Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Ethnic versus European Identity: The Case of Georgia

As Georgia seeks a course of European integration and eventual membership in the European Union (EU), it is important to examine the Georgian population’s understanding of its own identity. CRRC data from a 2011 survey entitled Knowledge and Attitudes toward the EU in Georgia shows that a majority of Georgians (88%) think Georgia should be in the EU. But do Georgians share a European identity in addition to strongly supporting EU membership? The data shows that ethnic Georgian identity remains the prevalent sentiment in Georgia despite strong support for EU membership and the fact that just over half of the population agrees with former Georgian prime minister Zurab Zhvania’s famous phrase -“I am Georgian, and therefore I am European”. 

59% of Georgians in 2011 say they agree with Zhvania’s statement, but the picture changes dramatically when Georgians are asked about how they identify themselves more specifically. Only 16% of Georgians identify themselves as both Georgian and European, whereas over half (60%) identify as their own ethnicity only—a result more or less unchanged since 2009. Moreover, the number of people who identify as both Georgian and European comes quite close to the number of people who identify as their own ethnicity and as generally Caucasian. 

Even though identity is considered to be a relatively static variable, examining the data by age groups offers interesting insights about identity change in Georgia. The analysis shows that compared to older age groups, younger people in Georgia are more likely to both agree with Zhvania’s famous phrase and identify themselves as European. 

Moreover, the proportion of those who identify as both their own ethnicity and European is greater in the age group 18-35 than in older age groups. Even though just over half (58%) of Georgian people aged 18-35 identify only as Georgian, they are more likely to identify as both Georgian and European (25%) and are less likely to identify as both their own ethnicity and as Caucasian. These results indicate that the incidence of Caucasian identity decreases with age among Georgians, while the frequency of claiming European identity increases in younger generation. In other words, a general Caucasian identity is gradually changing along with European identity among Georgians, however ethnic identity still prevails. 

Note: “Don’t know” and “Other” answers have been excluded from the analysis.

CRRC data indicates that over half of the Georgian population identify as their own ethnicity only. Even though many Georgians agree with Zhvania’s phrase, few Georgians actually identify themselves as both their own ethnicity and European. This demonstrates that they may consider these identities to be compatible. Further analysis also indicates that young people in Georgia are the forerunners in adopting European identity. Perhaps the younger generation is more affected by strong socialization agents such as media, advertisements and consumption models that reinforce European identity. What do you think?

Interested in finding out more about Georgian attitudes towards the EU and related issues? You can access the survey’s associated report here. Both datasets are free and available online at the link above. You are also invited to explore the dataset on CRRC’s fun Online Data Analysis tool.

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