April 20, 2012

Countries are built by people

Ottawa, Canada
Oct. 5, 2009
Published at Evolutsia.net

After the August War and some major foreign policy events, many people have arrived to the conclusion that Georgians can only rely on themselves for their future. There are few who are willing to offer Georgians real help, but only a tiny minority actually undertakes discussions about what exactly can be and should be done by Georgians. Here I offer some suggestions.

Countries are built by people and constitute its soul and power. A country exists by virtue of its citizens, and if there are no citizens, there is no country. Population does count and its importance is seen by most nations. The vast majority of countries are trying to increase population growth rate – like Germany, Canada and some other western countries – while only a few struggle to constrain it (like China).

The world population is growing and is expected to peak at 9.2 billion in 2050, while at the same time in Georgia it has been declining since 1992. The same results appear in a poll on my blog. Population growth fell rapidly after 1992, almost 50% and since then is further declining. Some analysts say that there is nothing to worry about and that the numbers will change positively in the future on its own. However, if we look the reasons behind the current situation, it’s hard to be so sanguine. Some of the factors that are responsible for such a dismal situation are mentioned below:

As the year 1992 speaks for itself, war plays very negative role in population decline. Abkhazia was cleansed of ethnic Georgians; according to Wikipedia, approximately 13,000 to 20,000 ethnic Georgians and nearly 3,000 Abkhazs were reportedly killed during the conflict.

Since then, ethnic Georgians are under threat in spots where Russian and separatist forces have control. In addition, the results of the August War will probably also negatively affect demographic situation in Georgia.

Economic problems 
Another reason for population decline are the financial problems of families. Constant conflict, corruption, and instability all have a negative effect on the finances of Georgian families. In such circumstances, investment is poor and few jobs are created. Even if there were positive changes after Saakashvili’s elevation to the Presidency in 2003, continuing influxes of rural poor and IDPs make economic stability an elusive goal and the best opportunities continue to exist elsewhere.

Another primary reason of declining population is that many people immigrate to other countries in search of peace and better life. Polls show that 50% of Georgian citizens now living in Georgia would leave for other Western countries if they had the chance. Emigrants seldom return.

So what’s next? 
Russia is for sure not interested in Georgia’s population growth. They have even encouraged separatists to cleanse their territories of Georgians, the elimination of Georgian villages in South Ossetia being a prime example. My concern is that if no actions are taken, a country of only 4 million will face a demographic disaster in the coming years. And as I said above, any great plan of peace and unity, economic prosperity and wealth won’t work if country does not have enough people.

I hope that the Georgian Government pays attention to this issue and promotes family- building with more help. However that alone will not solve the problem and can only have a limited impact. Instead, I see the solution in attracting immigration. David the builder brought forty-thousand families to Georgia. He probably understood that having people within the country counts more than people outside it. And at that time he knew too, that non-ethnic Georgians could make many contributions to the country. We need new immigrants from other countries to inject the country with a new dynamism. Let’s not forget, some of the most successful small states are strengthened by liberal immigration policies – Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and New Zealand.

If we start now, in coming years they will be already integrated and will contribute to strengthening Georgia as Georgians. We may not be able to impress some nations from West, but we may have luck in bringing new people from eastern or neighbouring Caucasian countries. The Georgian Government should work on new immigration law and actively advertise a new immigration program to those looking to start a new life in Georgia.

In a country that is already multiethnic, it is time that we recognize that it is not blood that makes us Georgian, but spirit.

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