Two parallel worlds in Georgia?

Two parallel worlds in Georgia?

We all know that ethnic communities are generally different both socially and economically compared with a nation’s majority. The case is no different in Georgia. 

In fact, for many centuries, a few dozen different ethnic minorities have coexisted on Georgian territory with few issues. Today, according to the latest census, the top three minority groups are Azeris (6.3%), Armenians (4.5%) and Russians (0.7%), while almost nine out of ten (86.8%) residents are ethnic Georgians. 

Regardless of their common history, ethnic minorities in Georgia are different from the majority in terms of cultural peculiarities, language spoken at home, religion, and region of residence. This is normal and is the pattern in other democracies. 

However, when one looks closer at two of the three major ethnic groups, you can find other interesting discrepancies that are only detectable via opinion polls. 

When pollsters conduct countrywide surveys, they are using Georgian or Georgian-Russian language questionnaires. Very rarely is the text translated into Armenian or Azeri. As a result, this drastically reduces survey responses among those who can’t communicate in the Georgian or Russian language.

This is unfortunate, and here is why: The two ethnicities are very much different in terms of their opinions towards many things including politics, optimism, the future and the media they consume. 

As is shown in Table 1, while overall optimism in Georgia is moderate, compared to Armenians and other residents, ethnic Azerbaijanis are most positively disposed towards the future. The vast majority (83%) believe in economic prosperity for own family, and half are confident that the country is developing in the right direction.  

Differences in political preferences are also great if we look closer at these two groups. GORBI’s pre-election survey last autumn revealed sharp differences in support Mr. Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) party received. Compared with ethnic probably Armenian voters, the UNM was extremely popular among ethnic Azerbaijanis. The question remains however: what is behind this preference? The answer to such a riddle provides a legitimate challenge to any pollster.

To study this phenomenon, opinion surveys would have to be conducted among ethnic minorities. Such surveys cost money, and this is not an urgent priority for any actor in Georgia. So, in the survey’s stead, let me speculate a bit by sharing my thoughts on this phenomenon based on previous data and a long institutional memory. 

When it comes to political preferences, why are Armenians so much closer to the rest of the population compared with Azeris? Is it because Georgians and Armenians have lived together for at least a couple of thousand years longer than their Azeri counterparts have? My immediate inclination is to say NO, simply because all of us have been brainwashed over the last few generations while under the Russian empire and then another 70 years as part of the Soviet Union. We all studied our first lessons in democracy, elections and basic freedoms together. 

Instead, I believe we should take a closer look at media consumption patterns – especially TV, which remains the most trusted media, and is the most popular source for obtaining news in the country.

In Georgia, the TV station you watch in terms of its origin, greatly depends on your ethnicity. For Georgians, the top-five overall TV channels watched are broadcast from the country, hence all news content and political talk shows are produced in the country as well. Whereas, four out of five of the most preferred top TV channels for Azeris are broadcast from Azerbaijan and only one (Imedi TV) contains Georgian content. Interestingly, when it comes to ethnic Armenians, out of the top-five TV channels they watch, two of them come from Armenia, and three are broadcast from Russia.

On the one hand, it is good when no groups within society are fully loyal towards the ruling political establishment. However, this was not the pattern until the 2012 elections. Nonetheless, political differences that are not in line with the “normal distribution” always make me curious. I understand that several factors may play a role, and that includes the overall level of integration of any ethnic minority group in society, strong local personalities who support the opposition political party, and the content on TV that the population is consuming. No one knows about TV content since all actors are interested in Georgian language TV content only, with the exception of the Public Broadcaster which has to broadcast programs in several languages based on the new regulations, but hardly anyone sees it in ethnic groups.   

I also don’t believe that some Azeris are less supportive to the government because despite Baku’s request, Tbilisi did not extradite Azeri journalists who were thought to be on Baku’s official wanted list. Naturally this should have been covered in the Azeri language media.  

The bottom line is that unless there are comprehensive studies conducted among ethnic minorities groups, one can only speculate on this phenomenon. However, speculation is not considered serious business today. 

GORBI is a regional hub for partner organizations and international clients. Since 2003, GORBI remains an exclusive member of Gallup International research network for its two decades of experience in survey research in post-Soviet Union countries, as well as Mongolia and Iraq. This data was provided exclusively to the Financial.