Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Georgia’s changing priorities at the UN General Assembly

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

A quantitative analysis of the speeches made by Georgia’s leaders at the annual UN General Assembly found that their themes and priorities changed after the change of government in 2012, with Georgian Dream leaders more positive and discussing Russia less negatively than their predecessors. 

The UN General Assembly (UNGA), currently in its 78th session, meets annually in September and offers an opportunity for the heads of state or government of every country to raise the issues that they consider most pressing, as well as addressing an international audience from one of the highest tribunes of the world. 

Georgian political leaders have been no exception to this. Examining their speeches from 2007 to 2022 at the UNGA using quantitative text analysis allows patterns associated with the change in government in 2012 to be identified. 

Mikheil Saakashvili, the leader of the previous United National Movement (UNM) government, made longer speeches, and spoke more often, more negatively, and more harshly about Russia. In comparison, Georgian Dream’s leaders and President Salome Zurabishvili have been less likely to mention Russia, instead focusing on broader concepts such as development, security, and peace. The data suggests a clear shift in Georgia’s foreign policy discourse. 

Speech length

Saakashvili made longer speeches than Georgian Dream’s leaders, with his speeches on average containing 3360 words. His 2007 speech was the shortest (2723 words) and his last speech in 2013 the longest (4758 words). In contrast, an average speech after Georgian Dream took over was 2277 words, with Kvirikashvili's 2017 address the shortest (1915 words), and Zurabishvili’s 2019 speech the longest (3205 words).

General sentiment

Sentiment analysis of the speeches shows that Saakashvili was generally more negative in his speeches than Georgian Dream’s Prime Ministers. The two speeches with the highest frequency of negative words are Saakashvili’s in 2008 and 2011, while the two most positive speeches are Gharibashvili’s in 2015 and 2021. However, it's important to highlight that Zurabishvili's overall sentiment differs from that of Georgian Dream leaders, with her speech recording a significantly more negative sentiment. 

Russia in Georgian leaders’ UNGA speeches

Due to the formal style of speeches at the UN General Assembly, many of the highest frequency words in Saakashvili’s speeches and those of Georgian Dream’s leaders are the same. However, there are some notable differences.

Saakashvili frequently mentioned Russia and the word ‘freedom’, while Georgian Dream’s leaders mentioned security, education, development, and human rights more frequently. 

In total, Saakashvili mentioned Russia/Russians 105 times (once in every 224 words) while Georgian Dream leaders did the same 55 times (once in every 373 words). The UNM leader mentioned freedom 51 times (once in every 461 words) while Georgian Dream’s leaders mentioned it 28 times (once in every 732 words). 

However, Georgian Dream’s leaders mentioned security 52 times (once in every 394 words), compared to Saakashvili’s 17 (once in every 1384 words). Georgian Dream also mentioned development 92 times (once in every 223 words), while Saakashvili said it 25 times (once in every 941 words). GD mentioned human rights roughly twice as often (once in every 683 words) as Saakashvili (once in every 1568 words), and referred to education 42 times (once in every 488 words) while Saakashvili mentioned it six times (once in every 3920 words). 

Note: Some of the words in the above word clouds are misspelled. This stems from the analysis method using core parts of words rather than the full word to conduct analysis, a process known as stemming. For instance, the analysis counts peace, peaceful, and peacebuilding in the same manner.

The context of the above mentions is important as well. The following graph demonstrates the number of mentions of ‘Russia’/’Russians’ in a negative context as well as the term ‘occupation’. Saakashvili referred to Russia negatively every 320 words, while GD leaders mentioned Russia in a negative context every 510 words. 

Saakashvili’s attitude towards mentioning Russia changed during his time in power. In his speeches just after the 2008 war, he did not explicitly name Russia when speaking about the country in a negative light; for example, in 2008, he stated that ‘Georgia [...] was invaded by our neighbour’. However, in his later speeches, his negative references to Russia were more explicit. In his last speech at the UN General Assembly in 2013, Saakashvili referred to Russia negatively 34 times and mentioned ‘occupation’ six times. By comparison, Georgian Dream’s leaders mentioned Russia negatively only a handful of times in their speeches. 

Note: Only direct mentions are counted. 

A closer inspection of sentiments suggests that Saakashvili used harsher language when referring to Russian activities in Georgia than Georgian Dream leaders. More specifically, the most frequently mentioned negative terms Saakashvili used were brutaldestroydangertankattackfearkill, and conflict. In contrast, Georgian Dream’s leaders and Zurabishvili’s highest-frequency negative words associated with Russia are conflictseveredifficultthreat, and hard

While Georgian Dream’s leaders use the term ‘terror’, it does not refer to Russian occupation. 

In terms of positive words, Saakashvili put greater emphasis on the term ‘freedom’, while Georgian Dream leaders prioritised the word ‘success’ more often. 

An analysis tool known as topic modeling suggests that the main themes of Saakashvili’s addresses revolve around Russia, the Georgian nation, peace, and democratic governance. Examining the top nine topics suggests there are several recurring terms in Saakashvili’s speeches at the UN General Assembly: Russia (topics 1, 8), war and invasion (topics 2, 4), new and nation (topics 2,5,9), peace (topics 6,7), and democratic governance (topic 3).

Topic modeling of the Georgian Dream PMs and Zurabishvili’s speeches suggest that their priorities differ from Saakashvili’s. In their top nine topics, none refer explicitly to Russia. Their speeches mostly focused on development (topics 1,2,5,8,9), security (topics 1, 2, 5), peace (topics 3, 4,6), Europe (topics 2,3, 6), rights (5,9), and the economy (7,8). One of the topics (8) does include the term occupation, but mainly in the context of economic development.

The above analysis suggests a shift in foreign policy priorities and Georgia’s international positioning after Georgian Dream came into power. While Saakashvili used harsher and more negative terms, and referred to Russia more regularly, Georgian Dream’s Prime Ministers have been relatively reluctant to refer to Russia explicitly. Instead, they have focused their speeches to the UN on security, development, the economy, and peace. 

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Russian émigrés in Georgia

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

After the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of Russian nationals moved to Georgia, with many choosing to stay. A CRRC survey found that Russian respondents  in Georgia believe that Russia is not a democracy, have mixed views about Georgia’s political direction, and feel relatively secure in Georgia. 

After Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Georgia emerged as a popular destination for Russian citizens fleeing their country. According to the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, between February and September 2022, about 100,000 Russian nationals entered the country and chose to stay. 

Many Georgians are concerned about the influx and believe it might have a detrimental impact on the country, and the attitudes of Russian émigrés about both Georgia and Russian politics have been hotly debated. 

To understand these attitudes, in the spring and early summer of 2023, CRRC-Georgia employing non-probability based sampling methods, polled over 1,000 Russian nationals who emigrated to Georgia after February 2022. The data show that, at least for those surveyed, Russians in Georgia left due to the war, seeking security, and feel they have found it in Georgia. With regard to politics, the Russians surveyed are extremely negative about Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatively positive about opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and believe that Russia is not a democracy. 

Migrating to Georgia

The poll asked respondents to name the primary reasons for choosing Georgia. A plurality of respondents (28%) cited security in Georgia. One in six (17%) mentioned the cost of living, and one in seven (14%) mentioned the ease of getting to Georgia. No more than 10% of respondents named the other available response options.

Three quarters of those surveyed (74%) report they have at least one Georgian friend. Nearly half (44%) reported having a Georgian friend before coming to Georgia after February 2022. More than half of the respondents (57%) stated they made new Georgian friends after moving to the country.

A majority (78%) say they are very or quite satisfied with their life in Georgia. One in six (16%) are neither satisfied nor unsatisfied. One in twenty (6%) report they are very or rather unsatisfied with life in Georgia.

Most Russians feel physically secure living in Georgia. A third of the respondents (33%) felt very safe, and 56% said they felt quite safe. Only 8% reported feeling neither safe nor unsafe, and 3% said they felt very unsafe or rather unsafe.

Since moving to Georgia, nine in ten respondents (89%) opened a bank account, two-thirds (68%) received money transfers from Russia, three in ten (30%) opened or registered a business, and 6% purchased real estate. 

The reported duration of respondents’ stays in Georgia is mixed, with a large share uncertain of how long they’ll stay. Half (49%) plan to remain in Georgia for at least a year. A further 14% plan to spend more than six months, but less than a year. One in twenty (6%) plan to stay for more than four months, but no more than six. Other periods were reported by less than 5% of the sample. A quarter of the Russians surveyed Russians (25%) have yet to decide how long they will remain in Georgia.

The émigrés overwhelmingly trust Georgians.  Nine in ten (91%) fully or mostly trust residents of Georgia, while only 8% say that they do not trust Georgians.

Attitudes towards Georgian politics

The Russians surveyed tend to think Georgia qualifies as a democracy, but they are divided over the scale of its political issues. More than a third of the respondents think Georgia is either a full democracy (3%) or a democracy with minor problems (35%). Slightly over half believe Georgia is a democracy with major problems (56%). Only 3% consider Georgia not at all democratic, and the remaining 3% do not know.

The émigrés generally rate Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili’s performance negatively, whereas they primarily rate that of President Salome Zurabishvili positively. Only 19% of respondents thought the PM's performance was very or quite positive, whereas 74% said the President's performance was very or quite positive.

Leaving Russia

Similar to earlier studies of displaced Russians in Georgia, the major reasons for leaving Russia were the political situation in Russia, the conflict in Ukraine, and the ‘partial’ mobilisation that took place in September 2022. The political situation in Russia was cited by an overwhelming majority of responders (87%). 73% mentioned the conflict with Ukraine. Slightly less than a third (29%) of Russians polled stated the announcement of 'partial' mobilisation was among the primary triggers prompting their departure.

The polled Russians maintain regular contact with their friends and family who remain in Russia. A little more than a quarter of those polled (27%) said they communicated with friends and family in Russia on a daily basis. Half of those polled indicated they spoke with them at least once a week. 16% indicated they spoke with friends and family in Russia at least once a month but not every week. Fewer respondents reported talking with friends and family less often.  

Moreover, the interviewed Russians have no plans to return to Russia anytime soon. The vast majority of Russians polled (93%) said they would not return to Russia in the foreseeable future.

Attitudes towards Russian politics

When questioned about their overall opinion of Russia, respondents tend to assess the country unfavourably. Two-thirds (66%) of Russians in the survey had negative feelings about Russia. A little more than a quarter of them (28%) were optimistic, while 6% were unsure and refused to answer the question.

Respondents trust other Russians who left more than those that stayed. While 76% of respondents reported trusting Russians who left, 49% reported trusting Russians who stayed.

The respondents were certain that Russia does not qualify as a democracy, with 94% reporting Russia is not a democracy at all. 

Respondents tend to evaluate Russian President Vladimir Putin very negatively and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny quite positively. Nine in ten respondents (89%) assessed Putin’s performance very negatively, and 5% rather negatively. Eight in ten respondents (79%) assessed Navalny’s performance positively.

The Russians interviewed in the above survey overwhelmingly left due to the war, and came to Georgia for security. The above data suggests they have found it, and they are satisfied with life here. They have relatively positive views of Georgia’s democracy, while assessing President Zurabishvili positively and Prime Minister Gharibashvili negatively. They tend to hold highly negative views of Putin, and quite positive views of Navalny. They recognise Russia is not a democracy.

This blog is based on a larger report, available here.

NOTE: Due to the non-probability sampling method, the results are only applicable to the respondents (N=1008) and not to the whole population of Russian citizens residing in Georgia.