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

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Road Safety and the South Caucasus | WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety

A recent report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) claims that over 90% of the world’s fatalities on the roads occur in low-income and middle income countries, which constitute only 48% of the world’s vehicles. The study assesses the status of road safety in 178 countries, identifies gaps in road safety and proposes recommendations for intervention.

A principal finding reveals that very few countries have comprehensive road safety laws that are effectively enforced. Hence, only 29% of the countries meet basic criteria for reducing speed in urban areas, and less than 10% of countries rate the enforcement of their speed limits as effective. Moreover, only 20% of low-income countries have a law requiring young children in cars to be in car restraints in contrast to 90% of high income countries , which have similar regulations. Additionally, only 57% of countries require seatbelts to be used by passengers in both front and rear seats.

The report provides data on the three South Caucasus countries as well: the separate country profiles include data on the availability and enforcement of road safety laws, statistics on the vehicles and road traffic fatalities. According to the study Georgia has the highest number of fatal and non-fatal traffic accidents in the Caucasus. The data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs shows that 737 road traffic fatalities and 7,349 non-fatal road traffic injuries were reported in 2007. Officially in 2007 the number of the reported road causalities was lower in Armenia: 371 reported fatalities and 2,720 non fatal road traffic injuries, with a significant majority of incidents involving pedestrians. However, the actual numbers in both countries could possibly be higher, considering the fact that in some cases the non-fatal injuries go unreported and post-accident results are rarely recorded.

Yet, Georgia scores surpisingly high on the enforcement of the road safety laws. -- perhaps given its quite successful police reform and recent emphasis on breathalyzer tests. Drunk-driving law enforcement is rated nine out of ten (ten being the most effective), though the State Road Police 2007 data reveals that 37% of the road traffic deaths in the country involved alcohol. Road safety law enforcement scores are striking in Azerbaijan as well, where all the road traffic law enforcements, including drunk-driving, motorcycle helmet, seat-belts and child restraints are rated nine out of ten.

When drawing conclusions, however, we need to take into consideration that the ratings are based on the results of a self-administered survey, and represent the populations’ perceptions of the law enforcement, rather than the facts. While the report provides information on the methodology, it is still unclear, for example, how many people were surveyed and how the respondents were selected.

The full report can be found here.