Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nostalgia for Stalin in Georgia: Between Respect and Unjustifiable Actions

A recent assessment of attitudes towards Stalin in Georgia has been broadly discussed within the country, as well as abroad. Many have considered Georgia to be a “Stalin-favorable country” since Stalin himself was an ethnic Georgian. However, using data from the 2012 Caucasus Barometer (CB), this post shows that while there remains widespread respect for Stalin, the methods of his rule are far from desirable in today’s Georgia. Also, attitudes towards Stalin in Georgia are compared to those in Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

Overall, the CB data reveals that Georgians have more positive views towards Stalin than Armenians and Azerbaijanis. However, only a very small proportion in each country admires Stalin. Respect and sympathy are the prevailing characteristics that Georgians use to describe Stalin, whereas it is indifference in Armenia and disgust in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijanis were also most likely to say they don’t know who Stalin is (22%), compared to 9% in Armenia and 5% in Georgia. 

Survey respondents were provided with a list of 7 attributes and asked to select only one word that best described their attitude towards Stalin. “I don’t know who Stalin is”, “don’t know” and “refuse to answer” were not listed as answer options, but were recorded if mentioned by respondents. 

According to the CB, only a small percentage in each country believes that the sacrifice of the Soviet people was definitely justified because of the results achieved (5%-7%). The data also shows that around half of each of the populations think the sacrifice was definitely not justified. Therefore, the positive features attributed to Stalin in Georgia do not overshadow the sacrifices made by the Soviet people during his rule.

Moreover, very few people in the South Caucasus see themselves living in a country ruled by a person like Stalin. This includes Georgians who attributed more respect and sympathy towards Stalin than Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Over half of the population in each country says they would probably or definitely not like to live and work in such a country.

Although many people in the South Caucasus believe the sacrifices made under Stalin cannot be justified and they would not want to live in a country ruled by a leader like Stalin, more than two fifths of adults (55% in Armenia, 44% in Azerbaijan, and 68% in Georgia) believe Stalin was a wise leader who brought power and prosperity to the Soviet Union.  It is interesting to note that even in Georgia, where well over half of the population thinks Stalin was a wise leader who brought prosperity, this positive attitude is not related to a desire for a non-democratic style of leadership. 69% of Georgians who strongly consider Stalin to have been a wise leader prefer democracy to any other kind of government, whereas only 7% prefer a non-democratic government under certain circumstances (another 7% is indifferent). Thus, the majority of Georgians consider democracy to be the best form of government for today’s Georgia even though many feel respect for Stalin as a leader. In addition, 69% of Georgians who completely agree that Stalin was a wise leader support NATO membership and 73% support joining the EU. Thus, respect for Stalin does not indicate support for non-democracy or a turn away from Western institutions.

Finally, CB data shows that Armenians feel that they will always have need for a leader like Stalin to a larger extent than Georgians or Azerbaijanis. 38% of Armenians say they will always feel the need for a leader like him who would come and restore order, compared to 28% of Georgians and 19% of Azerbaijanis who say the same.

This blog has shown that over half of the populations in the South Caucasus feel the sacrifices of the Soviet people under Stalin were not justified and they do not desire to live in a country with a ruler like him. Yet, many people in all three countries view him as a wise leader who brought prosperity to the Soviet Union. Although Georgians have far more respect and sympathy for Stalin than Armenians and Azerbaijanis, most Georgians continue to be oriented towards membership in Western organizations such as NATO and the EU. Thus, the data agrees with the assessment in Carnegie Endowment’s 2013 report entitled “The Stalin Puzzle” that “for Georgians, Stalin is much more a national icon than a political model.” 

For more data on the attitudes towards Stalin in the South Caucasus, please visit the new 2012 Caucasus Barometer dataset

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Memory, Youth, Political Legacy and Civic Engagement (MYPLACE): ‘Interpreting the Past’ work package in Telavi

“The historical events that happen in people’s formative years leave a permanent imprint on people’s memories” concluded one of the founding fathers of classical sociology, Karl Mannheim, in 1952. Georgian teenagers today remember living in a country where electricity failures and lack of money for basic needs were common everyday issues. Their perceptions are as dramatic as the perceptions of adults, especially for IDPs from the separatist region of Abkhazia. The experiences of young IDPs represent one of the most salient topics in Georgia’s post-Soviet history – an unexpected and often tragic reality the country has had to face since the 1990s. Since the issue is, to date, largely understudied by historians and social scientists, all we can rely on to learn more about these experiences are the narratives of IDP youth themselves. These narratives are closely connected with various aspects of post-Soviet transformation.

One of the aims of the recent Memory, Youth, Political Legacy And Civic Engagement (MYPLACE) project’s work package ‘Interpreting the Past: The construction and transmission of historical memory’ in Telavi was to reveal how IDP youth view the history of Georgia and, specifically, the period of the war in Abkhazia. Some questions examined were how young IDPs and their lives are viewed by their non-IDP peers, and how close or how distant these two groups are from each other. Through participant observation in a non-academic partner institution (YMCA-Telavi), expert interviews, and focus group discussions with young people, CRRC researchers tried to shape outlines of history and self-identification that prevail among youth. Young respondents, however, often needed additional explanations when questions about ‘official’ vs. ‘unofficial’ interpretations of history were asked.

At the beginning of the 1990s, people in Georgia had to deal with separatist movements for autonomy, the rise of militarized criminal groups and the outbreak of strife between supporters and opponents of the newly elected president. Although most of the young people that were questioned by MYPLACE did not remember life in Abkhazia (many of those born in Telavi had never been to Abkhazia), they admitted to having a very strong self-identification with the IDP group and often did not see themselves and their families staying in Telavi forever. Rather, they saw themselves returning to Abkhazia at some point after the conflict is resolved.

Young respondents also did not expect the ongoing IDP situation to last for such a long time. There was an overwhelming and long-lasting hope that IDPs would spend a much shorter time away from their homes, and that they would be able to return home relatively soon. Even today this myth of a quick return plays a very important role in the self-identification of the respondents and members of their families. Very young respondents who have spent their entire lives in Telavi are also reluctant to consider Telavi to be their true home. This shows that this group of IDPs is not fully integrated into Telavi society, in spite of having lived there for two decades.

According to official rhetoric, they should eventually be given the possibility to return to their homes in Abkhazia once the conflict is resolved and their security is guaranteed. However, there is no realistic estimate of when (and if) this could actually happen (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2012).

Discussing this experience with teenagers enables us to see the process of transmission of memory (mostly within families) regarding important and painful historical events. At the same time, we are able to observe the attitudes of young people (both IDP and non-IDP) towards the processes which have occurred in Telavi during recent years.

A schoolteacher from Telavi mentioned that many of the tragic events that she has read about in her world history books (e.g., territorial conflict, civil war, IDPs, political terror) have all happened in Georgia within the past 20 years. One of the difficult challenges for today’s Georgia is to encourage IDP youth to redefine themselves in the new environment, give them opportunities and encourage them to find their place in current Georgian history.

The full report from this project is available at the CRRC-Georgia website.

Monday, April 01, 2013

High Abortion Rates vs. Conservative Views against Abortion in the South Caucasus

There is a tension in the South Caucasus between high rates of abortion (and sex-selective abortion) and overwhelmingly conservative attitudes against it. Abortion rates in Georgia and Armenia are higher than the EU average and the rate in Azerbaijan is below. A 2010 article by the Economist placed Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia 2nd, 3rd and 4th, respectively, on a list of countries worldwide where the numbers of girls are off balance at birth - China ranks first. This blog aims to explore attitudes towards abortion and gender in the South Caucasus, and shows that while there are widespread conservative attitudes against abortion, it remains frequently carried out.

Data from 2010 World Health Organization (WHO) report on abortion rates show that there are more abortions among women of reproductive age (15-44 years) in Georgia and Armenia relative to the average in the European Union (See chart below). The abortion rates in the South Caucasus region also vary considerably; the number of abortions per 1,000 live births is lower than the EU average (222) in Azerbaijan (162), whereas it stands at 274 in Armenia, and 408 in Georgia.

The high rate of abortion in the South Caucasus is also linked to sex-selective abortion, whereby pregnancies are terminated if the fetus is female. Male newborns outnumber females by more than 10% in the South Caucasus. For every 100 girls, there are 112 boys in Armenia, 114 boys in Azerbaijan, and 111 in Georgia according to the 2011 CIA World Factbook. Additionally, in 2011 the European Commission declared that “Prenatal sex selection is to be condemned as a phenomenon which finds its roots in a culture of gender inequality”. Thus, the sex-selective abortion problem in the South Caucasus may be a consequence of a greater cultural issue. Another considerable factor is the lower number of children that families in the South Caucasus have over time. For example, in the mid-sixties each family had 3 children on average in Georgia, 4 in Armenia and 5 in Azerbaijan, whereas, according to the 2012 World Factbook, the average number of children per family is now 1.46 in Georgia, 1.38 in Armenia, and 1.92 in Azerbaijan. With a choice of 1 to 2 children, many families in the South Caucasus prefer to have a boy instead.

Data from the 2010 CB also shows that people of both genders are more likely to say they prefer a son. Men in Georgia and Armenia indicate the greatest preference to have a male child (approximately 60%), whereas one third (33%) of Azerbaijani men agree. CB data also indicates that the gender of a child matters least in Azerbaijan and most in Armenia, whereas in all three countries men are more likely than women to say that they want a boy.

Yet, despite the high rate of abortions, and specifically sex-selective abortions, the CB 2011 shows that attitudes towards abortion in these countries remain very conservative. Well over half of the Georgian (76%) and Armenian (61%) populations believe that abortion can “never be justified” (This question was measured on a 1-5 scale where 1 =”never justified”, 5=”always justified”. The question was not asked in Azerbaijan). 

Moreover, the high rates of abortion are puzzling in these countries where the majority of the population says religion is important in daily life (92% in Georgia, 92% in Armenia and 80% in Azerbaijan according to the CB 2012), and where trusted religious authoritative bodies (i.e. Georgian Orthodox Church in Georgia, Armenian Apostolic Church in Armenia, and both Shia and Sunni Islamic Organizations in Azerbaijan) consistently advocate against abortion.

How can we explain these conservative attitudes against abortion along with the high rate of abortion in the South Caucasus? Is it a familiarity with abortion as a method of contraception from the Soviet Union, the availability of sex-selective technology, cultural attitudes, or something else? What do you think?