"A sparrow is a bird, Russia is our land, death is inevitable", - an exercise from the Russian grammar textbook, which has been in the curriculum since 1884.
The Russian-Ukrainian war has caused many Russian citizens to emigrate to different countries, including Georgia. However, the Russian government has kept the number of citizens who have left the country and not returned a secret. This makes it difficult to analyze the situation. Adding to the complication, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs has not disclosed the exact number of Russian citizens who have entered and stayed in Georgia. Nonetheless, based on the information that is available, it is estimated that 112,733 Russian citizens remained in Georgia during the first nine months of 2022.
The influx of Russian citizens into Georgia has prompted a mixed reaction from the local population. While some see this as an opportunity to boost the country's economic well-being, others view it as a significant threat, given the historical context and the occupation of Georgian territories.
The aim of this research is to explore the political attitudes of Russian citizens who have emigrated to Georgia and their views on various issues such as the current regime in Russia, the actions of Vladimir Putin, and the factors that influenced their decision to leave the country. The study aims to identify the underlying attitudes and beliefs of Russian migrants and shed light on the factors that shape their opinions on these topics.
The sociological group "after 24" was interested in the social portrait of the citizens of the Russian Federation who emigrated to Georgia and Armenia, which interviewed about 1000 people from March to May 2022. Based on the answers given to the reason for emigration (unacceptability of the policy pursued by the Russian government - 53%). The authors of the study believe that the first wave of emigration was of political content and consisted mainly of people who were in opposition to the regime.
A different result was observed in the survey conducted by us, in which 100 citizens of the Russian Federation randomly selected from across Tbilisi took part.
The findings of the after 24 research indicate that the decision to leave the country was largely spontaneous, with 86% of respondents making the decision after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war. Furthermore, the last weeks in their homeland were marked by stress and anxiety for a significant majority of respondents. However, upon crossing the border into Georgia, the prevailing sentiment shifted from anxiety to a sense of calm.
According to the authors of the after 24 study, the social skills of Russian migrants and their desire to integrate with the local population can vary. They noted that representatives of the colonial metropolis tend to integrate less into the social structures of former colonies and are more focused on creating their own social cells. This finding is consistent with the experiences shared by many of the Russian migrants we interviewed.
Katerina Chigaleichik, one of the authors of the after 24 study, has stated that Georgia and Armenia have stark differences when it comes to the behavior of Russian migrants. The main difference, according to her, is the fact of the occupation of territories, which plays a significant role in determining the behavior of Russian migrants in Georgia. “A lot of them assume that their excessive activity will be annoying for Georgians, they say that they are all seen as occupiers, so it is better if they sit in quiet”.
This assessment of the Russian sociologist is further confirmed by our survey.
As a result of the survey, the political passivity of the citizens of the Russian Federation who emigrated to Georgia and their ignorance of Moscow's actions were also highlighted. The majority of respondents believe that Russia has a democratic regime, moreover, they find it difficult to answer, or justify Moscow's actions in Ukraine and do not have information about the August 2008 war.
Stas Guzhva, a 25-year-old Russian migrant who has been living in Georgia for almost a year, shares his perspective on the impact of Russian emigrants moving to Georgia. He believes that this influx has significantly changed the perception of Georgian-Russian relations. Stas also speaks about the 2008 war and how, at that time, he was traveling by train with his mother and knew that a war was going on somewhere. “I was still young back then so I didn’t pay much attention to it. But after moving here I learned that Abkhazia and Tskhinvali are Russian-occupied territories, that there is a creeping occupation, people are abducted and killed, they have distributed Russian passports throughout these territories, it’s terrible”.
Speaking about the occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, another migrant citizen of the Russian Federation, Polina Frolova, notes that she was also young during the 2008 war and received radically different information about the war over the years. Today she says that Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region are territories occupied by Russia.
"When we arrived, we found a lot of anti-Russian graffiti and we were a little scared to go out. We thought that we would encounter a very bad attitude, but we never once felt aggression when interacting with the locals, nor did we have a conflict situation," says 27-year-old Polina Frolova, who moved to Georgia in the fall of 2022.
"A lot of Russians don't want to go out on the streets to protest because they are afraid of the government on the throne." They are afraid of criminal prosecution, and arrest. After the capture of Alexei Navalny, there was no leader left who would organize any kind of protest. The young generation does not support the current government. The older generation is still a supporter of Vladimir Putin. This is mainly the population of small towns, where they get information from television and from which they only hear propaganda. It is very difficult for me to communicate with my grandparents. They don't have the Internet, they only watch TV and really believe what they are told," - Polina Frolova.
Discussing the reasons for leaving Russia, Polina Frolova noted that the main reason for her emigration was the danger of her lover being drafted into the war and being prosecuted - "I will not leave the war to him, he will not go to this war. If we hadn't left, my partner would have been jailed, all of us who would have gone to any rally would have been jailed. In case of my return, criminal prosecution may be started and I may be arrested, because I have a fairly active civil position, I used to attend rallies and I stand out with a strong attitude towards the government. Leaving the country was a very difficult decision because we were leaving behind many loved ones. We decided to come to Georgia because we had many acquaintances here."
"On March 7-9, we saw the protest of Georgians [about the draft law on foreign agents], which was an example of a healthy protest of healthy people. Everyone in Russia needs psychotherapy. There is no feeling that my voice matters, even if it is just one voice. It's like everyone is busy with their own lives and the rest is nothing. For whom everything was not easy, they turned out to be very few. From what we see, there is no civil society in Russia at all, it has disappeared," Stas Guzhva said.
According to after 24 research, when talking about their plans to return to their homeland, the representatives of the first wave think that their emigration is long-term and that they will not be able to return to their homeland in the future. "The majority of the respondents are ready to start thinking about returning only after Putin's death, although a significant part is reticent even in such a scenario," says Katerina Cigaleichik.
"In my imagination, Russia is already an ocean, for me, it does not exist, I will not return there" - Stas Guzhva.
The findings of the research indicate that many Russian citizens who have migrated to Georgia appear to be indifferent to political issues and are hesitant to step out of their comfort zone. This supports the widely held belief about Russian society, that the majority of Russians view their government as an uncontrollable force, akin to bad weather. "It will be strange if it rains and we start making plans in order to change the weather. This is how most Russian citizens feel about their government. They believe that nothing depends on them and almost everything is inevitable."
According to the data available on the Data for Crisis portal for the period from January to December 2022, the most discussed issue by Russian migrants on Twitter, Facebook and Telegram is politics. When talking about visa policy, as well as war and occupation, they show positive sentiments. When it comes to tags used on social networks, the two most frequently repeated tags are "Lars" and "government".
If, according to after 24's research, Russian migrants living in Georgia are relatively high-income citizens who are critical of the Russian government, according to the data of our survey, the majority of citizens of the Russian Federation who arrived in Tbilisi after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war:
Does not have information about the war of August 2008;
Does not have information on whether Russia has occupied certain territories of Georgia;
Thinks that the Russia-Ukraine war will end with Russia's victory;
Intends to stay in Georgia until the end of the Russia-Ukraine war
Has a positive attitude toward the government of Georgia
Sees the need to create a Russian society in Georgia
Believes that in Georgia citizens of the Russian Federation can open restaurants, bars, cinemas, kindergartens, schools, etc. They think it is favorable to promote the formation of the Russian/Russian-speaking community in Georgia.
The multimedia material utilised data from the portal dataforcrisis.com, which assists journalists in covering migration from Russia. This material was created as a part of ForSet's Data for Crisis Fellowship, with the support of DW Akademie.
Authors: Lana Kokaia, Khatia Davlianidze, Aka Zarkua
The original story was published at https://realpolitika.ge/ge/longread/saqartveloshi-mtskhovrebi-rusi-migrantebis-sotsialuri-portreti#art