Book Review | The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict and Nationhood in the Caucasus | Christoph Zürcher
The earliest books that came out about the Caucasus after the collapse of the Soviet Union were firsthand accounts of events. Now, a second spate of books, which attempt to apply analytical frameworks to the turbulent events that occurred have the breakup of the Soviet Union are beginning to appear. Christoph Zürcher’s The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict and Nationhood in the Caucasus, published with New York University Press, falls into this category. The book examines where wars occurred in the Caucasus (Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Chechnya) and where they didn’t (Dagestan and Ajara) and places those cases studies within the context of the international quantitative literature that attempts to explain why internal wars occur.
Those who are knowledgeable about the Caucasus will find much information they have already come across. However, for those interested in international conflict who possess little regional understanding, the tersely written detail provides a good overview.
To whet your appetite for some of the details about why wars started in the Caucasus, Zürcher argues that, in Georgia, anti-Soviet rhetoric allowed for no maintenance of Soviet institutions, increasing the likelihood of conflict, since state institutions utterly collapsed as a result. Furthermore, the fallback on nationalist rhetoric, which was seen as the only way of creating a cohesive political force, then alienated both Abkhaz and Ossetians. Zürcher, perhaps controversially, also claims that Armenian politics looked very similar to Baltic politics (and different from Georgian and Chechen) in that the same type of state weakness did not exist. However, Zürcher makes the claim, which has been echoed in much of the democratization commentary about Armenia, that instead of the Baltic states’ orientation towards Europe, Armenia’s politicians unified around war in Nagorno-Karabakh, creating an anti-reform minded regime.
From a more technical standpoint, the book is a rare breed within the political science literature, as it is specifically concerned about testing existing theories about internal wars by examining a series of cases studies. In doing so the volume seeks to refine those theories. While this type of book is out of vogue because the academic nomenklatura does not perceive the endeavor as groundbreaking, it serves an important role in refining theories, something Zürcher does throughout the book.
So what does Zürcher find in relationship to the international quantitative literature? Several variables that are generally cited as determinants of internal war do not appear to hold true in the Caucasus: low economic development and mountainous terrain do not help in explaining the conflagrations in the Caucasus. Despite the Caucasus being mountainous, most conflict occurred in urban environs or in the plains. In the conflicts where mountains played a role, the guerillas (which conflict theory supposes are aided by mountains) had the mountains against them. In fact, Zürcher seeks to refine the theory about the relationship between mountains and war and suggests several plausible alternative hypotheses, part of the intellectual merit of the book. One interesting hypothesis is that mountains are a proxy for the cheap recruitment of male soldiers, since mountainous areas often have high unemployment rates and hence a male population ready to mobilize.
The volume also reinforces the idea found in the international quantitative literature that state weakness often plays an important role – perhaps much more so than underdevelopment – as does the role of one ethnic group constituting the majority of the population. This ethnicity argument is well-highlighted with Zürcher’s case study of Dagestan, where ethnicity did not play the same role as in Georgia, Armenia or Chechnya, in part because of the fact that no ethnic group had a majority.
Overall, this reviewer found the findings sound, but would have like to see more analysis of some of the interesting proxy variables discussed above. This, however, could form the basis of a new and fruitful conflict research agenda in the Caucasus.
By Zaur Shiriyev
By Yevgenya Jenny Paturyan
Interview by Dustin Gilbreath
By: Dustin Gilbreath
CRRC’s third annual Methodological Conference: Transformations in the South Caucasus and its Neighbourhood
[Note: Social Science in the Caucasus is publishing the work of six young researchers who entered CRRC-Georgia’s Junior Fellowship Program (JFP) in February 2015. This is the third blog post in the series. Click here to see the first and second blog posts in the series.]
[Note: Social Science in the Caucasus is publishing the work of six young researchers who entered CRRC-Georgia’s Junior Fellowship Program (JFP) in February 2015. This is the second blog post in the series. Click here to see the first blog post.]
CRRC’s Junior Fellowship Program (JFP) was launched in 2009 as a Carnegie Corporation initiative within the CRRC, with the goal of providing on-the-job training opportunities in applied research for young social scientists.
Deserving to be beaten and tolerating violence: Attitudes towards violence against women in Azerbaijan
In August 2012 CRRC launched the study of Georgia’s Workforce Development system, commissioned by the World Bank. Document review and key informant interviews have been used as main research methods in this study. On 19th of December, the World Bank office in Tbilisi hosted a workshop which aimed at presenting and validating the preliminary finding...
As Georgians prepare for parliamentary elections set for October 1, 2012, political parties have entered the final stage of the pre-elections race. One of the important attributes of active citizenship and civic engagement is voting in elections. This blog explores Georgians’ attitudes toward voting in elections based on age group and gender differences. In this r...
The recent history of the South Caucasus as seen by the world’s media – Part 1, Armenia and Azerbaijan
By Till Bruckner
By Nino Zubashvili
By Dustin Gilbreath
In terms of the business findings, CRRC's Media Survey (undertaken in September/October 2009) generated extensive data that is available to help media make good business decisions. One recent presentation, summarized here, focused on showing the diversity of data that is available.
Food Safety in Georgia: views from retailers, producers and consumers in Tbilisi and Samtskhe-Javakheti
Brookings Index of Regime Weakness | State Rebuilding or State Collapse in the Caucasus | The Annals of Data
Here are some basic tips and tricks we found useful.
Book Review: Georgia Diary: A Chronicle of War and Political Chaos in the Post-Soviet Caucasus | Thomas Goltz
Visa liberalization: How much do people in Georgia know about the conditions of visa-free travel to the EU?CRRC’s previous blog posts have shown that the population of Georgia had rather moderate expectations of the recent visa liberalization with the Schengen zone countries, especially when it comes to the question of how much ordinary people will benefit from it. Europe Foundation’s latest survey on Knowledge of and Attitudes towards the European Union in Georgia, conducted in May 2017, provides a more nuanced understanding on how people in Georgia feel about this process and to what extent they are familiar with the conditions of visa liberalization.
Taking partly free voters seriously: autocratic response to voter preferences in Armenia and GeorgiaDo voters in less than democratic contexts matter or are elections simply facades used to create a veneer of democratic accountability for domestic and international actors? Within the Autocratic Response to Voter Preferences in Armenia and Georgia project, funded by Academic Swiss Caucasus Net, CRRC-Georgia and CRRC-Armenia aimed to help answer this question, at least for Georgia and Armenia. On October 27, Caucasus Survey published the results of the project in a special issue, available here.
On December 1-13, 2016, CRRC-Georgia asked the population of Georgia about their New Year’s plans. Unsurprisingly, people mostly follow established traditions. A large majority (73%) plan to ring in the New Year at home. Nine per cent will meet it in a friend’s or a relative’s home. Meeting the New Year in the street or in a restaurant or a café is not yet common, and only one per cent of people in Georgia plan to do so. Another 15% had not decided in the first half of December where they would celebrate the New Year.
What are young people’s values and how are these different from older generations’ values in Georgia?As Georgian society is going through social and cultural changes, it is important to understand people’s beliefs and values. Comparing the values of young people to those of the older generations is also important. This blog post summarizes the findings of a study that examined the values of young people aged 18 to 25, and analysed how these values are different from the values of older people in Georgia, based on both quantitative (World Values Survey, 2014) and qualitative data (40 in-depth interviews conducted in 2016). The study looked at values, perceptions, attitudes and tolerance towards different minority groups in Georgia. It concludes that in many cases, the younger generation shares more modern views and values, while the older generations are more inclined to support traditional values and hold conservative points of view.
During Sargsyan’s incumbency, dissatisfaction with government grew and support for protest increasedSerzh Sargsyan, formerly the President and then Prime Minister of Armenia, resigned from office on April 23rd, 2018, following 11 days of peaceful protest. Over the past 10 years, which coincide with Sargsyan’s time in office, Armenians were increasingly dissatisfied with their government. At the same time, the country witnessed growing civic engagement, with “youth-driven, social media-powered, issue-specific civic activism,” referred to as “civic initiatives”. CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer data from 2008 to 2017 reflect both these trends.
In the December 2017 CRRC/NDI survey, pollution was the second most commonly named “infrastructural” issue, with 23% of the population choosing it in the respective show card. Only roads were named more often, by 33%. Approximately equal shares of men and women named pollution: 25% of women and 20% of men; similarly, there was no difference in the frequency of naming this issue by age.
The Caucasus Barometer survey regularly asks people, “Which of the following statements do you agree with: “‘People are like children; the government should take care of them like a parent’ or ‘Government is like an employee; the people should be the bosses who control the government.’” Approximately half of the population of Georgia (52%) agreed in 2017 with the former statement and 40% with the latter. Responses to this question have fluctuated to some extent over time, but overall, attitudes are nearly equally split.
In early December 2017, two schoolchildren were killed on Khorava Street in Tbilisi. On May 31st, 2018, Tbilisi City Court announced the decision on the Khorava Street murder case. The announcement caused mass demonstrations led by Zaza Saralidze, a father of one of the murdered children.On June 19-26, 2018, within the EU-funded project “Facilitating Implementation of Reforms in the Judiciary (FAIR)”, CRRC-Georgia conducted a phone survey on people’s knowledge about the Court decision and their evaluation. The survey resulted in 1005 completed interviews, and is representative of the adult Georgian-speaking population of the country. The average margin of error of the survey is 2.8%.
Livestock care and livestock-related decision making in rural Georgia: Are there any gender differences?CRRC-Georgia’s survey conducted in August 2017 for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) asked about livestock owned by rural households in Georgia, including cows, bulls, buffalo, pigs, sheep, and goats. Cows and bulls were reported to be owned most commonly. Some of the questions the project addressed the division of tasks between men and women in taking care of livestock, while other questions tried to find out whether there were gender differences in making major decisions related to livestock and livestock products.
The 2018 presidential elections, and particularly, the events surrounding the second round, have come to be considered a setback for Georgia’s democratic trajectory. Between the first and second round, it was announced that 600,000 voters would have debt relief immediately following the elections, leading some to suggest this was a form of vote buying. A number of instances of electoral fraud were also alleged. The use of party coordinators around election precincts was also widely condemned.
But what do people want?
Georgians are enthusiastic in supporting the country’s accession to the European Union. Since 2012, when the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and CRRC-Georgia started tracking attitudes, three quarters of Georgians approved of the government’s goal of joining the EU, on average. What motivates Georgians to support the Union, or alternatively, to abandon support? A survey experiment included in the latest CRRC/NDI poll suggests potential economic burdens have a modest yet significant effect on support for membership. Results do not support the common belief that a potential military threat from Russia dampens Georgians’ support for the EU.
While many things could divide the public, what do the people think and which groups report more and fewer sources of division? The April 2019 NDI-CRRC poll suggests that there are fewer perceived reasons for division in rural areas and among ethnic minorities.