Monday, August 25, 2014

Emigration, Language, and Remittances in Georgia

As discussed in a recent blog post, household incomes in Georgia have risen steadily since 2008. The percentage of Georgians who have family or close relatives living abroad has also significantly increased from 37% in 2009 to 53% in 2013. 14% of Georgian households currently receive money from family members, relatives, or friends living in another country as an income source. This blog examines changes in interest in emigrating from Georgia over the last five years, while controlling for certain variables.

Since 2008, though the percentage of Georgians who have family living abroad has increased, interest in emigrating from Georgia, both temporarily and permanently, has barely changed. In 2008, 48% of Georgians expressed interest in emigrating temporarily, while 44% felt the same in 2013. Interest in permanently emigrating from Georgia has remained extremely low, at 8% in 2008 and at 7% in 2013.

In CB 2013, respondents were asked to describe their ability in English and Russian. Today in Georgia, 63% of Georgians say they have no basic knowledge of English, 15% say they have intermediate knowledge, and 6% feel that they have advanced knowledge. As might be expected, knowledge of English among younger Georgians is higher than among older Georgians. 41% of Georgians aged 18-35 years old say they have intermediate or advanced knowledge of English, while only 14% of Georgian aged 36-55 feel the same. Knowledge of Russian is more widespread among Georgians, with 70% of Georgians saying they have intermediate or advanced knowledge of Russian. Among 18-35 year old Georgians, 65% say they have intermediate or advanced knowledge of Russian, while 80% of 36-55 year old Georgians say the same. As a general trend, Georgians with more advanced language skills in English or Russian tend to express a higher level of interest in temporarily emigrating from Georgia. This trend is more pronounced among English speakers.

Similarly, more frequent users of the Internet are also more interested in temporarily emigrating. However, there is no discernible pattern between the desire to permanently emigrate and knowledge of English or Russian, or frequency of internet usage. Both Georgian men and women are equally disinterested in permanently emigrating (only 7% are interested), while slightly more Georgian men are interested in temporary emigration (49% of men and 39% of women).

In conclusion, though there has been no visible increase in interest among Georgians in emigrating over time, it is possible that this interest will eventually grow as more Georgians learn foreign languages and use the internet more frequently.

Monday, August 18, 2014

One step forward, two steps back? European integration in Georgia after the Association Agreement

So far, 2014 is shaping up to be the year that Georgia might begin to reap the benefits of its pro-EU and pro-NATO foreign policy. In June, Georgia signed the EU Association Agreement despite fears over Russian agitation. NATO has indicated its readiness to discuss a “substantive package” for Georgia, if not a Membership Action Plan. However, despite these gestures towards closer cooperation, some elements of the decision to sign the Agreement have caused friction. For example, the introduction of an anti-discrimination law in April, that contained protection for sexual minorities, was designed to make the Georgian legal environment more EU-compatible. However, the introduction of this protection resulted in backlash from the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC). Thus, although the signing of the Association Agreement is widely seen by Georgians as a step forward for the country, friction over values has the potential to push the integration agenda back.

The Association Agreement is a sign of strengthening political and economic ties with Europe. However, movement towards a shared cultural space and value system has received less attention in the run-up to the signing. As survey results from the 2013 Survey on Knowledge and Attitudes toward the EU show, political, economic and institutional ties were often cited as anticipated outcomes of the Agreement. Legal reforms aimed at lessening discrimination and protecting minority rights were not an integral part of the public debate about what EU integration would mean for Georgia.

Note: This survey was conducted by CRRC-Georgia for the Eurasia Partnership Foundation. The respondents could select one option from a show card

The adoption of the European-style anti-discrimination law in April 2014 has sparked a debate about the compatibility of traditional Georgian values with European norms, especially with respect to the protection of sexual minorities. This suggests that the widespread public support (88%) for strengthening ties with the EU in Georgia may be dependent on assumptions about the political or economic nature of the EU, rather than norms and values. Legal reforms related to the Association Agreement have had an immediate impact on Georgian life (unlike closer political and economic ties), and there are an estimated 350 EU laws in the pipeline. The law itself bans all forms of discrimination, whether on the basis of language, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Although the anti-discrimination law is just one of many legal components to the EU-Georgia cooperation, the vocal reaction of the GOC against the inclusion of sexual minorities, which the Patriarch deemed “the legalization of illegality,” suggests that the journey towards greater European integration might pose some challenges.

During a street party that followed the signing of the Association Agreement on June 27, 2014, the Patriarch addressed the crowd with a message of celebration and caution. While describing the event as “a happy day”, the Patriarch reinforced the idea that moving closer to Europe is “not only a huge honor, but also a huge responsibility” for a country with its own ancient culture and values. This is important, especially since that the majority of Georgians (82%) trust their religious institutions – much more than those who trust in the EU (33%). Moreover, in 2013, 52% of Georgians said that they would vote against EU membership because of harm to Georgia’s culture and traditions. Thus, it will be interesting to see whether this percentage increases in 2014. In an article in Foreign Policy, Peter Pomerantsev noted that, “the church's [GOC] opposition to some EU principles puts it on a de facto collision course with EU integration policy."

Thus far, the signing of the Association Agreement has resulted in a celebratory mood in Georgia. If integration is to continue moving forward, continued public support and the commitment of Georgian politicians, EU representatives and religious spokespeople will each be key. This blog has explored the climate in Georgia following the signing of the Association Agreement. It has also focused on attitudes towards the new anti-discrimination law and trust in the EU, as well as in religious institutions. You can read more analysis on trends in Georgians’ attitudes towards the EU here. Also, please visit our Online Data Analysis tool.

Monday, August 11, 2014

In the South Caucasus, the Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend

The three countries of the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) are geographically, historically and politically bound closely together. Nevertheless, these countries often find themselves in disagreement when faced with broader geopolitical questions regarding alliances, threats and visions about the future of the region. These countries are often divided on a variety of issues, such as whether or not to join the Eurasian Union, to sign the EU association agreements, or how to vote on the legality of the independence referendum in Crimea. While the South Caucasus is certainly a region in a geographic sense, there is little evidence of a regional identity that could point towards a future of increased cooperation or cohesion. Instead, a case of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ prevails, splitting the region into supporters and adversaries of the countries across their borders, which has consequences for both trade and foreign policy.

The majority of Armenian respondents to the 2013 Caucasus Barometer (CB) questionnaire named Russia as Armenia’s biggest ally (83%), while just under half of Georgian respondents named Russia as an enemy (44%), and 7% in Azerbaijan noted Russia as the main enemy of their country. A split can be seen in the case of Turkey, as most Azerbaijanis view Turkey as an ally (91%) and just over a quarter of Armenians view Turkey as an enemy of their country (28%).

The tension that characterizes cross-border perceptions in the region makes the borders themselves highly securitized spaces. Far from a free flow of people or goods, cross-border trade and travel is restricted between Georgia and Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Armenia and Turkey following a series of wars over disputed territories.

Nevertheless, perceptions of borders can ebb and flow throughout history. Administrative boundaries can become state borders, as in the case of the South Caucasus in the early 1990s, and state borders can become as open as administrative ones, such as in the European Union. Similarly, perceptions of neighbors can vary across different issue areas. While opinions and alliances in the South Caucasus are largely polarized, the will (if not the actual ability) to trade and interact on a commercial level yields a slightly less tense picture. Countries with a strong negative perception of other countries can be extremely reluctant to engage economically with that country. However, when positions are less polarized, the approval to do business is much stronger.

The 2013 CB asked whether people approved of doing business with a range of different ethnicities. The percentage of Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Georgians who approved of doing business with the titular groups of the countries they highlighted as their main enemies is shown below.

In 2013, Azerbaijanis overwhelming felt that Armenia was the main enemy of Azerbaijan, and only 1% said they approve of doing business with Armenians. However, although 66% of Armenians said the main enemy of Armenia was Azerbaijan, a significantly higher amount said they approve of doing business with Azerbaijanis (22%). For Georgians—who have the least polarized views—although 44% said Russia was the main enemy of Georgia, the majority said they approve of doing business with Russians (80%). Economic dependence and economic hardship certainly have a role to play in this pattern, with all three countries naming economic concerns (along with territorial claims) as core problems facing their populations.

However, even though Georgian export dependence on Russia is relatively low at 7%, cross-border trade would almost certainly increase if trade were to become more feasible. While it is not clear from this data whether openness to trade is driving reductions in hostility or vice versa, it is an important reminder that the practical need to coexist has the potential to ease relations between hostile countries. In a region such as the South Caucasus where perceptions of others across borders are so polarized, seeking common ground such as the need for economic development could be a potential arena for cooperation. To explore more aspects of cross-border relations, visit the CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A look at (in)Justice in Georgia as charges are brought against ex-President Saakashvili

On July 28, 2014 charges were announced against the former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili concerning the abuse of power. These charges make Saakashvili the highest public official from the former UNM government to be summoned by the prosecutor’s office to date. The ruling Georgian Dream party has praised this move as proof that the judicial reforms of May 2013 have established equality before the law. However, Saakashvili has denounced the charges against him as “purely political”. CRRC data from 2013 shows that domestic belief in the impartiality of Georgia’s judicial system has been recovering since the 2012 presidential elections. However, overall confidence in court neutrality remains relatively low. An assessment of both local and international attitudes towards the impartiality of the Georgian court system is therefore key to understanding the difficulties currently faced by the prosecutor’s office. This is especially true as the office and the government alike seek to convince observers that the process of charging high-ranking ex-officials is “absolutely open”.

In 2013, just under a quarter of adult Georgians reported that courts were impartial (22%) - a level similar to previous years. In contrast, according to 45% courts favor some citizens over others (down from 55% and 53% in 2009 and 2012, respectively). More Georgians tend to think there is favoritism than those who believe citizens are treated equally before the law; the level of mistrust in the impartiality of Georgian courts is an average of 47% from 2009 to 2013, while confidence in court neutrality is an average of 18% over the same period.

Note: The original survey question was, “Which of these statements do you agree with: 1. The court system favors some citizens OR 2. The court system treats everyone equally.” Answers stating that some citizens were favored by the court system (“strongly agree” and “agree”) were aggregated to represent distrust in impartiality, whereas answers stating a belief in equal treatment of all citizens (“strongly agree” and “agree”) were aggregated to represent trust in impartiality.

Overall, only 3% of Georgians express full trust in the court system (19% say they somewhat trust the court system), and 39% is undecided over whether to trust or distrust the system. Together with this, the ongoing lack of confidence in judicial impartiality has the potential to exacerbate inter-party disputes during a time when Georgia is faced with several recent high-profile court cases. For example, in addition to Saakashvili, the former Minister of Internal Affairs Vano Merabishvili, the former Chief Prosecutor Zurab Adeishvili, the former Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili, the former Mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava, the former Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia and the former Army Chief of Staff Giorgi Kalandadze have all had charges brought against them recently.

The most outspoken critic of these proceedings has been the United States, which has expressed concern about the decision to put these members of the previous government on trial. This unease has been mirrored by the EU, which has stated its intention to monitor the proceedings carefully. Several US senators have warned that these events impose “unnecessary challenges in moving [bilateral relations] forward”. The UN notes that there is a backlog of legitimate complaints from the period before the 2012 elections detailing abuses such as unfair trial, torture, ill-treatment and illegal expropriation. Yet, the UN insists that the investigation should avoid “the appearance of political retribution.”

Fears over the lack of impartiality of Georgian courts have remained high even though the prosecutor’s office invited foreign experts to Georgia earlier in July. The announcement that these experts were advising the prosecution on how to handle high-profile cases was immediately linked via local media to speculation that Saakashvili might have a case brought against him. International observers have expressed concern that the accountability of the prosecutor’s office is low and that lack of public trust is a primary concern. Thus, the charges against Saakashvili risk being interpreted as a political move regardless of the motivations behind the charges or outcome, especially since domestic and international confidence in judicial impartiality is low.

Suspicion that opposition politicians are being unfairly prosecuted would be a blow to both domestic and international trust in Georgia’s democratic processes, and could entrench the strong polarization in party politics. It is yet to be seen whether greater integration with Western institutions such as the EU will be compromised by these high-profile proceedings, or whether Georgians themselves will interpret the actions of the prosecutor’s office as impartial or political. What is clear, however, is that low trust in court neutrality poses a challenge to the stated desire of the prosecutor’s office to uphold equality before the law, especially as the process can be easily impeded by claims of partiality or the abuse of power.