The pro-European attitude of Georgian youth: ideals, frustrations and the “European identity”

, by Élise Maréchal

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The pro-European attitude of Georgian youth: ideals, frustrations and the “European identity”
Protestors display an EU flag in Tibilisi during the 2008 war with Russia. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The vast majority of young Georgians say they consider themselves Europeans and want their country to join the EU as soon as possible. But what is really behind this pro-EU attitude?

As I live in Tbilisi, I have the opportunity to discuss with young Georgians their opinion about their country and what they think of the European Union. This article is therefore based largely on the conversations and interviews I have had with different people.

Georgia and the blurred contours of the European continent

The definition of what the European continent is from a geographical point of view is not necessarily obvious. The exact contours between Europe and Asia are still subject to debate since this definition also has political implications. In fact, more than a territory, it has become a political idea that stemmed from a will of unity, which led to the construction of what is now the European Union. It is therefore generally accepted that Europe is not just a geographical reality, but also a cultural, ethnical, and historical one, along with a community of shared “values”. Although there is certainly common ground, due to the geographical proximity of countries and peoples, it must be underlined that this so-called strong unity also results from the political endeavor, since the aftermath of the Second World War, to create a sense of Europeanness.

But does Europe include Georgia? There is no unequivocal answer to this question. While some argue that the Caucasus region is part of Europe, some claim that it is situated in Asia since Europe ends with the Ural Mountains in Western Russia, down to the Caucasus Mountains (at the Russian-Georgian border). What is sure is that the Caucasus is a territory in between Europe and Asia, both geographically and culturally. As we will see, most young Georgians say they feel “European”, which emphasizes that the conception of Europe is deeper than a simple geographical representation of territories and is closely linked to national identification.

It is worth noting that the European Union has recognized Georgia as being “an Eastern European country”​​.

A feeling of belonging to the “European family”

According to a recent poll conducted by the foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, almost two-thirds of young people in Georgia (aged 14-29) agree that Georgia is a European country. There is indeed a widespread feeling of belonging historically to European culture, in contrast to the Armenian and Azerbaijani neighbors, which Georgians associate more with the Persian and Turkic cultures. Christianism certainly plays a major role in this feeling of cultural and identity attachment to Europe, especially as opposed to the Muslim world, which is geographically very close to Georgia. According to some Georgians I spoke with, Georgia has looked at European countries as a model for centuries, as opposed to neighboring empires. To support this idea, two Georgians mentioned to me the visit of the Georgian prince and diplomat Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani to the court of Louis XIV, at the beginning of the 18th century, aimed at requesting assistance from France in facing the Persians. “I am Georgian and therefore I am European”, an expression used by former PM Zurab Zhvania in 1999 in front of the Council of Europe, has become a very famous quote among students, especially during political demonstrations, for instance during the June 2022 pro-EU rally asking for EU candidate status. In fact, many young Georgians told me that they share common values with Europe, such as individual freedom (closely associated with the concept of national independence, which is very important for Georgians) and democracy. However, as we will see, some also highlight significant cultural differences.

Behind the pro-EU attitude: more economic development and a real democratization

Most young Georgians say they feel deeply “European”, which, according to them, would justify the legitimacy of a Georgian candidate status for the accession to the EU. In fact, this issue is very salient in the country and mobilizes the youth, which is very critical of the actions taken by the party in power, the Georgian Dream, over the past few years. Most of them argue that the government is not doing enough to actually get closer to European standards, in order to ultimately hope to join the Union. In particular, attention is being increasingly paid to the worsening state of democracy, with widespread high-level corruption and nepotism and massive setbacks for the rule of law. Georgian youth is overall very critical towards the Georgian Dream, while most of them associate a positive image to the EU, since they directly link it with much higher standards when it comes to human rights protection, individual freedom, and public accountability. On the contrary, they have very little trust towards their own public institutions. This will for a genuine process of democratization is one of the main reasons why they advocate for Georgia’s European integration.

Furthermore, the EU is very closely associated with economic development and job opportunities, which seem to them if not non-existent in Georgia, at least very limited. In fact, they know that European countries are overall economically prosperous and able to open many more doors for their career ambitions, at least more than their own country. A Georgian girl told me, for example, that her career opportunities would be rather limited in Batumi, her hometown, because of widespread nepotism. Thus, the youth see EU accession as an opportunity for Georgia to finally develop its economy.

That also comes with a certain idealization (especially for the youngest) of the current state in the EU. Overall, there is not a deep understanding of the issues and the challenges that European countries are facing, and the lack of unity on some dossiers. Some have nevertheless mentioned to me the problems related to illegal immigration on European soil, the setbacks for democracy in Hungary and Poland and the economic stagnation. Yet, there is little knowledge about other major issues affecting the Union: the massive energy dependency, the opposition between countries on issues such as European defence, fiscal and budgetary regulations, foreign policy, European federalism, etc.

According to me, this strong pro-EU attitude is also fueled by the will to reject and condemn the influence of the illiberal and authoritarian Russian model in Georgia, which the youth regularly accuse the government of trying to copy.

Young people also acknowledge some cultural differences with Europe

However, the Georgians I had the chance to talk to told me about the disparities between Georgian and “European” cultures and traditions. Overall, they have a vision of Europe as being much more modern than Georgia in terms of customs and way of life. They stress the central role of orthodox conservatism and traditions in their country, in opposition to Europe which many believe is much more secular. In particular, they referred to family and male/female relationships, which in their view are more traditional in Georgia, for instance the importance of being engaged and married quite young (which is still true for younger generations, even more outside the capital) and gender roles.

Although conservatism is in sharp decline among the younger generation (especially for young people living in Tbilisi and having a certain level of education) it remains a reality for many. According to the same poll released by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, “family values such as having children (88%) and getting married (77%) are considered very or rather important” for the youth. A 23-year-old girl I spoke to told me that she felt more “European” compared to some of her friends, most of them being already engaged and some already being parents, whereas she would rather initially focus on her professional career (a stance which is, to her, considered more “modern”). She pointed out that in villages it is very common for women not to work so that they can look after children and the home, which she sees as very traditional. Moreover, rights and respect for LGBT+ people have been described to me as a very controversial topic in Georgia (also for youth), due to the central importance of the religion in the country. Among the groups that Georgian youth reject the most are queer folks, along with drug addicts and Russians and 74% believe that queer folks “should never be able to hold parades in the streets”. The proportions vary according to whether the person lives in the capital or not and according to the level of education.

Thus, one may think that there is a certain paradox given that the majority of young Georgians define themselves as “Europeans” while many depict their practices and values as much more traditional and less secular than those of EU countries, which also reflects some misconceptions about the EU since. There is indeed no unified “European culture” and some Member states are also quite or very conservative. It seems that the most ardent defenders of the”European" lifestyle (perceived as more modern and much less traditional) are the most educated young Georgians.


Most young Georgians say they feel “European” because they recognize themselves in the values that are advocated by the European Union (democracy, individual freedom, rule of law, transparency, human rights, etc.) in opposition to the illiberal policies of the current ruling party. On the other hand, they claim their desire to integrate into the EU because they know that it would allow Georgia to develop economically, as it was the case for Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, although some understand that major reforms are to be undertaken beforehand. Young people, especially university students, suffer from a lack of professional opportunity in the country due to the weak economic development, which pushes many of them to leave Georgia and go to EU countries like France and Germany.

At the same time, many young Georgians consider that the “European” lifestyle is quite distant from the Georgian customs and traditions that are considered to be much more conservative. Obviously, this also revolves around representations and misconceptions since there is no unified “European culture” and some EU countries are far more ‘traditional’ than others; that goes without saying.

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