Monday, April 28, 2014

Trust in Institutions in the South Caucasus

Trust in institutions has often been thought of as negatively related to perceptions of corruption in political institutions. Every year, Transparency International publishes a Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) which ranks countries from highly corrupt to very clean. Perceptions of corruption in the three South Caucasus countries have shifted over the years. The level of corruption in Georgia has been perceived as lower than the level of corruption in Armenia since 2007. Trust in institutions is lower in Armenia than in Azerbaijan which has the lowest ranking out of the three countries on the CPI. Azerbaijan shares similar levels of trust in institutions as Georgia which is the highest ranked South Caucasus country on the CPI. This blog post examines trust in institutions across the South Caucasus, as well as trust in international institutions.

According to the Caucasus Barometer (CB), in general, Azerbaijanis are more trusting of several institutions than Georgians or Armenians. Armenians are most likely to distrust institutions, and Georgians are most likely to respond with neither trust nor distrust. The following graph shows levels of trust in the media, court system, and parliament as three examples of trust in institutions that follow this pattern.

Note: In the graphs used in this blog post, trust is a combination of the responses ‘somewhat trust’ and ‘fully trust‘, and distrust is a combination of responses ‘somewhat distrust’ and ‘fully distrust’.

This pattern holds for nine of seventeen institutions asked about in the 2013 CB. Yet, some notable exceptions exist. Religious institutions garner a higher level of trust in Armenia and Georgia than in Azerbaijan. In contrast, trust in the president is much higher in Azerbaijan than in the other two countries. The following graph shows these trends and it is worth noting that these trends have been relatively stable over time, especially since 2009.

A third interesting trend related to trust in institutions in the South Caucasus is that Georgia shows the highest level of trust towards international institutions, such as the UN and EU. This may be due to the consistent discourse from Georgian politicians about Georgia being a part of Europe, as well as attempts by the government to further Euro-Atlantic integration.

This blog post has looked at levels of trust in institutions in the three countries of the South Caucasus. It has examined general patterns in trust, as well as exceptions to the standard pattern observed for most institutions. Finally, the blog shows that Georgians are more likely to trust international institutions.

For more information on trust in the South Caucasus, you can explore the data using our ODA tool. To gain a better understanding of why Azerbaijanis might show higher levels of trust, and why this does not present a contradiction with Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, take a look at this blog post.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Knowledge of Russian in Azerbaijan

Although over 20 years have passed since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russian remains the most commonly spoken language in Azerbaijan after the official language (Azerbaijani). In addition to being considered by many as a native language and used in daily life in Azerbaijan, Russian appears to be a lingua franca for communication between different ethnic groups and with other post-Soviet countries. 

According to research conducted under the supervision and request of the International Department of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation in 2012, the number of people who speak Russian in the post-Soviet space has significantly decreased since 1991 (from 119.5 million people in 1990 to 93.7 million in 2010). There are 330 schools and more than 20 higher education institutions with Russian as a language of instruction in Azerbaijan. The number of schoolchildren studying in Russian has more than halved in Azerbaijan since 1990 (from 250 thousand students to 94.7 thousand). However, this decrease was moderate in the second decade of Azerbaijan’s independence (from 107.5 thousand to 94.7 thousand). Another interesting fact is that in Azerbaijan, the decrease in the number of schoolchildren studying in Russian was slight compared to other South Caucasus Republics (Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Number of schoolchildren studying in Russian in South Caucasus Republics in 1990/1991, 2000/2001, and 2010/2011; thousand persons. 


According to the Caucasus Barometer 2013 (CB), today 72% of people in Azerbaijan say they have at least a beginner’s level knowledge of Russian. Results from the CB also show that approximately a fourth of the population has at least a beginner’s level in English, and about a tenth claims to speak another language besides Azerbaijani, Russian or English. These results corroborate with the 2009 census, where people had to indicate their native and spoken language, and assess their language skills. The CB shows that 7% of the population say they are advanced Russian speakers, and AzStat indicates that this percentage is 7.6%. In addition, according to AzStat, English is fluently spoken by 0.8% of people in Azerbaijan. 

According to self-assessments in the CB, Russian is mostly spoken in the capital and in urban areas (81% and 75%, respectively); 11% of people in Baku say they have an advanced level of Russian, whereas only 3% of those living in rural areas say they fluently speak Russian.

In addition, Azerbaijanis older than 56 years old are more likely to say they have a more advanced level of Russian (11%) than those who are younger. Better Russian skills among those older than 35 can be explained due to the Soviet heritage and need for a good knowledge of Russian to get a good job. 

Although predictably, but still notably, people who perceive their knowledge of Russian as higher also tend to have higher levels of education. Similarly, people with a higher education (even if incomplete) are more likely to say they have advanced English skills (12%). Most of them are students currently pursuing their education and actively learning and practicing English.

Another notable fact about the English language is that over half of people in Azerbaijan (64%) think that English should be mandatory in schools, whereas there are fewer supporters of Russian (16%) in 2013. Moreover, according to the CB, the number of supporters for English has increased (from 55% in 2011 and 2012 to 64% in 2013). The fact that English is preferred over Russian is directly related to the circumstances dictated by international economic society. Azerbaijan’s economic growth attracts more foreign companies and English is a requirement for employment in most of them. In its turn, Russian in Azerbaijan is mostly used on a daily basis.   

Interestingly, for many years Azerbaijan has had the lowest percentage of Russian speakers among the South Caucasus republics, although, in total, the number of people speaking Russian is high and the country has the largest Russian community in the South Caucasus (119.3 thousand Russian people in Azerbaijan, 7.5 thousand in Armenia, and 45 thousand in Georgia). Nevertheless, despite the decreasing number of people who speak Russian, the language remains the major foreign language of communication.

To further explore these issues, we recommend accessing Caucasus Barometer data here. To get more information about the status of the Russian language in the post-Soviet space, see this article with results of the research conducted for the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation. 

By Aynur Ramazanova

Monday, April 14, 2014

Second Languages in the South Caucasus and Georgian Education Policy

In his widely read 1983 book, Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson wrote that English now serves “as a kind of global-hegemonic, post-clerical Latin.” In Georgia, knowledge of the English language is often important for educational opportunities as well as employment. In 2010, the Georgian government began an English teaching program called Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG) which brought English teachers to Georgia in order to improve the level of English in the country. TLG continued with fewer teachers after the change in government in 2012. Additionally, only native English speaking teachers are now accepted for TLG, whereas non-native speakers of English had previously been accepted as teachers. With this background in mind, this blog examines which languages Georgians think should be mandatory in schools, as well as the perceived level of Russian and English knowledge in the South Caucasus, and how age relates to knowledge of Russian and English.

Survey data from the Caucasus Barometer (CB) shows that when the English language teaching program began in 2010, the majority of Georgians (75%) thought that English should be mandatory in school. The level of support for English and Russian as mandatory languages remained similar until 2011 to 2012 when support for Russian increased and support for English decreased. During this time period, a deal for Russia to join the WTO, which Georgia had been blocking, was worked out. This implied that the Russian embargo that had existed on Georgian products would be lifted in the future, as it slowly has been over the course of the last year. Furthermore, a change in government occurred in 2012, which was perceived by some international observers and Georgians as a vote to ameliorate ties with Russia. Moreover, TLG was in its second year, and though the program had experienced successes, many Georgians criticized the program for not having certified teachers, and the actions of some volunteers proved irksome to many Georgians. Between 2012 and 2013, no dramatic change occurred despite what appears to be a slight uptick in English and down-tick in Russian for 2013.

A common language can facilitate business and relationships between people. It can also facilitate the effective management of relations and communication between neighboring countries. Thus, it is important to look at which languages Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan share. In the CB, respondents were asked to assess whether their level of English and Russian language was no basic knowledge (1), beginner (2), intermediate (3) or advanced (4). Throughout this blog, “knowledge” of Russian and English refers to people who felt they had at least a beginner’s level of knowledge (i.e. beginner, intermediate or advanced) of the language. The survey shows that at least a quarter of people believe they have some knowledge of English in each country, and a majority say they have knowledge of Russian—especially in Armenia and Georgia.

As the graph demonstrates, knowledge of Russian continues to be far more common than English in the South Caucasus, with more than twice as many South Caucasians reporting some knowledge of Russian in all three countries compared to English. Yet, this trend may change as knowledge of English increases, especially among young people. The percentage of 18 to 35 year olds who believe they have at least some knowledge of English is at least twice as high as older age groups in the South Caucasus. Furthermore, knowledge of Russian is lowest in the youngest age group.

What does the language that Georgians want their children to learn say about how Georgia positions itself internationally? Does it tell us anything about whether or not closer ties with its neighbors are desired? For more information, please visit the following blog post about the Georgian education system and Timothy Blauvelt’s 2013 article on language in Georgia.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Happiness in Georgia

Happiness is an issue that has been the subject of philosophical and social science reflection at least since the ancient Greek philosopher Democratis (460 BC -370 BC) said, “Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.” This oft cited sentiment frequently comes with the suggestion that home and family are more important than material wealth. This blog post will take a look at these sentiments and examine how happiness relates to personal income, settlement type, and marital status in Georgia.

Economists have been debating whether money can “buy” happiness for decades, if not centuries. Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Ramussen in their 2010 article have argued that Adam Smith, author of the famed book, The Wealth of Nations “was the first ‘happiness’ theorist in economics.”  Interestingly, the 2013 Caucasus Barometer shows that in Georgia, individuals with higher incomes are also more likely to say they are happy.

Note: The question, “Overall, how happy would you say you are,” was asked using a 10-point scale which was recoded to a 3-point scale (Unhappy, Neither Happy nor Unhappy, and Happy).

Although self perceptions of happiness in Georgia appear to increase with personal income, the Easterlin Paradox holds that happiness will increase with income, but only up to the point where needs and wants are met, and where having more money becomes superfluous. Judging whether the Easterlin Paradox applies in Georgia is not possible from an examination of data from the Caucasus Barometer. However, Lia Tsuladze, Marine Chitashvili , Nani Bendeliani , and Luiza Arutinovi write more about  income, economics and happiness in their 2013 article.

Settlement type also seems to be related to how happy Georgians consider themselves to be. Georgians living in urban areas (66%), including Tbilisi (67%), are more likely to consider themselves to be happy than those living in rural areas (56%).

Marital status is a third factor related to happiness in Georgia. Alfred Lord Tennyson's 1850 poem, In Memoriam: 27, states, “Tis better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all.” Despite these lines’ continued prominence today, at least in Georgia, it appears that it is better to have loved and not lost, or to have never loved at all. Georgian widows, widowers, the separated and divorced report being unhappy more than twice as much as Georgians who are married, cohabiting or who were never married.

Personal income, where one lives, and marital status appear to be related to perceptions of happiness in Georgia.  We encourage you to explore the data further using our ODA tool. We also recommend reading this blog post which examines happiness in Azerbaijan.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Alternating Pasts, Changing Futures

Note: This blog is re-posted from the MYPLACE project's blog. The original MYPLACE blog can be found here.

Claims to 2000 or even 3000 years of nationhood are not difficult to find in Georgia as has been amply documented (see Pelkmans 2006, Suny 1994, Rayfield 2013). The former president Mikheil Saakashvili was even fond of using the earliest human skulls found outside of Africa, in Dmansi in Southern Georgia, as proof that Georgians were “ancient Europeans.” The pride in Georgia over ancient aspects of history is palpable.  Yet, the events of more recent Georgian history often have pain and trauma attached to them.  In this historical context, the CRRC-Georgia conducted focus groups, semi-structured interviews, and observation in Telavi, focusing on YMCA Telavi’s work with IDP youth. Research data was gathered as a part of a European Union funded project, MYPLACE. Fieldwork in Telavi was conducted in order to better understand the role of historical memory in the civic engagement of young people (aged 16 to 25), and the inter-generational transition of memory in both IDP and non-IDP families.

Beginning shortly before and stopping shortly after the end of fieldwork, the historic city center of Telavi was being ‘rehabilitated’ by the government. Discussion of the rehabilitation with respondents proved an interesting lens on how history effects and produces affect in the everyday lives of young people in Telavi. Furthermore, the rehabilitation can be seen as a metonym for the government’s larger efforts at rehabilitating many sites in the country, and more importantly how these ‘rehabilitation’ and ‘development’ projects shaped citizens’ relationships with the state through the use of history and its relation to time.
As mentioned above, Georgia’s ancient history is often glorified in both every day and political discourses.  The palace of King Erekle II, a celebrated 18th century king of Eastern Georgia, is located in Telavi’s historic center. The historic center with King Erekle’s palace had functioned as a site of memory, which elicited memories of the glorious past. The process of rehabilitation, however, began not only to evoke memory of the glorious past, but also to serve as a reminder of the rule of the Mikheil Saakashvili and the United National Movement (UNM), which were responsible for initiating the rehabilitation project in Telavi.    
Participants in the MYPLACE project’s research in Telavi unanimously agreed on three things in regards to the ’rehabilitation’ of the city: the quality of works and materials used in rehabilitation were sub-standard; historical monuments were not well preserved; coordination with the local population was less than adequate. These complaints in many ways illuminate the political situation at the time of fieldwork and do so as if a light containing the political problems of the day were being projected through a prism, with the complaints emitted as rays.

The fact that, in the eyes of informants, the quality of works and materials used in rehabilitation was less than standard and the fact that the historical monuments were not well preserved points to the felt defamation of memories of the glorious past. One should remember that the sites being rehabilitated had previously evoked affects of pride in the celebrated and memorialized glorious past and served as sites of memory for this past. As one respondent stated:

I think that generally what’s happening here is the eradication of the old, and the newly made will no longer be able to preserve the history. After 50 or 100 years they [Telavians] will no longer be able to remember [the past], because it [will] no longer exists, [i.e.] that is the face [of the town] which had been preserving the history until now.

With the perceived (and actual) debasement in quality in rehabilitating the sites, the government had effectively defamed the past which they had previously tried so hard to be symbolically associated with.

This symbolic association took a variety of forms of meddling with the past, but one notable example comes from former-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s first presidential inauguration in 2004. Saakashvili, before his official inauguration came to Gelati Cathedral in the Imereti region in order to take an oath on the grave of 11th-12th century Georgian King, David the Builder. King David is accredited with the inauguration of the Georgian ‘golden age’ of the 11th-13th centuries and is known, as his name implies, for the geographic expansion and architectural development of the country. The intended symbolism that Saakashvili’s action was supposed to project was clear. Despite this symbolic gesture, complaints about construction quality, not only in Telavi but elsewhere in the country, imply that maybe Misha, as he was commonly known, will not be remembered for what he helped to build.

Moreover, the complaints of the population of Telavi regarding rehabilitation works in the town point to another inadequacy in the country at the time – an apparent lack of democracy. After 2007, the government had been sliding towards authoritarian rule (Slade and Tangiashvili 2013). Telavi respondents, in mentioning which events were important in recent history mentioned the “terror tactics” of former President Saakashvili’s party, the United National Movement (UNM), in 2007-2012. In complaining that the government had not adequately consulted with the local population about the rehabilitation works, in microcosm, a country wide issue was on display in fieldwork discussions.

Further enunciating the democratic deficit, consultations with the local population in almost all respects were non-existent.  Adding to the dismay, no contracts were signed with residents whose homes were being ’rehabilitated’ regarding when works would be finished or whether the structural integrity of homes would be taken care of. After the end of ’rehabilitation’ works, families often came home to devastated interiors, destroyed furniture, and structurally questionable domiciles.

Window frame inside of a home in Telavi center after rehabilitation of building façade. Photo by Tinatin Zurabishvili

In looking at these larger issues in microcosm, the past was obviously present in relation to the ‘rehabilitation’ of historic sites, but at the same time, the future was also being meddled in.

Ongoing construction works in and of themselves can inherently be seen as a projection into the future – a building being built today may be in response to the needs of the day but they are also for a projected future use. In looking at construction as a projection into the future, coming along with it comes a projection of what that future will be like. Thomas De Waal, in a pamphlet published by the Carnegie Foundation, characterized the rhetoric of the UNM as speaking in the “future perfect” (De Waal, 2011). Speaking in the future perfect meant that the government made statements about what the country would be and would have. The government not only projected into the future through its rhetoric, but also through construction. Construction was further accompanied by glossy brochures which were widely distributed with computer generated images of what finished buildings would be like. Works in progress were not left to the imagination alone, but an actual image was delivered along with the grounds broken for construction.

Source: Georgia Today

In Telavi, as it was elsewhere in Georgia, the projected future muddied memories of the glorious past. One young woman who was interviewed during MYPLACE fieldwork stated that she tried not to look at what was happening in the historic center and tried not to notice what was new while walking through it.  Her desire not to know is at least twofold in its avoidance. In not looking around it seems reasonable to say this informant was avoiding both the defamation of the old as was shown previously to be felt, but also the creeping reminder of the present ’terror’ and the then present government’s projected vision of the future. Sites of memory had been transformed into sites of reminder.

This future though was not to last. During fieldwork a viable opposition led and financially backed by Georgian billionaire, Bidzina Ivanishvili emerged.  Its emergence and eventual victory in parliamentary elections ruptured the future that had been projected. With the loss of positions of authority as well as moral authority, the UNM had lost its ability to project the future it saw on Georgia – their future had become part of the past. ’Rehabilitation’ works along with a number of other projects in the country were halted shortly after Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream came to office. The halting of works in some way has preserved the sites of memory in the historic center of Telavi; their preservation though is not the kind which a preservationist would hope for, but rather, the preservation of the alteration of the sites. This preservation has thus, in turn, made sites of memory in Telavi polysemous. In preserving the alteration of the sites, now for those in Telavi, the sites are linked to both the distant past and the less than democratic recent past.

For how long the ‘rehabilitated’ buildings will serve as sites of memory of the recent past is unclear, but what is clear is present and future governments in Georgia will continue to meddle in the past and project their visions into the future thus impacting Georgians, young and old alike.