Georgian youth: EU aspirations, but lacking tolerance
Public opinion polls consistently show that the majority of Georgians want to be a part of the European Union. Young people in Georgia are especially pro-Western, often claiming to share the same values as their peers in the West, according to the survey Knowledge and attitudes toward the EU in Georgia funded by the Eurasia Partnership Foundation and conducted by CRRC-Georgia. Yet, when it comes to acceptance of specific opinions and attitudes divergent from their own, Georgian youth are not always open and tolerant. This blog post compares young Georgians’ level of tolerance and liberal attitudes with that of the youth from other European countries using the results of a survey of young people (16 to 25 years old) conducted in the framework of the Memory, Youth, Political Legacy, and Civic Engagement (MYPLACE) project, carried out in 14 European countries. In each, two settlements were chosen for survey fieldwork. In Georgia, these were Kutaisi and Telavi, and the fieldwork was conducted in fall 2012 by CRRC-Georgia.
Georgian youth assess overall respect for human rights in the country far worse than youth in Croatia, Russia, the UK, and East and West Germany (the project was carried out in East and West Germany separately). Survey results demonstrate that a large majority (up to 70%) of youth in Kutaisi and Telavi think that there is little respect for individual human rights in the country. This can be explained in part by the fact that prior to the start of fieldwork in fall of 2012, videos of torture in Georgian prisons leaked to the media. This led to mass demonstrations, and eventually, spurred on a change of government through October, 2012 parliamentary elections.
Although young Georgians were critical of the extent to which human rights were respected in the country in general, they themselves reported a lack of interest in the rights of sexual and ethnic minorities. Young people’s interest in LGBT rights was particularly low – only 13% of the youth surveyed in Georgia reported that they were interested in LGBT rights, while 68% said they were not interested. Young people in Russian survey locations showed a similar disinterest in LGBT rights, while in all other countries reported interest in LGBT rights was higher, exceeding 20% in Croatia and the United Kingdom, and 40% in both East and West Germany. The lack of interest in Georgia could be interpreted as a lack of respect for the rights of these minorities.
Note: The 11-point scale used for this question was re-coded during the analysis, with original codes 0-3 being labeled as “Not interested”, 4-6 – as “Average interest” and 7-10 as “Interested”.
In Georgia, the above interpretation was partially confirmed by events which followed several months after fieldwork. On May 17, 2013, on the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), Georgian society, including the youth, demonstrated its intolerance towards sexual minorities. Thousands of angry people led by representatives of the Georgian Orthodox Church violently attacked Georgian LGBT-rights activists gathered to commemorate the day. This violence “resulted in 17 people being injured – 12 of whom were hospitalized, including three policemen and a journalist.”
When it comes to the rights of other ethnic groups and foreign nationals – and most notably, migrants – Georgian youth seem to be more accepting than with sexual minorities. Nonetheless, the level of tolerance reported in Georgia is low compared to other countries. About 40% of young people in the Georgian survey locations “strongly agree” or “agree” with the statement that “migrants should have the same rights to welfare (social assistance/support) as people from Georgia.” On the other hand, 38% “strongly disagree” or “disagree” with this statement. Compared with other countries, only Russian young people seem to be less tolerant, with 46% disagreeing with this statement. In surveyed European Union countries, young people are more open to other nations and a higher percentage agrees with the above statement. This data demonstrates that when it comes to immigrants, young people’s way of thinking in Georgia is more in line with young people living in Russia than those living in the EU.
Tolerance and openness to whatever is not considered “Georgian” is often absent among Georgian youth. Therefore, it seems too early to talk about deeply rooted liberal attitudes and tolerance of the youth in Georgia – these values, rather characteristic of EU countries, have not yet developed in Georgia, and many young people are not yet ready to accept different views or to respect and support the interests and rights of minorities in the country.
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[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.]
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