Monday, September 29, 2014

Georgians Have High Hopes but Little Information about the Association Agreement with the EU

Optimism abounds with regards to the recently signed Georgia-European Union Association Agreement (AA). Most Georgians, however, lack information about the EU and its relation to the country, including the details of the agreement which directly concern the future of Georgia’s economy. The AA covers many areas including national security, migration, human rights and the rule of law but is primarily a free trade agreement with potentially major implications for employment.

Surveys have consistently shown that Georgian citizens are primarily concerned with unemployment and other economic problems, but academic opinions are divided on whether the AA’s impact on unemployment will be positive or negative; Messerlin, Emerson, Jandieri and Le Vernoy  (2011) emphasize the “extremely onerous” costs of complying with EU regulatory standards while Kakulia (2014) argues that short-term costs will be more than offset by augmented inward foreign direct investment and expanded export volumes. This blog post analyzes public opinion surveys as well as academic research on the Association Agreement and finds discordance within the attitudes of the public. While much of the public have high hopes about the country’s integration with the EU, close ties may not improve the employment situation, which the majority of citizens see as Georgia’s most pressing problem.

Georgians tend to view potential EU membership positively, with the CRRC 2013 Caucasus Barometer survey finding that when asked “To what extent would you support Georgia’s membership in the EU?” 34% of adults responded “fully support” and 31% “rather support.” While demonstrating optimism most citizens are ill-informed about the EU and what closer ties mean for the country’s future. For example, in the Eurasia Partnership Foundation’s Knowledge and attitudes toward the EU survey in 2013 only 23% of the population reported familiarity with the Eastern Partnership, (a crucial forum for EU-Georgia dialogue) and only 19% responded “Yes” to the question “Have you heard or not about the Association Agreement with the European Union?

While Georgians overwhelmingly see EU integration in a positive light, their focus rests primarily on the problem of stubbornly high unemployment, which could be profoundly impacted by the conditions of the AA. The 2013 Caucasus Barometer confirmed a series of studies emphasizing public awareness of the unemployment problem, finding that 54% of adults in Georgia view it as the “most important issue facing Georgia,” dwarfing such options as “unsolved regional conflicts” and “problematic relations with Russia.” That should not come as a surprise, as recent numbers from the National Statistics Office of Georgia give the unemployment rate at 14.6%, high by almost any standard, while some studies have found that the actual figure is upwards of 30%.

EU-Georgia relations and unemployment are closely intertwined because the AA includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), meaning that in addition to dissolving tariffs on all imports from EU member states the country will have to adopt EU regulatory standards on products. Academic opinions are split as to whether this will be helpful or harmful to the employment situation. In the words of Vato Levaja of the Free University of Tbilisi, “we need to adjust to the EU regulations, which are, to put it in a nutshell, the luxury of a richer community…you have to pay for it.” This adjustment could be especially difficult for agriculture producers who must bear the financial burden of meeting stricter food safety standards. Some manufacturers will also need to make costly investments in order to improve the quality of their products. Higher operating costs combined with increased foreign competition (due to the removal of tariffs) could hurt the profitability of some firms, putting downward pressure on employment, at least in the short term.

Proponents of the agreement argue that by improving its regulatory standards Georgia will attract more foreign investment and be able to export products to a wider range of foreign markets. More stringent regulation means better products and more productive industries, thereby increasing national wealth and employment opportunities. That may well happen, but the process will be difficult and likely only bear fruit in the long-term. However, as Georgians see unemployment as the biggest issue facing the country it is important that citizens become better informed about the Association Agreement’s economic implications. While Georgians tend to expect positive outcomes from integration the jury is out on whether deeper ties with the EU will help expand employment opportunities.

For additional insights relating to Georgian attitudes toward EU integration refer to this July post concerning expectations for the Association Agreement or take a look at our data using the CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool. The website of the EU Delegation to Georgia offers a wealth of information on the Association Agreement.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Russia as a threat: the Ukraine crisis and changing public opinion in Georgia

Following 2012 parliamentary elections, attitudes toward Russia in Georgia shifted. While in 2011 51% of the population considered Russia the main enemy of the country, in 2012 only 35% reported the same. Moreover, the share of Georgians who named Russia as Georgia’s main friend increased by 5%. In a post on the CRRC-Georgia blog, this change was explained by a so-called “spiral of silence”. According to this theory, a person refrains from expressing their ideas freely if they feel that their opinions are in the minority. Davit Sichinava has noted that these results can be explained by some citizens’ desire to make their opinions conform to those of the new ruling party. This post examines how attitudes have changed since 2012 toward Russia and whether events in Ukraine have had any influence on it.

The graph below shows that from November 2012 to November 2013, the share of the population that claimed Russia was a real and existing threat to Georgia peaked at 36%. In April 2014, this number reached 50%. Moreover, the amount of Georgians who believe that Russia poses no threat to Georgia at all, decreased by 10%. What could cause such a rapid change in Georgian’s opinions about Russia making them report that Russia is a real and existing threat to Georgia?

When thinking about Russian and Georgian relations after the 2012 parliamentary elections there are a number of important events to take into consideration: the initiation of Georgian-Russian dialogue in the form of the Abashidze-Karasin negotiations, the re-opening of the Russian market to Georgian products, and the so-called borderization of South Ossetia. Obviously, the opening of Russian markets and direct bilateral negotiations are not likely causes of increased negative attitudes toward Russia, while Georgians are against the borderization policy making it a potential cause of negative attitudes towards Russia. Notably, the so-called borderization policy, which started in May of 2013, marks the beginning of a shift in attitudes toward Russia.

Another important event that may be associated with changes in public opinion is the crisis in Ukraine. While the Ukraine crisis is not directly tied to Georgian-Russian relations, Tbilisi has consistently expressed its support for Ukraine and its territorial integrity. Since the crisis there has been a very apparent change in Georgians’ perceptions of Russia as a possible threat. This is further exemplified by the responses to a question on NDI’s April 2014 survey- “which country bears the most responsibility for the crisis in Crimea?” As the graph below shows, 62% of Georgians consider Russia the country which bears the most responsibility for the crisis in the Crimea. Moreover, 66% of Georgians find Crimea’s unification with Russia unacceptable. It is noteworthy that the events in Ukraine which most experts assess as a direct and open Russian aggression against Ukraine started in March of 2014, directly before the April 2014 survey.                                                                          

It is interesting that in August 2014, support for the statement that “Russia is a real and existing threat to Georgia” declined by 8% compared to April. This could mean that Russia appeared to be more threatening to Ukraine (and hence to Georgia) at the onset of the crisis, rather than now as the conflict has protracted in time.  Russia's role in fueling the crisis in Ukraine may remind Georgians of Russia’s intervention in the separatist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990s or of the 2008 August war with Russia. In sum, it seems that the events in Ukraine aggravated the sense of a potential future threat from Russia, especially considering the similar Euro-Atlantic policy orientations of both Ukraine and Georgia.

Considering the above, it is not surprising that almost half of the population (46%) believes that the actions taken by the Government of Georgia in support of Ukraine are insufficient and additional actions are needed. Notably, 63% of the population approved of the Georgian government’s condemnation of Russia’s actions in the Crimea.

This post has looked at the impact which events in Ukraine have had on the perception of threat expected from Russia. It appears that the increased level of agreement with the statement that “Russia is a real and existing threat to Georgia” in April may be linked to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. This is supported by the fact that most Georgians believe that Russia bears responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine and that Georgians are against Crimea’s unification with Russia. How Georgian public attitude will change toward Russia and whether the crisis in Ukraine will continue to influence it remains to be seen, but readers interested in exploring the issues discussed above can delve further into Georgian perceptions of Russia here.

By Edisher Baghaturia

Monday, September 15, 2014

Living day-to-day: How are fatalism and economic prosperity interrelated in Georgia?

Authors Rahmato and Kidanu (1999) use the phrase “We live only for today” to describe a feeling whereby a person gives up on life and does not know or does not want to think about what will happen the next day. This phrase describes a state wherein people live day-to-day without hope for the future. This sense of helplessness or hopelessness with regard to the future is known as fatalism. According to Oxford dictionary, fatalism is a “belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable.” What can the study of fatalism tell us?  Research by Straughan & Seow (1998), Stephen & Shapiro (2010), and Ruiu (2014), has revealed that fatalism can play a large role in determining a wide range of behaviors such as financial savings decisions, occupational choices, health behaviors, and even natural disaster preparedness. This blog analyzes fatalistic beliefs in Georgia, and explores associations between fatalism, economic status and education.

The CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer 2013 data shows that just over a quarter of Georgians (28%) express fatalistic views by agreeing with the statement that, “Everything in life is determined by fate”. 39% hold the opposite view and 29% are neutral.

Note: This question was re-coded from a 10-point scale to a 3-point scale. The options 1, 2, 3, 4 were grouped into “Everything in life is determined by fate”. Options 5 and 6 were grouped into “Neutral”, and options 7, 8, 9 and 10 were grouped into “People shape their fate themselves”.

What are some potential consequences of being fatalistic? From an economic perspective, as Bernard, Dercon, and Taffesse (2012) claim in their paper, fatalism is equivalent to not making necessary “investments” to improve one’s well-being. Thus, a fatalistic person might refrain from making investments that would improve their well-being, because they believe such investments might not lead to significant changes. CB data shows that fatalism and a person’s economic situation are interrelated in Georgia; 35% of the population who describe their economic situation as “bad” also think that “Everything in life is determined by fate”. Only 19% of Georgians who describe their economic situation as “good” share the same belief.

Note:  Original answer options, “Money is not enough for food” and “Money is enough for food only, but not for clothes” were grouped to create the “Bad” economic condition category. The option “Money is enough for food and clothes, but not enough for expensive durables like a refrigerator or washing machine” was  renamed as “Middle” economic condition. Finally, the original answer options “Can afford to buy some expensive durables like a refrigerator or washing machine” and ”Can afford to buy anything they need” were grouped into the “Good” economic condition.

Bernard, Dercon and Taffesse describe this relationship between fatalism and a person’s economic situation as a vicious circle, whereby a person who believes they are unable to change their life might lack motivation to explore different paths towards a better life (and thus be unlikely to invest necessary resources in achieving a better life). As a consequence, a set of beliefs about the inability to make a positive change would be perpetuated.

What role does education play in this context? Education not only provides access to information, but also, according to Ruiu (2012), improves skills and can enable people to realize their abilities. According to Ruiu, education thus makes individuals less fatalistic, and based on his research, there is a strong negative association between fatalism and education. The CB also shows a negative association between education and fatalism in Georgia. 41% of Georgians who say they have achieved a primary education agree with the statement, “Everything in life is determined by fate”, whereas 22% of Georgians who have completed higher education share the same view.

Note: The following original answer options were grouped into “Primary”: no primary education, primary education, and incomplete secondary education. Secondary education and incomplete higher education were grouped into “Secondary”. Completed higher education and a post-graduate degree were grouped into “Higher”.

To conclude, fatalistic views are associated to an individual’s economic situation and education level, but of course, correlation cannot confirm causation. On one hand, CB survey data shows that fatalistic views tend to decrease as education increases in Georgia. On the other hand, Georgians who share fatalistic views are more likely to describe their economic situation as bad, compared to those who believe that people shape their fate themselves.

By: Tamuna Chkaidze

Monday, September 08, 2014

Is xenophobia on the rise in Georgia?

On September 1, 2014 new rules and regulations came into force for foreigners interested in visiting Georgia. Under the previous visa regime, citizens of 118 countries could stay in Georgia without a visa. Many with visa free travel privileges could receive a visa stamp at the airport that would be valid for 360 days, and simply renew their visa by crossing an international border and returning to Georgia. Even nationals of many countries not covered by this visa free travel regime could receive a visa upon arrival in Georgia. This was a liberal visa regime. Under the new visa regime, a shorter list of foreign nationals will be allowed to visit Georgia for 90 days (within a 180-day period), and can receive a visa stamp upon arrival. The new policy intends to bring Georgia in line with EU policy, and it was prescribed by the EU to allow easier access for Georgians to enter the Schengen Zone under the EU-Georgia visa liberalization action plan (VLAP).

Despite the fact that the policy brings Georgia in line with EU legislation, some have questioned the logic of the law. Specifically, many consider the law to be xenophobic and punitive, as Gavin Slade has argued. This change was likely made so that Georgia would not be an entry point for illegal migration to Europe via Turkey. With all of this in mind, readers may be interested in whether xenophobia is on the rise in Georgia. This post looks at the level of approval of foreigners marrying Georgian women, and at the level of approval of Georgian citizens doing business with other ethnicities between 2009 and 2013 (as a proxy for xenophobic attitudes in Georgia).  

If xenophobia were on the rise in Georgia, one would expect an increasing level of disapproval of doing business with foreigners or Georgian women marrying other ethnicities.  Yet, data from the Caucasus Barometer (CB) shows that xenophobia is not on the rise; approval rates for both interethnic marriage (27% on average) and for doing business with different ethnicities (77% on average) have not changed drastically from 2009 to 2013.

Note: Only ethnic groups that were consistently present in the CB from 2009 to 2013 were included in the average calculation. These include Turks, Russians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Kurds/Yezidis, Abkhazians, Ossetians, Americans, and Jews. This group is referred to as a ‘collection of ethnicities’. During the CB survey, respondents were asked “Would you approve or disapprove of people of your ethnicity doing business with,” and “Would you approve or disapprove of women of your ethnicity marrying,” followed by a list of ethnicities. Respondents were able to respond ‘approve’ or ‘disapprove’. Approve was coded as 1 and disapprove was coded as 0. In the graph above, averages of respondents’ answers to each ethnicity below or equal to 0.50 were coded as disapprove, and averages greater than 0.50 were coded as approve. The same method was used to calculate averages below. 

Although the above graph suggests that there has not been a pronounced increase in anti-foreign feelings in the last five years, some ethnicities are appraised as more favorable for marriage and business than other ethnicities. Generally, Russians, Americans, and Europeans of different ethnicities are viewed more favorably, and Yezidis/Kurds, Chinese, Iranians, Indians, and Turks are generally perceived as less favorable for marriage and business. The graph below shows views for marriage regarding these and other groups in 2013.
The figure also shows that marriages to ethnicities which tend to be Christian receive higher approval rates than to those generally associated with Islam and other non-Christian religions. The figure below gives averages of approval ratings for marriage and doing business with ethnicities that tend to be Christian, and with those that tend to be non-Christian from 2009 to 2013. The figure shows that Georgians have consistently approved of marriage (by 15 to 20 percentage points) with foreign ethnicities that tend to be Christian, than to those that tend to be non-Christian. It also shows that Georgians have been between 5 and 12 percentage points more likely to approve of business with foreign Christians as opposed to foreign non-Christians. Both trends have been stable over time.
Note: The category Christian in the above graph consists of Russians, Americans, Armenians, Ossetians, and Abkhazians. The non-Christian category consists of Jews, Turks, Yezidis/Kurds, and Azerbaijanis. Only ethnic groups that were consistently present in the CB from 2009 to 2013 were included in the average calculation. Calculations were made as described below the first graph in this blog post.

This blog post has shown that the average level of approval of doing business with foreigners, and Georgian women marrying foreigners, has not changed much in the past four years. The blog has also shown that differences in approval rates between specific ethnicities appear to be related to religion. Georgians are more likely to approve of marriage and business relations with ethnicities that tend to be Christian. Importantly, these levels have been quite consistent from 2009 to 2013 which suggests that, with respect to these specific factors, xenophobic attitudes are not on the rise in Georgia.

To explore issues related to marriage and business relations in Georgia, take a look at this blog post on Georgian nationalism, or examine the data directly with CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool.

Monday, September 01, 2014

A Tangled Path to Europe: A review of Bittersweet Europe

This week's blog post was originally published on Friday, August 29th on New Eastern Europe. The original version may be viewed here.

Review of Bittersweet Europe. Albanian and Georgian Discourses on Europe, 1878-2008. By: Adrian Brisku. Publisher: Berghahn Books, August 2013.


Since independence, Georgia has been on what has often looked like a quixotic quest towards joining the EU. Multiple wars, a resurgent Russia, breakaway territories and a consistently difficult economic situation which has gone through hyper-inflation and has had consistently high unemployment and underemployment over the last 25 years must, at the minimum, make prospects for EU integration seem distant at best to many in Brussels. Yet, with the recent signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union on June 27th 2014, Georgia is closer to its European dreams than ever. Remembering that the EuroMaiden protests, which were the match to the powder keg igniting the Ukraine Crisis, were set off by former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s failure to sign an association agreement that would have brought Ukraine closer to Europe and considering the historical ambivalence among elites in Albania and Georgia towards Europe over the course of the last 130 years, there could not be a more important time for academics, policymakers and journalists working on the Eurasian region to read Adrian Brisku’s Bittersweet Europe.

Brisku skillfully disentangles the often competing webs of discourse on Europe coming out of Georgia over the past 130 years. The book simultaneously decentres Caucasus watchers’ purview through placing Georgian discourse on Europe in a comparative perspective with Albania’s conversations on Europe over the same period. Furthermore, by implanting the conversation in broader pan-European historical frames, the author provides valuable insight into how Georgia’s relationship to Europe has been conditioned historically.

Since the Russian imperial period, discourse on Europe has been mixed, but one of the most important points of contention in Georgia has been whether the country would “look West” on its own or look north to Russia in order to look West to what Brisku describes as the “triadic Europe.” The triadic Europe which Brisku refers to is Europe “as geopolitically important; as a torchbearer of progress; and as the symbol of civilisation and high culture”. This distinction is valuable in that it lends an understanding to the often confounding claims of Europeanness from Georgian elites due to its ambiguous geographical location on the crossroads of Europe and Asia and the sometimes questionable reasoning behind such claims by providing the polysemous meaning of Europe in Georgia.

In diametric contrast to nationalist leaders today, the Georgian “Father of the Nation” and canonized Saint in the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia Chavchavadze, believed that Georgia should and would move towards Europe, but through its relationship with Russia, as Georgia was a part of the Tsarist Empire at the time. In opposition to this, Noe Zhordania, another aristocrat but one who had studied in France during his first term in exile from Georgia, developing an inclination towards French Socialism in the process, and the eventual first and only president of the independent, Menshevik, Georgian Republic of 1918-1921, thought that Georgia’s relationship to Europe should not be mediated through the Russian space. The contentions surrounding Europe and Georgia as a part of Europe would not end here though.

With the First World War and the Bolshevik takeover of Georgia, the discourse shifted. As the socialist state was supposed to be the vanguard of progressivism in the world, Georgia, as part of the Soviet Union, was meant to be in a position to help the working classes of Europe towards the progress represented by socialism. Much like how Karl Marx had flipped Georg W.F. Hegel on his head in philosophy, who and what represented progress had been spun around in the Georgian discourse.

Georgia has had a pro-European policy since independence, with short exceptions, and Brisku traces this shift back to the 1975 signing of the Helsinki Accords. In Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, through co-founding the Georgian Helsinki Group, began the discursive shift towards relations with Europe directly instead of through the mediation of the Soviet state. In doing so, he set the stage for changes to come. From this point onward, with one exception, and especially after independence, a pro-European discourse emanated from Georgia.

In a strange twist of irony, the exception to Georgia’s pro-EU discourse came from the same person who re-ignited it, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. This though, was not the dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia which founded the Helsinki Group in Tbilisi nor the man who led the anti-Soviet movement in Georgia to the Soviet Union’s collapse, but the Zviad Gamsakhurdia who was elected the first head of state of Georgia after independence. His rule was characterised by strong nationalist tendencies which alienated the country’s ethnic minorities leading to the de facto loss of control of South Ossetia for Georgia. From human rights advocate and dissident to human rights violator, Zviad Gamsakhurdia in his turn moved away from Europe due to European criticism of his human rights abuses.

The persistent question which has dominated and lay beneath the surface of the discourses on Europe in both Georgia and Albania is “Are we European?” From this underlying question, Brisku highlights the ethnocentric euro-centrism that emerged in both contexts from anxieties and insecurities and the overcompensation resulting from this question. In both contexts, prominent thinkers and politicians ended up emphasising the countries’ ancient histories and numerous invasions in order to justify their Europeanness in contrast to cultural and confessional differences compared to predominant conceptions of what it conventionally meant to be European. Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s third post-Soviet elected head of state stated in European Parliament that"since the time when Prometheus was chained to our mountains and the Argonauts came to our country in search of the Golden Fleece ... we are an ancient European nation." Hyperbole not intended.

Further contributing to these anxieties and adding to the reader’s understanding of how they emerged, the book tracks how European powers have interacted with the two countries historically. Being small countries, the feeling that interaction, and more importantly the frequent lack thereof, was based on Europe’s interests have contributed to anxieties in both nations.

The book concludes that the political and intellectual elite in Georgia and Albania have historically been “ambivalent” about their relationship to Europe. Today, in Georgia, we can see this ambivalence quite strongly. When it comes to policy, Georgian support for closer ties to the EU is unquestionable. The ruling Georgian Dream Coalition and the opposition United National Movement disagree on what seems to be just about everything, but the one thing that neither side has wavered from is their dedication to further Euro-Atlantic integration. Moreover, according to the study, “Knowledge and Attitudes towards the EU in Georgia: Changes and Trends 2009 – 2013” conducted by CRRC-Georgia for the Eurasia Partnership Foundation in 2013, 83 per cent of Georgians reported that they would vote to join the EU tomorrow if a referendum were to be held, with support consistently near these levels in recent years. At the popular and elite level, support for closer integration with Europe is clear.

Despite this clear policy direction, opposition to the recently passed anti-discrimination law, which was required for the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU, highlights that many Georgians still oppose or potentially misunderstand some features commonly associated with Europe, specifically the defence of sexual minority rights. Controversy surrounded the bill as a number of priests claimed that the bill would lead to the legalisation of gay marriage in Georgia (it wouldn’t and hasn’t), something the population of the country would largely be against. Moreover, the passing of the law at certain times was opposed by the Patriarch Illia II of the Georgian Orthodox Church, who is widely considered to be the most trusted person in Georgia. In this way, aspects of the cultural Europe, which Brisku identifies early on, are those which many Georgians today are still ambivalent about.

Overall, Bittersweet Europe offers a masterful juxtaposition of Georgian and Albanian discourses towards Europe in addition to the accompanying insecurities over Europe and Europeanness in both countries. This in conjunction to the decentring effect gained through the added context leads the reader to a better understanding of Georgia’s history and relationship to Europe - something needed now more than ever.