Author: Zurab Batiashvili, Research Fellow, Rondeli Foundation
For the first time this year, an American strategic research center StrategEast published the Westernization Index 2018 of the post-Soviet states (except Russia). The study is unique due to the fact that if other assessments made by various organizations until now concerned the level of integration of the aforementioned republics with the West in certain specific fields, the 176-page study by StrategEast, by its content, is the very first integrated, combined assessment of all these fields.
Since the study represents the very first serious work of its kind, the authors believe that the methodology of calculating the Index cannot be perfect and will probably have to be improved in the future. Hence, the main aim of this year’s Index is to show the major trends and lay the groundwork for larger, more detailed studies planned for the future. This year’s study includes five main fields: politics, judicial system, economy, language as well as culture and way of life. These fields are also divided into sub-fields, with the assessment of those presented as well. Almost everything is being counted: foreign policy orientations of ruling and opposition political parties, public opinion, legislation, level of independence of courts and economic and cultural characteristics. For example, among other issues, they also study and count the number of Western films and TV shows on the channels of the country in question, the level of knowledge of Western languages (English, French, German and Spanish), number of visitors to the West (EU and US) and so on.
Comparison of Countries
According to the results of the study, Estonia has the best indicators, getting 93 out of 100 points. Turkmenistan ended up last, with 17.5 points. The 14 post-Soviet republics got the following points on the Westernization Index, as a result of the summary of assessments in various fields:
Such a grouping of the countries happened, in a way, naturally. As was expected, the Baltic States (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) are the leaders of the Index. The countries of this group are assessed as “Genuine Pro-Westerners,” that have fully internalized the Western political, economic, judicial and cultural model.
According to the study, these are followed by a second group of “Pro-Western façade” countries, including the three Eastern Partnership states (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine), the pro-Western parties of which sometimes adopt laws that contradict their obligations to the West. Hence, oftentimes their pro-Westernness is of a declared nature and it is difficult to pass reforms that would turn these countries into real Western democracies.
The remaining post-Soviet states are seriously lagging behind these two groups.
The study puts a special emphasis on the level of independence of the courts. High or average assessment in this field was given to the Baltic States trio: Estonia – 7, Lithuania – 7 and Latvia – 5, as well as Georgia, who got 4, while other post-Soviet states significantly fall behind in this regard – ranging from 0.5 to 1.5.
According to the study, Russia maintains cultural influence on all of the 14 countries; however, it is meeting serious competition from not only the West but also Turkey. In this regard, it is considered that Moscow’s strongest instruments are Russian TV channels and social media. It should be pointed out that the attempts of certain countries to reduce the volume of Russian content in their television space did not automatically mean the growth of the Western content. It is also interesting to note that the cultural integration with the West is not dependent on geography only, a good case in point being Georgia, which also holds the fourth place in this field. And all this while Moldova, which is much closer with the West geographically (and which got visa liberalization with the EU much earlier than us, with hundreds of thousands of its citizens also having Romanian citizenship), holds the 8th place, even overtaken by Armenia.
As for the number of visitors in the Western countries, the Baltic States also lead the group in this regard, due to objective reasons, while Moldova holds the fourth place – about 300,000 Moldovans, which is 10% of the country’s population, live and work in Italy. Ukraine holds the fifth place as due to the preferential policies exercised by Warsaw, 1.5 million Ukrainians work in Poland.
Georgia in the Study
About six pages of the study were dedicated to Georgia, discussing the process of our country’s approximation with the West, field by field, with respective points given to each of them.
In the field of politics, Georgia got 19.5 out of 25. In this field, we lost points mainly due to the fact that in the 2017 Press Freedom Index we were in the group of partly free countries; the parties with strong anti-Western sentiments in the Parliament of Georgia, such as the Patriotic Alliance and Topadze-Industrials, also played their own negative role.
Our country lost an especially large number of points in the field of approximating the legal system with the West – we got just 14 out of possible 25. Georgia got low points due to the level of convergence of the Constitution with the Venice Commission recommendations, as well as the level of independence of the courts.
Georgia got 16 out of 25 points in the field of approximating its economy to the West. Here our country gained points due to the fact that it held the 9th position in the 2018 Doing Business index of the World Bank, whilst in the Corruption Perception Index it held the 44th place. On the other hand, we lost points in the categories of attracting Western investments as well as the trade turnover figures with the West.
Georgia got low points (8 out of possible 15) in approximating its language and culture with the West. The point was lowered due to the results of the 2017 CRRC study, according to which about 19% of the population speaks good or average English; about 18% has basic knowledge while up to 63% do not even know the basics. In the field of culture, we gained points due to the fact that mainly Western movies are shown in Georgian cinemas and TV channels and about 86% of the population uses Facebook.
Georgia also has a low assessment (4.5 out of possible 10) in approximating its lifestyle with that of the West. According to the 2015 data, only 9% of the Georgian population traveled to Europe and 2% to the US. However, in the first six months of visa liberalization with the European Union, about 86,500 Georgian citizens traveled to Europe. We also lost points due to the low number of Western brands entering Georgia.
Overall, Georgia held the fourth place among 14 post-Soviet states and it is clearly good that we are the leaders of our group. However, taking into account that our goal is to fully integrate in the Euro-Atlantic space (first and foremost, membership in NATO and the European Union), it is also clear that we should not be content with what is already achieved, needing to strengthen the process of approximation with the West with all available methods.
There are fields in the studies planned for the upcoming years, where Georgia, given the current trends, will get higher points (growth of the number of people utilizing visa liberalization, growth of the volume of trade as well as Western investments and so on). However, in all five major fields there are a number of issues where the efforts of the government, as well as the public, will be vital for improving the overall picture, as the changes in question are more in the interests of Georgia, than those of the West.
It is to be expected that such study/ies will continue in the future as well and will become more popular in the decision-making, as well as scientific circles. Hence, it is important for Georgia to show good results. If we judge by the numbers, our country needs an additional 20 points in order to move to the so-called group of “Genuine Pro-Westerners”. Consequently, we must prove to the West and more importantly to ourselves, which civilization we belong to. On this road, we must take example, naturally, from the Baltic States, using their experience. We believe that achieving this goal, given appropriate political will, is entirely possible.