In 1995, I had the fortune and honor of being appointed country director for the World Values Survey (WVS) to coordinate public opinion polls in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Since then, my company GORBI has conducted 3 long-term research waves in Georgia, the most recent one concluding in December 2014. WVS is a unique initiative that gives scholars and other interested parties the opportunity to access trend data and compare countries across the globe. The survey asks over 100 questions on various issues to scientifically-designed population samples on all continents. In this column I focus on safety and crime.
Things have changed drastically since GORBI first started asking safety related questions to the general public. In the early 1990s, the sight of a man brandishing a Kalashnikov on the streets of Tbilisi was as common as eating Khinkali in a Georgian restaurant now.
After GORBI conducted the Crime Victim Survey (on behalf of the EU delegation in Georgia) in 2009 and compared its results with other country data, it turned out that Georgia was the safest country in terms of how its citizens felt (the absolute majority was not afraid to walk streets at night in their own neighborhoods). Moreover, based on the same survey (3 consequent waves were conducted since) in which we measured 21 latent crimes, Georgia again stood out as the safest country, outperforming the European Union and the United States. Just how this was achieved and the price Georgian society paid is another question, and I don’t want to use this column to discuss human rights violations, the fact that prisons were filled at overcapacity, impotence of court system and debilitation of the prosecutor’s office during this period. However, the good thing is that these safety trends have continued under the new government. The average citizen or guest now enjoys a level of security and safety unseen in the country since perhaps the era of the Soviet straightjacket.
Based on the WVS, Georgia is among the top 10 countries worldwide whose citizens feel secure in and around their neighborhood. More than nine in 10 surveyed respondents said that they feel very or quite secure.
Another question the WVS asked globally to its citizens was “how frequently do robberies occur in your neighborhood?” Here Georgia turns to be the champion! Only 2% of respondents said that robbery occurs frequently in their neighborhood – the lowest figure among 60 countries.
Chart 1: Numbers in the graph indicate responses: “feeling safe in my neighborhood.” The line across the chart with figures represents percentages of population that said “robbery is frequent in their neighborhood.” (Figures are given in percentages.)
South Africa, Mexico and Egypt are the top three countries where half of the population admitted robbery is frequent in the area where they leave. Based on the same survey, only 29% of citizens of Egypt feel safe while walking in their own neighborhood, the lowest number among all surveyed countries.
If we exclude civil wars from the formula, the Illegal drug trade is certainly the biggest contributor to high crime rates. Respondents across the globe were asked how frequently they witness people openly dealing drugs on their streets. The top three countries where illegal drugs are easily available on the streets (we did not specify whether hard or soft drugs) were Brazil (50%), South Africa (43%) and Mexico (41%).
Chart 2. Top countries where selling drugs on the streets are not common
As shown in Chart 2, Georgia ended up in the list of those countries were citizens do not see drug dealers openly at work on the street. In Bahrain and Qatar the survey reported zero incidents. Personally, I have visited more than half of those countries that are listed in Chart 2, but I am not very familiar with the criminal laws or cultural peculiarities in these countries, so I can’t say much. However, when it comes to the Georgian criminal code, drug possession (and I am not talking about selling drugs) carries a heavier punishment than illegal enrichment of uranium, rape or high treason and this is true even for possessing small amounts of soft drugs like marijuana.
Bottom line is that in Georgia you can enjoy a safe environment while sightseeing or drinking alcohol, preferably red dry wine for recreation purposes.
GORBI is a regional hub for partner organizations and international clients. GORBI is an exclusive member of Gallup International research network since 2003 and has over two decades of experience in survey research in the former Soviet Union, as well as Mongolia and Iraq.