Wednesday, September 30, 2020

How high? Georgia spends millions online on illegal drugs each year

[Note: This article was co-published with OC-Media on the Caucasus Data Blog. The article was written by Ian Goodrich, a policy analyst at CRRC Georgia.]

Drug users in Georgia spent over $1.5 million dollars online between February and August 2020, according to a new study into the darknet market, Matanga, conducted by CRRC Georgia. 

When compared to similar online markets in Europe, this figure is substantial, exceeding monthly dark web drug revenue for Spain and Belgium combined.

How does it work?

Transactions take place through an elaborate process, beginning with a user interface familiar to any online shopper. 

Users of Matanga can browse listings from their computer or mobile device, and make payments via the site, typically in bitcoin to maintain the anonymity of buyer and seller. 

Drugs bought online are not delivered, but hidden for collection throughout major cities of Georgia. Once payment is complete, buyers are given GPS coordinates and must find their purchases concealed in public locations. 

The study found that on an average day, substances worth approximately $35,000 are concealed throughout Tbilisi, Batumi, and Kutaisi, with around 90% of trade in the capital.

Why so much money?

The study estimates that around $250,000 is spent on drugs in Georgia via a single platform each month. 

This figure substantially exceeds estimates for most European countries and would make Georgia one of the largest dark web drug markets in Europe. 

Source: Christin and Thomas (2019). Prices are converted to USD at 1.19 USD/EUR. Excl. (†) CRRC Georgia (2020)

So why is the online market so big? The answer, in part, comes down to prices and measurement. Drugs appear to cost much more online in Georgia than in Europe. 

For example, a median gram of cocaine bought online in Georgia was sold at $200, compared to around $75 in Europe – over two and a half times the price. 

Approaches to sampling and measurement also differ between the two studies, complicating direct comparison.

Nonetheless, the size of the online drug market in Georgia is substantial by any measure and cannot be fully explained by the cost of drugs and methodological differences between studies. 

Whilst the online trade in drugs in Georgia appears to be large, the country’s drug-taking population is small by European standards. This means sites such as Matanga may be much more important in Georgia than they are in Europe, where online markets are understood to represent a small fraction of overall trade. 

This would be consistent with activity seen in Russia, where the darknet drug trade is also believed to exceed that of Europe by a large margin.

Drug policy in Georgia

Why then do so many drug users in Georgia prefer to shop online? The answer may lie in Georgia’s approach to drug policy. 

Despite recent cannabis liberalisation, Georgian law still mandates severe, long-term prison sentences for possession of small quantities of drugs. In this context, platforms which protect participants’ identities will be attractive. 

Matanga allows buyers and sellers to trade anonymously, without ever needing to meet. Sellers do not even need to hide the drugs themselves and recruit couriers to further distance themselves from transactions. 

In Europe, where markets are larger and penalties lower, online trade may be considered unnecessarily cumbersome by buyers and sellers. In Georgia, however, where both buyer and seller may face lengthy prison time for the smallest exchange, online markets may be becoming a normal part of doing business.

The views presented in this article represent the author’s alone and do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity. 

The full report can be found on the CRRC Georgia website with source code and data available on Github.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Georgian parents are concerned about online learning

[Note: This article was co-published with OC Media on the Caucasus Data Blog. This article was written by Elene Ergeshidze. Elene is a Junior Researcher at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in the article do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.]

Georgia has postponed the reopening of schools in major cities due to a new surge in the pandemic, but what are the biggest concerns Georgians have with the education system?

Georgia’s new academic year started on 15 September, but physical attendance at schools and universities in major cities has been postponed until 1 October. 

Earlier this month government officials, including the Head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health Amiran Gamkrelidze, said schools were ready to reopen. But on 11 September the prime minister announced this would not be possible in large cities because of a record-breaking number of new coronavirus cases in the country. 

In response, parents recently started a petition saying ‘no to online schooling’, to try and push forward the shift back to face-to-face schooling.

Students in public schools in large cities have not attended education institutions physically since March, when the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Georgia. 

Through broadcasting live lessons for school children on the public broadcaster, distance learning became available for everyone who had access to a TV. 

Data from the period indicated that most in Georgia could access either TV or other online learning options. But, UNICEF Georgia recommended prioritising school reopening because of the negative effects of school absence on children’s health. 

In this context, what do people think are the main problems for the Georgian education system today?

The August 2020 CRRC/NDI survey asked respondents about issues that the education system is facing in Georgia. Respondents were able to name up to three answers and the most frequently mentioned issue was difficulties associated with online classes, which a quarter (27%) of respondents named. 

The next most common issues were low qualifications of teachers/lecturers (22%) and the high cost of university education (20%). 

One in ten (10%) of the population reported that there were no problems facing the education system and 19% answered ‘don’t know’.

Women were more likely to name a problem than men. A quarter of men (24%) did not know how to answer this question compared to 16% of women. Similarly, 12% of men report that there were no problems facing the education system in Georgia whereas only 8% of women reported the same. 

Who is more concerned about online education? 

A logistic regression suggests women were 15 percentage points more likely to report distance learning as an issue than men. Those living outside Tbilisi were eight percentage points more likely to report distance learning was an issue. 

Other characteristics such as age, level of education, employment status, internet usage, and wealth do not predict whether people named difficulties with online classes as a problem or not. 

These differences are perhaps unsurprising. Women are more involved in children’s upbringing and education in Georgia. Therefore, they probably have more information about issues surrounding the education system than men. 

People living in other urban or rural settlements compared to residents of Tbilisi are less likely to be able to access the internet, which is necessary for online learning.

At present, it is still an open question whether schools and universities will reopen on 1 October. Another question is how the quality of education will be affected as a result of the lack of face to face interaction, and who this will affect the most. 

What is clear is that a substantial share of the public is concerned about online education, even if they do have access to it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Do Georgians think the Prosecutor’s Office is biased?

[This article was published on the Caucasus Data Blog in partnership with OC Media. It was written by Eto Gagunahvili, a Junior Researcher at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in this article do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.]

The impartiality and effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office has come into question in recent years.

The Georgian public has been in a near-perpetual state of shock in recent years over a stream of high-profile criminal cases. In many of these, the impartiality and effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office has come into question, but what do people really think about this vital institution?

Cases like the Khorava Street Murders, the killing by the Security Services of Temirlan Machalikashvili, and most recently, the murder of 19-year-old Giorgi Shakarashvili have captured the public attention. 

More recently, there has been widespread discussion over the death of Tamar Bachaleishvili. The authorities suggest she took her own life while the opposition and some in the media have argued that foul play was involved. 

The media has widely covered these cases, often questioning the effectiveness of the Prosecutor’s Office. 

Between 30 March and 12 April, CRRC Georgia conducted a study on people’s knowledge of and attitudes towards the Prosecutor’s Office within the PRIME project.

Data from the study suggests that people tend towards thinking there is political interference in the Prosecutors Office. Yet, they are often unaware of some basic facts about the institution.

The survey data indicates that while few think the Prosecutor’s Office is fully under the thumb of political forces, few think it is entirely free either. 

Only 6% of the public said they thought the Prosecutor’s Office was completely free of political influence. By comparison, 11% thought it was not free at all. The remainder of the public said it was mainly free (39%), mainly unfree (21%) or that they were uncertain if it was under political influence (22%). 

Analyses of the above question suggest that age, level of education, and settlement type are related to people’s opinions of how free on unfree the Prosecutor’s Office is from political influence. 

People between the ages of 35–54 were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was free from political influences compared to younger people. Those with secondary or lower education were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was not free from political influence compared to people with higher education.

When it comes to settlement type, people living in rural areas were more likely to report that the Prosecutor’s Office was free from political influences than people in Tbilisi.

In December 2018, the Prosecutor’s Office was separated from the Ministry of Justice and became a fully independent agency. The study checked whether people knew where the Prosecutor’s Office was institutionally located and asked respondents which of the following statements was true: 

The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia is currently subordinated to the Ministry of Justice; 

The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia is currently subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs; 

The Prosecutor's Office of Georgia is currently an independent structure.

The data shows that approximately a third of people (34%) did not know, and a third of people believe that the Prosecutor’s office was subordinated to the Ministry of Justice or Ministry of Internal Affairs.  People were also largely unaware of who the Prosecutor General is. 

The majority (64%) in Georgia did not know who the Prosecutor General is, and 2% reported someone aside from who the actual Prosecutor General is. 

A regression shows that people who do not know which of the above statements about the Prosecutor's Office was true were more likely to report that it was free from political influences. They were also more likely to report that they didn’t know the answer to the question. 

The public’s opinion is a mixed bag about the Prosecutor’s Office. The majority have no idea who the Prosecutor General is or whether the Prosecutor's Office is independent or a subordinated structure. 

Most people believe that the Prosecutor's Office is subject to political influence, though there is some variation between social and demographic groups.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Lockdown vs re-opening the economy in Georgia

[Note: This blog was originally published in partnership with OC Media on the Caucasus Data Blog, a joint effort of CRRC Georgia and OC Media.]

As the number of new daily confirmed cases is again on the rise, we look at how people felt about the anti-coronavirus restrictions in May.

Aside from the public health situation, COVID-19 has led to rising unemployment, reduced incomes, and food insecurity in Georgia. As the number of new daily confirmed cases is again on the rise, the Caucasus Datablog takes a look at how people felt about the anti-coronavirus restrictions when they were at their height.

Despite polling from CRRC Georgia’s COVID-19 Monitor surveys showing that the public supported the vast majority of the government’s anti-coronavirus policies, the data also suggests people were eager for the economy to reopen. In fact, a majority said they favoured opening up over a more cautious approach.

CRRC asked the public about the relative importance of caution versus opening up the economy on two surveys conducted between 7–10 May and 14–17 May. Most people agreed with the idea that the economic impacts of COVID-19 were worse than the virus itself and disagreed that it was more important to wait for the virus to be under control than to open the economy.  

In addition, the share of Georgians thinking that economic consequences of the virus could be as severe as virus itself also rose from 51% during the 7–10 May period to 64% during the 14–17 May.

The data from the 14–17 May survey was further analysed to explore differences between socio-demographic groups like age, gender, settlement type, education, employment, ethnicity, and household wealth.

This logistic regression showed that people in Tbilisi were less likely to think it was important to wait for COVID-19 to subside before opening up the economy. Older people were also less likely to support waiting for the epidemiological situation to get under control. 

When it comes to the economic costs of COVID-19, there were no statistical differences between key socio-demographic variables. During the crisis, large shares were uncertain how long the COVID-19 crisis would last (35% in the 7–10 May period and 42% during the 14–17 May period). 

Uncertainty on this question was associated with the idea that the economic costs of the virus could be worse than the virus itself. Controlling for demographic variables from the previous model, those uncertain about the possible period of the crisis were less supportive of the idea that the economic costs of the virus were worse than the virus itself.  

Still, a majority of those who were certain or uncertain about the length of the crisis thought that the economic consequences were worse than COVID-19’s health implications.

Overall, the majority of Georgians were supportive of opening up the economy during the COVID-19 crisis, and this support was increasing during the period when the economy was effectively closed. 

The negative economic impacts of COVID-19 also gained more public attention during this time. 

In general, urban settlements were more supportive of re-starting normal economic activities. Older people were also more prone to agree with opening up. 

Besides socio-demographic variables, uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 timeline also shaped public opinions. Uncertain people generally tended to disagree with the idea that the economic costs were harsher than the virus itself. 

The data presented in this blog post is available here. Replication code for the above analysis is available here.

This article was written by Rati Shubladze. Rati is a policy analyst at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in this article represent the author’s alone and do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia, the Embassy of the Netherlands in Georgia, or any related entity.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

The rallying around the flag effect in Georgia

Note: This article was co-published with OC-Media. It was written by Dustin Gilbreath, Deputy Research Director at CRRC Georgia. The views presented in the article are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, CRRC Georgia, or any related entity.

In times of crisis, support for governments often rises in what is known as a rallying around the flag effect. The COVID-19 crisis in Georgia has been no exception.

Data from around the world has shown rallying around the flag effects in many countries during the pandemic, with a few exceptions. Georgia has followed this broader pattern, with performance ratings tripling for many actors and institutions between November/December 2019 and May 2020. 

Yet, with parliamentary elections set for 31 October, whether this has translated into changes in party preferences is unclear.

A survey CRRC Georgia fielded between 21–23 May, which the Embassy of the Netherlands in Tbilisi financially supported, asked people to assess the institutional performance of the prime minister, parliament, police, president, and the Georgian Orthodox Church. The question was worded in the same way as the NDI and CRRC 2019 November/December survey. 

When comparing the results, approval ratings roughly tripled for parliament from 9% positive to 30%, for the president from 9% positive to 25%, and for the prime minister from 21% positive to 66%. 

Institutional performance assessments of the Church improved from 50% positive to 66%, despite the significant controversy around their policies during the crisis. The across the board increases in approval ratings suggest a clear rallying around the flag effect. 

While there has been a large rally around Georgia’s government, the data is ambivalent when it comes to whether this has resulted in increased party support for the ruling Georgian Dream Party. 

In May, 25% of the public reported that Georgian Dream was the party closest to them, roughly comparable to the 21% that reported the same in November/December 2019. The share reporting that the UNM was closest to them also declined from 14% to 4%. 

This appears to be a large shift. Yet, the share of people refusing to answer what party they supported increased from 3% to 12%. Further, the share reporting they don’t know which party is closest to them rose from 5% to 12%. The share reporting that there is no party closest to them did not shift significantly with 37% in November/December and 38% of the public reporting the same in May.

Given this data, at least two explanations are plausible. While the NDI survey was done face to face, the COVID-19 Monitor survey was done over the phone. It is possible that UNM supporters were over-represented in the ‘don’t know’ and ‘refuse to answer’ categories in May, because of discomfort in sharing political views over the phone. Alternatively, the increase in ‘don’t know’ responses could stem from genuine increases in uncertainty. Reasonably a bit of both as well as other factors may be at play.

Despite this increased level of uncertainty, Georgian Dream appears to have gained ground, at least in terms of the share of the public willing to say they support them. How this translates into electoral success remains to be seen. But, what is clear is that Georgians have rallied around their institutions during the COVID-19 crisis.