By Laura Thornton
“Resilience” is a term clearly in vogue right now. It is being used in Georgia and elsewhere in the context of a multitude of different things. It’s brought up in military context, on security. It is also being used to describe an inoculation to illiberal, undemocratic forces. It is discussed in reference to resistance to disinformation and propaganda campaigns. It has described robust, secure economies. But how can it be measured, and what factors are indicators for a resilient society? Does Georgia have it, and, if not, how to build it?
NDI has started exploring measurements of resilience through our public opinion research with CRRC Georgia. With help from experts, such as Israeli Professor Shaul Kimhi who has carried out a resilience index in several countries, NDI conducted a nationwide poll that measured some of the factors associated with resilience and held focus groups across the country to delve deeper into Georgian opinions on crises and coping. Our research has defined resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. Resilience is the ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences. National Resilience is the balance of perceived national strength and vulnerability after adversity or a traumatic event, and is measured on factors such as social cohesion, trust in institutions, faith in government responses to a crisis, and a sense of fear and threats.
In our poll, we adapted a 13-point scale (based on Kimhi, 2017) to measure national resilience. Factor analysis identified three main components: trust toward institutions and government, identification with the country and society, and social solidarity. On a scale of one to six, Georgians have relatively high trust in the police (3.7), average trust in the educational system (3.3), and low trust in parliament (2.8). On other measures, Georgians are quite optimistic about the future of the country and do not want to leave the country, but belief in social solidarity and justice is low. Confidence in the government to make the right decisions in a crisis, and in citizens to stand behind the government, is average. We also learned what other opinions correlate with national resilience. For example, people who believe Georgia is going in the right direction, assess crime and corruption as low, are active voters, and believe military performance has improved, are more likely to find Georgia more highly resilient.
Importantly, party preference significantly shapes perception of many of these resilience factors, a concerning finding. In other words, Georgian Dream party supporters reveal much higher trust in institutions, optimism, and belief in social cohesion that those who support other parties or have no affiliation.
NDI focus groups went deeper in an attempt to better understand these components of resilience, asking people about their experiences with crises, how they coped, their thoughts about the future and advancement, and what makes countries resilient. Georgians described how the country has faced severe challenges and survived them with friends and family and faith. They did not exhibit anxiety about the future and were generally optimistic. Importantly, when asked what countries they thought of as resilient, respondents frequently mentioned Georgia.
However, they did not describe meaningful community cohesion, outside friends and family, or emphasize the role of the state as a primary response to a crisis. Further, they painted a picture of a country where there is not a level playing field and where institutions are built on connections, not qualifications, affecting their perception of Georgia’s strength and provider of opportunities. As one middle-aged woman from Tbilisi told us when describing stress, “Losing a job because of nepotism was the most stressful event one year ago. They fired me and appointed a relative. It was awful. I still can’t get over it.” While overall sense of danger was low, a sign of resilient societies, focus group participants demonstrated some feelings of threat and insecurity about foreigners and vulnerability to xenophobia. They expressed welcome toward foreigners from specific, mostly Western, countries, but not from Turkey or Arab countries. They were concerned about foreigners negatively impacting Georgian culture and taking jobs from “real Georgians.”
So, is Georgia resilient? Well, in short, it’s complicated. Overall, based on this limited research, Georgians demonstrate resilient attitudes and behaviors on some key indicators such as optimism and belief in themselves to “keep calm and carry on” in a crisis. However, other areas are weaker, and partisan beliefs impact people’s feelings of security and strength. The question remains: how to build up resilience where it is weaker? NDI research has only uncovered some limited clues and more study is needed. Building strong, cohesive communities, having democratic governance that actually delivers for people, ensuring fairness and a level playing field for all to pursue their goals, are all well-known ingredients, in addition, of course, to the military hardware and international security support. Next steps will be to better explore means to bolster resilience and hopefully uncover how it is gained and lost.
Laura Thornton is National Democratic Institute’s resident director in Georgia.