Territorial integrity has been consistently ranked among the top issues in Georgian public opinion polls. But data from the 2019 Caucasus Barometer survey shows that many in Georgia are open to compromise.
The issue of territorial integrity remains a top concern for many Georgians, albeit with declining salience. In 2009, a CRRC/NDI public opinion poll showed that 49% perceived territorial integrity as the top national issue. Only 29% named it in a similar survey conducted in 2019.
Despite its salience, relatively little is known about what the Georgian public think about conflict resolution or the country’s relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or what type of relations Georgia should have with them.
The 2013 and 2019 CRRC Caucasus Barometer surveys show that Georgians strongly prefer models that maintain the country’s territorial integrity. In 2019, about 87% of the populace preferred Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be directly incorporated into Georgia, a proportion that was fairly close to the 2013 number (82%).
Yet, the public also became more open to other potential solutions. In 2013, a quarter of the public supported Georgia and Abkhazia forming a confederation, while in 2019, almost half of Georgians reported the same.
In 2019, 43% of Georgians supported having a confederation that would include South Ossetia as an equal entity to Georgia.
Poll results from 2013 show that 57% of Georgians would accept Abkhazia enjoying a high degree of autonomy within Georgia, while the proportion increased to 67% in 2019.
Who is more open to compromise?
But which groups are most open to making concessions? To investigate this, a regression model predicting the degree of openness was constructed.
Openness was measured on a four-point index. The highest value of the index was assigned to respondents who said they would accept the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Those who would be willing to accept confederacy were assigned three, respondents accepting only regional autonomy a two, and those supporting their incorporation directly into Georgia were scored as one.
Analysis showed that residents of Tbilisi were more open to compromise. The probability of a Tbilisian to score four on the index was twice as high (14%) as for a rural resident (7%). They were also more likely to score three on the index than others.
While the Caucasus Barometer did not ask respondents whether they were displaced by the conflict, distance from the areas of conflict can be used as a proxy.
Respondents who lived in the immediate vicinity of Abkhazia were relatively more likely to have the highest score (18%) than those who lived 40 kilometres or more from Abkhazia (13%).
Similarly, they were more likely to score three in the scale than those residing farther away.
The pattern was the opposite in the case of South Ossetia. Those residing in proximity to the region were more likely to oppose concessions to South Ossetia, with a mere 8% chance of scoring four on the compromise scale.
It would appear that Georgians are increasingly willing to consider alternative resolutions to these territorial disputes.
The Caucasus Barometer survey shows that Tbilisi residents are more open for a potential compromise. Those who were most likely to experience the conflicts directly have diverging opinions.
While the Georgian public seems to be more open to change than in the past, this does not guarantee that the peace process will find a way forward in the immediate future. Indeed, considering the opinions of national elites and those across the boundary lines, the chances of a breakthrough are rather bleak.
This article is based on an article published in the Caucasus Analytical Digest. The views presented in the article represent the views of the authors’ alone and do not represent the views of CRRC Georgia or any related entity.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.