Do Think Tanks in Georgia Lobby for Foreign Powers?
By Till Bruckner
Below, just for the heck of it, I’ll make the counterargument. Here’s the rival hypothesis:
Efforts by governments abroad to boost non-profit oversight and regulation tend to be dismissed almost reflexively as ‘crackdowns’ by many Western donors and their chorus line of NGO grantees, even in the case of mature democracies such as India. These opponents of meaningful government oversight frequently forget – or choose to ignore – that even the world’s oldest democracy, the United Kingdom, places restrictions on the political activities of non-profits, including those that are entirely domestically funded.
If a foreign government designed and funded a similar programme in the U.S., the participating NGOs and think tanks would almost certainly need to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, forcing them to document and subsequently disclose their financial dealings and interactions with officials in great detail.
Non-profit regulation is a minefield in every country, balancing the imperative to preserve freedom of speech (including donor-funded speech) on the one hand, and the desire to protect democratic debating space from excessive distortions by powerful and wealthy vested interests (specifically donor interests) on the other.
(See here for an especially good attempt to strike such a balance through dialogue.)
On the positive side, think tanks have largely delivered on their promise in terms of policy development: they have helped to build domestic research capacity and to improve policy formulation processes and public debates around specific policies, and they deserve a lot of credit for this.
On the negative side, I have witnessed how, over time, think tanks in Georgia have narrowed the field for democratic debate. There’s something impoverished about a political landscape in which every single think tank paper seems to be pro-Western, pro-NATO, pro-E.U., pro-market, and even pro-gay rights, with the scope of inquiry reduced on to how best and fastest to join NATO, join the EU, open markets and privatize, and safeguard minority rights.
Meanwhile, alternative voices, choices and options have been pushed to the margins of media coverage, public debate, and eventually electoral politics, in the process politically marginalizing Georgian voters with different ideological leanings by robbing them of voice, choice and representation. NATO-or-Putin, privatization-or-communism, gays-or-gulags – only idiots and traitors would dissent.
Some observers lament America’s polarized think tank landscape with its endless dialectic clashes between Heritage, Cato, the Center for American Progress & Co., but they miss that each side in every debate should get a chance to articulate, refine and communicate its views through rival think tanks. In Georgia, there is no such democratic competition, as only one ideological side has all the think tanks, all of which financially depend on a cabal of Western donors with overlapping agendas.
What can Georgians do to reclaim and diversify their domestic political space? One option is the German model of funding for think tanks tied to political parties with public money. Another is for think tanks to mobilize more money from domestic donors. Either way, if Georgians want to have a healthy democracy, sooner or later they will have to start paying the bills.
Till Bruckner spent several years living in Georgia, where he witnessed the Rose Revolution while shilling for sinister foreign interests in a variety of roles, including think tank ventriloquist, NGO stooge, and journalistic parrot. He later wrote his PhD thesis on accountability in international aid in Georgia, focusing on the political economy of aid and non-profit accountability. His collection of hats currently includes freelance journalism, think tanking, and running advocacy efforts for Transparify, an initiative promoting greater think tank transparency worldwide. This article was researched and written in a private capacity. None of the views expressed here should in any way be taken to represent the views of Transparify or of any other organization.
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the authors' alone and do not necessarily represent the views of CRRC.
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შიდა მიგრაცია საქართველოში: რა ვიცით მის შესახებ CRRC-ის კავკასიის ბარომეტრის მონაცემების საფუძვლეზე?არსებული შეფასებების თანახმად, მსოფლიო მასშტაბით შიდა მიგრანტთა რაოდენობა ბევრად აღემატება საერთაშორისო მიგრანტთა რაოდენობას. სამწუხაროდ, საქართველოში ძალიან ცოტა მონაცემი არსებობს შიდა მიგრანტების რაოდენობისა და მათი გეოგრაფიული განაწილების შესახებ. საქართველოს სტატისტიკის ეროვნული სამსახურის შინამეურნეობების ინტეგრირებული გამოკვლევები რეგულარულად აგროვებს ინფორმაციას ქვეყანაში შიდა მიგრაციის შესახებ. სახელმწიფო სერვისების განვითარების სააგენტო კოორდინაციას უწევს მოსახლეობის რეგისტრაციას საცხოვრებელი ადგილის მიხედვით.
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By Dustin Gilbreath
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
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Here are some basic tips and tricks we found useful.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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