Overall situation and state of civil society
The socio-political situation in Georgia is quite unstable, as the country progresses through different stages of development. The years 2017 and 2018 were shaped by elections, mass protests and constitutional and local self-government reforms. Georgian civil society organizations, individually and in coalitions, were actively engaged in policy dialogues and national discussions about the most critical issues.
Georgia has successfully implemented notable reforms within the framework of the Association Agreement with the European Union, and has confirmed its strong commitment toward political and economic integration with the EU. In March 2017, the EU granted Georgia a visa-free regime, which allows citizens of Georgia to enter the Schengen area without obtaining a visa. The public’s general attitude toward the EU is positive, however the level trust in the EU has fluctuated throughout the years. According to the Caucasus Barometer, trust dropped from 42% to 27% between 2010 and 2015, but increased to 33% by the year 2017.
In 2017 the Georgian Dream ruling party won a sizeable majority in the municipal elections. Elections were peaceful, with no cases of vote buying or intimidation/harassment reported. Nevertheless, the situation was different during the 2018 presidential elections. After two rounds of voting, Salome Zourabichvili – an independent candidate supported by the Georgian Dream Party – became the first female president in Georgia. Despite the fact that the elections themselves were largely peaceful, the pre-election phase was extremely polarized. The candidates and their supporters used hate speech and negative rhetoric in their messages, and observers reported cases of physical confrontation, voter intimidation and vote buying.
In the lead up to the presidential elections, Georgian CSOs were at the center of national discussions. In October 2018, 13 Georgian non-governmental organizations issued a joint statement which addressed the issues of informal rule and high-level corruption. They further demanded that the government create an enabling environment in which human rights are respected and human rights defenders can operate freely.
In recent years, CSOs have advocated for several high-profile human rights cases. For example, in 2017 they fought against the Supreme Court’s decision to return Rustavi 2, the country’s largest TV station, to its former owner. Twenty-eight NGOs addressed the European Court of Human Rights with a statement objecting the ruling made by the Georgian Supreme Court. The ECHR ultimately suspended the enforcement of the Court’s decision. Georgian CSOs also advocated against illegal deportation of dissident Azebaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli from Tbilisi to Azerbaijan. Despite some setbacks, the general media landscape remains diverse and competitive, and Georgia is ranked 60th out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
Civil society organizations continue to benefit from a favorable legal environment. The registration of CSO is easy, quick and non-burdensome. The number of registered non-profit organizations grew from 21,832 in 2016 to 24,042 by 2018. However, it is important to mention that these figures include not only civil society organizations but also churches, kindergartens, municipal organizations and other entities. Data from CSOGeorgia.org currently lists approximately 891 operational CSOs. The significant growth is a result of the easy registration process and an overly complicated liquidation procedure. The vast majority of CSOs with strong organizational capacity are Tbilisi-based, while regional CSOs remain weak. According to a Civil Society Institute online survey, in 2017-2018 CSOs mainly worked in the following areas: human rights, youth, democracy and civil society and social issues. Roughly 2-3% of survey participants reported working on elections, education, local self-government, media, gender, tourism, elderly and disabled people.
Financial sustainability remains the top concern for Georgian civil society. Nearly 95% of Georgian CSOs rely on foreign donors. A recent study shows that state funding has increased over the past few years, both in terms of total amount and the number of thematic areas funded. However, state funding still constitutes a very small proportion of CSO income. Municipalities are not able to issue grants; instead, they provide program financing and subsidies to CSOs. CSOs are sometimes forced to hunt for donor funds, frequently switching their mission in order to fit their requirements. A large number of organizations remain financially dependent on a single donor. Meanwhile, smaller and newly established CSOs often struggle to comply with common donor standards and requirements for financial management. CSOs continue to advocate for improving the financial system for CSOs, but tangible results have yet to be achieved.
The relationship between CSOs and the business sector remains weak. Despite the fact that Georgian legislation incorporates important mechanisms to stimulate charity activities, CSOs receive very few donations. This is partly due to the fact that businesses may not necessarily trust CSOs. However, some CSOs also refuse to accept corporate donations, as they believe corporate interests are not compatible with their values. Nevertheless, Georgia has made some progress and is ranked 118th out of 135 countries in the World Giving Index, and was named among 21 most improved countries of 2018.
Civil society advocacy increased notably in 2017. CSOs actively participated in national discussions and expressed critical opinions on some of the country’s most challenging issues. However, the Media Development Foundation’s Anti-Western Propaganda Monitoring Report for 2017 found that negative comments against non-governmental organizations tripled in 2017. Attacks by public officials and hate speech against watchdog organizations had a negative impact on civil society’s public image. According to the Caucasus Resource Research Centre, public trust of CSOs declined from 35% to 23% between 2008 and 2017.
There are various mechanisms for government-CSO consultations. Georgian CSOs are engaged in decision making processes through councils, working groups, and thematic coalitions. As a co-chair country in Open Government Partnership, Georgia hosted the 5th Global Summit in July 2018. Within the framework of OGP Action Plans, Georgia has implemented several notable reforms. The most important achievements include launching a new Budget Monitor portal by the State Audit Office, developing a monitoring system for public officials’ asset declarations, the development of community centers, increased public awareness of the electoral process, improved cooperation between CSOs and government and increased efficiency and transparency of the public finance system. Georgian CSO are actively engaged in OGP process. Their participation is organized through an OGP Forum, which is co-chaired by various CSOs on a rotating basis.
Volunteerism in Georgia remains
underdeveloped. Nevertheless, the general perception towards volunteering has become
more positive over time. The
number of people who volunteered without expecting compensation grew from 21%
to 23% between 2015 and 2017. There
is no precise information on how adopting the Law on Volunteerism in 2015
affected the development of volunteering. However, CSI’s online survey shows
that the majority of organizations have 1 to 5 volunteers (45%), while only 6%
of respondents reporting no volunteers at all. Formal civic engagement,
including membership in associations and contracting with CSOs, remains very
low. Only 2% of the population reported membership in any type of formal club,
 USAID sustainability Index 2017
 Annual survey conducted by the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC)
 USAID sustainability Index 2017
 Evaluation of the pre-election environment of the 2018 presidential runoff made by leading watchdog organizations in Georgia is available at: https://www.transparency.ge/en/post/evaluation-pre-election-environment-2018-presidential-runoff
 joint letter to political leaders in Georgia: https://humanrightshouse.org/letters-of-concern/political-leaders-in-georgia-must-stop-slandering-civil-society-organisations/
 2019 World Press Freedom Index_Georgia
 Statistical information was requested from National Agency for Public Registry (NAPR) under the Ministry of Justice
 USAID sustainability Index 2017
 In 2019 CSI conducted online survey of CSOs from all regions of Georgia
 See Salamadze V, Paniashvili L, et al, 2017, State Funding mechanisms for Civil Society Organizations in Georgia
 USAID Sustainability Index 2017
 Volunteerism in Georgia between 2013-2015
 Caucasus Barometer