ISET Economist Blog

Georgia’s European future: a hope for resolving political polarization
Thursday, 28 March, 2024

Political polarization erodes trust in public institutions, it damages political process, negatively affects economic development, distracts social development and relationships in society, and it may eventually lead to the backsliding of democracy. Georgia has been facing significant political polarization over recent years, which have had highly damaging effects on its fragile democracy and its aspirations for a European future. It is therefore no wonder that the European Commission included resolving political polarization among the nine conditions that Georgia needs to fulfill in progressing on its European path.

ISET Policy Institute’s new Media (de)Polarization Index is the first attempt to measure political polarization in Georgia by analyzing media polarization through the application of machine learning tools. The study has found an upward trend in the data since 2020 and it showcases the historic picture in January 2024. The Index highlights that polarization is mostly shaped by political and societal developments. More importantly, the study also analyzes the factors that decrease polarization in the country. Such depolarizing factors work through consolidating public and political players and institutions. As in the early phases of the pandemic in 2020, when everybody shared the same position against the threats of the virus and its devastating impacts. Another depolarizing event was found to be the Russian war in Ukraine, which caused notable solidarity and sympathy towards Ukraine throughout the whole of society.

One clear factor that decreased political polarization, not once but twice, has been Georgia’s European integration. Namely, the Index saw a sharp decline in April-May 2021, with the active engagement of Charles Michael, European Council President. In an attempted resolution of the political crises in Georgia, he undertook personal mediation of an agreement between the key political actors (the so-called “Charles Michael Agreement”). While, overall, the effort did not eliminate political polarization, it lifted the country out of a political deadlock. This positive development is reflected in the Index, which shows a temporary decline in media polarization and smoothening of the media space. The second substantial decline in media polarization was registered by the Index when Georgia received its much-desired Candidate status for EU membership in December 2023. In this case, the study found a convergence and consensus amongst the population and media, as well as between political and institutional actors. 

Overall, the Index demonstrates that while political polarization in the country is concerning, depolarization can be driven by events that create an undebated consensus within society, and for political and institutional actors. Amongst the depolarizing factors, European integration-related events have reduced political polarization twice during critical periods. This serves as evidence that the EU’s support and engagement are valuable, and that they have helped navigate Georgia through challenging times. This emphasizes for Georgian political and institutional actors that such polarization can be resolved by prioritizing Georgia’s European future and implementing reforms that facilitate progress in European integration. In essence, while resolving political polarization may seem like a daunting task, there is hope on the horizon in the form of Georgia’s European Future.

The views and analysis in this article belong solely to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the international School of Economics at TSU (ISET) or ISET Policty Institute.