Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Georgians, Russians Divided on What They Have in Common

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 25 – Despite the Russian invasion of Georgia last summer, more than a third of Russians and more than half of Georgians say that the cultures of their two nations are close or very close, attitudes that might serve as the foundation for the development of relations in the future.
But if Russians and Georgians agree on the closeness of their cultures, they disagree on the basis for it, with Russians far more likely to talk about their shared history while Georgians overwhelmingly point to their common Orthodox faith, according to polls conducted by Russian and Georgian survey firms. And those differences are likely to prove more influential (
In reporting the results, ROMIR’s analysts said that “today Russian-Georgian relations are being subjected to a test that may be the most serious in history,” but they added that ROMIR and the Georgian Opinion Research Business International (GORBI) firm had found some basis for optimism about the future.
Russians were less inclined than Georgians to say the cultures of the two nations are close or very close, 35.3 percent versus 53.7 percent, and somewhat more inclined to say they were distant or very distant, 26.6 percent versus 18.7 percent. Fewer than 10 percent of Russians said the cultures have nothing in common, a view fewer than 3 percent of Georgians shared.
Far more intriguing than these global evaluations were the findings of the poll concerning what members of the two nations thought were the basis of this cultural commonality in the past, present and future. Nearly half of the Russians said that these links reflected a common history, while more than three-quarters of Georgians pointed to a shared faith.
Almost half of Russians – 47.2 percent – said a common history had played a key role in the past but only 18.2 percent say it is doing so now, and only 16.5 percent of Russians believe it will in the future. Georgians were much less inclined to share this view, responding respectively 16.3 percent, 3.1 percent and 2.5 percent.
But with regard to the role of religion in linking the two cultures together, Russians were significantly less inclined to see that as an explanation in the past, present or future, with 18.0, 13.4, and 14.5 percent respectively citing that, compared to Georgians who stressed that factor far more in each case, 75.8 percent, 59.1 percent and 55.3 percent.
And the two nations divided on the role of relatives in each country and on the interests they shared in the region. On the latter, the figures were especially striking. One Russian in six said that the two nations had common regional interests in the past, but fewer than one in ten takes that position now. For Georgians, the comparable figures are 7.2 percent and 2.9 percent.
Even if religious commonalities could be exploited to build bridges between the two nations – and both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Georgian Church have sought to do so -- the differences between the two on questions of history and interest are likely to continue to divide Moscow and Tbilisi.
That is all the more likely now given that Georgians increasingly view what Russia is doing in Abkhazia and South Ossetia now not just as a military occupation, given Moscow’s plans to open military bases in both, but as the first step toward the annexation of these two breakaway republics.
Eighty-eight years ago today, on February 25, 1921, Soviet forces entered Georgia and began the process of Sovietizing that hitherto independent republic. Today, Georgians will mark that tragedy in a variety of ways, but many Georgian politicians are already pointing to parallels between that event and what the Russian Federation is doing now.
In an interview on Rustavi 2 television this morning, Paata Davitaya, a leader of the opposition in the Georgian parliament, argued that the Russian “occupation [of Abkhazia and South Ossetia] is moving toward annexation,” a development that Georgians should reflect on as the mark the day of the Sovietization of the republic in 1921.
Other Georgian politicians and commentators were even more explicit. Giorgy Tagramadze, the leader of the Christian Democratic Party in the parliament, said that 1921 represents “an historical lesson from which everyone must draw the conclusion that nothing similar will take place again” (

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