Ethnic minorities, Georgians, and foreign policy orientation

Georgia’s prominent West-ward political orientation has been demonstrated numerous times, especially in the period following the 2004 Rose Revolution. The signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union in 2014 emphasized once more the country’s willingness for closer cooperation with the EU. Georgia’s choice of strategic partners is stark when looking at the country’s neighborhood, with Azerbaijan moving one step forward and one backward in regard to partnership with the EU, Armenia flirting with both the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, and Turkey a “forever-candidate” of the EU. Importantly, Russia considers Georgia’s EU and, especially, NATO aspirations a threat to its national security.

While Georgia’s closer ties with the EU represent the views and beliefs of a large majority of Georgian citizens, support for the Euro-Atlantic path is notably weaker among the country’s ethnic minority citizens than among the ethnic Georgian population. Hence, it is important to look at the micro dynamics of attitudes and perceptions within the population of Georgia and explore whether ethnic minorities in the country share the same attitudes as the ethnic majority population. CRRC-Georgia’s 2013 survey Knowledge and attitudes toward the EU in Georgia, funded by the Eurasia Partnership Foundation, offers the opportunity to engage in such an endeavor. Ten percent of all survey respondents were sampled from ethnic Azerbaijanis living in the Kvemo Kartli region and ethnic Armenians in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, and the data is representative of the opinions and attitudes of ethnic minorities. Notably, minorities in ‘ethnic enclaves’ are often different from ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis that live in other parts of Georgia and, in some ways, are better integrated into Georgian society. Throughout this blog post, we refer to the subsample of Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the noted ‘ethnic enclaves’ as “minorities,” and to the rest of the sample as “Georgians”.
While 83% of Georgians would vote for Georgia’s EU membership and 74% would vote for Georgia’s NATO membership if a referendum was to be held the day after the survey interview in 2013, only 38% and 31%, respectively of minorities would do the same. Notably, minorities’ non-response rate for these two questions was also much higher compared to Georgians. Thus, minorities are visibly less inclined to support Georgia’s membership in either the EU or NATO.

Opinions on potential allies that can best support Georgia are also different, with most Georgians (38%) choosing the EU, while most minorities (57%) choose Russia. Smaller, but almost equal shares of Georgians think that the USA and Russia (18% and 17%, respectively) can best support the country, and smaller shares of minorities (17% and 14%, respectively) think that the United States and the EU would be best. If choices of the EU and USA are jointly considered as an orientation towards the West, then 56% of Georgians see the West as the best supporter of Georgia, while the same share of minorities (57%) would see Russia in this role.

Minorities differ from Georgians in other respects as well. Asked about the three most important issues currently facing Georgia, the most visible differences in the opinions of Georgians and minorities regard relations with Russia and Georgia’s territorial integrity. While most citizens of Georgia, no matter their ethnicity, name employment (“jobs”) as the most pressing issue (indicated by 63% of the population), their opinions about the importance of other issues differ – the second most frequently mentioned issue for minorities is relations with Russia (indicated by 56% of minorities), while for Georgians it is territorial integrity (indicated by 39% of Georgians).

This blog post compared the views of ethnic minority populations living in the Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti regions of Georgia with the rest of the population in the country. Georgians and minorities have different views especially when it comes to Georgia’s membership in the EU and NATO, international actors that can currently best support Georgia, and partially in relation to the most pressing issues the country currently faces.

How do you think these differences in points of views are manifested or reflected in Georgia’s foreign or domestic policy choices? Join the conversation on the CRRC Georgia Facebook page or in the comments section below.

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