Monday, July 15, 2019

The direction Georgia’s headed in

The most recent NDI polling showed a decline in the direction the country was heading. Though not the direct cause by any means, the growing sense that Georgia is going in the wrong direction was likely an enabling factor for the protests that erupted in June and have continued through July in Tbilisi. The CRRC-NDI survey has tracked the direction people think the country is headed over the last decade. While numerous factors affect people’s perceptions of where the country is going, a number of events including elections and the devaluation of the Georgian Lari against the US Dollar appear to show up in CRRC-Georgia and the National Democratic Institute’s data. This blog provides an overview of how views of the direction the country is headed in have changed over time.

In 2009, 40% of Georgians reported that the country was going into the right direction. Attitudes improved from this period to February 2012 when it reached the highest recorded share of positive response on the survey. Attitudes dipped slightly afterward, but remained generally positive, until there was a sharp rise in people reporting that the country was not changing in June 2013. This was a period of relatively tense co-habitation between then President Mikheil Saakasvhili and the newly in office Georgian Dream coalition. It was also the start of the pre-electoral period for the presidential race which resulted in Giorgi Margvelashvili winning the elections. In the November 2013 survey, immediately following Margvelashvili’s electoral victory, there was a spike in people saying the country was headed in the right direction and a drop in people reporting that the country was not changing and saying it was going in the wrong direction.



While attitudes shot up following Margvelashvili’s electoral victory, optimism was short-lived. In the wave of survey after the pre-electoral one, attitudes returned to levels comparable to prior to Margvelashvili’s electoral victory. In the subsequent wave of the survey, attitudes were similar, and then experienced a precipitous decline between August 2014 and April 2015. Not only was there a decline in positive attitudes, but also a sharp increase in the number of people reporting that the country was going in the wrong direction. One likely contributor to this rise in pessimism is the devaluation of the Georgian Lari, which started in October 2014 and continued during this period. Notably, this was the first time that the survey had recorded more people having negative than positive outlooks for the country in the history of the survey.

Between March and November 2016, attitudes recovered to a certain extent though similar shares of people reported that the country was not changing, going in the wrong direction, and going in the right direction. This recovery might be associated with the 2016 elections as negative attitudes peaked as elections approached and then become less negative after elections.

In June 2018, during the pre-electoral period for the presidential race, more people started to report that the country was not changing and fewer reported that it was going in the right direction. Attitudes recovered following the elections in December 2018. However, in the most recent CRRC-NDI survey in April 2019 attitudes became more negative.

Public opinion on the direction of the country has become increasingly pessimistic over the last ten year. The public mood often declines prior to and improves after elections. However, this recovery does not last long. Besides elections, the devaluation of the Georgian Lari appears to have led to a precipitous decline in people’s outlooks for the country. There are surely many other causes of changes, but these do stand out as plausible explanations for some of the larger shifts shown above.

The data used in this article is available from CRRC-Georgia’s Online Data Analysis tool.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Who is afraid of the Lugar Centre?

[Note: This piece was written by David Sichinava, the Research Director at CRRC-Georgia, and co-published on OC Media. The views expressed in this article represent the views of the author alone and not of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) or East-West Management Institute’s ACCESS program.]

In Georgia, a conspiracy about the US-funded Richard Lugar Centre for Public Health Research in Tbilisi has recently gained traction. As CRRC-Georgia’s USAID-funded research shows, Georgia’s far-right groups eagerly picked up on this conspiracy and blamed the centre for the seasonal flu outbreak in early 2019.

The conspiracy has also acquired influential endorsers outside Georgia. Russia’s diplomatic and military circles were quick to accuse the centre of developing biological weapons and conducting secret experiments on human subjects.

How do Georgians perceive the conspiracy around the Lugar Centre? In a recent CRRC/NDI survey, respondents were asked whether it was true or not that the Lugar Centre contributes to the spread of epidemics. About 20% of respondents said that the proposition was true, while about 40% did not know whether the statement was true or false.

Attitudes vary across socio-demographic groups. Women are slightly more likely than men to believe that the Lugar Centre spreads epidemics in Georgia. Respondents with a higher education are less likely to believe in the conspiracy.

Ethnic Armenians in urban and rural areas are more likely to think that the statement is true. Ethnic Azerbaijanis are more likely to have no opinion than to believe that the statement is false. There is no significant difference between older and younger respondents, or among those who have different economic status.

Importantly, the way people perceive the Lugar Centre conspiracy is strongly associated with their geopolitical views. Those who believe that the Centre contributes to spreading epidemics are more likely to think that Georgia would benefit more from better relations with Russia. They are less likely to believe that Georgia would benefit more from membership in the European Union or NATO.
Georgians and Azerbaijanis who think the Lugar Centre conspiracy is true are also more likely to support abandoning Western integration projects at the expense of improving relationships with Russia.

Disbelief in the conspiracy is associated with positive feelings towards Western integration projects.


Note: The probabilities given on the chart are calculated using a logistic regression model. Explanatory factors include the respondent’s demographic characteristics (gender, age, education, ethnicity) and socio-economic controls (index of household’s economic conditions, knowledge of Russian and English).

The most tempting explanation of what is described above would be accusing Russia of spreading propaganda. Considering how Russia’s state-run foreign-language media outlets weaponise conspiracy theories to manipulate foreign public opinion, this might indeed be a plausible explanation.

Although the study only establishes possible links between pro-Russian feelings and beliefs in the Russia-endorsed Lugar Centre conspiracy, further research is required to attest to whether the latter can actually change foreign policy attitudes.

What is more important is that the belief in a conspiracy, or exposure to it can have negative consequences. Research shows that exposure to conspiracy theories undermines trust in institutions.

Right-wing populists often use conspiracies to propagate hatred towards minority groups. As conspiracies provide simple answers to complex questions, especially to those who are seeking one, hoaxes like the one surrounding the Lugar Centre can easily gain traction.

While beliefs in certain conspiracies can be reversed, there is no clear evidence that fact-checks and information corrections are always successful.

This matters in the Georgian context. Georgia’s far-right groups have already endorsed the Lugar conspiracy and their leaders seem to be attracted to others.

As beliefs in anti-Western conspiracies and one’s attitudes towards foreign policy show strong associations, the data might suggest that the Lugar Lab conspiracy, among others, could shift people’s attitudes.

While this requires further research, the data do suggest that communicating on the issue is important, and particularly among ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani communities, given their higher prevalence of belief in the conspiracy and uncertainty over it, respectively.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Judges in the criminal justice system: A new study

What is the role of judges in the criminal justice system? Are there obstacles that judges face to providing fair, impartial, and human rights oriented justice? A new study on the role of judges in the criminal justice system collected the opinions of city court and court of appeals judges and lawyers in February-March 2019. The report was released on June 26th.



CRRC Georgia conducted the study on the role of judges within the project “Facilitating Implementation of Reform in the Judiciary” (FAIR), funded by the European Union and implemented in partnership with Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) and the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI).

The study attempted to identify issues that judges and lawyers find important for the expansion of the role of judges, their evaluations of the role of judges, and any needed changes in a number of domains, including: administrative offenses, competitiveness in criminal law, closing cases at the pre-court hearing stage, plea bargaining, punishment policy, the role and status of victims, domestic violence, and drug crime. In addition, the report provides information on general issues such as the mechanism for appealing to the Constitutional Court.

Some of the findings include:

  • Some judges and lawyers described a need to change the Code of Administrative Offences. The exact definition of different offenses was of particular focus in this regard;
  • The absence of the burden of proof when discussing administrative offences was named as a challenge, especially if there is only testimony or the protocol of an administrative body representative in the case; 
  • When discussing the Criminal Procedure Code, judges and lawyers named two main domains for the expansion of the role of judges: 
    • Giving judges the right to ask questions without the consent of the parties and; 
    • The ability to demand expert testimony;
  • Some judges and lawyers also find it necessary to equip judges with the right to change the terms of plea agreements;

When it comes to the role of victims:

  • A large number of judges see no need for change. 
  • A smaller share noted that victims should have the right to present evidence and to appeal if the Prosecutor’s Office rejects their request;

With domestic violence cases:

  • Judges name insufficient evidence and witnesses changing or rejecting testimony as the main challenges; 
  • Lawyers report it is important to investigate the reasons victims change their testimony or refuse to make it again and to take into consideration their social-economic background when discussing the case;

With drug-related crimes:

  • Judges see no need to expand their rights to check the reliability of the sources of investigative information;
  • According to a small number of judges, they should have some ability to check the reliability of the source of investigative information;
  • In contrast, most lawyers think it is necessary that judges check the reliability of the source.

Overall, the study suggests the need for a number of legislative changes, the expansion of the role of judges in the criminal justice process, and their increased activity in terms of appeals to the Constitutional Court to overcome legislative shortcomings. The full study report with a detailed summary of the views of legal professionals for each topic is available in Georgian, and the executive summary is available in English.