Young Georgians’ Cultural Journey to the West 

Young Georgians’ Cultural Journey to the West 

By Guido Gianasso and Salome Miminoshvili

The country of Georgia is situated at the intersection of Europe and Asia. However, as Guido Gianasso and Salome Miminoshvili recount, an increasing trend towards individualism among the younger generations is accompanied in that country by an increasing emphasis on Western European social, aspirational, and political values.

This is an exciting time for Georgia. On 15 December 2023, the country was officially granted candidate status by the European Union. This recognition comes at the end of a tortuous and painful journey. Georgia’s links to Europe trace back to Greco-Roman civilisation. Situated between the Black and Caspian Seas, at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and functioning as a key trade hub along the Silk Road, Georgia seized opportunities to foster trade and economic connections with the ancient world. In addition to trade-economic relationships, the Silk Road brought the fusion of different cultures, facilitating the assimilation of ancient Eastern culture and Western values. 

Georgia has witnessed numerous fluctuations throughout its history, ranging from Golden Ages in the 11th and 12th centuries to challenging times – annexation into the Russian Empire at the beginning of 19th century followed by the Soviet regime at the beginning of the 20th century. With the collapse of the USSR, Georgia declared its independence in May 1991. The country was then invaded by Russia twice and saw about 20 per cent of its territory seized by the powerful neighbour in 2008. 

Since its independence, Georgia has never stopped its march towards the EU. “I am Georgian and therefore I am European.” These were the words spoken by the late Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in front of the Council of Europe in 1999. Georgians’ passion for Europe is noticeable everywhere in Georgia. Streets, hotels, and restaurants are covered with EU flags and symbols. 

This raises an interesting question: from a cultural viewpoint, is Georgia similar to Western European countries? And what about young Georgians, those born after 1983 who grew up in a post-Soviet society? We recently had the opportunity to teach several leadership programmes in Tbilisi. Confronted with this fascinating cultural mix of East and West, we decided to address these two interesting questions. 

Georgia’s past and, to a large extent, even its present have been built on agriculture. The name “Georgia” has its roots in the Greek word Γεωργία (Georgía), signifying “agriculture”. According to Hofstede (Hofstede, G., 2010), most farming societies are characterised by high power distance, as well as high individualism and uncertainty avoidance (see figure 1). The individualism index (IDV) – as opposed to collectivism – is the degree to which an individual derives their identity from self-reliance, low concern, and distance from the group they belong to. The power distance index (PDI) measures the level of inequality within a society and to what extent less-powerful individuals accept the inequality. 

While it is important to avoid making sweeping generalisations about countries, the following are common traits among Georgians: 

  • High collectivism. Georgians tend to focus on social harmony and stability. Families are extremely important. Georgians tend to marry very young, mostly with other Georgians, often within the same social group.
  • High power distance. Georgians prioritise centralised control and top-down leadership styles to maintain stability, social order, and development.
  • Traditional values and social conservatism. Georgians often hold socially conservative views on issues such as respect for the elders, personal sacrifice, marriage and family structure, gender roles, and moral values.

Figure 1. Georgia’s cultural dimensions 

figure1
Source: Hofstede, 2010

What about young Georgians born after 1983? To address this question, We used our research on national and generational culture in the academic environment. We had the opportunity to measure  the  cultural traits of 160 young Georgians (aged 24-40) attending six leadership programmes that we delivered with our company Cognify in Tbilisi in 2023. These individuals work  in  the  banking, IT, consulting, hospitality, and  entertainment  industries. They are similar  from  a  demographic  standpoint;  alike in gender balance (40 per cent women), average age (35), work seniority (10+), and socioeconomic background (well educated, English-speaking, upper-middle and upper class). They were asked to take the CultureCompass psychometric test, designed to measure  their  cultural  dimensions  using the Hofstede model.

Our approach has two main limitations. First, the sample is relatively small. Second, most participants are based in Tbilisi and come from well-educated and affluent segments of Georgian society. Nevertheless, the results are very interesting (see table 2). Millennials and Generation Z Georgians in this study appear to be very individualistic and low power distance, a world apart from their parents and grandparents. In other words, they are very different from their average national group and similar to Western Europeans such as Germans, Swedes, and Norwegians. 

Arguably, a trend towards higher individualism and lower power distance is also noticeable among well-educated millennials and Generation Z from Asia and the Gulf. However, Georgians seem to be “moving West” much faster than any other group I have observed so far. The results of our study suggest that, culturally, young Georgians are already in Western Europe. 

Figure 2. PDI and IDV among young Cognify participants from Georgia (2023) 

figure2

In an age defined less and less by traditionalism and family connections, self-expression, independence, and authenticity become increasingly important, so that young millennials and Generation Z in Georgia want a meaningful life and clear purpose in their work. They marry later and want fewer children than previous generations, while being more tolerant of divorce (source: Caucasus Barometer). They are more open towards immigration and value work-life balance, easy access to their managers, flexibility, learning opportunities, and interesting and meaningful tasks. 

In early March 2023, thousands of very young people took to the streets, demonstrating an unprecedented level of political participation and commitment to European Integration.

The most interesting implications of this cultural evolution lie in the political field. As young Georgians are much more individualistic and lower power distance than the generations that preceded them, we can expect a fundamental change in terms of values and relations with authority, government, and participation in political life. The rise of individualism is affecting the way people relate to power and to each other. Young people in Georgia are showing a much wider range of attitudes towards loyalty and obligation than their elders, partly because of the growing importance of technology and partly because of the rapidly changing economics. 

With this being said, young Georgians continue to lack opportunities for political participation. Although they are more inclined to sign off-line and online petitions, they are also twice as likely not to vote in elections than the older generations (source: GeoYouth2020). Georgian youth outside the capital are also not very active in political parties, which remain rather unstable organisations. While young Tbilisians have increasingly taken to the street to voice their political opinions, young people living in rural areas remain relatively rare in Georgian politics. 

Generation Z’s determination to stand for European values and contribute to the future of their country are driven not by affiliations with any political figures, but by the values they have developed at university.

However, this is rapidly changing. In early March 2023, thousands of very young people took to the streets, after the government passed the foreign agent bill in its first reading. What was new in this Generation Z-led protest was the fact that it was carried out in many cities across the country, as well as its modalities. These demonstrations have become the symbols of Generation Z’s determination to stand for European values and contribute to the future of their country. They are driven not by affiliations with any political figures, but by the values they have developed at universities. Their digital literacy and multilingualism make them somewhat immune to disinformation and manipulation attempts. Their entrance to the protest scene has strengthened Georgia’s vibrant civil society. 

Over time, it is likely that young Georgians’ higher individualism and lower power distance will translate into higher levels of participation in the country’s political life and number, size, and type of manifestations. It is also likely that Generation Z will bring to Georgia a reduction in political instability, as research has shown that there is a negative correlation between individualism and low power distance on the one hand and political instability on the other (Ezcurro, R., “Individualism and Political Instability”, European Journal of Political Economy, Volume 66, January 2021). 

In 2019, the EU Ambassador to Georgia, Carl Hartzell, made a clear reference to Georgia’s increasingly Western culture and shared values: “Georgia’s European path is built on solid ground. Not only was Georgia there at the very beginning of Europe’s ancient history and culture. Not only was Georgia at the forefront of contemporary European political philosophy only some century ago, as testified by the constitution of 1921. This heritage remains deeply enshrined to this day in the citizens and society of this beautiful country. And this is crucial. Because it is one thing to formulate a pro-European strategy based on hard-headed geopolitical and economic analyses. It is quite another to pronounce these same aspirations based on the support of more than 80 per cent of the population. Fundamentally, as we know, the entry ticket to deepened European integration and cooperation boils down to shared values. And here, I remain firm in my assessment that – whatever attempts are being made to exploit perceived differences between Georgian and European values – not only are they already solidly compatible, but they spring from the same source.” 

About the Authors

GuidoGuido Gianasso, PhD, is Professor of Leadership at HEC Paris in Qatar and a Leadership and Cultural Intelligence expert. A Swiss-Italian national, he has 35 years of international management, teaching, and consulting experience. Before joining HEC Paris, he was Associate Dean and Professor of Global Leadership at Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. Prof. Gianasso holds a PhD in Management at the University of Geneva (Switzerland). The focus of his academia is on cultural intelligence (CQ). 

In addition to his teaching role at HEC Paris, Guido Gianasso is Visiting Professor at the University of Geneva, the Wealth Management Institute in Singapore, and Hong Kong University in Hong Kong. He is also the Honorary Consul of Romania in Geneva and serves on the Board of Trustees of the American University of Phnom Penh, (AUPP). An air transport and financial sector expert, he is a regular speaker at international conferences and consults with leading MNCs. Prof. Gianasso is also the co-founder of Cognify, an HR consulting and training company with offices in Doha and Tbilisi. 

Before moving to the education sector, Prof. Gianasso worked for almost three decades as a senior corporate executive. He was Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Committee member in the aviation and security sectors, helping CEOs driving major change programmes. From 2003 to 2013 he worked as Vice-President, Human Capital and Executive Committee member with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Geneva. During the same period, he was also the Managing Director of the IATA Training and Development Institute (ITDI), a large training institute for aviation professionals.

In his long and distinguished career, Prof. Gianasso served as Vice-President of the Diplomatic Club of Geneva (Switzerland), on the Eurocontrol DR Supervisory Board (Brussels, Belgium), as Senior Advisor to the Romanian Minister for Foreign Affairs (Bucharest, Romania), and on the IMD Executive Education Advisory Council (Lausanne, Switzerland). 

salomeSalome Miminoshvili is the founder and Managing Director of Cognify, a leading  consulting and executive education company with offices and operations in Georgia and Doha. In this capacity, she organises successful open and custom programmes for individuals and companies in the Caucasus region, as well as in Ǫatar.

A Georgian national, Salome Miminoshvili holds a bachelor degree in Business Administration from Caucasus University. Before moving to entrepreneurship, she worked for 12 years in corporate banking with leading international and Georgian banks. In addition to Georgian, she is fluent in English and Russian. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.