Monday, November 30, 2009

Starting at Home | Georgia First Lady on Europeanizing Georgia

Georgia’s First Lady knows how to get a lively debate going. Invited by the Institute for European Studies at Tbilisi State University, Mrs. Saakashvili-Roelofs visited Tbilisi State University on 10 November to hold a keynote speech on the “Importance of EU Experience for Georgia’s Domestic Development”. It turned out to be an interactive and thought-provoking debate, in which the Pirveli Lady explicitly engaged the audience, mostly consisting of undergraduate students. Dutch-born Mrs. Roelofs was accompanied by her brother Egbert, who is currently living and working in France.

Keen on addressing the core questions underlying the Europeanisation debate in Georgia, Mrs. Saakashvili-Roelofs started by asking whether Georgia is indeed a part of Europe. After discussing this question with the audience, she concluded that although Georgia is geographically split between a European and an Asian part, its politics remain firmly directed towards Europe. Illustrating this, the First Lady recounted her husband telling the President of a new EU member state: “Congratulations, you’re now in the European House. But please don’t close the back door.”

When the First Lady asked if, and how, Georgia would truly benefit from joining the European Union, several students were eager to discuss the benefits a potential EU membership would give them: it would make it easier for them to travel, and to study at European universities (CRRC’s recent EU survey shows 37 percent of those under 35 years of age interested in studying at a European university).

Despite acknowledging the general economic advantages of EU membership, the First Lady also placed some critical comments. In particular, she expressed her worries that EU membership could bring an end to traditional Georgian craftsmanship and raise the prices of Georgian products, since EU regulations on agricultural and commercial products would homogenise Georgia’s traditional ways of production and lead to the bankruptcy of those artisans who would not be able to modernise their business. “What are the alternatives for economic integration with the EU?” Mrs. Saakashvili-Roelofs asked the audience. Could Georgia, with its highly skilled population, not become an economic hub and a tax haven, like for instance Singapore or Dubai?

Above all however, the First Lady stressed that EU accession would require the Georgian population to embrace European values. In particular, Georgians would have to become more aware of their civic duties, such as assisting the government in improving public health. Wearing a seatbelt, for one, seems to remain a cultural taboo in Georgia, and interest in Tbilisi’s free breast cancer prevention programme remains low. However, the audience was quick to suggest effective solutions to this problem, like “handing out free t-shirts with seatbelts printed on them”. On a more serious note, Mrs. Saakashvili-Roelofs then stated that if Georgia wanted to become a true member of the European community, it would have to learn to embrace its weak and marginalised groups, like mentally and physically handicapped people, and respect every individual's decision to live life in their own way. 

The First Lady concluded on a positive note, saying that Europeanisation is a two-way street and that Europe can also learn from Georgia. She praised the strong sense of community in Georgia, and the many families who choose to take care of their elderly family members rather than sending them to retirement homes - as is often the case in Western European countries. And, of course, she did not forget to mention Georgia’s traditional dances, songs and its rich literature.

The Institute of European Studies at Tbilisi State University regularly hosts events and regular talks. Check their website to get onto their mailing list.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Religiosity and Trust in Religious Institutions | Paper with CRRC Data

Robia Charles, a fellow at CRRC Georgia from January to June 2009, has written a paper to examine determinants of trust in religious institutions in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia - three countries with low levels of religiosity as measured by attendance, prayer and fasting, yet high levels of trust in religious institutions. The analysis employs individual-level survey data from the Caucasus Research Resource Centers’ (CRRC) 2007 Data Initiative and uses advanced statistical techniques to show that while religious practices do not determine trust in religious institutions, the importance of religion in one’s daily life is a strong indicator of trust in religious institutions in each country.

However, the results show some differences between the three countries with regard to two types of control variables-trust in secular institutions and socioeconomic factors. Georgia is the only country in which interpersonal trust is a significant indicator of trust in religious institutions. Residence in the capital is only significant in Azerbaijan. Armenia is the only country in which both education and age are significant.

To read the actual paper, which also tests two theories of trust in institutions, click here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

TI's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index: Georgia's Score in Context

Transparency International (TI) released its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) on 17 November, and Georgia’s score rose slightly to 4.1, compared to 3.9 in 2008, which marks a minor improvement. The CPI uses a scale where "0" equals highly corrupt and "10" denotes not at all corrupt. New Zealand, for instance, came in first with a score of 9.4, whereas Somalia came in last with a score of 1.1.

The methodology behind the CPI reportedly includes a combination of surveys and assessments from over the last two years of both resident and non-resident experts and business leaders from ten different independent institutions. For a country to be included in the index, at least three different sources must be available, and, according to the index, seven surveys were used for Georgia.

According to TI, the CPI is meant to be a "snapshot," not an indicator of progress over time, to gauge perceptions of corruption in the public and political sectors. A degree of caution should therefore be used when interpreting the CPI results, as they do not necessarily reflect the views of the wider public but the expert opinions of a small group (a third party) of public sector analysts.

The scores, however, are inevitably used to compare countries, and individual scores from the prior year are always mentioned in the media, i.e whether they have risen or dropped.

On a regional level, Georgia's scores are rather positive. Armenia scored 2.7 and came in 120th place, which was a slightly negative decrease from last year (2.9). Azerbaijan received a score of 2.3 (143rd place), a fair improvement from its mark of 1.9 in 2008.

Overall, Georgia's ranking places it 66th out of 180 countries. Interestingly, that score puts Georgia above EU Member States Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, all of which scored 3.8 (tied for 71st place). Moreover, Georgia's score ties that of EU candidate Croatia and is above FYR Macedonia (3.8, 71st place), another EU candidate. Georgia also scored better than Montenegro (3.9, 69th place), Serbia (3.5, 83rd), Moldova (3.3, 89th), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (3.0, 99th). (Note that though the confidence intervals overlap substantially in the index, Georgia’s point estimate was still higher than in these other countries.)

For the 2009 CPI results and the methodological brief, go here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The South Ossetia Crisis: a War of Ideologies

Many scholars have commented on the influence of the Russia-Georgian war on foreign policy strategies in the Caucasus. In contrast, little attention has been given to its effect on public perception in the countries of the Caucasus.

It is therefore noteworthy that public opinion plays a key role in a recent article by Anar Valiyev, entitled “Victim of a ‘War of Ideologies’ - Azerbaijan after the Russia–Georgia War”. Because of the war, Valiyev argues, Azerbaijanis have become less supportive of Western-style “unmanaged” democracy, preferring instead a more controlled and Moscow-backed “sovereign democracy”.

Interestingly, he asserts that the Russia-Georgia war “significantly changed Azerbaijanis’ perceptions of the democratic West and negatively impacted their perceptions of the United States and the European Union. Georgia’s defeat and the subsequent political turmoil demonstrated the viability and stability of the sovereign democracy and made the Russian model of governance more attractive to the people of Azerbaijan.”

In order to illustrate this premise, Valiyev places a great emphasis on public opinion polls, including CRRC’s Data Initiative. He emphasises the value of these statistics, noting that they are almost the only method enabling to track the political development and the perceptions of the Azerbaijani society before and after the South Ossetia crisis.

For one, surveys held by CRRC show an interesting change in Azerbaijani public support for NATO membership. Whereas about 60 percent of the population supported NATO membership in 2006 and 2007, only 48 percent of the respondents supported the military block in November 2008. At the same time, the share of the population that was neutral on the question rose significantly. To Valiyev, this increasing undecidedness about joining NATO is a direct result of the West’s failure to effectively engage with Russia during the South Ossetia war.

Azerbaijani public support for EU membership was characterised by a somewhat similar development. The year 2008 saw a sharp increase in the percentage of people taking a neutral stance on potential EU membership for Azerbaijan (from 37 to 48 percent), while there was a decline in both the percentage of people supporting and the percentage of people not supporting EU membership. This shift indicates, Valiyev concludes, an increasing confusion among the Azeri public about the role of the EU in the Caucasus.

Other CRRC statistics used by Valiyev demonstrate how public trust in the Azeri armed forces dropped from 81 to 68 percent between 2007 and 2008, and how President Aliyev’s popularity rose to a record 82 percent after the war. Some additional survey material refers to popular support for enhancing economic relations with Western countries and Russia.

There is no conclusive answer as to whether the developments in public perception are a direct result of the Russia-Georgia war. However, Valiyev’s article makes for an engaging read, and highlights the value of survey data to expose the ideological dimension of conflict.

We recommend you to read the article at:,4,4;journal,1,23;linkingpublicationresults,1:119920,1
Alternatively, it can be found in Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization (Issue: Volume 17, Number 3 - Summer 2009).

Monday, November 09, 2009

CRIA: 2009 Autumn Issue

The Caucasian Review of International Affairs’ (CRIA) Autumn issue has arrived.

Since 2006, the non-profit, quarterly academic journal has been publishing works from a wide array of international scholars, analysts, and researchers. Committed to providing a better understanding of regional affairs, the CRIA is unique as a free, peer-reviewed online academic journal devoted to covering the South Caucasus.

In the interest of promoting an exchange of ideas and dialogue on this fascinating part of the world, the CRIA publishes papers, comments, book reviews, and interviews, as well as its weekly Caucasus Update, all of which provide in-depth analysis on affairs in the Caucasus as well as the wider region.

Representing several different academic institutions, the CRIA’s international advisory and editorial boards lend their expertise and experience to the journal, and its readership continues to grow. Further, the CRIA was recently added to Columbia International Affairs Online, and is now included on a large list of international citation indexes and research databases, and in numerous universities’ e-journal catalogues. Several mutually beneficial partnerships have been established as well, including one with the CRRC.

Kartvelophiles will find plenty to pique their interest. The headline paper for the Summer ’09 issue analyzes patterns of balance and bias in several international newspapers’ coverage of the 2008 Russia–Georgia war. The current autumn issue includes a paper by Alexi Gugushvili on the reform of the old-age pension system in Georgia and an interview with CRRC’s Regional Director Dr. Hans Gutbrod and its Georgia Country Director Koba Turmanidze.

And do not forget to browse the back issues, too, and check out Aaron Erlich’s review of Magnarella’s “The Peasant Venture” for a fascinating look at a work that goes beyond standard political and economic themes. In addition, other noteworthy pieces by Dr. Papava of the GFSIS, Lasha Tchantouridze, and Till Bruckner’s paper on the government’s efforts to house IDPs can also be found in the back issues.

Finally, for all who are interested, the CRIA accepts papers, comments, and book reviews on a rolling basis (see our submission guidelines for further details), and all manuscripts are carefully considered. Submission deadlines for the Winter 2010 and the Spring 2010 issues are December 15, 2009, and March 15, 2010, respectively. Feel free to e-mail with any questions or comments.