Facebook user Erovnuli Sakartvelo (National Georgia) promoted a piece of disinformation in social networks claiming that Georgia’s pro-Western orientation and aspiration to attain EU and NATO membership in the last 30 years resulted in a deterioration of the demographic, economic and social parameters for the country. To illustrate this claim, 2021 data are compared to that of 1991. FactCheck verified these figures.
The claim that the pro-Western orientation led to Georgia’s regress is a manipulation and part of Russian propaganda. The deterioration of various demographic, economic or social indicators, which largely happened during the 1990s, was a result of war and the losing of territories. The aforementioned Facebook publication, apart from manipulative claims, contains factual inaccuracies and the figures are non-comparable in some cases.
Claim 1: Georgia’s population was 5.4 million in 1991 and is 3.7 million in 2021.
The Facebook publication highlights a figure based on the universal public census in the USSR which was held in 1989. At that time, 5.4 million people lived on the territory of Georgia. However, there is no exact figure about Georgia’s population in 1991.
In accordance with the data of the National Statistics Office of Georgia, some 3,688,000 people lived in Georgia as of 1 January 2022. It needs to be further clarified that statistical data about the population do not include people living in the occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region.
In the 199s, Georgia’s population reduced sharply which was precipitated by the loss of territories and high migration flows from the country after the war. At the beginning of the 2000s, Georgia’s population was 3.9 million. The population reduction dynamic continued in the subsequent periods and Georgia’s population is currently at a historic low which is largely precipitated by outward migration flows and declining fertility.
The fact that Georgia’s population decreased sharply from the 1990s until the present day is true. However, claim that this is a result of the country’s pro-Western orientation is a MANIPULATION.
Claim 2: Only 1% of the population lived in poverty in 1991 whilst it was 15% in 2021.
Poverty in Georgia increased sharply in the 1990s which was directly related to the war, the loss of territories and a deep economic crisis. In the subsequent period, the poverty level contracted again. Poverty has not been a challenge for the last 30-year period alone. The claim that less than 1% of the Georgian population lived in poverty in 1991 is false whilst another claim that the country’s pro-Western orientation impoverished us is absurd and features as a part of Russian propaganda.
According to the UN Development Programme’s 2009 report, 10% of the Georgian population lived in absolute poverty at the beginning of the 1990s. In 2002, the absolute poverty figure reached 38%.
According to the data of the National Statistics Office of Georgia, 17.5% of the Georgian population lives in absolute poverty as of 2021. This figure in 2004-2005 was nearly 35%. Poverty still remains one of country’s biggest challenges, although admittedly the poverty level continues to decline.
Therefore, this part of the statement is FAKE NEWS.
Claim 3: Georgia’s territory was 69,000 square kilometres in 1991 and 54,000 square kilometres in 2021 (Russian occupation is still ongoing).
It is one of the techniques of Russian propaganda to point fingers at Georgia’s pro-Western orientation in order to offer justification for the loss of territories and the conflicts with Russia. The major line of this narrative is that Russia seeks to ensure its own security and does not allow the encroachment of NATO on its borders. According to Russia’s position, this enlargement threatens Russia’s very existence. However, Russian-sponsored conflicts in Georgia happened long before the country officially announced its NATO membership aspirations. At the 2002 NATO summit in Prague, Georgia officially submitted its application for NATO membership. Therefore, this is the period when Georgia’s NATO integration process officially began.
Georgia started to face territorial conflicts at the beginning of the 1990s, immediately after gaining independence. Russia backed the separatist movements in those conflicts. Eventually, the occupation of the Georgian territories happened before Georgia announced its pro-Western orientation.
Furthermore, after the fall of Sokhumi (27 September 1993), Georgia joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in December 1993. Nevertheless, we did not have any progress in restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity. Georgia left the CIS only in 2008 in the aftermath of the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008.
Therefore, Georgia’s territorial conflicts and the de-facto occupation of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region happened much earlier – in fact, simultaneously, with Georgia gaining independence - than Georgia’s official announcement of its pro-Western orientation. Therefore, linking this issue with Georgia’s aspirations to NATO and EU membership is an absurd claim, absolutely untrue and is an item of FAKE NEWS.
Claim 4: There were less than 20,000 drug addicts in 1991 whilst there were over 350,000 in 2021.
As clarified by a specialist at the Centre for Mental Health and the Prevention of Addiction (MHPA), there are no accurate statistical data of drug addicts available in Georgia. There are registered individuals and those who participate in government and private-funded substitution programmes; however, it is impossible to come up with a rough number of drug addicts based on theoretical calculations.
As reported by the MHPA, the number of intravenous drug addicts in Georgia has been within the range of 50,000 for the last years.
There are more accurate figures available about people participating in substitution programmes. The first substitution therapy programme in Georgia was first carried out in 2004 through the funding of the Global Foundation. That programme was intended for several dozen patients and was fully funded by the Global Foundation. Given the high efficacy of the programme, a methadone substitution therapy programme was launched in 2008 which was carried out as a part of the government programme on a co-funding principle (involvement of both patients and the government). Since summer 2017, the co-funding principle was abolished and the aforementioned government programme has become absolutely free of charge for patients.
Currently, there are over 12,000 beneficiaries of the substitution therapy programme in Georgia.
There are no official figures of the number of drug addicts in Georgian based on statistical data of 1991.
As mentioned earlier, there are seven times less (50,000) drug addicts in Georgia as compared to what the author of the Facebook publication claims. In addition, the author of the publication links the growth of the number of drug addicts with Georgia’s pro-European orientation which is wrong. Growth in the number of substance abusers is a worldwide problem, including in the legal successor of the Soviet Union – the Russian Federation.
Therefore, the figures in the publication lack any factual ground whilst no relevant statistics are available. In addition, it also absurd to link addiction as a problem related to Georgia’s foreign policy vector. Since the claim is not corroborated by factual ground and the context is deliberately distorted, FactCheck concludes that this specific claim is FAKE NEWS.
Claim 5: There were less than 10,000 problem gamblers in 1991 and less than 700,000 in 2021.
Gambling was prohibited in the USSR and across its constituent republic, including Georgia. The gambling exception was the lottery.
Therefore, it is impossible to have official statistics of gamblers in 1991.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, plenty of casinos, betting shops and slot-clubs have been opened all over Georgia and most particularly in Tbilisi.
The gambling business has been under legal regulation since 2005. Prior to that period, there were several decrees, although no specific regulatory framework. Currently, there are three laws that govern the gambling business: the Law of Georgia on Lotteries, Gambling and Other Prize Games; the Law of Georgia On License and Permit Fees and the Law of Georgia on Gambling Business Fees.
Since March 2021, a new legislative amendment has gone into effect implying the prohibition of placing gambling ads in the media. In addition, regulations for the gambling business is to be further tightened. The Parliament of Georgia has already started discussions on new legislative changes which envision banning casinos on ships and the introduction of additional permits for setting up online gambling. According to this amendment, each individual will need a new permit to set up online gambling. In particular, the permit fee for setting up online gambling will be GEL 100,000. The gambling business is obligated to ensure that it is in line with the new regulations and obtain permits before 1 April 2023.
As clarified by the Deputy Minister of Finance, Mikheil Dundua, changes in gambling legislation are made in line with Moneywall requirements and this issue is also linked to obtaining EU membership candidate status (the 12-point recommendations).
Today, precise statistics of those involved in gambling are also unavailable. There are some data scattered across different surveys. According to UNICEF’s report, problem gambling among adolescents and youth is a growing public health concern globally, as well as in Georgia. Worldwide, the prevalence of gambling is two to four times higher among adolescents than among adults with up to 8% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 years being pathological gamblers.
As mentioned earlier, there are no accurate statistics of the number of gamblers. It is not disputed that problem gambling is an issue, especially among adolescents and youngsters. However, this is clearly disinformation in order to link this problem with Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Moreover, it was emphasised that planned changes in regulating the gambling field are among the pre-conditions for obtaining EU membership candidate status. Therefore, FactCheck concludes that this claim is FAKE NEWS.
Claim 6: Personal debts to the monthly/annual income average ratio was less than 10% in 1991 and is now 100% in 2021.
Generally, people may have debt from many different sources such as various commercial organisations (for instance banks, micro-finance organisations) as well as personal sources (friends, family members, co-workers, etc.). There is no comprehensive information available on what the “personal debt” level is and, moreover, what it was in 1991. Furthermore, it is difficult to understand the specific timeframes of debt level measurements from this publication whilst it is doubtful that such statistics for 1991 are currently available.
Therefore, given the lack of relevant data, this claim has no factual ground. At the same time, it does not make any sense to draw a comparison with the economic parameters of 1991 when the USSR was dissolved, free market characteristics were non-existent and Georgia’s economy was fledgling and amorphous. Comparing the situation after the breakup of the USSR with the current reality is preposterous considering that there were no banking institutions in the Soviet Union. Therefore, given the lack of factual ground and this inaccurate comparison, FactCheck concludes that this claim is FAKE NEWS.
Claim 7: There were around 120,000 sportsmen in 1991 and less than 18,000 in 2021.
Of necessary note is that any sportsmen statistics from 1991 are not available through open sources.
It is not a secret that there was a strong propaganda for sport and physical activity in the USSR. Sports for Soviet authorities featured as an important domain where it was possible to assert the dominance of the communist state against the Western world. Therefore, Soviet sportsmen enjoyed special privileges. However, since the dissolution of the USSR, the situation changed drastically – some sportsmen lost their function and left the country, some sought to accommodate themselves with the difficult economic situation and there were some who transformed themselves into crime bosses (IDFI, “Russian Sport and Politics”).
Currently, there are 170,616 sportsmen, some 7,004 coaches and 2,379 referees registered in Georgia. Therefore, even if we assume that there were 120,000 sportsmen in Georgia in 1991 (although the data the author used to make this claim is unclear), the number of sportsmen is currently at least 50,000 more let alone being less than in 1991. Therefore, this part of the statement is FAKE NEWS.
Claim 8: The country’s dependence on foreign funding is more than 50% of the GDP.
It is unclear what is meant in claim that the “country’s dependence on foreign funding is more than 50% of the GDP” because the “country’s dependence on foreign funding” is not a specific economic notion and it can be interpreted in many ways. Foreign funding can come in many different forms such as aid, grants, investments, obligations, remittances, foreign trade, etc. It is also unclear why the “dependence on foreign funding” is linked with the West, since based on various indicators, Georgia has a robust economic relation with Russia and Asian countries as well, especially with China.
Generally, integration with the world economy is an integral and a necessary element of economic development. Specific economic aspects can be subjected to criticism such as, for instance, when the debt grows sharply or a country’s trade/investment dependence vis-à-vis certain countries becomes too high; however, this needs very specific and clear wording. In this case, the claim in the publication is not based on factual data, the comparison is irrelevant and only vague terms are used. Therefore, FactCheck concludes that this claim is FAKE NEWS.
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