerous universities’ e-journal catalogues. Several mutually beneficial partnerships have been established as well, including one with the CRRC.

Kartvelophiles will find plenty to pique their interest. The headline paper for the Summer ’09 issue analyzes patterns of balance and bias in several international newspapers’ coverage of the 2008 Russia–Georgia war. The current autumn issue includes a paper by Alexi Gugushvili on the reform of the old-age pension system in Georgia and an interview with CRRC’s Regional Director Dr. Hans Gutbrod and its Georgia Country Director Koba Turmanidze.

And do not forget to browse the back issues, too, and check out Aaron Erlich’s review of Magnarella’s “The Peasant Venture” for a fascinating look at a work that goes beyond standard political and economic themes. In addition, other noteworthy pieces by Dr. Papava of the GFSIS, Lasha Tchantouridze, and Till Bruckner’s paper on the government’s efforts to house IDPs can also be found in the back issues.

Finally, for all who are interested, the CRIA accepts papers, comments, and book reviews on a rolling basis (see our submission guidelines for further details), and all manuscripts are carefully considered. Submission deadlines for the Winter 2010 and the Spring 2010 issues are December 15, 2009, and March 15, 2010, respectively. Feel free to e-mail www.cria-online.org with any questions or comments.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Health issues in the South Caucasus

What are some of the most urgent health issues in the South Caucasus? And can any differences be seen between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia? These questions and many more can begin to be answered by data from the CRRC Data Initiative (DI).


As the above charts show, people’s perceptions of the most urgent health issue differ between the countries in the region. In Armenia, heart diseases are stated as the most urgent health issue followed by the quality of medical care and cancer. In Azerbaijan, the quality of medical care is stated as the most urgent, followed by heart diseases and diabetes. In Georgia, the number one most urgent health issue is the availability of affordable medicines, followed by the quality of the medical care, and, in third place, cancer. The quality of medical care, therefore, is in the top three issues in each of the three countries, and cancer is one of the most urgent issues in Armenia and Georgia.

The most striking difference between the countries is that Georgians consider the availability of affordable medicines to be the most urgent health problem (23.5 percent), but only 5.0 percent of the respondents in Azerbaijan agree with this being the most pressing health issue. The next interesting difference can be found in people’s perceptions of heart diseases. The respondents in Armenia and Azerbaijan believe this is one of the most urgent problem (19.1 percent and 16.2 percent, respectively), but only 7.5 percent of the respondents in Georgia agree with this. Moreover, a difference can be seen in people’s perceptions of diabetes and tuberculosis. Respondents in Armenia and Georgia do not state tuberculosis as one of the most pressing health issues (2.7 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively), but 9.6 percent of the respondents in Azerbaijan believe it to be of urgent concern. Finally, only 1.7 percent of the respondents in Georgia say diabetes is the most pressing health issue, while the same level of respondents in Armenia and Azerbaijan is 6.6 percent and 11.7 percent, respectively.

This is merely a data snapshot, and of course CRRC’s Data Initiative is not an instrument specifically designed to capture data on public health. Nevertheless, it yields valuable insights and even more information on health-related topics in the South Caucasus can be found by accessing the datasets on CRRC’s webpage. You can for example find out differences in perception of health issues between men and women, how satisfied people are with the medical healthcare, and information about smoking habits – as well as analyze in more detail the characteristics of different groups of respondents according to age, economic status and place of residence.

Go to http://www.crrccenters.org/index.php/en/5/999/ to check out the data for yourself.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Survey Documentation and Analysis with South Caucasus data

Earlier this month, CRRC launched Survey Documentation and Analysis (SDA), a web-based interface for statistical analysis. SDA was designed by the Association for Computer Assisted Survey at the University of California, Berkeley. Through SDA you can for example calculate frequencies, make cross tabulations, comparison of means and comparison of correlations. CRRC has now loaded its data, based on interviews carried out with more than 6 000 respondents in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, into the SDA platform. As a result, it is now possible for anyone to find out information on everything from language knowledge to perceptions of the Russian-Georgian war.

In comparison to several other statistical software programs, SDA does not require any prior knowledge of statistics. Extracting data is an easy and fast process, as the program provides the user with explanations for the different functions. In addition, there is no need to download any software. You simply visit http://www.crrccenters.org/sda/ and start exploring CRRC’s data. Having reliable, up-to-date and easily accessible data on an extensive number of topics is now also possible for those of us that have earlier refrained from using statistical data due to its sometimes rather complex nature.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Plastic Bottles across Caucasus Landscapes | Recycling?

One of the items I have been wondering about for a long time is how some of the recycling is working. You do hear the cries ("Butelki! Butelki!") of people that collect bottles, and we do see haggard men with outsized bags rifling through garbage containers, looking for PET bottles.


At the same time, these PET plastic bottles lie all around the countryside. Does anyone have any clue how much a recycler receives for a bottle? Are the prices staggered, depending on whether the bottle is intact and with a cap? And who is buying, ultimately? Is this an international market? Why are there no known collection points across the city, if anyone is interested in getting these bottles back?

The reason why this matters is because potentially a small nudge in terms of pricing would make it much more attractive to collect bottles, and take them out of the landscape, out of the rivers and landfill garbage dumps.

Any leads, anyone?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Google Squared – a useful research tool?

On 9 October, Google introduced a number of improvements to its search tool “Squared”. Squared was first presented in May 2009 with the idea that instead of going through a big amount of WebPages, the new search tool would provide for a collection of facts presented in tables of items and attributes, which is what Google refers to as “squares”. Google says that Squared is a helpful tool when you are searching for more complex information that the normal Google search tool cannot manage and you need to visit several WebPages in order to collect all the material needed. The result is similar to a spreadsheet, and you are able to see the websites that serve as sources for the information in the squares.

However, when Squared was launched the initial reactions were mostly negative. The main critique was that the results were rather irrational and illogical. Several improvements have thus been made now. More squares with information can be included, and according to Google, the quality of information has improved and is ranked based on relevance and whether high quality facts are available. Data can now also be exported to Google Spreadsheet or a CSV file. Additionally, Squared is re-designed to learn from edits and corrections of its users.

So how well are these improvements working out? And can Google Squared be useful for Caucasus-related research? Unfortunately, Squared is still a limited search tool in several aspects. The basic idea of Squared is sound and could probably come in handy for students of intermediary stages of research, or, to take an example that Google uses, to find out different information about US presidents. As an advanced research tool, however, it is still not entirely adequate. For example, when searching for Scandinavian countries you are provided with some basic information ranging from language, way of governance, GDP per capita and the number of Internet users. Indeed, this provides for an overview and comparison. A similar search for the Caucasian countries does not provide for an as useful overview, though. The information is scarce and there are not a variety of sources either, as the absolute majority of information squares derives from Wikipedia. Moreover, for many of the attributes there are no values found, such as for unemployment rates and information about national industries. The recent improvements to Squared are thus not a real breakthrough yet. Also, quite surprisingly, English is listed as the preferred language is all three countries. If Squared would thus be used by someone with little knowledge about the Caucasus, it would give a slightly misleading picture.

All in all, very little information is to be found about any topics on the Caucasus. For more advanced purposes and social science research related to Caucasus, it is simply not a useful tool. In comparison to the usual Google search and Google Scholar, it is difficult to see the additional advantages and usefulness that Squared would bring. Google points out that the program is only in its experimental stage, and it remains to be seen if a person wishing to deepen their knowledge about different topics in the Caucasus could gain from Google Squared in the future.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Education in Georgian Schools | Research Findings from TIMSS

On Monday, 5 October Tiko Ambroladze and Tamuna Khoshtaria, junior fellows at the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC) in Georgia, gave a policy paper presentation on “Education in Georgian schools – 4th Grade Students’ Achievements and Its Determinants”. The study is based on data from Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). TIMSS is a systematic study of educational achievement carried out every fourth year (the most recent in 2007), testing students but also collecting different information from students, teachers and school principals. The aim of TIMSS is to help countries improve teaching and learning in mathematics and sciences.


Ambroladze and Khoshtaria’s study concludes that the eight following factors have a statistically significant impact on students’ achievements. First, gender turned out to be significant on the math regression model. The study shows that boys score better on the math tests than girls, but gender was not a determining factor for science achievement scores.


Second, the study shows that having many books at home has a positive effect on students’ achievements. Therefore, the fellows recommend more school libraries, specific reading classes in schools, and that schools should put a special emphasize on reading. A point highlighted by the audience was, however, that the number of books at home does not necessarily mean that the students read them. More important might be the level of education of the parents, and the number of books could then be an indication of the level of the parents’ education. More research would thus be needed in order to establish in what way the number of books at home has on students’ achievements.


Third, if students have had something stolen in school, have been left out from school activities or have been made do something they did not want to do (i.e. bullied), they score less well on tests than students that do not have these problems. Interestingly, this turned out to be the factor that had most effect on students’ performance. In this regard, Ambroladze and Khoshtaria’s main recommendation was to improve security and to resolve safety problems in schools.


Fourth, and somewhat surprisingly, class size only had a small effect on students’ performance, and it can therefore be questioned whether smaller classes would improve the scores. In any case, the study points out that more research is needed in this area.


The fifth factor deals with students’ attitudes towards school and the study shows, again rather unexpectedly, that students that like school perform worse on the math tests than others. One of the possible explanations that the fellows put forward is that the students who like being at school and have fun spend less time studying. This is only one possible assumption, though, and it highlights the need for more research in determining the reasons between the connections between students’ attitudes and achievements in school.


Sixth, being able to work independently and being given the opportunity to work out problems on one’s own had a positive effect on math scores but was not significant for science. The fellows’ recommendation is, therefore, that children should be allowed to work independently more frequently, but also that there is a need for further research in this area in order to assist the development of appropriate policies.


Seventh, the study shows that parental support and doing homework is significant for students’ achievements. Therefore, Ambroladze and Khoshtaria recommend that those students that do not have the possibility to study at home should be given the option to come to school to do their homework, and parents should to a greater extent be involved in school activities. However, the fellows pointed out the importance of not giving too much homework as it can result in a lack of motivation.


Finally, computers and the Internet contributed negatively to fourth graders’ achievements. The assumption is that they are primarily used for games, rather than for learning. Therefore the recommendation is that the usage of computers and Internet should be controlled and parents should be informed about the potential negative role of computers. It was pointed out by the fellows and the audience that it is important to know how often computers are used in the 4th grade and to have data on the schools that actually have access to computers.


Looking at these eight factors that have a statistically significant impact on students’ achievements, some important general recommendations can be provided, while also accentuating the need for secondary analyzes. The ambition is thus that the study can be used as a basis for highlighting areas that are in need of further improvements. As there have been no other studies of this kind in Georgia based on TIMSS, this study offers much valuable reflections and recommendations on the issue. It is important that the results from the study become publically accessible with more debates around teaching and learning in Georgian schools. Unquestionably, there is a need for further research focusing on what determines Georgian students’ achievements.


Additional presentations can be given upon request by contacting CRRC Georgia.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The EU's IIFFMCG Report

Established by a decision from the Council of the European Union on 2 December 2008 and headed by Swiss Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCG) was undertaken by a Senior Advisory Panel (see the list in Volume I, pp. 40-41), which received help from different experts in a number of governments and organizations, including some from the parties involved in or closely related to the conflict, namely, Russia, South Ossetia, Georgia, and Abkhazia. The main office was based in Geneva, a second one was set up in Tbilisi, and the Mission's members made numerous visits to key sites of the conflict, including the Roki tunnel and the Akhalgori region.

As the report makes clear, the eight-month undertaking is a first for the EU in that it made a decision "to intervene in an armed conflict" (Vol. I, p. 2). It also stresses that the Mission is not a "tribunal" but is aimed at conveying the facts so as to ameliorate confidence- and peace-building measures. Its primary goals were to analyze how the conflict began as well as the subsequent course it followed (Art. 1.2, p. 3). Point 7 (Vol. I, p. 7) emphasizes that the Report is keen to present an official version amidst the maelstrom of views, accusations, and other media, though it also clearly states that it is not able to "claim veracity or completeness in an absolute sense" (Vol. I, point 9, p. 8).

Following an overview of Georgia's turbulent post-Soviet era, Volume I states that Georgia's military response was not justifiable under international law, even if it were in response to S. Ossetian militias shelling Georgian neighborhoods, i.e. GRAD multiple rocket launchers (MRLS) would be considered as disproportionate use of force by the Georgian military (point 9, pp. 22-23). Further, point 20 (p. 23) mentions that Georgian forces did not have the right to attack Russian peacekeepers.

Point 27 (pp. 26-27) addresses the allegations of genocide made by Russia and S. Ossetia against Georgia. The Report concludes that these allegations were unfounded and goes on to remark that it found evidence S. Ossetian and "irregular" armed units forcibly displaced ethnic Georgians following the start of the war. Moreover, the Mission found that this situation remains a serious concern in the Akhalgori district (point 27, p. 27), which is at the southeast end of South Ossetia and is populated mainly by ethnic Georgians.

Volume II is vast (441 pp.). Made up of contributions from the panel of experts, and divided into eight sections, it is a comprehensive overview of Georgian-Russian relations, replete with sources and exclusive interviews, that claims to be both descriptive and to serve as a "legal analysis" (297), particularly with chapter 7, entitled International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law. It does indeed serve as a formidable academic work, similar to an International Crisis Group report, for instance. Of special interest are several field interviews conducted by the Mission's experts. Pages 302 and 331, for example, cite interviews with inhabitants who reported that S. Ossetian military men and Russian (i.e. North Caucasian) and Uzbek irregulars looted, burned houses, and stole civilian cars. With such examples, the chapter, while careful not to state in plain terms whether Russian forces committed war crimes (e.g. using words like "may amount to..." (330)), does offer both a narrative that takes the element of civilian suffering fully into account and an analysis that cites examples of incidents directly tied to violations of international law and human rights abuses.

Volume III is a sprawling 638 pages of chronological entries and responses to questionnaires from the four parties which is intended to be a transparent listing of the gathered facts.

In terms of critcism of the report, as Ahto Lobjakas pointed out in his RFE/RL article, simply laying out the facts without making a definitive stand, and thus leaving them open to interpretation, may only serve to further inflate the rhetorical jousting between adversaries.

For example, although Georgia's Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze, said that the Report was "helpful " for Tbilisi, he decried that it did not explicitly indict Russia for military aggression. He also disagreed with the Report's mention of Georgia using "unnecessary" force.

Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizkov, on the other hand, was more positive on the findings, saying that the blame was rightly placed more on the Georgian side, referring to the shelling of Tskhinvali on the night of 7/8 August (Vol. I point 3, p. 11).

Thus, as more articles and news about the Mission's report appear, what remains certain is that the debate will go on... perhaps as heatedly as it did before.

Monday, September 07, 2009

"Is Georgia a Democracy?" | Recent Publication

Is Georgia a democracy? In previous blog posts we tracked various indicators, including the Freedom House Index. But what do Georgians themselves think?

Koba Turmanidze, Director of CRRC Georgia, and Hans Gutbrod from the CRRC Regional Office have written a short chapter discussing poll findings on this question. It is part of a broader publication by the Foreign Policy Centre, a UK Think Tank.


The publication also includes essays by Peter Semneby (EU Special Representative), Giorgi Gogia (Human Rights Watch) and Giorgi Chkheidze (Georgian Young Lawyers/Ombudsman's office). It also has fascinating electoral maps that we meshed up for NDI.



To read, click here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Failed States Index 2009 | Rankings for the South Caucasus

The US magazine Foreign Policy and the D.C. think tank Fund for Peace released their 2009 rankings of failed states, presenting Armenia as a “borderline” state and Georgia and Azerbaijan in the “in danger” category.

Thanks to last year’s war and protests, Georgia jumped up to #33 from #57 in 2008 and is now nestled between Sierra Leone and Liberia on the list. Azerbaijan stands at #56, and Armenia is ranked the most stable of the three at #101.

According to this study, “failed states” come in many guises, including those that have lost control over their territory, have poor state authority, fail to provide adequate public services, or cannot interact with other states in the international community.

The rankings are based on 12 indicators of state instability and vulnerability. Georgia’s worsening score on many of these can be traced back to the August 2008 war and its fallout: “Refugees/IDPs” (from South Ossetia and Abkhazia), “Group Grievance” (in the breakaway regions), “Delegitimization of the State” (mass protests), “Public Services” (failure to protect citizens from violence), “Factionalized Elites” (political opposition), and of course, “External Intervention.”

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan rate poorly on “Refugees/IDPs,” likely due to the frozen Karabakh conflict. Armenia’s worst score is in state legitimacy, possibly from high levels of corruption. Azerbaijan also gets poor scores on state legitimacy and security -- although, oddly, scores better than Georgia on human rights.

The methodology used to determine the rankings is rather opaque. The indicator scores are based primarily on keyword hits on full text open source articles and reports. This leads one to wonder whether the sheer amount of media attention on a given country has an impact on the results, but without more detail about the data collection, it is difficult to know.

The full results can be found here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Google Insight | Search What the World Searches

We have been consistently impressed over the last few years how great research has become possible with simply an Internet connection. Google Scholar and Google Books have added new dimensions, so much so that the Resource part in our name has become a lot less relevant than it used to be. Now our task often is pointing scholars to the right search engine, rather than providing basic access.

A recent addition is Google Insight, the "search of searches", i.e. finding out what other people are looking for and when and where and how.

Take a look at this overview (you may want to maximize your screen), telling you how this great tool works in less than five minutes.


video

As we point out, there are some limitations across various languages, since search terms will differ. Nevertheless, it's a remarkable tool.

Try it out with your favorite search terms on the Google Insight webpage.

"What is Going On?" | CRRC Article in Investor.ge


The most recent issue of Investor.ge, the journal of the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia, features a short article by two CRRC Fellows, using CRRC data.

The piece covers attitudes on trade, social capital, and political participation in the three South Caucasus countries, plus a special section on politics in Georgia.

Check it out for some evidence-based insights! If you're in Tbilisi, you can pick it up at various locations around town -- or just read it online here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

ECFR report: Befuddling data

Public opinion found its way into a major report by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), but through the back door. The chart below, from page 28 of the report, appears to compare support for integration with Russia/CIS versus EU integration in the six EU “neighborhood” states.


But the footnote reveals that this data is a pastiche from a number of national opinion surveys that asked questions about attitudes toward EU integration. This type of data presentation can lead us astray, for a few reasons:

1. Comparability: A footnote claims that the variously worded questions are nevertheless “roughly comparable.” However, the subjects of the questions range from actual political integration, to foreign policy alignment, to “strategic partnership.” Some are concrete (“If a referendum were held next Sunday…”), others abstract (“With which of the following does Armenia’s future most lie?”). The form of the questions also varies. Some explicitly offer a choice between Russia and EU, others probe attitudes about the EU alone, still others offer unknown options for partnership. More fundamentally, many respondents in the “neighborhood” countries may not believe that EU integration is actually a feasible option. Asking about preferences for integration in the CIS versus the EU is meaningful only if people feel this is a realistic choice.

2. Unknown Sources: There is no indication of the survey sources. Even if the data itself is of high quality, methodology certainly was different in each of the polls. Timing is a particular concern. Commendably, the authors of the report do note that the survey in Georgia was carried out in 2007, while the others were in 2008. But political events at various points during those years (the Russia-Georgia conflict, the economic crisis, gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine, among others) could influence responses.

3. Presentation: For some countries, the combined responses total nearly 100% (Belarus, Ukraine), others are far less (Georgia, at around 50%) or far more (Moldova, with 120%). Presumably this reflects the different types of questions asked, or possibly missing values. But the chart fails to tell us which responses account for these discrepancies.

This kind of data presentation is a little disconcerting. Although it is very encouraging to see public opinion data in a major report, one would wish for a slightly more cautious presentation. To be able to draw powerful conclusions, a more consistent approach to gathering the data would be required.

In the coming days, we’ll put up a follow-up post presenting CRRC’s data on attitudes toward cooperation with EU and Russia in the South Caucasus countries.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nokia's Fictional Georgia Map | Some Way to Go...

For those of you previously following our blog, you will be aware that we have a fascination with maps, and have pointed to the absence of the Caucasus in Google Maps. Recently I tried out the maps feature on my Nokia phone (one of those with a snazzy GPS). I knew that the map would be rough, but I was surprised to find that it had a major road in it that doesn't exist.


As highlighted with the arrow, there is an extension of the A302 that runs right over Tbilisi Sea. No one I have talked to ever had heard about this road being planned, and it wouldn't make much sense either: you would have to build a bridge of nearly 2 km across the waters, when the M27 bypass in the north works perfectly well.

Highlighting this issue to Nokia was complicated. The websites hide themselves behind automated replies; Navtech (the company that supplies the maps and has a feedback mechanism) also gives an automated reply that indicates that map updates are determined by Nokia. Eventually, I did get through on Nokia's new online platform, Ovi.com, where I did get a friendly response and a promise that they would forward the information. Let's see.

Now if that sounds like a lot of effort, it's partially because we think that better maps could make a huge difference. Imagine citizens sending in SMSes if certain public services don't deliver (electricity, water, garbage collection). And imagine if everybody could look at that map. We would instantly know where real problems are.

Where accountability is still developing, mobile devices could provide critical solutions. But for that, the maps would have to get a lot better -- and that's true for Google maps as well.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Russian Public Opinion on the August 2008 Conflict -- A Year Later

On August 4, the Levada Center, an independent Moscow-based public opinion polling organization, released the results of its survey of Russians’ attitudes toward last year’s conflict with Georgia. There are few surprises: the beliefs of most Russians continue to align with Moscow’s official version. The great majority of respondents see either Georgian or Western (especially US) provocation as the cause for the war, and Russia’s role as essentially reactive, aimed at keeping peace and stability in its near abroad.

However, compared with the results from the Levada Center’s September 2008 survey (you can read that, and our analysis, here), there has been some shift in attitudes. Last year, 40% of Russians thought that their country’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent would benefit Russia. Now, a year later, with Russia and Nicaragua still alone in their recognition of the breakaway regions, 29% of Russians think this has benefited Russia (but still only 15% think this action was actually harmful for the country).

Respondents also now appear to be slightly more uncertain about both the US’s role in the Caucasus and Russia’s involvement in the conflict. Last fall, 49% of respondents said that the main reason for the war was that US leadership was trying to strengthen its influence in the Caucasus. Now only 34% agree with that, and 17% found the question difficult to answer. And in 2008, 70% of respondents gave the Russian leadership their full support, saying that their leaders did everything possible to avoid an escalation of the conflict and bloodshed; that figure dropped to 57% in 2009. At the same time, the percentage of respondents outrightly critical of Russia’s actions remains in the single digits across the board.

Finally, respondents continue to be split about what should become of the breakaway republics. Thirty-five percent think Abkhazia and South Ossetia should join the Russian Federation, while 41% and 40%, respectively, believe they should be independent states. (Interestingly, respondents seem to think of the two republics monolithically, despite their quite different histories and circumstances.) Only 17% of respondents think the two territories should join the RF immediately -- many Russians seem less than eager for Russia to officially expand into an already unstable region.

The full results (in Russian) can be found here; we’ve also translated them into English below for those who want to take a closer look.

--

04.08.2009 On the anniversary of the military conflict in the Caucasus

Between July 17 and 20, the Yuri Levada Analytical Center (Levada Center) carried out a representative survey of 1600 Russian citizens in 128 locations across 46 regions of the country. The distribution of answers to the questions of this study is given as the percent of the total number of respondents, along with data from prior surveys. The statistical error is less than or equal to 3.4%

Are you interested in what is happening now in South Ossetia?

Yes, considerably

11

Yes, somewhat

39

Not really

28

Not at all

16

Difficult to answer

6

In your opinion, should Abkhazia be part of Georgia, part of Russia, or be an independent state?


2004

2006

2007

2009

Part of Georgia

14

13

7

6

Part of Russia

32

41

34

35

An independent state

29

27

32

41

Difficult to answer

25

19

27

18

In your opinion, should South Ossetia be part of Georgia, be part of Russia, or be an independent state?


2004

2006

2007

2009

Part of Georgia

12

12

9

6

Part of Russia

34

40

34

35

An independent state

30

26

32

40

Difficult to answer

24

22

25

19

In your opinion, did (in 2008: “will”) Russia’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia benefit Russia, harm Russia, or neither benefit nor harm Russia?


2008

2009

Benefit

40

29

Harm

15

15

Neither benefit nor harm

28

40

Difficult to answer

17

16

In your opinion, what was the main reason for the conflict in South Ossetia in August of last year? (answers are ordered)


2008

2009

The Georgian leadership had discriminatory policies toward the Ossetian and Abkhaz populations

32

35

The leadership of the US was trying to strengthen its influence in the Caucasus and create tension between Georgia and Russia.

49

34

The leadership of South Ossetia and Abkhazia were trying to keep in power, constantly provoking a tense situation

5

9

The Russian leadership tried to use a policy of “divide and rule” to preserve its influence in the Caucasus

5

5

Difficult to answer

9

17

Which of the following opinions about the reason for the actions of the Russian leadership with regards to the conflict do you most agree with? (answers are ordered)


2008

2009

The Russian leadership did everything possible to not allow an escalation of the conflict or bloodshed

70

57

The Russian leadership gave into the provocation from Georgia and let itself be drawn into this conflict, which will have negative consequences for Russia internationally

16

21

The Russian leadership gradually incited the Georgian-Ossetian conflict for the sake of attaining its own geopolitical interests

4

5

Difficult to answer

10

17

What is your opinion of the Russian military intervention in the South Ossetian conflict in August 2008?

It is proof of the failure of Russian diplomacy and the inability of the Russian leadership to solve problems between countries by means of peaceful negotiations

13

It was the only possible way out of the situation that had taken shape

67

Difficult to answer

20

In your opinion, why did the countries of the West support Georgia in the South Ossetian conflict? (answers are ordered)


2008

2009

Because the West’s leadership is trying to weaken Russia and “force it out” of the Caucasus

66

62

Since the shelling of the military installations by the Russian forces on Georgian territory caused deaths among the civilian population

8

10

Because, in bringing its forces into Georgian territory, it violated the sovereignty of that country

7

6

Because the actions of Russia resulted in the conflict spreading to other territories, particularly Abkhazia

5

5

Difficult to answer

14

17

In your opinion, is the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia now becoming more strained, does it remain tense, or is tension decreasing and life becoming more peaceful?


2008

2009

The situation is becoming more strained

6

5

The situation remains tense

57

48

The tension is decreasing and life is becoming more peaceful

30

31

Difficult to answer

7

16

In your opinion, should Russia continue to keep its forces in South Ossetia or will it remove its forces from there?


2008

2009

Keep its forces in South Ossetia

56

54

Remove its forces from South Ossetia

27

24

Difficult to answer

17

22

What do you think regarding the inclusion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the Russian Federation?


2008

2009

This should be done as soon as possible

20

17

This should most probably be done, but later, once emotions have cooled

26

24

Whether this should be done or not should be thought over

25

28

It is not worth doing this

12

17

Difficult to answer

17

14