Monday, December 29, 2008

Reading in Georgia | PIRLS International Student Achievement in Reading

In 2006 Georgia participated for the first time in the PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) assessment. PIRLS began in 2001 and looks at literacy trends and reading education for 4th graders in 40 different countries around the world (Armenia and Azerbaijan did not participate) and is administered every five years.

In terms of Reading Achievement, Georgia -- with an average of 471 -- fell below the PIRLS international average of 500. However it did score better than some post-communist countries like Macedonia (442). But Georgia's giant neighbor to the north fared much better. The highest performing country assessed in Reading Achievement was Russia with 565 followed closely by Hong Kong SAR (564), Singapore (558), Luxembourg (557) and several Canadian provinces (the Canadian provinces have traditionally taken the exam as separate entities).

Interestingly, the scores and rankings of the countries of the former Soviet Union varied greatly. While these countries had the same education system during Soviet times their current systems produced very different results in the PIRLS assessment. It would be interesting to add several Central Asian countries to the mix as well.

Acrros the board, girls had higher reading achievement than boys in every country and province in the assessment and Georgia was no different. In Georgia girls outscored boys by 17 points, 480 to 463. The international average difference between the genders was also a 17 point difference. On the theme of gender, 100% of the 4th grade reading teachers surveyed in Georgia were female.

PIRLS presents a wide variety of data related to literacy and reading achievement. According to PIRLS, a large percentage of Georgian students, 33%, come from homes that have less than 10 children’s books. And very few have access to technology; only 10% of students go to schools where there are computers available for student usage and only 3% have internet access in their schools.

On a positive note, Georgian teachers were some of the most educated of the countries surveyed with 98% having university degrees -- though what that degree means of course is open to interpretation. Interestingly, despite the low wages, Georgian teachers are among the most satisfied with their career, with 83% reporting that they had a “high level of career satisfaction.” Only Norway reported higher levels of teacher career satisfaction than Georgia. Perhaps this has to do with the ability of teachers to earn significant incomes from outside of school tutoring? It would be interesting to find out more.

PIRLS provides an interesting insight into literacy in Georgia and the Georgian education system. However, unlike in some other countries where the assessment was given in multiple languages in order to assess all 4th grade students, in Georgia only Georgian-speaking students were tested. This leaves out a significant population of Azerbaijani, Russian and Armenian schools. Most likely including these schools would have changed the results.

For the full PIRLS report click here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Math and Science in the South Caucasus | TIMSS 2007

TIMSS, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, has released their report for 2007. TIMSS is conducted every four years and it reports on mathematics and science education for 4th and 8th graders in 59 countries. In 2007 Georgia participated for the first time in the study. Armenia participated again in 2007 (you can read our previous blog posting about Armenia in TIMSS 2003 here).

So how did the countries of the South Caucuses fare? Armenia and Georgia fell below the international average in all subjects and grades except for one group. Armenian 4th graders performed just at the international average (500) in mathematics.

Armenia did much better than Georgia in both math and science, but both of the South Caucasus countries were outscored by several former Soviet and Eastern European countries. In 4th grade math scores for example; Kazakhstan (549) and Russian (544) ranked 4th and 5th overall. Several former Soviet and Eastern European countries performed at or above the international average including: Latvia (537), Lithuania (530), Hungary (510), Slovenia (502) and Armenia (500). Below the international average were the Slovak Republic (496), the Czech Republic (486), Ukraine (469) and Georgia (438).

Georgia was outperformed by all other participating former Soviet Countries and Eastern European countries in both math and science for 4th and 8th graders. What should be done? Reader input and discussion is most welcome. How much the ongoing reforms have showed up in the test results in the Georgian case would be worth of further study.

On a positive note, Armenia is doing better than it was four years ago in all categories and at all grade levels.


The full 2007 TIMSS report is available here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Freedom House Report | Democracy in the Caucasus

In June Freedom House released its 2008 annual Nations in Transit Report covering January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2007. The Nations in Transit Report covers the democratic performance of the former Soviet Union, the former Soviet satellite states and the former Yugoslavia.

Let’s take a look at how the nations of the South Caucasus have been depicted this year. Georgia has worsened on several of the indexes this year. This is not surprising given the events surrounding November 7, 2007 (the police violently disrupting protestors, the institution of a nine-day state of emergency and the state taking control of one media channel). Note the counter-intuitive grades: 1 represents the best level of democratic performance and 7, the worst.

Georgia Country Report 2008

After two years of slight improvements in performance, Georgia slid backwards in three categories: Electoral Process, Independent Media and National Democratic Governance. Overall Georgia (4.79) fares far worse in the rankings than the Baltic States (Estonia 1.93, Latvia 2.07 and Lithuania 2.25) and the Eastern European States (i.e. Czech Republic 2.14). Georgia is also worse than the former Yugoslavia (i.e. Macedonia 3.86 and Bosnia 4.11).

In comparison to the other non-Baltic, former Soviet countries however, Georgia is only bested in the rankings by Ukraine (overall 4.25). And while Georgia’s ranking for corruption (5.00) is impressively the best among the non-Baltic former Soviet states it still clearly struggles with both local and national democratic governance according to this rating system.

The non-Baltic former Soviet states rankings have deteriorated towards further authoritarianism and curtailment of media freedoms and the South Caucasus nations are no strangers to these trends.

Armenia and Azerbaijan’s rankings remained exactly the same this year as last year with the former receiving an overall 5.21 ranking and the latter a high, 6.0, putting it in the company of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

A separate question remains as to how we can compare these ratings over time. Georgia interestingly has a better overall rating in 1999 than now and the corruption levels after spiking in 2004 have now returned to the level of 1999. Perhaps current assessments are based on more skepticism than in the past?

For more information and the complete reports for each country see Nations in Transit 2008

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Exploring Azerbaijani Views on Alternative Energy

We have written previously about the World Public Opinion project of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. The project has recently released interesting data on energy issues based on the poll conducted in 21 countries. According to the publication, the majority of Azerbaijanis favor alternative energy development. 64% (compared to 77% average of 21 world countries) think that solar and wind power should be promoted more strongly in the country. Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings is also favored, while opinions split on the expansion of coal/oil-fired and nuclear power plants.

At the same time, Azerbaijanis are not quite prepared to pay a higher price for cleaner energy: while 48% of respondents (69% average of 21 countries) favor requiring utilities to use more alternative energy, even if this would result in higher energy prices, 43% are against it. This could be explained by the fact that energy prices are already quite high and often beyond affordability for the poorest population groups in Azerbaijan.

The population is even less prepared to pay more for goods produced with cleaner energy: in Azerbaijan, 55% of respondents would oppose spending more on such efficiently produced products, while 38% would favor it. Among the 21 countries surveyed, this view puts Azerbaijan in a minority with only 4 other countries. Maybe this is not surprising, given that annual inflation already is running high in the country.

The overall attitude towards an extra charge for appliances and cars that are not energy efficient is slightly less negative. As in all other surveyed countries, most Azerbaijanis believe that a major shift to alternative energy would save money in the long run. Explore the survey results at

Friday, November 28, 2008

Weak State Institutions | Weak Social Capital?

What's the balance sheet of the Rose Revolution so far? There is agreement that there has been tremendous progress in some fields. The economy has grown, street-level corruption has evaporated, and in many other instances the state functions for the people.

However, it's also clear that state institutions remain weak. This general analysis (some progress, some failings) is borne out by the data we have collected. Often the failure to develop trusted state institutions is seen as a top-down failing, as the government not having done enough to put developments on track.

At the same time, there is also distinct civil society weakness -- not so much as a complaint about NGOs, but simply low levels of social capital. This weakness makes it hard to set up functioning and robust institutions in the first place.

The slides below illustrate this problem quite well.

Civil Society Data
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: crrc georgia)

With the trash picture we want to say that maybe the first step should be to focus on simpler local challenges, to illustrate to people that working together can have positive results. (If you want to see our comments to the slides, to get the full narrative, open the presentation in Slideshare, and click on the Notes, bottom right.)

Much of it ends up going back to Robert Putnam's Making Democracy Work. This book should be required reading for anyone interested in democratization in the region. There is a bigger debate that we are not having yet, or at least not on a high-enough level.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

CRRC-Azerbaijan Past Events Summary

If you didn’t have time or are just too far away to attend a lecture at CRRC Azerbaijan, you can now get information about our past events from our main website.

We publish short stories about the lectures, presentations and seminars held at CRRC. You can also find event pictures and presentation slides there. Recent talks addressed topics such as public health, labor exploitation, and economic policy. To find out more, visit the Past Events section of our website.

How can you keep track, straight from your browser? Install an
RSS feed for the past CRRC events. That way the information comes directly to you!

Not yet signed up to our mailing lists on ongoing events? Oh dear. Please write to us at emin+signup [at-sign, written out to avoid spam]

And if you are interested in particular events, or want to present your ongoing research, let us know. We are extremely keen to support your work and research.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

EBRD Life in Transition Survey | worth analyzing!

One of the most impressive recent survey efforts, measuring attitudes about different countries in transition, has been undertaken by EBRD. Called Life in Transition Survey (LiTS), this is an attempt to look at how 29 'transitioning' countries have developed following 1989. The survey tracks "public attitudes, well-being, and the impact of economic and political change".

LiTS is both encouraging and sobering at the same time. What is encouraging is that overall people, in spite of many hardships, do not want a return to centralized, authoritarian systems. At the same time, incomplete transition has left many people equivocal with regards to market systems. EBRD also notes that social capital remains in short supply.

The basic idea is set out succinctly in this EBRD presentation.

Life in Transition 2
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: ebrd economy)

(Note that we really think such presentations should be available under a Creative Commons license, since technically we are not sure whether we're allowed to share this, although it's available online.)

But beyond this, LiTS offers much more, and much more detail on the Caucasus. Let's look at some of the findings in more detail.
  1. Satisfaction with life is relatively low in Armenia, and the old and poor tend to be most dissatisfied. Only 20% of those aged over 50 are satisfied with their lives. And among the poor, the situation is even worse: only 16% of those with lower income are satisfied with their lives. The situation is similar in Georgia, where only 12% of those aged 50-64 are satisfied with their life. By contrast, satisfaction with the economic and political situation is relatively strong in Azerbaijan, particularly among the 50- 64 age group. This seems to tally with what we saw in our own 2007 Data Initiative (although interesting to compare and contrast with Elvin Effendi's work).
  2. In Armenia support for democracy and a market economy is weak, with just one in four favoring a combination of the two. In Georgia, there are high levels of support for democracy, but less for a market economy, with those aged over 65 most strongly opposed to both (over 50%). In Azerbaijan, support for democracy and a market economy is high, with the middle-aged the most supportive. However, there also is little interest in the political and economic system, with four out of ten believing that the type of political/economic system does not matter.
  3. Azerbaijanis' trust in public institutions, especially in the presidency, government and the political parties is among the highest in the region. By contrast, trust in public institutions is very low in Armenia. The armed forces is the only public institution in Armenia that enjoys public trust.
  4. Georgians report a decline of corruption in the country and the frequency of “irregular payments” to the public officials is significantly lower than elsewhere in the CIS regions. “Irregular payments”, especially in the healthcare and education spheres, remain relatively high both in Armenia and Azerbaijan.
  5. In all three South Caucasus countries people surveyed are more optimistic about the future of their children. The optimism is significantly higher in Georgia, where almost 70% of those surveyed believe that their children’s lives will be better than their own.
Separately, we are really impressed by this entire effort. It is a genuine public good. EBRD is frank about discussing shortcomings and challenges in the societies (and therefore note that the views are those of the Office of the Chief Economist, not necessarily of the entire Bank). This is incredibly refreshing in an environment where blandness prevails. The data set is publicly accessible, there's detailed documentation about questionnaire, fieldwork, methodology. And most of the material is available online.

The full printed report (soon in our libraries, if you find it too expensive) is written so well that it makes engaging bedtime reading. Our only huge regret is that these discussions seem not to have been carried into the relevant societies. If any donor is short of creative ideas, surely this is a way to go: let's get this data studied and analyzed locally, and let's get the discussions onto TV. (If anyone needs help with the dataset, let us know, or come to our offices.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Iakobashvili on the Current State of the Conflict

I attended State Minister Teimuraz Iakobashvili’s talk held at the Institute for European Studies at TSU on November 14. Overall, the talk was the first talk in Georgia I have seen where the majority of people who attended were Georgian students. Despite the fact that the audience was overwhelmingly Georgian, Minister Iakobashivili spoke entirely in English. Additionally, the Minister was very generous with his time and engaged in an extensive Q&A session with students who also asked questions only in English

Iakobashvili’s main points (in note format) are as follows

1. Russia is in a state of decay. This decay will take time, but things are bad in Russia. They lost political and economic ground and the war revealed Russia’s military weakness. According to Iakobashvili.

From a military perspective

  • Over 2,000 Russian soldiers were killed
  • The 60 number quotes by Russians were only from Yamadayev’s troops
  • Georgia destroyed Khrulyev’s column included 30/35 armored vehicles each carrying at least 8 people for a minimum of 240 dead from this column alone
  • Russia suffered major hardware losses including: 17 airplane, 1 strategic bomber, 3 helicopters
  • Russian soldiers are starving in Akhalgori and have resorted to raiding local Ossetians
From an economic perspective
  • Gas prices have led to major budget shortfalls in Russia
  • Europe will not ultimately be reliant on Russian gas
  • No liquefied natural gas terminal and no ports for them in Russia
  • China can get gas from Central Asia
From a political perspective
  • Demographic tides are promoting separatism
  • Only Moscow, St. Petersburg and Muslim dominated parts of Russia are growing. Muslim areas in Russia are demonstrating more ethnic homogeneity and anti-Russian sentiment
  • High birth rates in Muslim Russia are leading to more unemployment and dissatisfaction
  • 15% of Russian conscripts from the North Caucasus—many refusing to eat pork and stationed in Siberia
  • Ingushetia has all signs of civil war
  • Ossetians and particularly Abkhaz are angry at Russia
  • Russia has upset Abkhaz political dominance by either 1) Installing a Russian second in command 0r 2) Directly taking over certain operations
2. Russia is angry now and was angry before and this is particularly dangerous for Georgia in the coming winter months

Russia was angry before because Georgia’s strategy of “soft power was working”
  • Sanakoyev and Upper Kodori were successes
  • “Boney M, swimming pools and cinemas” were a success
Russia is angry now because of all the bad results of the war
  • This makes Russia very dangerous in the short term
3. Georgia’s strategy going forward – “Crisis gives you opportunity”

Build bridges to Abkhaz and Ossetians
  • Georgia has a mission to save Abkhaz and Ossetians from Russian domination
Georgia is not a member of NATO and doesn’t have the “goddamn plan” MAP
  • But MAP was only created recently under specific circumstances and should not be for Georgia
  • A special GAP or specific technical goals should be given to Georgia – it should be a political decision
  • Better than NATO, however, would be two American brigades in Georgia
  • Georgia should “fight when the fight makes sense” – Georgia should not argue with the EU resuming talks with Russia – but should seek to influence the process

Q & A and Other issues

Q: Why didn’t the Georgian Government heed the European Commission’s recommendations about Upper Kodori and South Ossetia?

A: The EU is a “status quo” organization. “We would have to abandon our people” if Georgia listened to them.

Q: What about Georgia and Georgia’s future image and what about Swiss inquiry?

A: Russia saw they were getting beat in the press. Iakobashvili has a list of PR agencies Russia has engaged in. Russia allowed the NYT to swallow a story from a guy who no longer works for the OSCE. Russia is also influencing press freedom abroad. Berlusconi has censored debate in Italy.

Georgia should work hard to build relations with Obama’s foreign policy team

As a result of the war, the level of awareness about Georgia has significantly increased.

Q: Does government have scenarios, even worse case scenarios?

A: Yes. The government learns quickly. Reservist system needs to change. The war showed MANAGEMENT problems. The reservists were not the problem. The war showed us “who is worth what”

Q: What about the Armenians in Abkhazia. Who do they support?

A: They leave the politics to the Abkhaz, though the status quo has been good to them, since they generally live in the north of Abkhazia. 30 or 31 out of 35 members of Abkhaz parliament are ethnic Abkhaz. This is called “apartheid.”

Q: What about the EU Monitors?

A: It would be better if they were armed and in Tskhinvali, But they are much better than the OSCE or UN, because they are free from Russian influence. UN cannot help solve the problem.

Q: What about the Geneva negotiations?

A: Georgia expects 3 countries (US, Russia, Georgia) and three int’l organizations (EU, UN, OSCE). They will not accept SO or Abkhazia. Russia can have whatever technical experts they want on their team. But there should be parity, so if Kokoity is attending, so should Sanakoyev.

Q What is with the UN?

A: UNOMIG was asked to leave Kodori. To justify this, they issued a “ridiculous report.”
UN will not play a significant role politically because of Russia, but they have been very helpful on the humanitarian front.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Migration Impact Research in Georgia | Update

As you may recall, we are conducting migration research in Georgia, together with the International School of Economics in Tbilisi (ISET). Here is an update on this larger, Global Development Network-funded project, from a recent GDN Newsletter.


'Development on the Move' gains global exposure
Representatives of the ‘Development on the Move’ project management team from GDN and ippr shared their research and its methodology at the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), attended by over 200 international experts and stakeholders in Manila, Philippines from October 27 - 30 ,2008.

'Development on the Move' was recognized as an innovative and ambitious cross-country research effort to measure migration's impacts and create new analytical tools. The conference participants were provided with a summary report of the early findings from the Jamaica pilot as well as a description of the project.

Meanwhile, the project's country studies are continuing successfully. Approximately 3,000 Colombian and Georgian households have been screened to participate in a national household survey on migration and will shortly provide valuable data on this topic. The surveys in Fiji, Ghana, Macedonia and Vietnam are now completed. The analysis will start in the upcoming weeks and the teams are already looking toward the Development on the Move project workshop in Kuwait, February 1- 2 2009, in conjunction with the GDN Tenth Annual Conference.

For more information on 'Development on the Move', please visit:

For more information on the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GMFD), go to:

In their last newsletter, GDN also highlighted the ongoing work over the summer. Here, directly from their newsletter:


Development on the Move: Deeper into the field
Do you live in Colombia or Georgia?

If you do, you may receive a visit from a survey fieldworker for the Development on the Move project, wanting to ask migration related questions.

During the entire month of September, research teams located in Colombia, Georgia, Ghana and Macedonia have been working hard to prepare themselves for the fieldwork. Planning has required the teams to make arrangements with their respective National Statistics Office to access national data on migration/immigration, define a sampling strategy, produce a questionnaire and hire interviewers.

Today, approximately six thousand Fijians, Ghanaians, Macedonians and Vietnamese are familiar with our questionnaire and have agreed to contribute to the project by providing valuable data on migration.

Despite the recent political crisis, the team in Georgia has managed to keep the project going. The Development on the Move management team would like to take the opportunity to express its esteem and support to the survey group in Georgia.

A little self-advertisement, maybe, but I also wanted to thank my colleagues for truly exceptional work, under trying circumstances. Are you interested in this migration work? Send us an email, so that we can keep you in the loop.

World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index | a few surprises

Indices are engaging and instructive, but some really baffle us. The World Economic Forum (WEF), the organisation that organises the annual high-profile Davos meetings, has come up with a gender index, and the Caucasus is featured. The index is intended to measure how the world is closing the gender gap in education, health, and political and economic participation. In principle, this is a great idea, since there are significant challenges and discrepancies (as our data itself shows).

So how does the Caucasus do? Azerbaijan does best, ranking 61, followed by Armenia at rank 78, and Georgia at 82. Surprising, no? Arguably a lot of data (including ours) would suggest exactly the reverse order.

Well, as it turns out the Caucasus says more about the index than the index says about the Caucasus. Let's look more closely. So in which neighborhood is Azerbaijan ranked? Well, it is following Hungary, but ahead of Ukraine, Slovak Republic, Luxembourg, Italy, the Czech Republic, Romania and also Greece. Armenia and Georgia are grouped with Ghana, Suriname, Bolivia, Malawi and Malta. Without even looking at the data, I suspect that female childhood literacy is way ahead in the Caucasus compared with that peer group, and arguably this should be weighed more heavily.

So where could the Caucasus turn to learn how to do it better? Well, according to the report, the Caucasus could start by emulating Mongolia (40), Kyrgyzstan (41), Kazakhstan (45) or even Uzbekistan (55). All of these do much better than the countries of the Caucasus (and, remember, better than many EU countries, too).

Let's look below the hood, to find out what's going on here. Four sub-indices assemble to create the full gender index. Economic Participation, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. They are meant to measure equality of distribution within the country (not against an external benchmark).

Now looking at Azerbaijan, what happens is that two of the indicators under Economic Participation are missing, but this does not seem to weigh against Azerbaijan's score. So where does Azerbaijan end up on Economic Participation? World rank 4, just missing bronze in the Gender Equality Olympics, even ahead of overall champion Norway.

Uzbekistan? Same story, ranking 11 worldwide on equality of economic participation. Again, see the missing lines of data.

Other data does not even stand up to a basic sniff test. Health and Survival? Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan get perfect scores, giving them highest rank (with several other countries). Now maybe they ARE doing better than Georgia ranked at 127 for Health and Survival, or Azerbaijan (129). But does anyone believe that Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan (or Tajikistan, at 55) do better than Netherlands at 72, or Germany at 57? Equality of distribution may be a nice idea, but what precisely do we end up measuring here? The equality of shared misery is not a meaningful guide to discussion or policy.

So it appears that the ENTIRE rankings that the World Economic Forum suggest are based on a hodgepodge of incomplete data that doesn't get balanced out.

This is a real shame. First, gender indeed is an incredibly important issue and one cannot talk enough about it. Bad quality rankings undermine the cause, rather than supporting it. Secondly, these misconstrued rankings obscure that there could be more nuance in the discussion, which the actual country reports could provide (if, that is, they are to be trusted at all). Unfortunately, Armenia is missing from the country reports.

Or did I get this wrong? Check it out yourself, and stay tuned, we will write to the WEF to find out.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

World Public Opinion: Azerbaijan in Focus

World Public Opinion is the initiative of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) of the University of Maryland that explores public opinion on a variety of topics in 25 countries across the globe, including Azerbaijan, the only South Caucasus country represented in the survey. Russia and Ukraine are the other two former USSR countries that the project includes.

The International Center for Social Research, a local research organization, is PIPA’s partner in Azerbaijan. The Center’s recent and current research projects include, among others, CIVICUS - Civil Society Index Report for Azerbaijan, World Values Survey and a survey on gender based violence for UNFPA.

Based on a poll conducted in January-February 2008 among 602 respondents in Azerbaijan, and at different times in 2008 in other countries, World Public Opinion periodically releases the survey results on various issues.

For instance, it was found out that large majorities in 16 nations around the world are in favor of equal rights for women. In Azerbaijan, 85% of respondents believe that equality of rights is important and over three quarters think that government should protect women from discrimination.

Global opinion on governance and democracy was released in May 2008. Among all surveyed countries, Azerbaijan has one of the largest majorities of people who believe that the will of people should be the basis of authority of government, with 76% thinking that it should have greater weight than it currently has.

A more recent publication tells us what people in six predominantly Muslim countries think about globalization. Surveyed Azerbaijanis view international trade as mostly good for their economy, companies and consumers. 63% see globalization as mostly positive.

The project also publishes questionnaires and short information on methodology. The survey methodology is not entirely uniform since it is administered by different organizations in all countries. Still, it provides another good source of data on a number of topics. To explore global public attitude to torture, treatment of widows and divorced women, global leadership, oil and other energy sources, racial and ethnic equality and a host of other exciting issues visit the website of World Public Opinion.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Restructuring Schools in Armenian Neighborhoods: Does Social Capital Matter?

Public schools in Yerevan face serious problems of restructuring. Most of the schools have not been renovated since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Does economic well-being affect the level of social capital in the neighborhood? Are the neighborhoods with higher social capital more likely to be willing to participate in school renovations? The answer depends not only on public cooperation, but also on socio-economic well-being. Armine Asryan together with her partner Anush Davtian investigated social capital in four neighborhoods of Yerevan.

According to the researchers, income positively determines the level of social capital -- the higher the income, the higher the social capital; and there is a further relationship between social capital and school renovation -- the higher the social capital, the more likely it is that the community will take part in school renovation. Armine characterized the communities as having low bridging and high bonding capital, which indicate low civic participation apathy and extreme individualism among those four communities.

The researchers developed policy recommendations such as enhancing the transparency of school boards. The data show that most of the respondents who expressed their willingness to support school restructuring affirm that they donate money through school boards. Therefore, clear and continuous reports on the management of the funds will enhance parents' participation in school renovation projects.

The paper is posted on the CRRC-Armenia website. Please let us know what you think.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Public Opinion on the Parliament in Georgia

Earlier this year CRRC-Georgia conducted a survey “Public Opinion on the Parliament in Georgia” for Transparency International. CRRC used a random walk methodology for the household selection and Kish table for the individual respondents with the sample size of 1895 respondents (1538 completed interviews; 19% non-response).

The survey includes several sections such as social capital, political views, knowledge and attitude toward the parliament, relationship with the parliament, media and political activities, as well as a demographic block. Here are some of the slides that we found interesting:

The Transparency International report will become available in the next few weeks. If you are interested in getting the dataset (and would like to help CRRC in cleaning the dataset a bit), email

Monday, October 27, 2008

World Press Freedom | Caucasus does badly!

Yet another index, and one with little happy news. How does world press freedom look? Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group founded in 1985 ("investigate, expose, support"), has just released an international ranking. A total of 173 countries are ranked, and the Caucasus is in the bottom third.

Armenia does best, ranked at 102, but is also down sharply from last year, following the state of emergency. Armenia is behind Ukraine (87) and Moldova (98). Armenia shares its place with Turkey, which with restrictions on various topics has a curtailed public space.

Georgia, also down sharply, is ranked at 120, behind Sierra Leone, Indonesia and other troubled countries, but still ahead of Kazakhstan (125) and Russia (141). The press release notes the state of emergency imposed in late 2007, and that several journalists became victims of the recent conflict.

Azerbaijan is ranked at 150, following Swaziland, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and extraterritorial Israel, presumably the occupied territories. However, Azerbaijan is ahead of Zimbabwe (151), Belarus (154), Uzbekistan (172) and North Korea (173). Arguably, Azerbaijan should hope to move out of this company (where, as the report says, being a journalist "is a high risk exercise involving endless frustration and constant police and judicial harassment") and try to place itself closer to, say, Kuwait (61) or the United Arab Emirates (69), countries that build easy legitimacy through oil wealth.

But what exactly does the index measure? The website provides an overview over the methodology. The index is based on a survey with 49 questions, reflecting distinct criteria, and is available online. Attention is given to "every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment)." It also looks at whether those that violate press freedoms enjoy impunity. Moreover, it looks at legislation and the degree of self-censorship. Certainly, that's an important component: one friend, moderating a TV talk show found the producers interrupting through his earpiece, instructing him not to touch on certain topics.

While one has little reason to doubt that journalism is not in a happy state, and that unfortunately the rankings are broadly accurate, a little more detail on the methodology would have been useful. How are the different components weighted? To what extent, for example, was the sharp drop for Georgia explained by the recent conflict? Or did the index finally catch on more to problems of self-censorship? Or did it reflect, in particular, the violent closure of Imedi? Providing such detail would be helpful, since it could stimulate public debate, focusing on particular shortcomings.

To take a closer look, go to the website of Reporters Without Borders.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

McCain vs Obama: Caucasus preferences

So here's something that we are a little puzzled about. The Economist is undertaking a poll to see which American Presidential candidate is favored by the world. In a very blue worldwide map, rooting for Obama, two noticeable yellowish spots, Macedonia and Georgia. McCain, of course, is popular in Georgia for having said "Today we all are Georgians" during the recent conflict. He has also previously visited the country, and apparently a missile was fired at his helicopter as he was flying over South Ossetia. His willingness to stand up to Russia, directly, makes him understandably popular in Georgia.

Now what puzzles us a little is that, according to The Economist, Obama apparently is more popular in Azerbaijan and Turkey. Is that really the case? Obama has been very outspoken about recognizing the Armenian genocide, and enjoys full support by the Armenian caucus, a sizable group of American legislators (apparently nearly one third of all legislators belong to it). So pronounced is this issue, that it has been described by The Atlantic as "McCain's Armenia problem"). So does that matter for comparing candidates?

For more depth, let's turn to Gallup World Poll (and we will be writing more about some of their impressive work in the region soon).

While Gallup has no data on Armenia and Azerbaijan, they have asked this question in Turkey and Georgia. And here lies one clue: in Turkey, 22% are pro-Obama, 8% pro-McCain. But 70% say they don't know, or refuse to answer. In Turkey, at least, the popularity of Obama, is based on the majority not having made up its mind yet. If Obama is elected, some delicate questions need to be resolved. See, again, the Atlantic article on this.

The data is, as far as we know, pre-conflict, collected in July, therefore the Georgian preferences may not be up to date: 15% Obama, 23% McCain, 62% Don't Knows/Refuse. So here, the race is pretty far away, too. Compare with the most extreme pro-Obama country, the Netherlands: 74% Obama, 10% McCain, 16% Don't Knows/Refuse.

Does the election matter to the world? Go to the Gallup website, and their nifty online data presentation, to find out more.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Comparing Civic Participation: Caucasus Data 2007

What's the level of engagement in the three countries of the South Caucasus? Are people involved? Are they staying abreast of what goes on? Again, our Data Initiative provides insight, since we asked people whether they had engaged in various activities over the last six months.

We seem to be seeing different patterns in the three countries. Print media, for example, is read a lot less in Azerbaijan than in the neighboring countries.

(in the last six months)

But of course, that could just be due to particular quirks: more television, or a bigger country in which relevant media does not make it out to the countryside. Just a blip? No, apparently not.

(also asked for the last six months)

Azerbaijanis indeed are less engaged in events. Few say that they discuss what is going on politically. One reason may be that they live in much more homogenous political space.

Generally, levels of civic engagement are low. This recalls, of course, Robert Putnam's Making Democracy Work, which says that civic association forms the basis of both political (in the sense of good governance: public health, education, policing, and so on) and of economic success. Conversely, a people caught in amoral familism will find it hard to collaborate to improve their communities; and since the majority of real public goods can only be attained by collective action, this could be a serious constraint on improving livelihoods.

(yep, last six months)

On that level, we are extremely glad that we have captured this data. It will allow us to track changes over time.

But is the news all bad? Actually, no. Azerbaijan sees quite some volunteering. As rumor has it, the communal subotnik which brings communities together to clean up and improve the neighbourhood still is alive in some places (although volunteering may be encouraged top-down). See the data:

(still: in the last six months)

And in a similar vein, there are contributions to charity in Azerbaijan. In part, this may be because tithing (giving one tenth) to charity is mandated under Islam, and (as you may recall from our previous post) about 15% in Azerbaijan actually say that they pray every day. That almost adds up.

(remember for how many months...?)

What we are describing, ultimately, is a fascinating research agenda: filtering out who the socially active people in a community are, and what makes them different, and how they were mobilized, and how this could be replicated.

Our data set, for anyone who wants to take that stab, is online, and more data on similar questions will follow soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Institutionalization of Ethnic Communities in Azerbaijan

The Russian community is the most institutionalized ethnic community in Azerbaijan, according to the research of Ilham Abbasov, a CRRC 2007 Fellow. This is due to the quite diverse nature of this community, some support from the kin state, and the demand for the social communication space among mostly urban Russian speaking actors.

The Lezgins, Talysh and Avar, the other ethnic communities studied by the fellow, do not have a particular demand for such space due to great ethnic, linguistic and cultural similarities with Azerbaijanis. This is the reason why they lack interest in ethnic organizations. These communities are closely integrated into Azerbaijani society, in general do not make distinctions between themselves and other people in Azerbaijan, and do not experience discrimination. Local (town/village) rather than national identity is important for these minority groups.

Another reason for weak institutionalization of ethnic minorities is the lack of financial means. The majority of ethnic community members are neither ready to participate in ethnic organizations, nor willing to support them financially, thus limiting alternative resources for the institutional development of such organizations. As a result of the aforementioned reasons and as well as the tight state control over ethnic institutions, the number of ethnic organizations is not expected to increase.

The full report is available at the CRRC-Azerbaijan website.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Policy Think Tanks | A Skeptical Assessment

Here is an assessment of policy research in Azerbaijan that we stumbled upon, in a yet-unpublished piece. It paints a stark picture, but we thought it provides food for discussion.


"Existing policy institutions are mostly shadow organization of one individual, where staff is added on an as needed basis (for example one key organization does not even mention staff members on its websites). Ultimately these individualistic organizations demonstrate well the old guard categorization - one of three less-than-flattering categories -- 1) the fleers 2) the old guard and 3) the GONGOers - that Azerbaijan policy analysts fall into.

The fleers, often of the younger generation, fearing the future direction of Azerbaijan, have sought to ensure the possibility of legally remaining outside of their country of birth. This group has either
  • left Azerbaijan to pursue further education and career opportunities in European or North American destination, while staying in the research field; or
  • migrated to the private sector to large multinational companies in Azerbaijan, with the goal of attaining geographic mobility and potentially expatriate status in the mid-term.
The old guard are generally those who received training during the Soviet era. This group can maintain some distance from the government; however, the risk being self-absorbed and may well be spoiled by an overabundance of funding that often has accepted shallow and low-quality outputs. Generally, therefore, the old guard see very limited use in updating their skill sets, since they remain comfortable doing what they have always done.

The GONGOers (Government Organized NGOs) are a combination of younger and older Azerbaijanis, who work for NGOs or research organizations that are either directly or indirectly funded by the Azerbaijani government. They have at best a limited capability of pursuing independent policy research.

As a result, there are almost no human resources to do policy research and many efforts to improve the situation have failed, a situation further exacerbated by three intersecting problems create a negative perception of policy research in Azerbaijan.
  1. Azerbaijani universities (maybe with the exception of Khazar) are not incubating the skills necessary for the younger generation to carry out policy analysis. There are competent lecturers, but they are exception. Curricula remain outdated; while many students want to learn, they have little formal opportunity to do so. There are many brilliant young people (as seen in the lively discussions on the Azerbaijani Studies Group), but they are largely self-taught.
  2. The private sector in Azerbaijan, dominated by an inner circle close to key families, does not demand high quality research. Business grows through oligarchic capture, not by a detailed orientation toward customers. Thus, there exists little independent market research (though there are some organizations with potential for reform such as SIAR and ERA) that could form the nucleus for quantitative, evidence-based approaches to policy research.
  3. The Azerbaijani government does not encourage independent analysis. It does not release important data publicly and at times actively discourages independent analysis.
A policy vacuum is therefore expanding in the country, which has no capacity to reflect systematically on its own challenges, and therefore no ability to articulate constructive solutions. The vacuum is well illustrated by hard numbers: last year one international organization offering stipends received 25 highly competitive applications to a scholarship program in Armenia, 14 in Georgia (where a lot of the potential talent is busy in government), but merely four competitive applications in Azerbaijan. On a more substantial level, Azerbaijan's bad public policy is visible everywhere and the country can no longer ignore its fundamental problems by palliative spending.

While the picture painted is a stark one, there is an opportunity to develop a new cohort of policy analysts, rather than trying to work with current researchers. This should significantly improve the mid- to long-term outlook of Azerbaijani policy research with the hope that a more open society will slowly emerge, which is more attractive to the younger generation. Such a move should plant the seeds of a virtuous cycle of better policy analysis in a younger generation by..."


Too rough an assessment? Is this not a bit too dark? What do you think? Comments welcome.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

South Caucasus Data 2007 on Unemployment

Unemployment clearly is one of the pressing issues in the South Caucasus. But there is a lack of reliable data on people being without and looking for a job. This blog, based on CRRC’s Data Initiative 2007, provides a snapshot on these numbers.

According to CRRC’s dataset, about 25% of the adult population in Armenia and Georgia, and 20% of Azerbaijan’s citizens say they are unemployed. Further analyzing these numbers shows that 18% in Georgia, 14% in Armenia and 12% in Azerbaijan are actually interested in looking for a job.

[Note: excluded are “students", "housewives", "disabled" or "retired" - even if they are looking for a job.]

Yet the data shows sizeable differences across the countries, depending on whether you ask in rural areas, urban environments, or the capital. Let's look at what people say when asked whether they consider themselves to be employed. Note that housewives, pensioners, disabled and students are also considered "not employed".

Do you consider yourself to be employed? This employment may be part-time or full-time, you may be officially employed, informally employed, or self-employed, but it brings you monetary income.

If you analyze the data of by settlement type, it reveals that of those that describe themselves as not employed a relatively low number of people look for work in Baku (22%), compared with Tbilisi (29%) and Yerevan (32%). Besides, about the same share of people (again, of those describing themselves as not employed with monetary income) in the three countries look for a job in rural areas (nearly 30%).

However, the data impressively illustrates that the major interest -- among those that are not employed -- in a workplace can be found in urban areas, where about 40% of Armenians and Georgians, and almost 50% Azerbaijanis try to find work. This figure powerfully underlines the desolation of Caucasian cityscapes.

Of those that are not employed, what percentage is looking for a job?

Finally, the DI statistics show that the same number (once you factor in the margin of error) of people is unemployed and interested in a job, but not currently looking: 6% in Armenia, and 5% in Georgia and Azerbaijan. A slightly lower number of the unemployed is not looking for a job at all. Have those already given up?

Now the definitions of unemployment always are a little complicated (are pensioners looking for work considered unemployed?), but here is an article that can help. If you are interested to check the datasets yourself , please download it from CRRC’s homepage. For more information on the Data Initiative project, please click here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

How Supply fails Demand | Pots of Honey

So what plagues local business? In many cases it's the same problem we have in politics as well: there simply is the wrong paradigm. It is self-centered, rather than being other-centered. Or, if that sounds too much like marriage counseling, let's put it this way: too many sellers try to solve their own problems, rather than those of other people. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not how you can succeed in a market. After all, who likes to spend their money on other people's problems? Charity is not a business model, at least not in retail.

Now in the last few days, an email exchange that perfectly illustrates this problem. (Note: I changed names, and the person is not even local. But it demonstrates the perennial problem.)

Dear all,

Many of you have purchased honey produced by my in-laws out close to Bakuriani. This year we have a bumper harvest and I can honestly say that the honey is even more delicious than ever. Its great with tea or over hot cereal and is especially effective at warding off colds. Most of the honey sold in the bazroba is adulterated with sugar water, but the one we offer is all natural. Price is 15 GEL per liter [around 10 USD], different sizes can be arranged.

Please contact me off list or call XYZ at 877-1234567 to arrange delivery.



From: Hans Gutbrod
Subject: Re: honey for sale

To: Anna

Date: Saturday, October 4, 2008, 12:19 PM

Hi Anna,

I really liked the honey, but I think you'd market it more effectively if you sell it in small doses. The 1.5 Litre pot that I bought last year (or even the year before?) is still sitting in my apartment, and I am still scraping it...

I think if you sell it in 250g jars, maybe with a small cute label, for 6 GEL, with 1 GEL going towards the charity your husband runs, you'd have even more uptake.

Anyway, I'd happily take 4 jars of 250 g each, and would pay extra for the jars.


-------- Original Message --------

Subject: Re: honey for sale

Date: Sun, 5 Oct 2008 12:21:00 -0700 (PDT)

To: Hans Gutbrod

Hi Hans,

I've sold small jars in the past at the Christmas bazaar, but it's really not worth our time, not to mention the mess.
We have 2 tons of honey this year! If you'd like 2 half-liter jars, I can do that.



So effectily Anna (not her real name) is trying to solve her problem of 2 tons, rather than my problem of how to consume that honey.

Pooh the Bear would be impressed.

Note the maths: 4 x 250g @ 6 GEL = 24 GEL; subtract additional cost for label and jars, and you still could make more than 20 GEL, an extra 5 GEL on the 15 GEL per liter. And that price is realistic, since the market that Anna is advertising to is NOT price sensitive, merely focusing on quality and convenience.

At least as important, Anna is cutting herself off from a natural extra market: honey as a nice gift in and from Georgia. A small, well-labelled glass of honey works well, it's a present that anyone would like to give and receive. Conversely, who will schlepp 1 liter pots anywhere?

These giant pots of honey to me are emblematic of why supply so often fails to meet demand. Sweetness undesired, at least in that shape and form. No wonder, then, that you still have so much foreign honey lining local super-market shelves. I sometimes even wonder whether these little stories and lessons are not at least as important in characterizing the business malaise than the larger economic explanations.

Any other instances you have come across? Any suggestions for how we could measure this phenomenon?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Focus on non-oil tax policy as oil revenues predicted to decline

The IMF has recently published its analysis of the developments in non-oil tax policy, administration and revenues in Azerbaijan. Non-oil tax policy could be an important tool in stimulating the development of non-oil sectors of the country’s economy.

In 2007 the oil sector accounted for over the half of the country’s GDP. Last year 62% of FDI went to the oil industry. While the non-oil sector is reported to grow by 15.6% during the first half of 2008, the oil sector remains the major source of budgetary revenue.

The IMF has warned previously that the growth rates in Azerbaijan are expected to decline significantly after 2010, once oil production passes its peak period. Even though this forecast was later refuted by some experts, who believe that the oil potential of the deep-water oil fields has not been fully explored yet, the importance of development of the non-oil sectors is widely recognized.

The decline of oil production will directly affect the revenue from the tax collection. Although the non-oil tax revenues have been steadily increasing since 2003 (see the chart below), the collection level still is below its potential. Several reforms aimed at modernizing the tax administration were implemented. Still, the wide-spread underground economy adversely affects the level of tax revenue. To broaden the tax base, the IMF recommends to reduce tax exemptions and benefits, and to make the tax privilege procedures more transparent. Also, to increase compliance, tax regulations, as well as all instructions and forms must be simplified and made easy to understanding of all taxpayers. The author of the report also recommends to reduce direct tax rates and to apply a unified rate to personal and corporate income. Tax and custom administration in general must be strengthened. The paper is available at the IMF website.

Source: IMF 2008

Polling Data on Turkish-Armenian Bilateral Relations

Recently, as a result of the football diplomacy between Armenia and Turkey, an opinion poll was conducted in both Turkey and Armenia to gauge the reaction to new gestures in the Turko-Armenian relationship. The poll was carried out by MetroPoll in Ankara (Turkish only website) and by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies -- run by Rafik Hovannisian an American Diaspora Armenian now resident in Yerevan and involved in Armenian politics.

Unfortunately, the original questions asked or the sample size are not available online. However, the findings are indicative of the opinions of countries that are winners and losers (Turkey -- winner, Armenia -- loser).

In Turkey, almost 70 percent of the population found the Turkish president Abdullah Gül's trip was successful and presumably supported the normalization of relations with Armenia. What would have been more interesting to ask, however, was Turks view of the importance of normalizing relations with Armenia. I would hypothesize that the majority of Turks, particularly those who live far from Eastern Anatolia do not see the current position as hurting their economic interests and do not see the issue as vital -- particularly if it would require any change of Turkey's stance on the genocide issue. With Armenia's limited purchasing power, Turkey stands little to gain economically from opening its border. Furthermore, Turkey already export to Armenia through Georgia, and it is presumably Armenia that pays the higher costs for goods, not Turkey.

Interest in Armenia may be more pronounced for those Turks who live in Kars and other settlements bordering Armenia. However, while these places stand to gain most from cross-border trade, they also may have much stronger feelings about how the opening of the border may affect their lives and have potential worries about attempts of Armenians to reclaim or purchase property in the area.

Given the deep and continuing melancholy that permeates much of Armenian society's consciousness as a result of the slaughter and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Armenians from Eastern Turkey and the central role that genocide plays in Armenian political culture, the Armenians show much more skepticism towards normalized relations with Turkey -- though the news is not all bad. Only 11 percent of respondents said they were against all cooperation with Turkey -- albeit 76 percent were only willing to normalize relations after certain preconditions were met. Ostensibly, preconditions revolve around the recognition of the Armenian genocide.

However, we would expect that more thorough plumbing of Armenian citizens' perceptions may reveal a more nuanced understanding of the policy trade-offs involved in preconditions. Likely, many more Armenians may be willing to engage in some compromise, if it meant more sustainable economic growth. Unlike Turkey, Armenia stands to reap large economic benefits from the opening of the border with Turkey. Transport costs would drop significantly for the many Turkish products that already wend their way through Georgia to Armenia; moreover, Armenia would have a more ready export market for finished goods they produce -- particularly if the Caucasian Tiger becomes more of a reality than a simulacrum.

Whatever the future for relations between Turkey and Armenia may hold, it is important to continue to provide open and reliable data on the process.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The August Conflict | Economic Impact on Georgia?

Tbilisi radar, destroyed by a Russian missile

In Georgia, attention now turns towards sorting out the impact of the short August conflict. How plausible is the reporting we are seeing? Do the journalists get it right?

Here's one account by the New York Times, outlining some of the damage and the upcoming challenges.

Click here for the complete article (access is free, but it will require you to register; we can make the article available to you directly as well).

Posted on an e-mail newsgroup focusing on Georgia, this NYT article quickly drew a response. Here is what (Dr.) George Welton, a consultant we have worked with extensively and who has done various research projects in Georgia, had to say:

"This is sufficiently fishy to warrant comment. First, ‘Caucasian Tiger’ gimme a break. As far as I could tell before the war the economy was vastly overheating with an inflated property market and a banking sector expanding way too fast (is there any other city in the world with this many ATMs?) But more importantly, Georgia was still not really producing anything that the world wanted to buy. Two of its largest exports – manganese and copper – have increased their revenues dramatically largely because of the price of resources going up on world markets and agriculture has still not recovered from the Russian market closing (wine is now exporting at about 40% its pre-ban levels – not allowing for inflation). But now everything wrong with the Georgian economy is going to be blamed on the war.

That said, I think that the war damage melodrama is vastly unhelpful.

1/ I don’t really buy this claim of $50 million repair costs for Caucasus Online. Can anyone verify this happened? I know people who were emailing, texting and skyping throughout the war – and there are lots of reasons why a business might want to exaggerate its losses. I have a feeling a lot of Georgian businesses might find they had things hit by the Russians in coming weeks.

2/ The tourist season has been damaged but ‘Russian tourists?!’. The Armenian tourists (who have to be the vast majority of the Georgian tourist market) will be back next year.

3/ There is no evidence that the fire outside of Borjomi National Park was started with incendiary bombs. The 950 hectares (just under 10 square kilometres) was almost entirely outside the park (the revised Gvt figures put 150 hectares in the park) and even if it had all been in the park, this is only slightly more than 1%. Borjomi did not ‘burn’.

4/ The idea that the Russians targeted infrastructure or that they might in the future is completely unsupported by the evidence. One train bridge (right next to another train bridge which almost immediately replaced it) was destroyed. None of the key infrastructure (Inguri dam, the BTC pipeline, the ports etc) were damaged significantly.

5/ The banking system survived without banks closing their doors for a significant time and in spite of the fact that there was a war. This is remarkable and while I am sure it will continue to need support, I think this should be seen as a sign of the strength of the Georgian economy, not its weakness.

6/ One billion infrastructure losses?!? – I guess he must be talking about the military (which still seems a little implausible)

The reason why this matters is that where the article is right is that the key damage to this country is investor confidence. Foreign aid might get the Georgian budget through the next two years or so – but after that if investors don’t start to come back then the country is really in trouble. And talking about the horrendous damage and huge risks that Russia poses to the country are not going to help that confidence return.


So far George Welton's comments. Any views?