Is xenophobia on the rise in Georgia?

On September 1, 2014 new rules and regulations came into force for foreigners interested in visiting Georgia. Under the previous visa regime, citizens of 118 countries could stay in Georgia without a visa. Many with visa free travel privileges could receive a visa stamp at the airport that would be valid for 360 days, and simply renew their visa by crossing an international border and returning to Georgia. Even nationals of many countries not covered by this visa free travel regime could receive a visa upon arrival in Georgia. This was a liberal visa regime. Under the new visa regime, a shorter list of foreign nationals will be allowed to visit Georgia for 90 days (within a 180-day period), and can receive a visa stamp upon arrival. The new policy intends to bring Georgia in line with EU policy, and it was prescribed by the EU to allow easier access for Georgians to enter the Schengen Zone under the EU-Georgia visa liberalization action plan (VLAP).

Despite the fact that the policy brings Georgia in line with EU legislation, some have questioned the logic of the law. Specifically, many consider the law to be xenophobic and punitive, as Gavin Slade has argued. This change was likely made so that Georgia would not be an entry point for illegal migration to Europe via Turkey. With all of this in mind, readers may be interested in whether xenophobia is on the rise in Georgia. This post looks at the level of approval of foreigners marrying Georgian women, and at the level of approval of Georgian citizens doing business with other ethnicities between 2009 and 2013 (as a proxy for xenophobic attitudes in Georgia).

If xenophobia were on the rise in Georgia, one would expect an increasing level of disapproval of doing business with foreigners or Georgian women marrying other ethnicities. Yet, data from the Caucasus Barometer (CB) shows that xenophobia is not on the rise; approval rates for both interethnic marriage (27% on average) and for doing business with different ethnicities (77% on average) have not changed drastically from 2009 to 2013.

Note: Only ethnic groups that were consistently present in the CB from 2009 to 2013 were included in the average calculation. These include Turks, Russians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Kurds/Yezidis, Abkhazians, Ossetians, Americans, and Jews. This group is referred to as a ‘collection of ethnicities’. During the CB survey, respondents were asked “Would you approve or disapprove of people of your ethnicity doing business with,” and “Would you approve or disapprove of women of your ethnicity marrying,” followed by a list of ethnicities. Respondents were able to respond ‘approve’ or ‘disapprove’. Approve was coded as 1 and disapprove was coded as 0. In the graph above, averages of respondents’ answers to each ethnicity below or equal to 0.50 were coded as disapprove, and averages greater than 0.50 were coded as approve. The same method was used to calculate averages below.

Although the above graph suggests that there has not been a pronounced increase in anti-foreign feelings in the last five years, some ethnicities are appraised as more favorable for marriage and business than other ethnicities. Generally, Russians, Americans, and Europeans of different ethnicities are viewed more favorably, and Yezidis/Kurds, Chinese, Iranians, Indians, and Turks are generally perceived as less favorable for marriage and business. The graph below shows views for marriage regarding these and other groups in 2013.

The figure also shows that marriages to ethnicities which tend to be Christian receive higher approval rates than to those generally associated with Islam and other non-Christian religions. The figure below gives averages of approval ratings for marriage and doing business with ethnicities that tend to be Christian, and with those that tend to be non-Christian from 2009 to 2013. The figure shows that Georgians have consistently approved of marriage (by 15 to 20 percentage points) with foreign ethnicities that tend to be Christian, than to those that tend to be non-Christian. It also shows that Georgians have been between 5 and 12 percentage points more likely to approve of business with foreign Christians as opposed to foreign non-Christians. Both trends have been stable over time.

Note: The category Christian in the above graph consists of Russians, Americans, Armenians, Ossetians, and Abkhazians. The non-Christian category consists of Jews, Turks, Yezidis/Kurds, and Azerbaijanis. Only ethnic groups that were consistently present in the CB from 2009 to 2013 were included in the average calculation. Calculations were made as described below the first graph in this blog post.

This blog post has shown that the average level of approval of doing business with foreigners, and Georgian women marrying foreigners, has not changed much in the past four years. The blog has also shown that differences in approval rates between specific ethnicities appear to be related to religion. Georgians are more likely to approve of marriage and business relations with ethnicities that tend to be Christian. Importantly, these levels have been quite consistent from 2009 to 2013 which suggests that, with respect to these specific factors, xenophobic attitudes are not on the rise in Georgia.

To explore issues related to marriage and business relations in Georgia, take a look at this blog post on Georgian nationalism, or examine the data directly with CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool.


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