Tuesday, May 24, 2022

How does Georgia’s democracy compare with countries granted EU candidacy?

Note: This article first appeared on the Caucasus Data Blog, a joint effort of CRRC Georgia and OC Media. It was written by Givi Silagadze, a researcher at CRRC-Georgia. The views presented in the article are of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC Georgia, or any related entity.

The government’s decision to bring forward their application was spurred by Ukraine’s application several days prior as well as mounting pressure from Georgian society.

Despite the extraordinary circumstances, some argue that full integration could take decades unless standards for accession to the EU are lowered.  

Countries aspiring to become EU members must meet several demanding criteria to be considered eligible for membership, known as the Copenhagen criteria. These can be categorised into three groups: (1) political criteria largely relating to democracy, the rule of law, and human rights, (2) economic criteria, and (3) administrative and institutional capacity. 

Georgia, alongside Ukraine and Moldova, is now waiting for the EU to either grant them candidate status or reject their application, which would be a major blow for Georgia’s EU aspirations. 

According to data from Freedom House and Varieties of Democracy, all of the countries that became EU member states during the last two decades had a higher level of democracy when they were granted candidate status than Georgia does in 2022. 

However, Georgia has higher democracy scores than other countries granted candidate status which have not yet become EU member states. 

Georgia vs countries that became EU members in the last two decades

Freedom House scores suggest that all the countries that became EU members over the last two decades were more democratic during their application than Georgia in 2022 when applying for EU membership. 

This observation holds for the moment these countries were granted candidate status and negotiations for accession were opened up until they officially became EU member states.

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Data from the Varieties of Democracy project (V-Dem) suggest a slightly different picture. 

According to V-Dem’s electoral democracy index, Georgia’s democracy in 2022 is similar to the level of electoral democracy of Bulgaria and Romania when they were granted candidate status as well as when they became members of the EU in 2007. 

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Moreover, Romania’s scores on the electoral democracy index when the EU opened accession negotiations with the country as well as when it became a full-fledged member of the union were slightly worse than Georgia’s scores on the same index in 2022. 

The V-Dem dataset also contains a more demanding democracy index, known as the liberal democracy index. This index shows a similar picture. Romania is the only country that became a member of the EU in the 21st century that had lower scores on the liberal democracy index when the EU opened accession negotiations with it than Georgia in 2022.

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Georgia vs countries granted candidate status yet to join the EU 

According to Freedom House, some of the countries that were offered the EU candidate status but are yet to become full-fledged members had comparable levels of democracy with Georgia during the period when the EU granted them candidacy. 

Albania and North Macedonia had only slightly better scores (10 for both) than Georgia in 2022 (9) when they were officially considered candidate countries.

As for Turkey’s democracy, it had lower Freedom House scores in 1999 when granted candidate status (7) than Georgia in 2022 (9). However, accession negotiations with Turkey were conditioned on improvements in its democracy score, and negotiations did not start until its Freedom House score improved to 10 out of 14.

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Data from the Varieties of Democracy project (V-Dem) present a different portrait. According to V-Dem’s electoral democracy index, the level of Georgia is more democratic in 2022 than five other countries when they were given candidate status. 

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Similarly, the Liberal Democracy Index suggests that Georgia’s democracy in 2022 is stronger than that of Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Turkey when they were given candidate status. 

As for Serbia, its scores on the index when it was granted candidate status in 2012 were the same as Georgia’s in 2022.

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Even though the quality of Georgia’s democracy lags behind EU member states, international democracy indexes suggest that Georgia is as democratic, sometimes more so, than other current candidates when they were granted candidacy status.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Both religion and the county’s Soviet past contribute to Homophobia in Georgia

Note: This article first appeared on the Caucasus Data Blog, a joint effort of CRRC Georgia and OC Media. It was written by Giorgi Babunashvili, a senior researcher at CRRC-Georgia and Anano Kipiani, a policy analyst at CRRC-Georgia. The views presented in the article are of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC Georgia, or any related entity. This article is based on a paper, which was published in the International Journal of Sociology.

People’s values and attitudes are shaped by many factors, religion and historical experience being important among them. 

A paper we recently published in the International Journal of Sociology suggests that Georgia’s communist past is associated with higher degrees of homophobia just as religiosity is. 

However, the experience of a communist past also moderates the impact of religiosity on homophobia. In post-Communist countries, an individual’s religiosity has a weaker effect on liberal attitudes toward same-sex relations than it has in countries with no communist government in their historical experience. 

To show this, we used data collected between 2017 and 2020 in 17 countries through the International Social Survey Program (ISSP). The countries were selected to ensure that different religious denominations were present that both had and did not have a communist past. 

Under communism, same-sex relations were either illegal or treated as a psychological disorder. This may explain why post-communist societies are less tolerant towards same-sex relations. In the post-communist countries in the sample, 44% of people perceive sexual relations between two adults of the same sex as always wrong, in contrast to 15% in their non-post-communist counterparts.

Organised religion is often the dominant force against queer rights globally. A regression analysis shows that religiosity is an important factor affecting homophobic sentiments: a higher religiosity level is associated with lower tolerance of queer people.

Another important factor affecting tolerance towards queer people is society’s historical experience: individuals in post-communist countries are 0.6 points less tolerant on a four-point homosexuality-tolerance scale, compared to their counterparts in non-communist countries.

The effect of religiosity on homophobia is weaker in post-communist countries, where the difference in tolerance towards same-sex relations between the most and the least religious individuals is smaller compared to the similar difference in non-post-communist countries.  

Thus, religiosity appears to encourage homophobia. So too does a communist past. While religiosity also drives homophobia in post-communist countries, it does so to a lesser extent. This appears to stem, in part, from people in post-communist countries being more homophobic across the spectrum of religiosity. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Georgian public opinion on the SSG files

Note: This article first appeared on the Caucasus Data Blog, a joint effort of CRRC Georgia and OC Media. It was written by Dr. David Sichinava, research director at CRRC-Georgia and Otto Saldadze, a researcher at CRRC-Georgia. The views presented in the article are of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC Georgia, or any related entity. 

On 13 September 2021, gigabytes of secret files allegedly belonging to Georgia’s State Security Services (SSG) were leaked and sent to various Georgian media outlets

The files contained classified intelligence on multiple clerics of the Georgian Orthodox Church and journalists that the SSG had gathered since 2014. The subjects of the alleged surveillance, including priests and top clerics of the Georgian Orthodox Church, refrained from commenting, while the Georgian government labelled the leaks as a ‘provocation aiming to alter the outcomes of elections’, blaming the country’s opposition parties for the leaks.

While the scandal was soon overshadowed by the clandestine arrival of Georgia’s former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and his subsequent imprisonment, data from CRRC Georgia’s September omnibus survey shows that the majority of the country’s population did not know about these leaks.

The survey, which was conducted in the last weeks of September 2021, asked respondents whether they were aware that files belonging to the security services were leaked to the media. The majority, 59%, said no, only slightly more than a third (36%) reported they knew about the files, while 5% refrained from answering the question.

Older people, those with higher education, and respondents who use Facebook to receive information were more likely to be aware of these leaks. More importantly, opposition supporters are more likely to know about leaks (52%) than supporters of the Georgian Dream Party (33%), unaffiliated respondents (28%), or those who did not know or refrained from answering which party they supported (32%).

Similarly, more Georgians who trust pro-opposition TV channels to receive news on politics know about the leaks (52%) than those who trust pro-government stations (36%), do not trust any station (42%), trust other stations (19%), or do not watch television at all (18%).

Arguably, these discrepancies in awareness could stem from how Georgia’s TV stations cover news and whom the Georgian public trusts for their news. An earlier analysis showed that Georgians’ political sympathies are highly correlated with what television stations they follow to get news on politics. In the same vein, according to a media monitoring report from the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, Georgian stations were covering the leaks in a different manner and intensity, which might explain the discrepancy in the audience’s knowledge. While pro-government media talked about the leaks intermittently, opposition TV stations framed the story as breaking news. 

A similar trend can be seen in the social media posts that Georgian TV channels shared on Facebook. According to Crowdtangle data, a social media listening tool, the share of Facebook posts that mentioned leaks constituted from 4.5% to 5.2% out of all Facebook posts shared in September 2021 on opposition outlets such as Kavkasia and Formula. Pro-government TV stations, such as Rustavi 2ImediPOSTV, and the Georgian Public Broadcaster were less likely to mention leaks in their Facebook posts.

Those aware of leaks feel ambivalent about whether or not they show authentic information. While some politicians and journalists have confirmed that the conversations described in the files took place, only 31% of the respondents who have heard of leaks believed in the authenticity of leaks. 41% could not answer whether or not the contents of leaked files reflected the truth, while 13% thought that the allegations described in leaks were inauthentic. About 15% said that they were not aware of the content of leaks, despite being aware of the leaks themselves. 

Whose interests do leaks serve?

The Georgian Orthodox Church first blamed media for leaks and accused them of plotting an attack on the church. Public officials were quick to point the finger at the opposition. Georgia’s Prime Minister, Irakli Gharibashvili, while confirming the usage of wiretapping for ‘law enforcement reasons’, blamed Mikhail Saakashvili for undermining the authority of the Georgian Orthodox Church through leaks, as did the head of the SSG. Mamuka Mdinaradze, Georgian Dream’s parliament chair, alleged that the opposition was secretly planning to release another batch of wiretaps amidst the looming municipal elections.

Unlike Georgian Dream politicians, Georgians were largely ambivalent when asked about who benefitted from leaks. The majority (49%) of those aware of leaks were unsure whose interests the leaks served. About a quarter (25%) points at the opposition, while 16% felt they served the government. More opposition supporters (26%) said that leaks benefitted the government, while only 4% of those affiliated with the Georgian Dream agreed to it. Fewer mentioned that leaks benefitted particular individuals. Only 1% named Saakashvili, while 2% felt the Georgian media profited from the leaks.

Who bears the responsibility for the leaks?

For most Georgians who were aware of the leaks, the government bears responsibility (58%). Notably, the majority of opposition supporters (79%) and unaffiliated respondents (63%) put the blame on the government, with the plurality among the Georgian Dream supporters (43%) and those who do not know or refused to say their party affiliation (47%) shared the same opinion. Only a few named particular individuals (8%), the opposition (7%), or the media (4%). Still, a hefty 27% were undecided regarding who was responsible for the leaks.

Amidst official promises that law enforcement agencies were investigating leaks, some journalists were questioned, and the Prosecutor’s Office even visited several media outlets. Nonetheless, no official updates for the public have been made so far. 

Given the above, Georgians were sceptical about whether the investigation would move forward. When asked whether or not the leaks will be investigated, about 37% of those aware disagreed, while 34% were ambivalent. Only 29% of interviewees were sure that leaks would be investigated. While most Georgian Dream supporters (55%) believed that leaks will be investigated, only 17% of opposition supporters and 20% of those who are unaffiliated reported the same.

While wiretaps remain a powerful tool for Georgian authorities, many Georgians remain sceptical about whether or not the SSG should have this power. Three-quarters of those aware of the leaks said that the security services should not secretly listen to the government, public officials, or the opposition. About 80% believe that journalists and the clergy should not be targeted by the SSG for wiretapping, while 88% disagree that intelligence services should listen to ordinary citizens.

[Read more on OC Media: Georgian Dream pushes ahead with invasive new surveillance bill]

The leaks of SSG files stirred much noise in the Georgian media in the weeks leading to the 2021 municipal elections. Still, as data from CRRC Georgia’s omnibus survey shows, the knowledge of and attitudes towards leaks strongly correlate with Georgians’ consumption patterns of the country’s increasingly polarized media landscape. While leaks again confirmed the extent of wiretapping by the SSG, it seems that knowledge of this is confined to partisan echo chambers.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Georgia’s partisan division in support for Ukraine

Note: This article first appeared on the Caucasus Data Blog, a joint effort of CRRC Georgia and OC Media. It was written by Givi Silagadze, a researcher at CRRC-Georgia. The views presented in the article are of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC Georgia, or any related entity.

Georgia’s political landscape has often been described as polarised, though data suggests polarisation in Georgia has little to do with contrasting ideological propositions or public policy.

Despite this, the main political parties on the Georgian political landscape do differ in terms of policy. The ruling party and the major opposition parties have argued for differing foreign policies towards Russia, while the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party attempts not to antagonise Russia. The previously ruling United National Movement is uncompromisingly critical of Georgia’s northern neighbour, on the other hand.

In line with this rhetoric, the recent CRRC Georgia Survey on the War in Ukraine shows that supporters of the different parties often support different policies with regard to Ukraine.

The survey shows that supporters of the ruling party are significantly less likely to think that the government of Georgia should offer more support to Ukraine. Controlling for other factors, Georgian Dream supporters were 34 percentage points less likely than opposition supporters and 21 percentage points less likely than unaffiliated voters to think that the support of the Georgian government should increase.

The survey included several questions regarding different ways to support Ukraine, ranging from temporarily receiving Ukrainian refugees to supplying Ukraine with weapons or allowing volunteers to go to Ukraine to fight. These questions were combined into a simple additive index ranging from 0, implying no support for Ukraine, to 15, meaning maximum support for Ukraine. The mean score on the index was 11.5, meaning that the public tended to be in favor of supporting Ukraine. 

Controlling for social and demographic factors, a regression analysis suggests that opposition supporters tend to be more in favour of supporting Ukraine in various ways than GD supporters, as well as non-partisan voters.

Disparities can be found across party lines when it comes to sanctions against Russia; opposition supporters tend to favour the intensification of international sanctions relative to supporters of GD or respondents that did not select a party they support. Regression analysis suggests opposition supporters were 17 percentage points more likely to think that international sanctions should be more severe against Russia than supporters of the ruling party.

CRRC also asked respondents whether Georgia should take part in sanctions against Russia, and if so, whether the country should join in on all sanctions, take part only in some of them, or not take part in them at all. A regression analysis suggests that GD supporters differ from other groups in their attitudes towards Georgia taking part in the international sanctions.

Supporters of the ruling party are 33 percentage points less likely than opposition supporters and 14 percentage points less likely than voters that did not report which party they support to say that Georgia should take part in all sanctions. However, GD supporters are also more likely than other groups to say that either Georgia should take part in only some of the sanctions or the country should not participate in any sanctions at all. 

Although the public as a whole is quite supportive of Ukraine, condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and approves of a variety of ways to support the government of Ukraine, there are substantial partisan divisions in views of where Georgia’s foreign policy should be.

Georgia Dream supporters diverge from not only opposition supporters, but from individuals that do not support any particular party. They tend to be less supportive of Georgia joining sanctions or the government being more vocal in supporting the government of Ukraine.  

At the same time, opposition supporters diverge from supporters of the ruling party as well as other citizens that do not identify with any party in being more supportive of various ways to support Ukraine and intensification of international sanctions against Russia.

Note: The above data analysis is based on logistic and multinomial regression models which included the following variables: age group (18-34, 35-54, 55+), sex (male or female), education (completed secondary/lower, technical or incomplete higher education/higher), wealth (an additive index of ownership of 10 different items, a proxy variable), settlement type (Tbilisi, other urban areas, or rural areas), ethnicity (ethnic Georgian or ethnic minority), and party affiliation (Georgia Dream, opposition, and unaffiliated voters).