Do Armenians Still View Integration with the EU as Part of a Positive-Sum Game?
Even following President Sargsyan’s agreement to join the ECU, a large section of the public believes that Armenia can maintain positive relations with both Russia and the EU. In June 2014, the Civilitas Foundation conducted a nationwide telephone survey of Armenian adults which found that 51% of the population believes that “Armenia should deepen relations both with Europe and Russia,” compared to 34% answering that Armenia should deepen relations with Russia only and only 4% responding that Armenia should deepen relations with the EU only.
While support for complementarity remains high, the CB indicates that positive attitudes toward the EU have declined, especially during the two years prior to announcement of the customs agreement. Whereas in 2011 62% of Armenians indicated “Support” for the country’s membership in the EU, in 2013 only 41% did so (for the data presented in this blog post, the values have been re-coded from a five-point scale used in the questionnaire to a three-point scale. Values “Rather support” and “Fully support” have been combined to “Support,” values “Rather don’t support” and “Don’t support at all” have been combined to “Don’t support”). Over the same span the proportion choosing “Don’t Support” nearly tripled from 8% to 23%. In addition, each year respondents are asked to “assess their level of trust toward the European Union” (values measuring trust were also re-coded from a five-point scale used in the questionnaire to a three-point scale, so that “Fully Trust” and “Somewhat Trust” have been combined to “Trust” and “Fully Distrust” and “Somewhat Distrust” have been combined to “Distrust"). In 2011 37% indicated that they “Trust” the EU, while that figure fell to 27% by 2013. The share of those answering that they “Distrust” the EU increased from 17% to 28% over the same period.
These findings beg the question: why has public support for the EU among Armenians shown a tendency to decrease in recent years? One explanation is that public officials have prioritized the country’s deepening relationship with Russia while refraining from extensive public discourse concerning the EU. According to Delcour (2014) “Russia is widely seen as the security guarantor by the general Armenian public, whereas there is little knowledge of the European Union…Negotiations with the EU were conducted with small groups of experts, with hardly any explanations of their consequences and benefits to the population.”
The security component of the strategic partnership with Russia means that it tends to receive more attention, with Kempe (2013) expressing the view that “while the EU can be seen as an important partner for modernization and soft security, Russia still matters much more for Armenia as far as hard security is concerned.” While official foreign policy and public opinion are not always congruent, scholars such as Gabel and Scheve (2007) assert that government plays an important role in shaping popular attitudes. In Armenia the state has the potential to affect public opinion through influence over the media; in 2013 Freedom House declared that “most of the dominant media are controlled by government or government-friendly individuals.” This suggests that public support for the EU has declined not because of negative treatment in the public discourse but because of a lack of discussion in general.
A second possible explanation for eroding support is the indication that a growing segment of the population is uncomfortable with the purported spread of “European values” in Armenia. Historically close ties with Russia have emboldened pro-Russian voices in the country who oppose the AA primarily for cultural reasons. When the Civilitas poll asked Armenians to pinpoint the “greatest disadvantage of Armenia’s deeper integration with the European Union,” 18% indicated “loss of national identity.” While that number is not high in absolute terms, it appears more significant when contrasted with the fact that only 2% responded “loss of national identity” when asked the same question concerning deeper integration with the ECU. Armenian cultural conservatives tend to prefer closer ties with Russia and the ECU, not seeing danger in Russian cultural influence.
Despite the pro-Russian stance of most cultural conservatives, public opinion surveys confirm the preference for complementarity among a large segment of the Armenian public, even after the announcement of the customs agreement with Russia. However, trust and support for Armenia’s integration with the EU have slightly declined in recent years. This may be due to a relative lack of information about the EU on the part of citizens, as the government tends to prioritize the country’s strategic partnership with Russia while failing to adequately inform the public about the EU. Moreover, a growing segment of Armenians distrust the EU most likely out of the perception that deeper integration with it poses a threat to “national identity,” which in contrast is seen as a non-issue in Armenian-Russian relations.
To gain more information on public opinion in Armenia, take a look at the CRRC’s online data analysis tool. For deeper insights on the Eurasian Customs Union useful analysis is provided by the Eurasian Economic Commission as well as the European Union Institute for Security Studies.
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
Deserving to be beaten and tolerating violence: Attitudes towards violence against women in Azerbaijan
The recent history of the South Caucasus as seen by the world’s media – Part 1, Armenia and Azerbaijan
By Nino Zubashvili
By Dustin Gilbreath
From environmental catastrophe to violence, our world currently faces serious challenges with long-term consequences. In this context, what do people in the Caucasus consider to be the most acute problems?
Book Review | The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict and Nationhood in the Caucasus | Christoph Zürcher
Brookings Index of Regime Weakness | State Rebuilding or State Collapse in the Caucasus | The Annals of Data
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.
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.
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.
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.
CRRC-Georgia investigates who is more susceptible to Russian-pushed conspiracies surrounding Georgia’s US-funded Lugar Centre.
In Georgia, a conspiracy about the US-funded Richard Lugar Centre for Public Health Research in Tbilisi has recently gained traction. As CRRC-Georgia’s USAID-funded research shows, Georgia’s far-right groups eagerly picked up on this conspiracy and blamed the centre for the seasonal flu outbreak in early 2019.
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.
The 2019 survey on Knowledge and Attitudes towards the European Union in Georgia which CRRC Georgia carried out for Europe Foundation suggests that this trend is continuing in Georgia.
But, what does the public in Georgia know about the process of appointment of the Supreme Court Justices, and what is their attitude towards the newly appointed justices and judicial institutions? A phone survey conducted on January 30 - February 10, 2020 suggests that people in Georgia are divided between trusting and distrusting judicial institutions...
Public opinion polls suggest support for democracy is on the decline in Georgia, but does support for democracy correlate to support for liberal values?
An increasing number of Georgians view their country as ‘a democracy with major problems’, with CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer survey showing the share of people reporting this belief to have increased from 27% in 2011 to 48% in 2019.
In parallel to this growing scepticism towards the country’s democratic situation, surveys show a decline in the proportion of the population believing that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government, falling from 65% in 2011 to 49% in 2019.