Thursday, November 27, 2014

SME Performance in Georgia and Armenia: Part 1

The CRRC Caucasus Barometer (CB) survey results demonstrate that Georgians exhibit relatively high levels of interpersonal and institutional trust when compared to their Armenian neighbors. Trust is an important component of “social capital,” which is widely perceived to be a necessary condition for a thriving entrepreneurial class and small and medium enterprise (SME) sector. Scholars of social capital such as Francis Fukuyama (1996) and Robert Putnam (1993) have written extensively on the effect of social trust on economic development, of which the growth of SMEs is important, finding a connection between trust toward fellow citizens and formal institutions and successful entrepreneurship. Other scholars such as Knack and Keefer (1997) assert that “if entrepreneurs must devote more time to monitoring possible malfeasance by partners, employees, and suppliers, they have less time to devote to innovation in new products or processes,” while Bjornskov and Meon (2010) express the view that “trust allows entrepreneurs, who move the productive possibility frontier forward through process innovation, to have more impersonal contacts and rely more on the market process.”

This two-part series of blog posts provides a comparative analysis of the productivity of respective SME sectors in Georgia and Armenia in the context of social trust. While Georgians report higher levels of trust in other people and in formal institutions than their Armenian neighbors (possibly indicating higher levels of social capital), the performance of SMEs in Georgia is unproductive in comparison, suggesting that factors other than trust may be more salient to entrepreneurial success. 

Before providing analysis it is important to consider the different official definitions of an SME in each country. According to the Ministry of Finance, the term “SME” in Georgia refers to any firm generating annual turnover of less than GEL 1,500,000 (roughly $850,000 at the time of writing), regardless of the number of employees. By contrast, the Armenian authorities do not take turnover into account and, rather, define SME by number of employees, with different standards by sector: in industry an SME employs up to 100 people, in education and energy up to 50 people, and in services up to 30 people. Despite differences in definition the share of the workforce employed by SMEs in either country is similar; 31% of Georgia’s employed persons work in the SME sector, slightly larger than the 25% figure for Armenia.

While employment levels are similar, value added by SMEs is relatively smaller in Georgia than in Armenia, indicating a comparative lack of productivity in Georgia’s SME sector (productivity is measured as value added per employee). In 2012 value added produced by Georgian SMEs accounted for only 9.6% of the country’s GDP, compared to 27% for Armenia. Measuring the productivity of workers in the SME sector using the equation SME value added/GDP ÷ number of employees in SMEs/number of employees nationwide, we are left with the following coefficients as measurements of productivity: 1.08% for Armenian SMEs and .31% for Georgian SMEs. While the Georgian SME sector employs a slightly larger proportion of the workforce, the relative contribution of each employee to the country’s GDP is only one-third that of the contribution of employees in Armenian SMEs.

Giorgi Tsikolia, director of Georgia’s Entrepreneurship Development Agency, spoke of the poor performance of Georgia’s SME’s: “SMEs demonstrate low productivity and competitiveness as well as low sophistication. In many cases companies have poor management and employees lack knowledge and relevant skills.” In short, Georgia has no shortage of start-ups, but it has a shortage of successful entrepreneurs. The development of the sector has been plagued by persistent problems: proprietorships and small firms lack the capabilities and incentives to grow. Farmers often fail to progress from subsistence activities to producing for exchange, and small proprietorships struggle to achieve the productivity gains needed to become thriving medium-sized enterprises.

Can measures of social trust be useful tools for explaining the relative performance of SMEs in Georgia and Armenia? The CB asks respondents the following question: “Would you say that most people in the country can be trusted, or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?” While this question doesn’t tell the whole story about interpersonal trust, it is designed to measure bridging social capital, a condition especially important for economic performance. The responses show Georgians to be much more trusting than Armenians, with 29% answering that “most people can be trusted” compared to 15% of Armenians. More importantly, 33% of Georgians responded that “you can’t be too careful,” compared to 53% of Armenians (values were re-coded from a 10-point scale used in the questionnaire to a three-point scale used in this text, with original values 1-4 corresponding with the response “you can’t be too careful,” 5-6 being “neutral,” and 7-10 corresponding with “most people can be trusted”).

Trust in formal government institutions is another measure of social capital. While a comprehensive assessment of the level of institutional trust in either country is not possible here, the observance of select indicators can provide valuable insight. In 2013 CB asked residents of both countries to assess how much they trust or distrust their country’s court system; 22% of Georgians reported to “fully trust” or “somewhat trust” the courts, compared to 15% of Armenians. Furthermore, Armenians were much more likely to express distrust, with 53% responding that they either “fully distrust” or “somewhat distrust” the courts, compared to only 19% of Georgians. This indicator has significant implications for the success of SMEs, as trust in the legal system to protect private property and impartially mediate disputes is an important condition for entrepreneurs to undertake costly investments. CB also asks respondents how much they trust or distrust their country’s Parliament. In 2013, 29% of Georgians responded that they either “fully trust” or “somewhat trust” the national Parliament, while only 11% of Armenians gave the same answer. Georgians were also much less likely to distrust their Parliament, with 19% percent indicating “distrust” or “fully distrust,” compared to a full two-thirds of Armenians.

Looking at social and institutional trust in a vacuum, one would expect Georgia to have a more successful SME sector than Armenia, but the opposite is true. So, it appears that other factors present in Georgia hamper the productivity of SMEs. Academic studies by Rudaz 2012 and Welton 2012 find significant impediments from the difficulty individuals face obtaining financing and the fragmentation of agricultural land, problems determined to be more pervasive in the Georgian case. Given that Georgians report higher levels of interpersonal and institutional trust than Armenians, it appears that tangible factors may have more profound effects on the productivity of small and medium enterprises in Georgia.

While this piece overviews the performance of SMEs in Georgia and Armenia in the context of social capital, the second blog in this series will explore more tangible factors affecting the performance of Georgian and Armenian SMEs, including problems in agriculture and financial markets. For more information about public opinion in Georgia and Armenia, consult CRRC’s online data analysis tool.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Exploring Homophobia in Georgia: Part 5

This is the fifth and final blog post in a series analyzing the findings of CRRC-Georgia’s 2013 May 17 survey in Tbilisi and presents evidence-based policy recommendations which address the issue of widespread homophobic attitudes. The previous blog posts in this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
As discussed in previous blog posts, the main statistical predictors of homophobia among Tbilisi adults are:
  • Sex, with males at a higher risk of having homophobic attitudes than females;
  • Level of education, with those with higher educational attainment being at a lower risk of having homophobic attitudes;
  • Tolerance and adherence to liberal values, with those not sharing these values being at a higher risk of having homophobic attitudes;
  • A perception that homosexuals are a threat to the country, with those believing that homosexuals endanger Georgia being at a higher risk of having homophobic attitudes.

These empirical findings provide crucial information for policy makers to plan policy intervention(s) aimed at decreasing the level of homophobic attitudes and promoting tolerance and respect for the rights of all minorities, including sexual minorities.

We recommend that targeted interventions are made in the legal and educational spheres. The former is important, because Georgia still lacks legal guarantees for the protection of rights of minorities and enforcement mechanisms to punish violations of those rights. This is especially evident for sexual minority rights. The widely debated anti-discrimination bill, initiated by the Government of Georgia in April, 2014, has caused a division of opinions in society, which, in part, was caused by protests emanating from the Georgian Orthodox Church and other religious organizations. Although the initial definition of the target group of those protected by this bill included sexual minorities and a new institution of “equality protection  inspector” was introduced (as well as fines for discriminating against individuals or entities), due to pressure from religious as well as some non-religious circles, the revised draft of the bill presented to  and passed by  Parliament was much softer than the original one and lacked crucial wording  defining concrete mechanisms for the protection of the rights of minorities.

Hence, we recommend that government of Georgia should ensure it does not fall under the influence of religious institutions, including the Georgian Orthodox Church, while drafting and implementing policies aimed at the protection of the rights of minorities. In particular, it must be ensured that the anti-discrimination bill is an efficient tool for the protection of minority rights and ensures sufficient and effective protection of minority rights through effective enforcement mechanisms.  

Education has been shown to be the most important socio-demographic factor which inculcates against homophobic attitudes among Tbilisi adults, and this finding is not specific to Georgia. Education is universally associated with the acceptance of liberal values, and the more educated an individual, the higher is the probability that they will be more tolerant, even in cases when liberal values are not specifically promoted in the process of formal education. Hence, it is hard to overestimate the importance of education in addressing the issue of homophobia and intolerance more generally.

A course on civic education was introduced in Georgian secondary schools in 2006 for high school pupils, covering issues such as basic human rights, gender equality, structure of government, international legal documents, and elections among other topics. Although this course has not proven to be highly effective yet  , it has the potential to become an important tool in promoting liberal values and understanding the importance of accepting diversity in society.

We recommend that the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia:
  • Strengthens   the existing course on civic education and introduces the subject in primary schools with younger pupils as well, rather than in high school only;
  • Implements a comprehensive training program for teachers of civic education on issues such as equality, tolerance, and human rights.
These recommendations can and should be implemented at the national level. In doing so, they will have a positive effect not only in Tbilisi, but throughout the country.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Exploring Homophobia in Georgia: Part 4

This is the fourth blog post in a series analyzing homophobia in the capital of Georgia and is focused on the influence of education and liberal values on homophobic attitudes among Tbilisi residents. Previous blog posts in this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Adamczyk and Pitt (2009) found that attitudes toward homosexuals have become more tolerant in cultures that have successfully gone through the processes of modernization and industrialization and shifted their values from survival to self-expression. Although we cannot test this exact finding in the Georgian context, our findings are similar as they show that among Tbilisi adults, homophobic attitudes are negatively correlated with high levels of education and liberal values.

As mentioned in previous posts, homophobic attitudes were measured by the question: “Whom would you not wish to be your neighbor most?” which was recoded as a dummy variable with the categories “homosexuals” and “others”.

Respondents’ levels of education have been grouped into one of three categories: secondary or lower education, secondary technical education, and higher education. A liberal values score for each respondent was calculated based on the answers to the following six questions:

1) “How acceptable is it for you if a man has long hair?”
2) “How acceptable is it for you if a man wears earring(s)?”
3) “How acceptable is it for you if a woman has eyebrow piercing(s)?”
4) “How acceptable is it for you if a woman drinks strong alcohol?”
5) “How acceptable is it for you if a woman has premarital sex?”
6) “How acceptable is it for you if a man has premarital sex?”

The original coding for each question was: 0 = Never, 1 = Sometimes, 2 = Always. Factor analysis was performed (number of items: 6; Cronbach’s Alpha = .80), eventually resulting in a “liberalism scale” measuring respondents’ level of tolerance. An independent sample t-test showed that, unsurprisingly, the higher the level of education, the lower was the reported level of negative attitudes towards homosexuals (t (526) = 2.19, p =. 03). Also, as expected, people with non-homophobic attitudes scored higher on the liberalism scale (M= 0.14, SD = 1.09) than those with homophobic attitudes (M = -0.29, SD = 0.72, t (526) = 5.09, p =.001).

Similarly, Kendall’s rank correlation analysis showed that the higher the level of education, the less homophobic people are ( (Kendall’s τ (526) = - .10, p = .02). Liberal attitudes were negatively associated with homophobia (Kendall’s τ (214) =  - .19, p = .01), indicating that tolerance and acceptance of differences can prevent homophobic attitudes.

Finally, the Wald criteria in logistic regression confirmed that low education and lack of liberal values were significant predictors of homophobic attitudes among Tbilisi adults.
Binary logistic estimates for homophobia (N = 526)
The eB value in Model 1 indicates that when level of education increases by one unit, the odds ratio is 0.78 times smaller, and therefore, a person has 0.78 times less chance to be homophobic. In terms of predictive equation, this means that if someone has secondary education, his or her chance of being homophobic is 37%, while for someone with technical education the respective chance decreases to 32%, and for someone with higher education the chance is 27%. Similarly, each additional point on the liberal attitudes scale decreases the risk of homophobia by 0.61 (Model 2).

Even though the data confirms that a low level of education is a significant predictor of homophobic attitudes of the population of Tbilisi, its predictive role disappears when liberal values are brought into the model. This means that, in Tbilisi, people with higher levels of education are less homophobic, but people who share liberal values (acquired through formal education or other sources) are even less likely to have homophobic attitudes.

Generally, education is considered an important tool for combating homophobia. Educated people are often believed to be exposed to liberal values to a greater extent, compared with non-educated individuals. However, formal education in Georgia does not necessarily contribute to internalization of liberal values. A recent study on intercultural education in the primary grades of Georgian schools showed that 47% of interviewed teachers who teach at the primary level in Georgian public schools think that having a non-traditional sexual orientation should be punishable by law.

Further analysis of the May 17 survey data – moderation using bootstrap – showed that people who share liberal values and personally know homosexuals are less homophobic than those who share liberal values but do not know homosexuals personally. In contrast, people who score low on the liberal attitudes scale and personally know homosexuals are even more likely to be homophobic than those who do not share liberal values and do not know homosexuals personally.

To summarize, one of the most salient predictors of homophobic attitudes in Tbilisi is level of education, even provided that, as other studies suggest, tolerance is not specifically promoted in the system of formal education. The predictive role of education, however, disappears when liberal values are added to the statistical model. As moderation analysis shows, the relationship between liberal values and homophobic attitudes is further enhanced by respondents’ personal contact with homosexuals.

These results indicate that fostering liberal attitudes through formal and non-formal education, the media as well as other channels will be a good strategy to address the problem of homophobia in Tbilisi. Concrete policy recommendations will be presented in the final blog of this series.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Exploring Homophobia in Georgia: Part 3

This is the third blog post in a series where we analyze homophobia in Tbilisi and is focused on potential relationships between religiosity and homophobia. The previous blog posts in this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2.

In a number of studies, religiosity has been linked to lower levels of support for human rights for homosexuals (Johnson, Brems, & Alford-Keating, 1997; Adamczyk, A., & Pitt, C., 2009; Merino, S. M., 2013). This literature, on the one hand, and the clergy’s active participation in the May 17 events in Tbilisi in 2013 on the other hand, led us to the question - are religiosity and homophobia related to each other, and if they are, what is the strength of the relationship?

In the CRRC-Georgia survey on the events of May 17, 2013, religiosity was measured with one variable - frequency of attendance at religious services (question “Not to speak about special occasions, such as weddings or funerals, how often do you attend religious services?”). It was expected that those who do so regularly and, hence, have more exposure to religious sermons, would be more homophobic than those who attend religious activities less often. The findings, however, do not prove this hypothesis. As the chart below shows, over half of Tbilisi residents rarely or never attend religious services.
Homophobia was measured by a dummy variable generated based on the question, “[Whom] would you not wish to [be] your neighbor most?” with the categories 0 = others, 1 = homosexuals. Neither independent t-test (t (n=526) =.669, p = 504), nor correlation (Kendall’s τ (214) = -.09) showed any evidence that frequency of attendance of religious services was statistically related to homophobic attitudes.
This finding may come as a surprise for many readers, and it should certainly be interpreted taking into consideration the nature of religiosity in Georgia. According to the CRRC 2013 Caucasus Barometer survey, the overwhelming majority of  Georgians consider themselves to belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church (10% of the population reports being Muslim). Trust in the religious institutions people belong to, and the reported importance of religion in their daily lives are high: 72% of the population reports fully trusting these institutions, and 93% think that religion is either “very important” or “rather important” in their daily lives. At the same time and in contrast to these reported attitudes, actual religious practices such as service attendance, fasting and prayer are rather low throughout Georgia. In light of this, the lack of a statistical relationship between religious service attendance and homophobia is less surprising than at first glance.
Finally, if we assume that attending religious services leads people to a better understanding and internalization of religious principles, this finding becomes even less surprising. Since there is much more in the Bible about love and tolerance than there is about hatred and judging others, those who attend religious services may have internalized these messages.
The mismatch between high trust towards the church and the reported importance of religion, on the one hand, and a lack of actual involvement in religious practices, on the other hand, highlights the multidimensional nature of religiosity in Georgia. In the May 17 survey, CRRC-Georgia asked respondents about only one dimension of religiosity – religious service attendance. This dimension may not be the most accurate measure of religiosity in Georgia (and, most probably, only one measure would not be enough to understand this phenomenon anyway). Having data on other aspects of religiosity, like participation in religious practices, the level of trust towards religious institutions or the importance of religion in one’s daily life, would allow us to conduct a more sophisticated analysis of the relationship between religiosity and homophobia and could change the picture that we have at this point. We consider this task a priority for further analysis.

The next blog post in this series will discuss the influence of education and liberal values on homophobic attitudes among Tbilisi residents.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Exploring Homophobia in Georgia: Part 2

This is the second blog post in a series analyzing homophobia in Tbilisi. The first blog post in this series can be found here.

Who tends to be more homophobic in Tbilisi – men or women? This blog post explores differences in homophobic attitudes between males and females using data from CRRC-Georgia’s survey of Tbilisi residents on the events of May 17, 2013, and shows that men tend to be more homophobic than women. Moreover, the findings show that men are more homophobic when they believe that homosexuality is inborn, rather than acquired.

Through this series of blog posts, homophobia was measured by the question: “[Whom] would you not wish to [be] your neighbor most?” Six answer options were presented on a show card including drug addicts, black people, adherents of a different religion, people holding different political views, homosexuals, and criminals. Respondents were allowed to choose only one answer option. As the chart below shows, for the population of Tbilisi, homosexuals are as undesirable neighbors as criminals or drug addicts.
A simple cross tabulation shows that for men in Tbilisi, homosexuals are the most undesirable neighbors. Criminals are the most undesirable neighbors for 21% of men, while twice as many men (43%) find homosexuals to be the most undesirable neighbors. For women, the picture reverses – 23% of women name homosexuals as the most undesirable neighbors, while twice as many of them (43%) name criminals.
Within the framework of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) project Homophobia in Georgia: Can it be Predicted? more sophisticated statistical techniques were employed to analyze the relationship between gender and homophobic attitudes, including correlation, Chi-square test, logistic regression, and moderation analysis. A new dummy variable was generated for further analysis based on the neighbor variable, with only two categories: 0 = others, 1 = homosexuals.

Chi-square test of independence confirmed that men are more likely to display homophobic attitudes than women (χ2 (1, n=526)=8,65; p=.003). Correlation analysis also indicated that homophobia is significantly associated with gender, with males showing more homophobic attitudes than females (Kendall’s τ  (526) = - .13, p = .001). Finally, as the results of logistic regression showed, gender is a significant predictor of homophobia (eB = 1.81, p = .003)  (-2 LL =629.22, Cox and Snell R square = .026 and Nagelkerke R square = .037). A predictive equation was used to determine the probability of reporting homophobic attitudes by men and women. The probability of men being homophobic is 39%, while it is 29% for women.

As moderation analysis further revealed, the relationship between gender and homophobia is moderated by respondents’ perception of the cause of homosexuality, i.e. whether they believe homosexuality is inborn or acquired. Among those who believe that homosexuality is inborn, males demonstrate much higher levels of homophobic attitudes than females (b = 1.021, 95% CI (0.475, 1.566), z= 3.666, p =. 00), while among those who believe that homosexuality is caused by environmental causes, gender is no longer significantly related to homophobia (b = -. 057,  p>0 .05).

“Inborn” vs “acquired” homosexuality moderate relationship between homophobia and gender
Why are men more homophobic than women, and why are they even more homophobic when they believe that homosexuality is inborn?

In respect to the first question, it should be noted that this finding is not Georgia-specific: worldwide, studies show that males are more likely to display homophobic attitudes than females (Baker & Fishbein, 1998; Poteat, Espelage & Koenig, 2009). Gender panic theory defines homophobia as males’ fear of and defensiveness against losing so called male privilege. This theory explains this phenomenon through men feeling insecurity in their access to masculine status. When males are not capable of feeling and presenting their masculinity in a rational way, they exhibit homophobic attitudes. According to this theory, homophobia is more prevalent in patriarchal societies with traditional gender roles. Given the prevalence of conservative traditions in Georgia, this finding does not come as a surprise.

What is surprising is that Tbilisi males tend to be more homophobic when they believe that homosexuality is inborn rather than acquired. Logically, if something is beyond a person’s control, it is illogical and counterproductive to blame the person for it. This logic, however, seems not to be working for Tbilisi males who tend to be more homophobic when they think that homosexuals have no control over their sexual orientation. Gender panic theory can, however, help us explain this finding as well: if homophobia is the fear of losing male status and privilege, this fear can be greater when the threatening subject (a homosexual and his or her sexual orientation) is perceived as innate and non-changeable. In contrast, when people believe that homosexuality is acquired, they think that homosexuals can control their sexuality. But when homosexuality is perceived as innate, homosexuals can be considered “wrong”, deeply spoiled people who cannot be “corrected” and thus, only deserve hatred (Douglas, 2002).

While gender panic theory offers a credible explanation of the findings explaining the relationship between respondents’ gender and their homophobic attitudes, we invite you to discuss other potential explanations on our Facebook page

The next blog post will discuss the relationship between homophobic attitudes and religious service attendance.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Exploring Homophobia in Georgia: Part 1

Homophobia is defined as a hatred of gay and lesbian individuals that results in cognitive, affective and behavioral attitudes and can be marked with emotional reactions such as fear, disgust and anger (Wright, Adams, & Bernat, 1999, O’Donohue & Caselles, 1993, Rozin, Haidt, & McCauley, 2008). In recent years, the Georgian population has shown itself to be homophobic in many ways. CRRC data from the 2011 Caucasus Barometer survey shows that the level of homophobia in Georgia is higher than in most European countries and comes close to African countries with 88% of the population claiming that homosexuality can never be justified.

The upcoming series of five blog posts, Exploring Homophobia in Georgia, will look at different aspects, statistical predictors, and possible outcomes of homophobia using CRRC-Georgia’s data from the survey on the events of May 17, 2013, in order to better understand its causes and suggest policy interventions. Although homophobia is often presented as a problem which only affects LGBT individuals, our aim is to show that homophobia is a problem for society at large, since the spread of homophobic attitudes signals intolerance and ignorance, and can prevent the country’s political, economic and social development, not to speak of the protection of human rights. Today’s post provides an overview of problems that may be caused by homophobia.

The events of May 17th (International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia) in 2013 and 2014 in Tbilisi demonstrated that homophobic attitudes can easily transform into physical or symbolic violence. While the Georgian Orthodox Church condemned the violence which occurred on May 17th, 2013, the church was also clearly a central actor in these events, with a number of its priests committing acts of violence against presumed homosexuals or defenders of their rights.

These events have also demonstrated that strong and widespread homophobic attitudes can threaten not only individual human rights in Georgia, but also the country’s aspirations to become a democratic country and join the EU. Not only were the rights of several dozen Georgian citizens violated by compatriots on May 17th, 2013, but in the lead up to the signing of the anti-discrimination bill, the whole of Georgia’s future within the Euro-Atlantic community was put at risk.

Widespread homophobic attitudes can also be dangerous for a country’s economic prosperity, as Richard Florida convincingly argues in his famous 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life. He shows that gay-friendliness can be an economic driver, and that cities that do not welcome differences (including sexual differences) are losing the economic development race.

Finally, homophobia is probably most dangerous at the societal level as it promotes the spread of hatred and aggression in society. As a result of rejection by their families and society, LGBT youth are four times more likely to commit suicide compared with their straight peers. Each episode of LGBT victimization, including physical or verbal harassment and abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior among youth by 2.5 times on average. More importantly, homophobia and its spread are indicators of deeper problems in society such as intolerance and ignorance.

Even though the need for action is evident, the issue of homophobia in Georgia remains unaddressed and understudied. The first step in fighting homophobia is understanding its causes in the local context and the factors that lead to its development (predictors). As an attempt to understand public reactions to the events of May 17th, 2013, CRRC-Georgia surveyed the population of Tbilisi at the end of May 2013 (referred to as the May 17 survey throughout this series of blog posts). A representative sample (542 respondents) of Tbilisi adults was interviewed. The results show a number of controversial trends that require further research.

With the goal of better understanding the causes of homophobia in Georgia, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) funded the research project, "Homophobia in Georgia: Can it be Predicted?" CRRC-Georgia data from the May 17 survey in Tbilisi was examined thoroughly, and major predictors of homophobic attitudes were identified.

In the upcoming blog posts we will discuss major findings on the relationships between homophobia and gender, religion, education and liberal values and present evidence-based policy recommendations.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The recent history of the South Caucasus as seen by the world’s media - Part 2, Georgia

In Monday's blog post, we looked at a snapshot of Armenia and Azerbaijan’s representation in the global media from 1979 to present. Today, we take a look at the third South Caucasus state, Georgia. What are the events that have popped up in Georgia and made international news over the last 35 years?

Much as with Azerbaijan and Armenia, early peaks in the graph below mark the conflicts which started before and erupted after the fall of the Soviet Union. The first peak marks the tragic events of April 9th, 1989, when soldiers suppressed protests for Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union and against Abkhaz actions towards secession. The next peak which appears on the graph below is related to the outbreak of the Georgian Civil War in 1991. The Abkhaz conflict, while simmering in the later years of the Soviet Union, does not seem to be extensively covered by the global media until 1992, when Abkhazia was invaded by Tengiz Kitovani (at the time he was the head of the Georgian National Guard, an organization which straddled the boundary between paramilitary and official military). The end of the war and the Zviadist rebellion which immediately followed Kitovani’s retreat from Abkhazia appear at peak 3.

Note: In this graph, the country’s mean monthly share of global media coverage (defined as all media contained within the GDELT database) is shown. The table below gives a summary of events in Georgia according to the peak they correspond with:

Rose Revolution

After peak 3, media coverage of Georgia decreases for a period, but appears to pick up in the lead-up to the Rose Revolution, with a small peak (4) created by the 1999 parliamentary elections. Although Georgia watchers’ first reaction to the slow rise in media attention from 2001 to 2004 may be that the unnumbered peaks mark the November 2001 student protests over the shutdown of Rustavi 2 and Shevadnadze’s Citizens’ Union of Georgia’s loss in local elections in 2002, these events seem to receive sparse attention. These upticks in coverage coincide more closely with Vladimir Putin’s fanciful claim that the Pankisi Gorge was a hotspot of terror in the aftermath of September 11th, and the claim floated that Osama Bin Laden could have taken refuge in the Pankisi Gorge. Peak 5 represents the Rose Revolution, while peak 6 coincides with the 2006 local elections, which likely gained substantial media attention as a follow up event to stories on the Rose Revolution. Peak 8 shows the media’s reactions to the anti-IDAHO (International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia) rally which occurred in May of 2013 in Tbilisi.

The unprecedentedly high peak (#7) on the graph above, the August 2008 war with Russia, is an important case in understanding what gets covered and what does not. This event had a synergetic presence with other media events at the time, whereas other events which Georgia watchers likely see are missing from the above graph had weaker media synergies. Since the 2008 August War was happening against the backdrop of the Beijing Olympics, the world was quite shocked at the juxtaposition of an event which is intended to promote peace, on the one hand, and a large country at war with a small one, on the other hand. By comparison, the 1991 independence of Georgia from the Soviet Union is an event which appears to have been crowded out by similar events during the period – namely, the independence of the other former Soviet Republics, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, and finally, the chaos which followed all of these events.

Events which received less attention than one might expect include the various assassination attempts against Eduard Shevardnadze and the November 2007 anti-government protests. Most notably, the 2012 parliamentary elections which marked a watershed event on the Georgian political landscape do not coincide with a substantial peak.

While GDELT data is a crude instrument for looking at history, it does paint an interesting picture of the relative intensity through which a country has appeared on the world stage through media reports. What other events do you see pop up in the graphs above? For readers interested in more information on the GDELT project, visit their website here, and for readers more interested in the South Caucasus and changes related to the events discussed in this and the previous post on Azerbaijan and Armenia, take a look through the CRRC Caucasus Barometer here.

Monday, November 03, 2014

The recent history of the South Caucasus as seen by the world’s media – Part 1, Armenia and Azerbaijan

History has been a qualitative discipline and has often been considered part of the humanities, well, historically, but the emergence of big data is likely to extend the use of quantitative methods in historical research in the long run. Big data projects have aimed at everything from finding out where to pick fruit in your city to mapping the prevalence of AIDS in the United States, but a recent project, Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) has compiled a massive database of print media coverage in over 100 languages including Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian. Originally created by Kalev Leetaru and Philip Schrodt at Georgetown University, the GDELT database contains about a quarter of a billion uniquely coded units starting from 1979.

One simple operation to perform with the data is to look at the intensity of a country’s representation in media reports globally. In order to make comparisons over time, the data is normalized using a special algorithm to account for the amount of media disseminated globally in a given time period. We observe the average monthly intensity of media coverage between January, 1979 and October, 2014. After extracting and normalizing the data, what emerges is a snapshot of climatic moments in South Caucasian history that were reported on internationally. By comparing the timing of intensity of coverage with reporting on events in major media outlets such as the New York Times, we are able to identify which events garnered international attention and caused peaks in intensity of coverage.

What appears and will be unsurprising to any Caucasus watcher is that in many ways, the destinies of Armenia and Azerbaijan are tied together due to the Nagrno Karabakh conflict. This fact appears prominently in the graphs below with peaks 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7 in Armenia and peaks 2, 3, and 4 in Azerbaijan tied to the conflict.

Paths do diverge, however, and most of the peaks on the graphs below are country specific rather than Karabakh related. In Armenia, peak 1 marks the 1983 terrorist attack perpetrated by Armenian nationalists in France at a Turkish Airlines check-in counter, while the 1979 Iranian Revolution seems to be the cause of Azerbaijan’s first peak.

Coups and coup attempts are upheavals each South Caucasian country has experienced. Notably, in Azerbaijan the 1993 coup which brought Heydar Aliyev to power (peak 5) and the 1999 parliamentary shootings in Armenia (peak 8) both created spikes in global news coverage.

Note: In this graph, the country’s mean monthly share of global media coverage (defined as all media contained within the GDELT database) is shown. The table below gives a summary of events in Armenia according to the peak they correspond with:

Peak Event   Peak  Event
1 Orly Airport attack 7 Taking of Kelbajar
2 Start of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict 8 Armenian parliament shooting
3 Spitak earthquake 9 Armenia and Turkey sign agreement to normalize relations
4 Black January 10 Barack Obama's speech on Armenian Genocide
5 Operation Ring 11 Presidential and municipal elections, protest rallies
6 Major armed confrontation between Armenian, Azerbaijani and Soviet forces

In 2009, Armenia appears in the international news with a peak caused by a breakthrough in talks on the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia, followed by the failure to actually normalize relations (peak 9). In 2010, Barack Obama’s speech on the Armenian Genocide failed to mention the word “genocide,” despite his election campaign promises to the Armenian American community to the contrary, leading to peak 10. Peak 11 marks domestic protests following presidential elections in 2013, but the event which captured the greatest share of the world’s attention was the 1988 Spitak earthquake (peak 3).

Note: In this graph, the country’s mean monthly share of global media coverage (defined as all media contained within the GDELT database) is shown. The table below gives a summary of events in Azerbaijan according to the peak they correspond with. A quick glance at the Azerbaijan table shows two events marked with questions marks – peaks 8 and 11, and the month and year of their occurrence. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to identify the specific events which these peaks correspond to. If you know what these peaks represent, we would love to hear your ideas, so please discuss them on our Facebook page, here.

In Azerbaijan, peak 6 appears to be reports of the first oil to be piped out of the country based on the 1994 “contract of the century”, which itself appears to garner media attention after peak 5 (it is important to remember that events were identified based on timing, and with relatively small peaks, it is possible to misidentify events). Azerbaijan also has a peak related to the Eurovision song contest (peak 14), but, interestingly, not in May of 2012 when the country hosted the event. The hosting of Eurovision in Azerbaijan did not lead to a spike in coverage, in spite of the fact that it was billed by Azerbaijani authorities as a mega event and generally considered a controversial location for the event due to  the country’s poor human rights record and prevalence of homophobic attitudes despite the event’s large popularity among the LGBT community. A year later, in May 2013, a spike in coverage coincides with the Eurovision voting scandal involving Russia and Azerbaijan. While Russian singer Dina Garipova finished second among Azerbaijani voters, Azerbaijan did not award any points to the singer.

This brings us to the question - what else wasn’t being talked about in Armenia and Azerbaijan? Some events which received less attention from the world's media than one might expect (they are there, but comparably small) are the 2008 presidential election protests in Armenia, and the “contract of the century” in Azerbaijan, signed in 1994 by the government with a conglomerate of Western oil companies.

In sum, the GDELT database is an interesting tool.  While still not fully explored and having some issues, it is a big data project which will likely spur on future developments in the social sciences. On Thursday, we will explore the global media coverage of the third South Caucasus country, Georgia.