Friday, December 20, 2013

Attitudes towards Europeans and Americans among Georgian Youth

On November 29, Georgia initialed an Association Agreement with the European Union at the EU-Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Latvia. This represents a step toward closer economic integration of Georgia into the EU. According to CRRC’s 2012 Caucasus Barometer (CB), 72% of Georgians fully or rather support Georgia’s membership to the EU, and 67% of Georgians fully or rather support membership in NATO. This would imply that Georgians have generally positive attitudes towards a political and security-based relationship with the West (i.e. EU and the United States). In addition, 59% of Georgians (especially those between 18-35 years old) agree with the statement, “I am Georgian, and therefore I am European.” Using data from the CB 2012, this blog shows that positive attitudes towards Americans and certain Europeans, such as the English and Greeks, are higher among Georgian youth.
Overall, Georgians have positive attitudes towards doing business with Americans, the English and Greeks. 79% of Georgians approve of doing business with Americans. 77% feel the same with respect to the English and 75% with Greeks. When split by age groups, approval is highest among Georgians 18-35 years old for all three nationalities. For example, doing business with Greeks has 80% approval among 18-35 year olds, 76% among 36-55 year olds, and 70% for those 56+. Approval for doing business with Americans and English follows a relatively similar trend.

Socially, approval of Georgian women marrying foreign men is relatively low (36% for Americans, 36% for the English and 35% for Greeks). However, younger Georgians are slightly more open to Georgian women marrying within these groups, than Georgians 56 years and older.

When it comes to politics, young Georgians are also more trusting of the EU, which is not surprising since 67% of Georgians between 18-35 years old see themselves as European. A caveat in these responses is that 12% of Georgians believe that Georgia is currently a member of the EU, including 17% of those aged 18-35 years old (CRRC EU Survey 2011, Georgia).

In line with their greater trust of the EU and approval of doing business with Americans, slightly more young Georgians believe that the United States is the biggest friend of Georgia, than older Georgians. In contrast, 41% of young Georgians (18-35 years old) believe that Russia is the biggest enemy of Georgia, whereas 32% of all Georgians 36 and older agree.

Younger Georgians, 18-35 years old, appear to show slightly higher approval of cooperation with the West on these specific questions. The same trends of approval exist with respect to knowledge of English and personal income. That is, in Georgia, higher levels of education, knowledge of English, and personal income are related to higher rates of approval for certain Europeans such as English and Greeks, and Americans with respect to the economic, social, and political aspects discussed above.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Happiness in Azerbaijan

Happiness is one of many indicators of well-being. On July 9, 2011 the General Assembly of the UN adopted a resolution which declared, “happiness as a universal goal and aspiration [that] embodies the spirit of the Millennium Development Goals”. In response, the UN organized a high level meeting on happiness in April 2012, and in 2013 the UN declared March 20th as the International Day of Happiness. To enhance the connection between happiness and sustainable development, the UN supported the publication of the World Happiness Report in September 2013. The report measured happiness in 156 countries by examining six variables: GDP per capita, life expectancy, social support, perceptions of corruption, prevalence of generosity, and the freedom to make life choices. The report ranks Azerbaijan 116th out of 156 countries, and notes that Azerbaijan has had a negative shift between 2005-2007 and 2010-2012. 

                                        Comparing Happiness: 2005–07 and 2010–12. World Happiness Report 2013.

The annual Caucasus Barometer(CB) asks, “How happy would you say you are?” on a 1 to 5 scale where 1 means extremely unhappy and 5 means extremely happy. The data shows that the level of reported happiness in Azerbaijan has gradually increased from 2010 to 2012, yet it remains lower than in Armenia and Georgia.

CRRC-Azerbaijan's 2012 survey on Social Capital, Media, and Gender asked the same question and showed that 19% of Azerbaijanis between 18 and 35 years old say they are extremely happy relative to those over 56 years old who say the same (9%).

Settlement type also matters. More people in the capital and urban areas say they feel happy -points 4 and 5 combined  (62% and 65%, respectively) compared to those who live in rural areas who say the same (46%).

The correlation between education and happiness can be contentious. British economist and co-editor of the World Happiness Report, Richard Layards, excluded education from the list of factors that might have an effect on happiness. However, data from the Social Capital, Media, and Gender survey shows that there is a strong connection between education and happiness. 93% of people with a Master's degree and above are more likely to describe themselves as happy in Azerbaijan, and this percentage declines as the level of education declines.

For more data on happiness in Azerbaijan please visit the CRRC dataset.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tradition vs. Sexual Minority Rights in Georgia

In recent months, the debate concerning LGBT rights in Georgia has been marked by several major events. On May 17 in Tbilisi, a rally held by 50 activists for the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia received a violent reaction from thousands of people. In September, Thomas Hammarberg, the European Union's Special Adviser for Legal and Constitutional Reform and Human Rights in Georgia, published a report on human rights in Georgia, including a section on the rights of sexual minorities. In the report, Hammarberg addresses the May 17 demonstrations and writes that, “It should be understood that the issue [of LGBT rights] is not about so-called propaganda for a certain lifestyle but about ensuring basic rights to all human beings.” In response, on October 14, Georgian newspaper “Kviris Palitra” published an open letter (a translation is available here) from members of a broad spectrum of the Georgian elite (writers, academics, politicians, artists, etc.). Entitled, “Respect our Traditions!”, the letter describes Georgia as a traditional society, and argues that the United States and Western Europe are attempting to impose an artificial ideology in equating the rights of sexual minorities with the rights of national and religious minorities. This blog shows that many Georgians believe that LGBT rights are not compatible with Georgian tradition and that they see advocacy for LGBT rights as a foreign influence.

CRRC conducted a special survey in Tbilisi following the May 17 protests which included several questions concerning the importance Georgians place on traditions in their society versus the acceptance of different values. When asked whether a successful organization of a peaceful demonstration dedicated to the International Day Against Homophobia would endanger Georgia in any way, 57% of respondents replied affirmatively, while 30% of respondents said it would not.

When asked to what extent a good citizen should defend traditions, 72% of respondents replied always. 64% and 65% of respondents also replied that a good citizen should always respect the rights of ethnic and religious minorities respectively, while only 16% responded that a good citizen should respect the rights of sexual minorities, echoing the sentiment of the open letter which refused to equate the rights of sexual minorities with ethnic and religious minorities.

Furthermore, when asked who was the main organizer of the May 17 demonstration, respondents were scattered in their responses. Some identified the main organizer as an NGO, as sexual minorities, the United National Movement, or as “Outside Forces”/Foreigners/International Organizations. Almost of half of respondents did not know. This reflects the open letter’s stance that advocacy for LGBT rights appears to many Georgians as having a foreign origin and not being compatible with Georgian tradition.

When asked who the main organizers of the counter demonstration were, the respondents were much more unified in their responses. 43% identified regular citizens/people as the main organizers, yet a large amount also said they did not know who the organizers were. The respondents were much quicker to identify regular citizens as participants in the counter demonstration, than in the original pro-LGBT rights demonstration.

Finally, in the 2012 CB, when asked about the most pressing issue facing the country, only 2% chose human rights, and 3% selected it as the second most pressing issue. Unemployment and poverty attracted the most responses by far, with 51% of respondents identifying it as the most pressing issue and 23% identifying poverty as the second most pressing issue.  

For more information on the May 17th events in Tbilisi, see our survey page.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Attitudes towards atheists in the South Caucasus

After just over seventy years of formal state atheism during the Soviet Union, attitudes towards relationships with atheists are generally negative in the South Caucasus. Most people in Armenia and Georgia (and lesser in Azerbaijan) consider themselves to be religious, and the predominant religions in these countries (Georgian Orthodoxy and the Armenian Apostolic faith, respectively) are strongly connected to each country’s national identity. In addition to the usual questions on religiosity, the 2012 Caucasus Barometer (CB) included two questions on attitudes towards atheism for the first time– one concerning personal relationships and family (attitudes towards marrying atheists), and another on professional relationships (business with atheists). Comparing these attitudes provides a deeper understanding of attitudes towards atheism.

The WIN-Gallup 2012 Religiosity Index asked, “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious persons or a convinced atheist?” With a global average of 59% who call themselves religious, Armenia is in the top ten most religious countries by declared level of religious belief, with 92% considering themselves religious (with a further 3% non-religious, 2% convinced atheists and 2% unsure). 84% of Georgians say the same (12% non-religious, 1% convinced atheists and 3% unsure). Much fewer Azerbaijanis consider themselves religious (44%) and 51% say they are non-religious (0% convinced atheists and 5% unsure). The 2012 CB also shows that a majority of people in all three countries of the South Caucasus consider religion to be important in their daily lives (although attendance of religious services is much lower). South Caucasians thus appear to have more of a subjective attachment to religion.

The Helsinki Committee’s 2010 Study on Freedom of Religion in Armenia noted that, “Nationalist ideas began to replace the old Soviet ideology, and the traditional church was often equated to national identity”. Accordingly, the special roles of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Armenia and Georgian Orthodox Church in Georgia were recognized by each state through signed concordats in 2007 and 2002, respectively. For some, atheism is thus a rejection of these established churches which are viewed as important elements of national identity. Though the relationship between the State and the CMB (Caucasian Muslim Board) in Azerbaijan is more complex, Islam similarly plays a crucial cultural part in Azerbaijani national identity.

The numbers of and exposure to atheists are negligible in the South Caucasus. In the 2012 CB, 4% of Armenians 0.2% in Azerbaijan and 0.7% in Georgia said they had no religion. However, being irreligious, indifferent and atheist are not synonymous. Regarding contact, the majority of people in all three countries say they have not had any contact with atheists. Interestingly, Azerbaijanis appear to have the most contact with atheists on a regular basis (10% on a daily basis).

There are overwhelmingly negative attitudes to marriage with atheists in all three countries. Georgians show the highest level of uncertainty (15%). Armenians have the most negative attitudes to this idea (77% object overall), while Azerbaijanis are slightly more tolerant when it comes to having an atheist in the family.

However, people have more accepting attitudes towards doing business with atheists. This may indicate a tendency in the South Caucasus to object to more personal relationships with atheists, while being more accepting of professional relationships

Negative attitudes towards atheists (despite having almost no contact with them), are widespread across the South Caucasus. Despite their subjective attachment to their religions, people in the South Caucasus perceive religious belief as a desirable quality in business partners and spouses, though it is more significant in a personal relationship such as the latter. Although there is a notable difference in the declared religiosity between Azerbaijanis, on the one hand, and Armenians and Georgians on the other, all three groups have overwhelmingly negative attitudes towards atheists. Georgians are the most uncertain on their attitudes towards business and marriage with atheists, whilst Azerbaijanis are most uncertain about their contact with atheists.

As one interviewee from the Helsinki Foundation’s study said, “I have a positive attitude towards the [Armenian Apostolic] Church because it was an institution created by Armenian people, rather than imposed on us by anyone from above.” This quote illustrates post-Soviet perceptions of religious identities well – Soviet atheism being perceived as an imposition from above and abroad, in contrast to the traditional religious beliefs of the peoples of the South Caucasus.

Attitudes towards atheism is one of many complex and interesting topics in the South Caucasus which would benefit from further study. What do you think are possible causes for the negative attitudes shown? Explore further by downloading any of the Caucasus Barometer datasets here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Perceptions of Court System Fairness in the South Caucasus

Ann Bennett Lockwood, an American attorney, politician and author once said that, “If nations could only depend upon fair and impartial judgments in a world court of law, they would abandon the senseless, savage practice of war”. For many, the credibility of a government is judged by the fairness of its judicial system. For instance, Michel Rosenfeld (2001) argued that a fair justice system creates respect and faith in government by saying that, “If a citizen implicitly or explicitly endorses a law or legal regime, the latter can be considered subjectively fair.” Therefore, trust in judiciary system can be seen as a reflection of government performance, and is interpreted as one of the major conditions for a functioning democracy. Trust also signifies the perceived legitimacy of a particular institution. Data from the 2010 European Social Survey (ESS) shows that the perceived legitimacy of a country’s justice system may improve compliance with the rule of law more than the risk of punishment. Due process and equal protection before the law are stipulated in the Georgian (Article 14), Armenian (Article 14) and Azerbaijani (Article 25) constitutions. Yet, these populations tend to be skeptical about the practice and security of these constitutional rights. This blog discusses opinions and perceptions about the justice system in each of these countries.

According to 2010 ESS data, Eastern and some Southern European countries tend to be less trusting of both police and court systems than Nordic countries, as well as less believing that these institutions are legitimate holders of judicial power. In the case of court systems, the South Caucasus populations are also skeptical. Each year the Caucasus Barometer (CB) asks respondents to assess their level of trust towards their court system. According to the 2010 CB, just under one third of Azerbaijanis (30%), and less than one fifth of Armenians (17%) and Georgians (18%) said they trusted their respective court system (the sum of “fully trust” and “somewhat trust”). In the latter two countries, the trust in the court system fell by 5% and 13%, respectively during the last 2 years (from 2011 to 2012). In contrast, Azerbaijanis have indicated slightly more confidence in their court system – trust increased from 24% in 2011 to 30% in 2012.

For a broader length of time, from 2009 to 2012, the level of trust in the court system has remained relatively similar in Azerbaijan (a change of 3%), and in Armenia (a change of 5%), while it has decreased by 8% in Georgia. In the 2011 CB, these populations were asked if “Bringing a case to the court will make the problem worse.” Comparing the results, 36% of Armenians, 36% of Azerbaijanis and 13% of Georgians agreed with this notion.

From 2009 to 2011 the CB also asked to what extent people agreed or disagreed with one of the following statements--“The court system in their country favors some citizens” or “The court system in their country treats all citizens equally”. The results indicate that most frustration about the court system is felt in Armenia where two thirds (67%) of the population in 2011 thought that the court system was unjust and favored some citizens. However, this percentage has gradually decreased from 81% in 2009. A similar situation is observed in Georgia where from 2009 to 2011 these figures fell from 52% to 37%. In Azerbaijan the percentage change from 2009 to 2011 was low at 3%. Thus, the majority of adult citizens in Armenia and Azerbaijan believe that their court system treats favors some citizens over others. It is thus noticeable that the more the court system is perceived to favor some citizens is, the less there is trust in the court system.

Despite the fact that the independence of courts is guaranteed by the constitutions and laws of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, many people in the South Caucasus still believe that the court system is unjust. A fair justice system can help to create an environment in which those subjected to a crime can seek justice, and those committing a crime can be held accountable under the law.

If you would like to explore more about trust in various institutions in the region, please visit

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Us and Them: Ethnicity in the South Caucasus

The South Caucasus region is one of the most linguistically and ethnically diverse regions of the world.  The titular ethnicities in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia form a clear majority (98%, 91% and 84%, respectively). Significant minorities also exist in Georgia where 6.5% of the population is ethnically Azeri and 5.7% is ethnically Armenian. Azerbaijan has fewer ethnic minorities including Lezgins (2.2%) who are also present in Dagestan, as well as other groups that comprise 3.3% of the population (including the Talesh who straddle the border with Iran). Armenia is the most ethnically homogenous of the post-soviet countries with a small Yezidi Kurdish population (1.3%). Using data from the 2011 Life in Transition (LIT) survey, this blog assesses perceptions between ethnic groups in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Relations between particular groups will also be examined using data from the 2012 Caucasus Barometer (CB) from questions on willingness to engage in business and marriage with someone from another ethnicity. Finally, this 2012 data will be compared to data from the 2009 Caucasus Barometer.

The LIT survey asks, “To what extent do you trust people from the following groups: Your family, your neighborhood, people you meet for the first time, friends and acquaintances, people of another religion and people from another nationality?” 43% of Georgians say they trust people from another nationality (23% distrust and 29% neither trust nor distrust). Armenians and Azerbaijanis show lower levels of trust with 14% and 17%, respectively, who say they trust people from another nationality (50% and 57% say they distrust people from another nationality, respectively).

Additionally, survey respondents were asked if they disagreed or agreed with three separately-asked statements about other nationalities on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). This question permits a deeper understanding of perceptions between certain ethnic groups in the South Caucasus. 30% of Georgians agreed that people from other ethnic groups enrich the cultural life of their country, followed by 25% of Azerbaijanis and 20% of Armenians who say the same. However, more Georgians also think that the presence of people from other ethnic groups is a cause of insecurity (31%), followed by 24% for Azerbaijanis and 20% for Armenians. Finally, on the third statement, 42% of Georgians believe that the presence of people from other ethnic groups increases unemployment. 38% of Azerbaijanis and 23% of Armenians say the same. Consequently, the data indicates that although more Georgians think ethnic minorities enrich the cultural life of their country than their neighbours, they are also most worried about other ethnic groups posing a threat or taking jobs.

Opinions vary with regard to particular ethnic groups. One way to understand perception trends is to look at the willingness of doing business with people from other ethnic groups. Data from the 2012 CB shows that practically 0% of Azerbaijanis approve of doing business with Armenians, and 32% of Armenians are open to doing business with Azerbaijanis. 39% of Armenians also approve of trade with Turks, which have the highest approval rating for business among Azerbaijanis (92%). Georgians take the middle ground with more or less 75% willing to engage in business with most of the groups listed. It is important to note that despite the recent conflicts, Georgians are rather accepting of doing business with Abkhazians (74%) and Ossetians (73%). Overall, Russians are well-perceived (85% for Armenians, 81% for Azerbaijanis and 84% for Georgians), while Kurds get the lowest ranking (60%, 48% and 60%, respectively).

Comparing CB data from 2009 and 2012 reveals a few important trends. Azerbaijanis demonstrated the largest increase in approval of doing business for most of the ethnic groups listed; during the past three years approval for doing business with Americans increased from 46% to 70%, from 44% to 74% for Georgians, from 34% to 63% for Greeks, and from 62% to 81% for Russians. On the other hand, Georgian and Armenian attitudes have remained more or less similar from 2009 to 2012 with most changes within the margin of error. In Georgia, approval for business with Russians increased from 76% to 84% and decreased from 75% to 65% for Turks.

Approval of women marrying someone from another ethnic group follows a similar pattern, but on a much lower scale. Azerbaijanis and Armenians continue to largely disapprove of marriage with each other. Georgians are slightly more open to the idea of marrying outside their ethnic group (albeit results are within the 25%-35% range). Again, Abkhazians and Ossetians figure in this middle range. Russians continue to garner the highest approval, while Kurds receive less approval than many of the other groups. The main difference is that Azerbaijanis overwhelmingly disapprove of Azerbaijani women marrying outside of their ethnicity (only 6% to 11% would approve of doing so). The exception is marriage with Turks (53%) as they share some religious, cultural and ethnic similarities. There are no radical changes over time except for a decrease in the number of Armenians willing to marry Russians (53% to 40%) and Americans (44% to 33%). 

For more information on ethnic perceptions and the South Caucasus in general, visit the Life in Transition data on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s website, and the 2012 Caucasus Barometer dataset.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

At the crossroads of Europe and Eurasia - exploring public attitudes in the South Caucasus

Armenia's announcement in September that it would enter the Eurasian Customs Union led to some dissatisfaction regarding relations with Russia, especially since the announcement came months before the Armenian delegation’s visit to Vilnius to sign a DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement) with the EU. At the first public debate on the issue in Armenia, organised by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Regional Studies Center, speakers addressed possible attitudes of Azerbaijan and Georgia to the Customs Union. The director of the Caucasus Institute, Dr. Alexander Iskandaryan, noted that Azerbaijan, with its significant energy resources and ability to export them to the EU, does not need to join the organisation for economic development. However, according to him Azerbaijan would not be able to sign a DCFTA given that the country is not a member of the WTO—a prerequisite for all signatories of the document. Georgian Prime Minister Ivanishvili has remained sceptical about the Customs Union, but has not ruled out some form of Georgian participation. While all three South Caucasian countries attempt to diversify their trade (particularly with the EU and Turkey), Russia remains a very important trading partner. Russian firms own critical assets in the Armenian telecommunications, transport, and energy sectors. Data from the Caucasus Barometer (CB) show largely positive attitudes towards conducting business with Russians – not only in Armenia, but in all three countries. In light of the ongoing debate in Armenia on the significance of joining the Customs Union, the CB's results are worth considering within the wider South Caucasian context.

Armenia has shown the most positive attitudes towards business with Russians from 2009 to 2012, but negative attitudes have slightly increased. The result for 2012 shows an approval rating of 84%, lower than the past four years, yet higher than any result in Azerbaijan during the same time period, and higher than results in Georgia for the prior 3 years.

Azerbaijanis’ approval of doing business with Russians has increased over time, and have shown the biggest change from negative to positive attitudes over the four years shown. The share of those who approve of doing business with Russians has increased from 62% in 2009 to 82% in 2012.

Georgians have continued to have positive attitudes about doing business with Russians over time. Even in 2009, one year after the Russian-Georgian War in 2008, 76% approved doing business with Russians.

There are several possible reasons for these positive attitudes in addition to intensive trade with Russia and strong social networks with Russians. According to an infographic from the World Bank in 2013, 4 of the top 10 countries receiving remittances by share of GDP are in the CIS (Armenia taking sixth place with 21%). Russia is the top destination for migrant workers across the Former Soviet Union, and it is the destination of choice for 61% of Armenia's potential emigrants. Considering that the amount of private remittances from Russia to Armenia in the first half of 2013 increased by 113%, Armenians' positive attitudes may not be surprising. The net amount of remittances sent from Russia to Azerbaijan in 2013 has been 234 million USD thus far, and 263 million USD to Armenia—remittances from abroad were less significant than in Armenia as a share of GDP. During a recent conference in Yerevan on demography, Dr. Alexander Grigorian noted that access to Russia for Armenian migrant labourers could become even easier following Armenia's accession to the Customs Union, and that this possibly lead to  quantitative (higher numbers of migrant labourers) and qualitative (a higher percentage of educated workers) changes in emigration from the country.

What other factors do you think could play a part in attitudes towards doing business with Russians?

If you want to explore these questions in more detail for yourself, we welcome you to download the 2012 and other Caucasus Barometer datasets.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Funding for Healthcare in the South Caucasus

Government expenditure on healthcare can be an indicator of a government's commitment to the health of its citizens. It is also important for the sustainability of health programmes. Nevertheless, the total health expenditure in all three countries of the South Caucasus is dominated by private spending, including prepaid plans and “out-of-pocket” (on the spot) payments. This blog provides a brief overview of the patterns of government spending on healthcare in the South Caucasus during recent years. The blog also links these patterns to data from the 2012 Caucasus Barometer (CB) about assessments of health, satisfaction with health, and trust in the health system.

Total expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP provides information on the level of resources invested in health relative to a country's overall wealth. In developed countries, government spending on healthcare accounts for approximately 10% of gross domestic product (GDP) or more. This percentage of resources pooled by the government is comparatively lower in the South Caucasus. It accounted for as much as 9.9% of the total GDP in Georgia, 4.3% in Armenia and 5.2% in Azerbaijan, according World Health Organization data from 2011.

Total expenditure on health is distributed between private and government expenditures, which are also unequal across the globe. In more than half of low income countries, government expenditure on health is less than 50% of total health expenditure. Where health spending is comparatively lower in general, the shortfall is made up by private spending. This can also be observed in the South Caucasus where the private amount paid for health services dominates the expenditure (reaching around 78% in Georgia and Azerbaijan, and more than 64% in Armenia). Most of the private expenditure on health in all three countries is so-called “out-of-pocket” – made by patients to both public and private providers at the time of receiving health services. Despite the fact that this method of payment can result in financial catastrophe for individuals or households, in each country in the South Caucasus “out-of-pocket” expenses amounted to 89% of total private expenditure on health.

Despite more substantial budgetary allocations to citizens’ healthcare by the government in Georgia, compared to  Armenia, the CB shows that trust in the healthcare system in these two countries is almost the same (39% and 38%, respectively-“Fully trust” and “Somewhat trust” combined). Azerbaijanis’ trust in the healthcare system is the highest among the three countries, amounting to 51%. Considering the self-evaluation of one’s health, around half of the adult Azerbaijani population rates their health as good or very good. Again, this rate is lower in Georgia and Armenia, where only about one-third of these societies think they have good health. Interestingly, these numbers are again similar despite the fact that the Armenian government has larger health expenditure than the Georgian government.

Private expenditure still dominates the healthcare expenditure in the South Caucasus. Given that large parts of these populations are poor and cannot afford to spend much on healthcare, low levels of government spending on health might have an impact on the health of citizens. Nevertheless, a higher share of government health expenditure does not necessary directly influence the quality of a healthcare system, or an individual’s level of trust or self-assessment of health. Thus, other factors ought to be taken in consideration such as evolving purchasing power parity, the general price of healthcare, or remittances.

For more information on this topic, you are welcome to visit our Caucasus Barometer database.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Islam in Azerbaijan: A Sectarian Approach to Measuring Religiosity

Azerbaijan is arguably one of the most secular countries in the Muslim world. Nearly seven decades of official atheist policy as part of the Soviet Union, along with isolation from the rest of the non-Soviet Muslim world, diminished Islam's position in the country. According to many, including Haji Shahin Hasanlia prominent and respected voice among Azerbaijan's Shia population and akhund (Muslim cleric) of the popular Meshedi Dadash Mosque in Baku, today many Azerbaijanis have little knowledge of Islamic tenets and practices even after two decades of independence. However, accurately gauging the number of committed believers in Azerbaijan presents challenges, given that religiosity as measured by Azerbaijanis' religious knowledge, practice, and belief varies quite drastically. This blog suggests that Azerbaijanis' sectarian preferences may provide a reliable measure of religiosity.

Religiosity can entail "institutionalized" and "subjective" modes of religious involvement (Dittes 1971); the corresponding measures of these modes in Azerbaijan elicit very different results. According to data from CRRC's 2012 Caucasus Barometer (CB), Azerbaijanis' active (i.e. institutionalized) religiosity as measured by mosque attendance and fasting is quite low. Only 10% of Azerbaijanis claimed to attend religious services either on a weekly or monthly basis, while 34% indicated attendance on special holidays and 54% attended "less often" or "never". Similarly, only 16% stated that they "always" or "often" fasted when required by religious traditions, whereas an overwhelming 69% claimed "rarely" or "never" to fast.

More subjective measures, on the other hand, seem to indicate greater religiosity. Accordingly, over 20% of Azerbaijanis claimed to be "very" or "rather" religious, while 34% indicated they were "somewhat" religious and 41% "not very" or "not at all" religious.

When asked about the importance of religion in their daily lives, however, a remarkable 80% of Azerbaijanis indicated that religion played a "very" or "rather" important role in their lives, while less than 20% stated that religion was "not very" or "not at all" important.

Reconciling these measures is problematic for several reasons. First, indicators of attendance religious services may in fact underestimate the number of committed believers in Azerbaijan. Some argue that Azerbaijan's official Muslim clergy, for example, has a reputation for low levels of religious knowledge (see Yunus 2012: 18-21), a fact which may discourage many believers from engaging in collective, institutionalized religious practices in preference for prayer at home. Moreover, attendance measures do not take into account the practice of visiting Muslim shrines, which is widespread in Azerbaijan and represents another form--albeit informal and folkloric--of religious expression.

On the other hand, that Islam "plays an important role" in 80% of respondents' lives presents a vast contrast to the 10% who regularly attend religious services, suggesting that Azerbaijanis may have a stronger subjective attachment to Islam, even if active religious observation remains weak. A more cohesive measure of religiosity--one that reconciles institutionalized and subjective modes of involvement--may lie in Azerbaijanis' sectarian preferences.

By many accounts, Azerbaijan's Muslim population is approximately 65% Shia and 35% Sunni. While this figure may correspond to historical sectarian trends and thus hold true in a very normative sense, CB 2012 data indicate that over 80% of Azerbaijanis actually did not specify a sectarian preference when asked to which religion they adhered. Instead they simply referred to their religion as "Islam", thus indicating that their primary religious identification may not be based on sect. Out of the remaining 18%, 15% of Azerbaijanis claimed to be Shia, while 3% claimed to be Sunni.

A clear confessional stance may indicate who actually considers himself/herself to be a committed believer, given that sectarian affiliation entails observance of particular institutionalized and subjective modes of religious involvement. Institutionally speaking, Shias and Sunnis have a number of divergent practices, especially regarding namaz (prayer) traditions; and subjectively, Shias venerate the institution of the Imamate with regards to Muhammad's successor, whereas Sunnis view the non-divine Caliphate as the legitimate mechanism of succession.

Thus, clarifying one's confessional preference involves a conscious recognition of the tenets and practices most strongly associated with one's confession. In other words, it is above all committed believers--that 18%--who have a clear motivation to clarify their sectarian preference.

For more data on religion in Azerbaijan visit the new 2012 Caucasus Barometer dataset.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The May 17th Events in Tbilisi Revisited

May 17th has become a reference in Tbilisi for the violent protests against LGBT activists that occurred during the rally for the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) held on that day. Thousands of people, priests among them, took to the streets and attacked the rally of about 50 activists, causing several injuries. From May 18th to June 30th, CRRC conducted a survey in Tbilisi on attitudes towards these protests. This blog presents three main results of the survey. First, tolerance of homosexuality remains low. Second, most respondents disapprove of the use of physical violence, unless traditional or national values are at stake. Third, in general, respondents felt that the presence of priests was justified at the protests, although their confrontational actions were not. 

The majority (97%) of survey respondents were familiar with the May 17th events, and most received their information from television (94%), with acquaintances, social networks and newspapers being far behind. However, the purpose of the event was not well understood. When asked whether a gay parade or a peaceful demonstration for the IDAHOT had been planned, 45% said the former, 40% said the latter, and 15% didn’t know. 

Several questions in the survey provide information about general attitudes towards homosexuality. When asked if sexual minorities should have the same rights as everyone else, 60% said yes. However, about half (49%) agreed with the statement that a good citizen should never respect the rights of sexual minorities. Only 16% said a good citizen should always respect their rights. Women and Tbilisi residents 18 to 37 years old are slightly less intolerant than men (47% of women vs. 52% of men say “never”), and those 58 years and older (38% of 18-37 year olds vs. 61% of those 58+ say “never”), respectively. It should also be noted that intolerance towards sexual minorities is several times higher than intolerance towards ethnic and religious minorities.

When asked to decide which type of person is least desired as a neighbor—between criminals, homosexuals and drug addicts—31% of respondents said they would least prefer a homosexual. Similar to before, women (24%) have a more tolerant view than men (43%), but those 58 years and older appear to be the most tolerant (24%), compared to 30% of those 18 to 37 years old and 37% of those 38 to 57 years old. This may be explained by the fact that 45% of older people perceive a neighbour who is a criminal as the worst option.

Another important feature of the May 17th protest was its brutal character. 87% of respondents felt that “physical violence is always unacceptable”. However, 50% agreed with the statement that “physical violence can be acceptable towards those people or groups who endanger national values” (46% disagreed). 57% of those interviewed also said that a successful peaceful celebration of the IDAHOT would have endangered Georgia. 

Finally, the role of the clergy at the protest was also widely discussed. The day before the protest, the patriarch called for a cancellation of the IDAHOT rally denouncing it as an “encouragement” of “anomaly and disease”. Many Orthodox priests took part in the protest against the rally, and some were at the frontline of the confrontation. In the survey, a majority of people believed that, “The clergy should have gone to the May 17th demonstration” (71%), but only 26% agreed that “The clergy should have directly taken part in the confrontation”. Fewer women than men agreed that the clergy should have gone (68% vs. 76%), but they were almost as likely as men to think that they should have taken part in the confrontation (25% vs. 26%). When broken down by age, the data shows that younger and older people have similar views with 68% of the former and 66% of the latter agreeing to the presence of clergy at the protest, and 22% and 24%, respectively agreeing about their confrontational attitude. Middle-aged people (38-57) are more prone to agree with the clergy’s participation in the protest (77%) and in the confrontation (30%). Lastly, 31% of respondents thought that the clergy who participated in the confrontation should face trial, whereas 57% did not.

To conclude, the survey also asked people to identify what they considered to be the main result of the May 17 events. Their two principal answers broadly sum up the findings of this blog; while 34% viewed the protests as “defending the dignity of Georgians”, 29% saw it as a “confrontation between people”.

For more information on the May 17th events in Tbilisi, see our survey page.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Does Climate Change Matter in the South Caucasus?

The Environment and Security Initiative confirmed that climate change has already negatively impacted the South Caucasus in its 2011 study, “Regional Climate Change Impact Study for the Caucasus Region ”. The issue of climate change was recently given media coverage when a group of approximately 40 people gathered at Turtle Lake in Tbilisi on August 5th to protest the destruction of trees and shrubs in order to construct a new restaurant complex. Their aim was to protect the plants in order to help reduce pollution. This post assesses knowledge of and attitudes about climate change in the South Caucasus. Data from the 2011 Life in Transition survey shows that the general concern for issues related to climate change is higher in Azerbaijan with Georgia being very close and Armenia somewhat behind. However, there is little understanding about what climate change is in all three countries. 

The Life in Transition survey shows that the majority of people in the South Caucasus have a certain degree of concern about climate change. Measured on a scale from 1 (not concerned) to 5 (extremely concerned), the data shows a high degree of indifference in Armenia (33%). Six out of 10 Azerbaijanis express concern (61%), followed by 59% of Georgians, and fewer Armenians (42%). 

However, when asked to assign a relative value to climate change by choosing from a list of serious problems currently facing the world, respondent’s opinions differ from what was expressed in the figure above. 73% of Azerbaijanis view climate change as a very serious problem, followed by Armenians (61%) and Georgians (45%). The answers to the next question, “Which is the most important?”, are consistent; 17% of Azerbaijanis, 13% of Armenians and 7% of Georgians view climate change as the most important issue.

 In your opinion, which of the following do you consider to be a very serious problem currently facing the world? 

And which is the most important?

(Life in transition survey II, 2011)

In order to measure general awareness of climate change, it is important to assess how people feel they understand the causes of this phenomenon. Throughout the region, the majority of people feel they are “not very well informed” or “not at all informed” about the issue. Again, Azerbaijanis show the highest propensity with 48% of them feeling well informed about the topic, Armenians being second (35%) and Georgian third (23%). Thus, the lack of concern may be due to a lack of knowledge.

Finally, respondents were asked if they had personally taken actions aimed at helping to fight climate change. Very few people said they had done so—2% in Armenia, 2.5% in Azerbaijan and 1.6% in Georgia. 

For more information on climate change and the South Caucasus in general, visit the Life in Transition data on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s website.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Internet Usage and Popularity in the South Caucasus

May 31st is often called the Birthday of Internet. It was on this day in 1961 that American engineer and computer scientist Leonard Kleinrock published his first paper entitled "Information Flow in Large Communication Nets". Even though the idea of the internet began being developed in the late 1960s, Kleinrock’s paper presented the initial idea of the internet as we know it today. More than 50 years later, 39% of world’s population is online. This is how many people have access to the internet according to the UN International Telecommunication Union. An earlier blog discussed internet and computer usage in Azerbaijan. This blog presents current trends in internet accessibility and usage in all three countries of the South Caucasus.

The 2012 Caucasus Barometer (CB) reveals that under half of each population uses the internet once a week or more, and within that 33% of Armenians, 26% of Georgians and 11% of Azerbaijanis use it every day. While internet use is more common in Armenia, its usage has increased in all three countries since 2010. Additionally, internet use is more common among men than women, among capital residents, and among those 18-35 years old.

Although internet usage is increasing in each country, over half of each population does not use the internet. Lack of need for the internet is the primary reason in Armenia and Azerbaijan, whereas lack of access to a computer is the primary reason that people do not use the internet in Georgia. Additionally, about a quarter of Azerbaijanis indicate that they are not interested in using the internet (24%) or have no way to connect (20%).
Those who use the internet were asked to name their most frequent activities online. The majority of people in Georgia and about half in Armenia and Azerbaijan mentioned social networking sites such as Odnoklassniki, Facebook and Myspace. Searching for information was also frequently mentioned, as was using Skype, particularly in Armenia. The data also shows that Azerbaijanis more frequently download, listen to and watch music and videos, as well as receive or send emails than in their Caucasian neighbors. Other internet activities such as playing online games, visiting dating websites, blogging, shopping or engaging in forum discussions were not frequently mentioned and thus remain less popular in the region.

This blog has shown that while internet usage is not as widespread as in some other countries, its use is increasing rapidly in the South Caucasus. Also, there are differences in the most frequent types of internet activities among Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. CB data allows us to understand internet usage in the South Caucasus and to compare types of use among the three countries.
If you want to explore more about these questions, please visit the 2012 Caucasus Barometer dataset

Monday, August 19, 2013

Material deprivation and quality of life in the South Caucasus

Quality of life and life satisfaction has been a central topic in social science research, as well as an increasingly popular area of interest for many policy makers. Balanced development is especially important in developing societies where political and economic changes can impact social inequality, as well as material wealth and health. This post uses data from the Caucasus Barometer (CB) 2012, as well as the Life in Transition (LIT) 2010 survey (carried out jointly by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank) to explore issues detrimental to the general quality of life in the South Caucasus region. These issues include the material situation of households (as reflected in the consumption of goods and services), and its impact on health-related indicators and general life satisfaction across the region.

According to the 2010 LIT survey, the average amount of monthly savings was 1628 dram ($4) in Armenia, 7 manat ($9) in Azerbaijan and 10 lari ($6) in Georgia. However, the standard deviation from the mean was high for all 3 countries, which means there were substantial differences between the amounts of money saved by different individuals. This is also reflected in relatively high values of the GINI coefficient for income in these countries. The coefficient measures inequality in income distribution within a population. Across the region the values of the GINI index were 31.3 for Armenia (2010), 33.7 for Azerbaijan (2008) and 42.1 for Georgia (2012), as reported by the World Bank.

Unequal income distribution and material deprivation are also apparent in differences in food consumption across all households included in the CB 2012. The survey asked about which of the following products households limits due to financial reasons: bread and pasta, butter and milk, poultry, beef, pork, fish, fruit and vegetables, potatoes, sweets and chocolates. From this list, 80% of households in Armenia, 66% in Azerbaijan and 74% in Georgia cut down on the consumption of at least one type of food products due to financial constraints.

In terms of the purchases of goods and services such as electricity and gas, slightly more than half of Armenians (55% and 58%, respectively) and Georgians (52% and 55%, respectively) limit their consumption of these items due to financial reasons. Azerbaijanis seem slightly less likely to do so with 49% cutting down on electricity or gas use, yet the difference between the values reported for Azerbaijan and Georgia is within the margin of 3% error. 

Material deprivation, both in the case of limited food consumption or utilities (electricity, gas) is significantly higher in the rural areas. These differences are highest in Armenia and lowest in Azerbaijan, where the difference between material deprivation in the capital and other urban areas is non-significant. 

Living conditions, including material difficulties, can have a substantial impact on overall life satisfaction. An examination of the effect of food limitations on life satisfaction, while controlling for type of settlement (urban, rural and capital), gender, and age shows that across all three countries the necessity to cut down on food consumption has a significant negative impact on the general quality of life. Multivariate regression analysis shows that a cut in each additional food item results in a significant drop in the average life satisfaction level. No cutback on food is used as a reference category in the model, while the other options included 1 to 9 indicating the food items. Gender is not found to affect the level of life satisfaction in any of the countries. Settlement type has an impact in Armenia and Azerbaijan where people living in the capitals declare, on average, significantly higher levels of life satisfaction than in the countryside.

Life satisfaction is not the only variable strongly related to material conditions. Depending on the economic situation of the household (e.g. those that need to limit food consumption, or other expenditures), the subjective assessment of individual health varies. People from poor households are significantly more likely to consider themselves to be in very poor or poor health. Causality is not established here though as poor health might be both the result as well as the reason for material deprivation.

The relationship between health and material deprivation is not a surprise and it has been well-researched in the social science. However, it deserves strong emphasis, taking into account the high number of households that needs to restrict their food and utilities consumption in the South Caucasus.

Monitoring changes in the material situation of households is thus of major importance. Analysis of a LIT 2010 question “My household lives better nowadays than around 4 years ago” shows substantial regional differences in this respect. According to the subjective individual assessment, the quality of life in Armenia and Georgia seems to have deteriorated rather than improved compared to around 4 year ago, whereas in Azerbaijan the assessment of the change in the household situation was more positive. 

As the most recent LIT data come from 2010, the situation and standards of living in Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian households might currently be different. Yet, as the CB 2012 shows, most households still face material problems that force them to limit consumption of basic products such as food. Since there is a significant positive relationship between the financial situation of a household and individual health and wellbeing, all of these factors require special attention and long-term monitoring in the region.

For more information on the current social and economic situation in the South Caucasus see our online database