Thursday, July 28, 2011

Upswing of Transition in Georgia

This past summer, Freedom House launched the 14th edition of its Nations in Transit (NIT) report. The publication comprehensively monitors democratic developments in 29 countries from Central Europe to Eurasia, amongst them Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. CRRC is represented in the report with data from the 2010 Corruption Survey in Armenia.

Each chapter of NIT assesses a country with regard to media independence, judicial framework fairness of jurisdiction, freedom of elections and levels of corruption. The overall analysis finds that the ever-growing tenures of authoritarian leaders in the former Soviet Union have contributed to a number of looming governance problems (e.g., including the inability to develop law-based systems or tackle corruption).

As for the South Caucasus, Freedom House reports a deteriorating situation for Azerbaijan and Armenia in the fields of democracy and local governance. The assessment for Georgia is more positive. The country improved its ratings in democracy, national governance, electoral processes and corruption. Yet, Georgia’s judiciary was marked down due to persisting inconsistencies in interpretation, enforcement of legislation, and inhumane conditions in detention facilities for example.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rule of Law in Georgia - Opinions and Attitudes of the Population

As a part of the Caucasus Barometer Report Writing Competition held by CRRC in the spring of 2011, we would like to present the second report (the first report was published recently) written by Salome Tsereteli-Stephen. The report deals with the rule of law in Georgia and here is a short summary of Salome’s findings and an analysis of the subject.

Establishing a sustainable, law-based system of governance is central to Georgia’s aspirations of becoming a full-fledged member of the democratic family of nations. This goal is repeatedly held up by politicians of all stripes as essential to the country’s development.

According to data from the 2010 Caucasus Barometer, 47% of Georgians believe that the country is governed by the rule of law, with 27% disagree. While Georgians’ opinions are divided on whether the country is governed by the rule of law, there also seems to be confusion about what the rule of law actually entails. Thirty-eight percent of Georgians agree that the winner of elections is entitled to govern the country as he or she sees fit, with only 31% who disagree and a further 25% who said they did not know. This indicates a strong lack of awareness regarding the rule of law as a concept.

The full report available at the CRRC's website.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Engagement without recognition?

The Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts did not emerge in the 2008 August war. However, they escalated in the early 1990’s when both territories engaged in wars of secession and there are different approaches to the resolution of these conflicts. For the EU, these are regional issues with broad security implications. However, from the viewpoint of the Georgian government, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are primarily internal political issues. Tbilisi claims both territories as integral parts of Georgia even though it has not been exercising full control over either entity for several years.

Georgian public opinion supports government claims over these two territories. Data from CRRC’s 2009 survey entitled, “Knowledge and Attitudes Towards the EU” in Georgia shows that territorial integrity was the most mentioned issue of significance for Georgia.

The question in this survey asked the respondents to name up to 3 most important issues facing Georgia without ranking. This methodology is different than that used in the Caucasus Barometer where respondents are asked to indicate the most important issue facing the country.

Moreover, 43% of Georgians mentioned the restoration of territorial integrity as an important issue with which the international community can help. For example, many Georgians believe that issues involving territorial integrity (65%) and national security (68%) will improve if Georgia joins EU. This is in light of the fact that 46% of Georgians expect a major military conflict with Russia in the next 5 years and 80% of Georgians consider joining NATO to be an important issue (CB 2010).

No approach to resolving these conflicts (e.g., neither the August war, nor isolation of both territories) has brought any resolution to date. With regard to the Abkhaz conflict specifically, data from the CB 2010 shows that ideas about what would be the most important activity to resolve the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict is split between 18% of Georgians who would like to see greater involvement by civil society, 18% who prefer the signing of a non use of force agreement with Abkhazia, and 20% of Georgians who don’t know what would be best.

In contrast to the Georgian view, the EU sees the cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as regional issues with broader security implications, rather than as internal Georgian problems. Many academic circles in the EU and USA suggest a policy of “engagement without recognition” towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For example, in the 2010 October edition of the Washington Quarterly, Lincoln Mitchell and Alexander Cooley wrote that “pledging enduring support for Georgia’s territorial integrity is somewhat meaningless” because the more both breakaway regions are pressured to choose between Tbilisi and Moscow, they will choose latter. According to them, the more these areas are isolated by the international community, the more likely they are to increase their dependence on Moscow. In addition, the European Union Institute for Security Studies suggests that the “engagement without recognition” policy might be beneficial for Georgia as well because it does not question Georgia’s territorial integrity, nor does it force Georgia to recognize the self-proclaimed independence of both regions.

How do you think Georgia should deal with its "breakaway" territories?

Which way to go?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Georgia in the European Union?

Three striking aspects of the Georgia-EU relationship are: 1) Georgian’s overwhelming desire for EU membership, 2) large differences in attitudes on social values between Georgia and the EU, and 3) lack of consensus as to whether or not Georgia belongs to Europe, Asia or “Eurasia”. Data from CRRC’s 2009 survey entitled, “Knowledge and Attitudes Towards the EU” in Georgia shows that Georgians are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about EU membership. In fact, Georgians are more keen on EU membership than the Western Balkan states and Turkey, even though the latter two are more serious candidates for the next wave of enlargement.

Data from a poll conducted by the Italian Foundation, Compagnia di San Paolo and the German Marshal Fund show that Turkish public support for joining the EU dropped from 73% in 2004 to 38% in 2010. Support for EU membership in Croatia is 56% and 53% in Serbia. In contrast, 79% of Georgians in 2009 would vote for EU membership and 61% think it is very important for the Georgian government to strengthen ties with the EU. In addition, about a third of the population believe that Georgia will be prepared to join the EU in less than 5 years, while one fifth answered in 5-10 years. The opinions on if Georgia will actually join the European Union in less than 5 years or in 5-10 years period are almost the same.

However, data from the 2008 World Values Survey in Georgia shows that the country is divided by this EU aspiration and opinions on social values—many of which are at odds with social values in EU societies. For example, trust in religious institutions is much higher in Georgia (95%) relative to EU member states (19% EU average). A higher percentage of Georgians specifically would not want a neighbor who is HIV+ (40%) or a homosexual (87%) compared to the EU average of 17% and 20% who say the same on each question, respectively. Also, 50% of Georgians think that their way of life needs protection against European influences (CB 2009).

Another important question is whether Georgia can be defined as a European country. 54% of Georgians agree with the statement that “I am Georgian and therefore I am European” (CRRC’s 2009 EU survey) However, there is still tension around defining Georgia as a European country, not least because of its location east of Turkey. Vallery Giscard d’Estaing mentioned that Turkey is a non European state because its capital lies in Asia and 95% of its population lives outside of Europe. If Ankara is in Asia, then how is possible to recognize Tbilisi as a European capital when it lies further to the East? It is difficult to speak about the prospect of EU integration in the South Caucasus without the integration of Turkey. It might be unrealistic to expect a map of the EU in which there is a huge gap for Turkey and the inclusion of a small Caucasian country. This may be one reason why 52% of Georgians think Turkey should become a member of the EU (CRRC’s 2009 EU survey).

Europe or Asia?

Besides EU aspirations, differences on social values and geographic and cultural identity, the current economic and financial crisis might impact Georgian attitudes towards the EU. The EU has been a symbol of wealth, liberal policies and open society for many years. However, the bailouts in Greece, Portugual and Ireland, as well as severe financial crises in Spain and Italy make the EU seem less attractive. In any case, despite the government’s membership ambitions and further reforms, accession does not seem to be realistic at the moment. The EU also may not be ready for enlargement as it has to adopt new institutional reforms in order to absorb additional members.

A second wave of the “Knowledge and Attitudes Towards the EU” survey in Georgia will be available this August. It will be interesting to compare the 2009 and 2011 results. What do you think? Do you think that Georgia should be a member of the EU? Does the country have a serious chance of becoming an EU member?

Friday, July 08, 2011

Georgia Adopts Law on the Status of Religious Minorities

On July 5, 2011 Georgia adopted a new legislative amendment into the country’s civil code stating that religious minority groups with “historic ties to Georgia” or those defined as religions by members of the Council of Europe can register as legal entities of public law. The initial draft of the law specifically mentioned the Roman Catholic Church, Muslim and Jewish communities, Armenian Apostolic Church and the Evangelical Baptist Church as having “close historic ties with Georgia”. However, the final draft did not specifically name these five groups.

The criminal code and Article 19 of the Georgian Constitution address freedom of religion and belief in the country. However, prior to this week Georgia was one of few post-Soviet countries that did not have a statutory law or government resolution on either religion or the legal status of religious associations. The 2002 Concordat between the Georgian government and the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) is the exception.

The GOC has considerable influence in Georgian society as the majority (80-84%) of the population belongs to the Orthodox Church. 10-13% identify as Muslim, 4% as Armenian Apostolic and there are less numerous religious minority groups such as Roman Catholics and Evangelical Baptists (2002 census and CB 2010). Additionally, Article 9 of the Georgian Constitution “recognizes the special importance of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Georgian history but simultaneously declares complete freedom of religious belief and confessions, as well as independence of the church from the state.”

The new law has received considerable public interest and a flurry of media attention, especially in light of the importance of religious issues in the country. Annual data from the Caucasus Barometer survey shows that certain aspects of religion are significant. Attendance at religious services is relatively low (18% of the population attends once a week or more, 17% once a month, 52% attends either only special holidays or less often and 11% never attends). However, 84% of Georgians trust religious institutions and 90% of the population considers religion to be important in daily life (2010 Caucasus Barometer).

The law has gained criticism from the GOC and several Georgian opposition parties, including the Christian Democratic Movement, the New Rights Party and Our Georgia-Free Democrats. The passing also takes place soon after a meeting between Patriarch Ilia II of the GOC and Catholicos Garegin II of the Armenian Apostolic Church in June regarding status and property issues of the respective churches in Armenia and Georgia.

Opponents view the law as undermining the GOC’s role in the country and as having a negative effect on relations between Georgia’s ethnic and religious minority groups. They also argued for more lengthy public discussion about the issue. In contrast, for the ruling party, the passing of the law can be seen as an important step in Georgia’s democratization and as fulfilling the country’s international obligations with respect to freedom of religion. One of the most important follow up questions will be what it specifically means for religious minority groups to register as legal entities of public law.

What do you think? Do you think the new law is a step in the right direction?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Carnegie Research Fellowship Program | Winners Announced

Six scholars from the South Caucasus have been selected to join a prestigious program administered by CRRC and the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research (NCEEER). Carnegie Research Fellowship Program (CRFP) offers local scholars in the social sciences 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 4 months, starting in either September 2011 or January 2012. All costs for the scholars are covered, including round-trip airfare.

The following scholars have been selected as finalists for this year’s program through a competitive application process including interviews: three scholars from Armenia (Asya Darbinyan, Tamara Tonoyan and Tatevik Zadoyan), two scholars from Georgia (Maia Simonishvili and Eka Pirtskhalava) and one scholar from Azerbaijan (Turkhan Sadigov). We would like to congratulate them on their success and wish them a productive semester in the US.

For those who are interested in applying for the next round, keep your eye on CRRC’s website and Facebook page in February 2012!

MyPlace Website is up!

We have previously mentioned our participation in MyPlace, a collaborative research project covering 16 countries, and financed by the EU under Framework Program 7. Their website is now up! What is it all about? To quote from the MyPlace website:

"MYPLACE explores how young people's social participation is shaped by the shadows (past, present and future) of totalitarianism and populism in Europe.

Conceptually, it goes beyond the comparison of discrete national 'political cultures' or reified classifications of political heritage ('postcommunist'/'liberal democratic'); it is premised rather on the pan-European nature of a range of radical and populist political and philosophical traditions and the cyclical rather than novel nature of the popularity they currently enjoy.

Empirically, MYPLACE employs a combination of survey, interview and ethnographic research instruments to provide new, pan-European data that not only measure levels of participation but capture the meanings young people attach to it.

Analytically, through its specific focus on 'youth' and the historical and cultural contextualization of young people's social participation, MYPLACE replaces the routine, and often abstract, iteration of the reasons for young people's 'disengagement' from politics with an empirically rich mapping of young people's understandings of the civic and political space that they inhabit.

In policy terms, MYPLACE identifies the obstacles to, and facilitators of, young people's reclamation of the European political arena as 'my space'."

Want to find out more? Go to the project website here.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Caucasus Barometer: Unpacking Public Trust in the President

In the spring of 2011, CRRC ran the Caucasus Barometer Report Writing competition and now we have an opportunity to present some of the results to you. The first report is written by one of the competition winners, Keti Khachidze, and addresses trust in the Georgian president. Here is a quick summary of her findings and analysis.

In recent years, the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, has confronted a series of mass demonstrations demanding his resignation. During these opposition-led protests, his political opponents frequently claimed that the president has “lost public trust” and therefore ought to step down. However, results of CRRC’s 2010 Caucasus Barometer survey show that contrary to the allegations of his critics, President Saakashvili continues to enjoy high levels of trust across a wide cross section of society. In fact, he may be more widely trusted now than he has been for several years.

The president enjoys support from a broad cross section of society; those who live in rural areas as well as high earners in the capital are more likely to trust the president. Members of the Azerbaijani ethnic minority in Georgia are especially supportive, as are those who trust the media and those who see Georgia as a place where fair elections are held. The president can also count on the trust of state sector employees, and people who feel positively about international institutions such as NATO and the UN.

However, Tbilisi remains a place where distrust of the president is relatively entrenched, especially among those with lower incomes. Furthermore, several types of people are not only less likely to trust the president, but are much more likely to distrust him. These groups include people who have recently had family members who have lost jobs, those who are least satisfied with their own lives, people who do not trust elections or the media, as well as those who are skeptical of the international community. This suggests a significantly divided political landscape in Georgia. While the president can continue to count on the trust of a majority of the population, there are many groups who appear to be firmly skeptical of him.

Read the report here.