In my next columns, I will describe the results of comparatives surveys conducted by the most reputable polling firms in both Russia and Georgia, the Levada Center and GORBI, respectively.
I had several chances to meet the late Yuri Levada, one of the greatest pollsters and political scientist in contemporary Russia. A year ago, I met with Stepan Goncharov, part of the new generation of the Levada Center and a bright representative of his field. We agreed to combine our resources to shed light on modern public perceptions about issues important to both of our countries. While we have intentionally refrained from asking certain sensitive questions – ones concerning the Russian occupation of Georgian territories, the influence of Russian propaganda, or the export of Georgian criminal bosses to Russia - we have covered several interesting fields: the changing sentiments between our two nations, the evolving civil society in each country, which of us more strongly regrets the collapse of the Soviet Union, and how influential the media is in terms of how our countries view each other.
This kind of survey is not the first of its kind; GORBI and ROMIR (the largest Russian-owned public opinion survey firm) have conducted a comparative survey of the two countries right after the 2008 war that revealed many interesting findings. One finding that immediately comes to my mind was that both Russians and Georgians considered Stalin to be one of the top three “Most Prominent Russians/Georgians who ever lived. ”
Attitudes towards each other
Based on net ratings (positive – negative percentages), Georgians had a slightly more negative disposition towards Russia (37% positive feelings) than Russians felt towards Georgia (42% positive feelings).
When asked what their attitude was towards the other country, the majority of surveyed respondents had positive attitudes (Russia 59% and Georgia 66%). However, almost twice as many Georgians have negative attitudes towards Russians than vice versa: 30% and 17%, respectively, and five time more Russians than Georgians could not answer this question, 25% and 4%, respectively.
And, what about Russian/Georgian residents in these countries?
Around one million Georgian citizens left their country after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, and several hundred thousand of them ended up in Russia. Personal or professional ties with Russia, no visa requirements for entry, the opportunity to engage in business and earn money quickly, and the knowledge of Russian language contributed to this influx of Georgians into Russia. The situation was further exacerbated by a devastated economy, civil wars, and years of political instability in Georgia, eventually decreasing our population from 5.4 million (according to the 1989 census) to 3.7 million people (2014 census).
Based on these survey results, the overwhelming majority of Georgians feel positively towards Russian inhabitants in Georgia, and seven in ten Russian respondents are well-disposed towards Georgian inhabitants in Russia (90% vs 71%). The number of Russians who feel negatively towards Georgian inhabitants is twice as large as their Georgian counterparts (12% vs. 6%).
Who we are culturally?
42% of Russians feel that we, Georgians, are an “exclusive” culture (one that is unique and self-determined), and only 16% of Georgians thought the same about their Russian peers.
Compared to Russian respondents, twice as many Georgians think that modern Russia is a European country. Every fourth Russian respondent (24%) considers Georgia to be an Eastern culture, while half of that number in Georgia considers Russia to be an Eastern Culture (12% ). Every fourth surveyed respondent in Russia could not label Georgia as any particular type of culture, and another 12% of Georgian respondents have nothing to say about Russian cultural belonging.
Not surprisingly, educated respondents were much more knowledgeable about the other country. As for the young respondents from both societies, Georgians tend to be more aware of and interested in Russia.
As said earlier, I will be publishing more interesting data from this survey in the upcoming weeks, the time when we Georgians start witnessing more crowds of Russian tourists in Georgia. Well, we don’t have any football tournament, so no worries about more street fights between Russian hooligans and their opponents. Still, the discrepancies between knowledge and attitudes of these two nations towards each other are eye-catching and important for political pundits and government agencies in charge of tourism, culture, education, and foreign relations.
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.