Monday, March 31, 2008

Brookings Index of Regime Weakness | State Rebuilding or State Collapse in the Caucasus | The Annals of Data

Yet another index was released recently -- Brookings Index of State Weakness in the Developing World. One professor of mine in graduate school, who was a veteran hot spot worker, related that all of the conflict professionals keep their eye on this map to see where they are going next. In this year's version of the index, however, it's where they already are: Somalia, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq top the list.

But how do the Caucasus fit in? A bit surprising, Azerbaijan (ranked 80th out of 141) is considered the weakest regime in the Caucasus. Indeed, the Azerbaijani government has accused Western governments of ranking Azerbaijan as worst on purpose.

So what's behind the Azerbaijani rating? Much of this is because of Azerbaijan's bottom quintile rating for the "incidence of coups" as well as it's relatively low scores (second lowest quintile) on all but one variable in the political basket। Such data gels with the findings from the Bertelsmann Transformation Index, which we recently wrote about. But what about the political coups? As it turns out, it is the number of political coups since 1992 as rated by the Economist Intelligence Unit and something call Archigos 2.8. But, why has Azerbaijan had more coups than Georgia? Deeper into the halls of data we go.

Archigos is a dataset collected by Professor Hein Goemans of the University of Rochester, which contains a massive dataset on "the date and manner of entry and exit of over 3,000 leaders 1875 - 2004 as well as their gender, birth- and death-date, previous times in office and their post-exit fate." So, what does this database have to say about coups in Azerbaijan? And why is Azerbaijan's coup rating so much higher than Georgia's, which arguably has had more coups of a sort?

Azerbaijan's higher coup incidence hangs on definitions. According to the rules laid down by Professor Goemans, as long as political succession happens according to the laws of the country, even if a leader is removed extralegally, it is not considered a coup. Therefore, when Shevardnadze was toppled in 2003, it was not a coup according to the database because Nino Burjanadze became interim president, as stipulated by the constitution.

Hence, under Archigos' definition Armenia has had no coups since 1992 and Georgia has only had one -- when Jaba Ioseliani took over the reins of power from Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, has had two coups since 1992, according to the dataset: the ascension to the presidency of Isa Gambarov (now Gambar) and Əbülfəz Elçibəy (often written as Abülfaz Elçibay). Heydar Aliyev's ascension is not considered to be a coup by the dataset.

Comments on these categorizations of coups in the Caucasus most welcome!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Philanthropy in Georgia

Corporate Social Responsibility, a fashionable issue, is becoming a topic in the South Caucasus as well. CRRC research fellow, Giorgi Meladze, explored Georgian corporations’ generosity in his research undertaken in 2006.

According to official information received from the tax department, 210 companies have officially claimed philanthropic activities in Georgia. The amount spent on charity varied from 50 GEL to 100,000 GEL. Unfortunately of those 210 companies, only 79 companies responded to Meladze’s questionnaire, which probably is somewhat less representative than one would wish.

According to official data, banks and construction and pharmaceutical companies most actively participated in philanthropy, spending around 7,565,994 GEL on charity in 2005-2006. Almost half of this money was spent on monument conservation, cultural and sport activities and health projects. The majority of the surveyed companies do not have a clear strategy and spend money on charity spontaneously. Moreover, the companies do not require financial reporting on their activities. The surveyed organization named ineffective legislation as one of the biggest challenges to philanthropy. This hindered donors from spending more funds on charity. According to the Georgian legislation, only legal persons are eligible for receiving tax subsidies, and government recognizes only money donations as charity.

According to the findings, the most popular directions in philanthropy are:

  • aid to orphanages and shelters for elderly people
  • help to religious intuitions
  • support to sport organizations (NGOs)

Even though companies might finance NGOs working in a similar field, few companies were interested in helping non-governmental organizations despite the fact that some large companies cooperate with them and use their services. [For further information on corporate social responsibility you can visi thet Eurasia Partnership Foundation website.]

We hope the government integrates Meladze’s recommendations into upcoming legislative amendments. For more info, you can directly contact the author of the research through our office.

Monday, March 17, 2008

PISA in Azerbaijan | Take 2 | great maths scores

In a previous post we wrote about the PISA scores of 15-year olds in Azerbaijan. As you may recall, PISA is an international test of competency, primarily focusing on reading, mathematics and science. Azerbaijan deserves particular praise for participating in this challenging international exercise: the results in science were not altogether flattering, but it's better to take part than to stand aside, and it can only be hoped that Georgia and Armenia will also be taking part soon.

At the time of posting, we received some comments that the overall performance was not so bad. Azerbaijani math scores, it was pointed out, were much better. Time, therefore, for another look. Indeed, Azerbaijan performs much better at mathematics. (If you want to see what is being tested, check the PISA sample questions.)

Azerbaijan does better than, say, Argentina, Bulgaria, Mexico, Montenegro, and even Turkey. Conversely, the Baltic states and Russia do better than Azerbaijan. For example, Russia has about 15% reaching Level 4 in Mathematics, and about 6% reaching Level 5 (on a scale from 0 to 6, with 6 denoting highest). Azerbaijan by comparison only has about 7% reaching Level 4 in mathematics, and less than 1% getting to Level 5.

Still, altogether this is highly encouraging news. However, there is one item that is a little hard to explain, and if anyone has any ideas, let us know: according to this OECD data, Azerbaijan has the best basic mathematics training of all participating countries. Only 0.2% do NOT manage to reach the Level 1, which is quite exceptional. In Liechtenstein, for example, a wholesome 4% don't make it to Level 1, in Romania 24%, in Bulgaria nearly 30%, in Brazil even nearly 50%. So with 0.2%, what exactly happened in Azerbaijan? Is it really a case of no-child-left-behind? But what, then, should Switzerland (4.6%), Japan (4%) or Denmark (3.6%) learn from Azerbaijan?

Does anybody know? Did the bad students just not turn up for the test?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Intravenous Drug Users in Tbilisi | Survey Data

As part of a four part series, Save the Children in cooperation with a host of other organizations have released reports from survey data they have collected from Female Sex Workers (FSWs) and Intravenous Drug Users (IDUs). All of the surveys are funded by USAID. This entry reviews the Tbilisi report on IDUs. If you are interested in the other reports, please contact us.

It has been a conundrum for many why the number of HIV infected is not higher in Georgia (Georgia is low prevalence country, less than 5%, as defined by UNAIDS, but data is weak, since surveillance is bad), since it is estimated that there are 250,000-280,000 IDUs in Georgia, which accounts for around 5% of the total population -- an astounding figure. To understand the dynamics of IDUs and its relation to HIV infection other diseases a Behavioral Surveillance Survey (BSS) has been carried out three times -- in 2002, 2004 and 2006. The survey methodology uses a referral method, since sampling IDUs is no easy task. While providing good information, it does no present a representative sample of these people and when discussing the data, one must keep in mind various biases in the data, which may be present. However, the data points to trends that are generally positive, and it may be that Georgia will be able avoid a much larger HIV crisis.

So, what did the 2006 data show? Similar to 2004, the report found stability in the type of drugs injected. Most IDUs in the sample report injecting Subutex and also having started to use Antihistamines. In 2002, however, most users reported using heroin.

Also, in terms of good news, 96% of those who reported having paid sex (30% of the male sample -- about the same as in 2004), reported using a condom. The number who pay for sex and use a condom is substantially up from 2004, which hopefully indicates and increase in awareness of the dangers of unprotected sex. However, males users report not using condoms with their stable sex partner. In other good news, knowledge about HIV among drug users is also rising, at least in the sample, however remains low overall. Only 37% of the sample could correctly identify the six mechanisms of transmitting HIV. However, only 15% of the sample in 2002 could do so.

On the bad news front, respondents who inject seems to be getting younger and younger. There was a 10% jump from 2002 to 2006 in the those who started injecting between 15 and 19 years old.

Again, if you are interested in the whole report, please get in touch.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Carnegie Research Fellowship Program!

CRRC is happy to announce the Carnegie Research Fellowship Program. The program offers exceptional social science research opportunities in the United States for scholars from the Caucasus.

Specifically, scholars in the social sciences may apply for individual, non-degree research opportunities at universities and institutes in the United States. The program is directed at advanced researchers that already have a demonstrated track record in social science research. The research period lasts up to a full semester (i.e. 4 months), starting either September 2008 or January 2009.

Up to three scholars from the South Caucasus will be selected, to join a prestigious program administered by the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research (NCEEER -- that is an awful amount of "E"s). All costs for the scholars are covered, including round-trip airfare.

Applications need to be handed in as hard copies. Deadline for applications is April 30, 5 p.m., 2008, to be handed in to your local CRRC office. We suggest applicants study details in the guidelines and the application form closely, and in good time, to avoid disappointment. Please be aware that we will NOT be accepting applications in the humanities or international relations, since CRRC focuses primarily on empirical social research.

Note that the application process is very competitive, since a very concise research proposal is expected. We therefore encourage you to take advantage of specific mentoring that we will provide, to help you improve your application. The Carnegie Research Fellowship should present an extraordinary chance to researchers that can advance their work through a period of self-directed study in the US, and we will be happy to coach applicants.

Register your interest by writing to now, and no later than March 21, to learn how we can help you make your application competitive.

Monday, March 10, 2008

USAID Political Party Assessment of Europe and Eurasia

Admittedly we forgot to post this earlier, but we believe it is even more important with the upcoming elections in Georgia.

Democracy International, contracted by USAID, released a report on political party assistance across Europe and Eurasia. In order to carry out fieldwork, they selected four countries (Serbia, Romania, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan). There were a wide number of selection criteria variables, including the fact that both party institutes, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), had to be present in the country. In effect, this created an endogeneity problem in the research design, where countries were studied not because of their inherent differences but because the US government had invested the most resources in them. Of course, one country from each region was also chosen ensuring regional variation but also decreasing variation along other axes.
The report is long and includes an impressive theoretical overview. I will discuss only three subjects, which may be of interest to blog readers and discussed in the research:1) the relationship between political party assistance and development 2) survey work and 3) democratization in Georgia. However, I would encourage anyone interested in how USAID operates in the region to read the report and to also analyze it for the subtexts, since all documents put out by the government (even if it is contracted) will attempt to glaze over (or at least cover up) some things.

An important theoretical point was raised in the report: almost no literature exists on causality between political party assistance and development. While many other aspects of democracy have been thoroughly explored, most notably elections, how party assistance shapes democracy is a area ripe for study. I think one of the main reasons this has not been studied is the necessity of long-term on the ground fieldwork to trace out the processes of political party development. Since a comparative basis is needed to do so, the work involved seems particularly overwhelming. This could be an interesting place to create teams of local researchers to work on the ground in a well selected group of countries, to trace these processes over time in a standardized way.

The article highlights survey work, which is in one of the areas traditionally covered under party assistance and alludes to the fact that surveying has often been overemphasized and targeted not at domestic constituencies, but at the international and development community. Conversely, the report argues that the nexus between the survey work itself and any public policy outcomes is crucial and should be the focus of any polling efforts. If anything, the report underestimates the lack of sophistication that parties have in interpreting these results and the basic lack of understanding that they have in basic research methods. However, I would argue that the answer is not to give up on this work, but to work much harder on helping local government understand the basis of social research. I also think that does not emphasize enough the role between an active research community and public policy research. While the main goal of public opinion research is to inform politicians, the quality of the research often comes under fire in the region and there is no research community capable of demonstrating the quality of the polling and falsifying claims by polling companies that are unskilled. In order to add this concept to that of major international funders, would involve a much more holistic concept of the notion of development, which is generally missing from the debate. Also missing is any mention of the importance of mixing both quantitative and qualitative methods in polling, since the questions asked on the polls also may need to be better refined that they have been in the past.

In the Caucasus, Georgia was chosen for the analysis. Interestingly, the report, while of course lauding the Rose Revolution, notes many of the shortcomings of the the United National Movement (UNM) as a party. It uses the term "bandwagoning" usually used in the field of international relations to explain domestic Georgian politics, in which, according to the report, all of the major forces in the country including the media and civil society elites have become closely affiliated with UNM. According to the report, "these bandwagon effects in societies with weak democratic institutions can produce cycles of political convulsion where an initially liberally-oriented dominant party, facing few challenges from an effective opposition, loses dynamism and popular support,thereby engendering new rounds of political revolution." This statement is worrying for the future of Georgian democracy and may help to put the recent Okruashvili scandal into starker perspective.

Again, the full report can be found here.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Book Review | The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict and Nationhood in the Caucasus | Christoph Zürcher

The earliest books that came out about the Caucasus after the collapse of the Soviet Union were firsthand accounts of events. Now, a second spate of books, which attempt to apply analytical frameworks to the turbulent events that occurred have the breakup of the Soviet Union are beginning to appear. Christoph Zürcher’s The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict and Nationhood in the Caucasus, published with New York University Press, falls into this category. The book examines where wars occurred in the Caucasus (Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Chechnya) and where they didn’t (Dagestan and Ajara) and places those cases studies within the context of the international quantitative literature that attempts to explain why internal wars occur.

Those who are knowledgeable about the Caucasus will find much information they have already come across. However, for those interested in international conflict who possess little regional understanding, the tersely written detail provides a good overview.

To whet your appetite for some of the details about why wars started in the Caucasus, Zürcher argues that, in Georgia, anti-Soviet rhetoric allowed for no maintenance of Soviet institutions, increasing the likelihood of conflict, since state institutions utterly collapsed as a result. Furthermore, the fallback on nationalist rhetoric, which was seen as the only way of creating a cohesive political force, then alienated both Abkhaz and Ossetians. Zürcher, perhaps controversially, also claims that Armenian politics looked very similar to Baltic politics (and different from Georgian and Chechen) in that the same type of state weakness did not exist. However, Zürcher makes the claim, which has been echoed in much of the democratization commentary about Armenia, that instead of the Baltic states’ orientation towards Europe, Armenia’s politicians unified around war in Nagorno-Karabakh, creating an anti-reform minded regime.

From a more technical standpoint, the book is a rare breed within the political science literature, as it is specifically concerned about testing existing theories about internal wars by examining a series of cases studies. In doing so the volume seeks to refine those theories. While this type of book is out of vogue because the academic nomenklatura does not perceive the endeavor as groundbreaking, it serves an important role in refining theories, something Zürcher does throughout the book.

So what does Zürcher find in relationship to the international quantitative literature? Several variables that are generally cited as determinants of internal war do not appear to hold true in the Caucasus: low economic development and mountainous terrain do not help in explaining the conflagrations in the Caucasus. Despite the Caucasus being mountainous, most conflict occurred in urban environs or in the plains. In the conflicts where mountains played a role, the guerillas (which conflict theory supposes are aided by mountains) had the mountains against them. In fact, Zürcher seeks to refine the theory about the relationship between mountains and war and suggests several plausible alternative hypotheses, part of the intellectual merit of the book. One interesting hypothesis is that mountains are a proxy for the cheap recruitment of male soldiers, since mountainous areas often have high unemployment rates and hence a male population ready to mobilize.

The volume also reinforces the idea found in the international quantitative literature that state weakness often plays an important role – perhaps much more so than underdevelopment – as does the role of one ethnic group constituting the majority of the population. This ethnicity argument is well-highlighted with Zürcher’s case study of Dagestan, where ethnicity did not play the same role as in Georgia, Armenia or Chechnya, in part because of the fact that no ethnic group had a majority.

Overall, this reviewer found the findings sound, but would have like to see more analysis of some of the interesting proxy variables discussed above. This, however, could form the basis of a new and fruitful conflict research agenda in the Caucasus.

This book review was also printed in The Georgian Times.