The recent narrative circulating on social media claims that Georgia’s NGO sector ranking has worsened by 50 positions, dropping from 27th to 77th in the world, according to the civil society index of Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) (refer to 1, 2, 3). Furthermore, according to Rustavi 2, Resonance and the online publication NewsHub, the V-Dem civil society index “researches the NGO sector, evaluating the extent to which civil society organisations fulfil their civic mission and responsibilities, and how effectively (freely and actively) people’s interests are represented within the NGO sector.”

FactCheck analysed the data published by V-Dem and confirmed that Georgia’s civil society index ranking has indeed worsened, dropping from 26th (not 27th) in 2022 to 77th (the aforementioned statistics can be downloaded and analysed from this source). However, crucial context has been omitted from the Facebook posts, resulting in false narratives being disseminated. In reality, V-Dem, when measuring the Core civil society index, assesses the environment created by the government for civil society organisations to operate, rather than directly evaluating the performance of Georgia’s NGO sector. Therefore, Georgia’s deteriorated position does not reflect the work of Georgian CSOs but rather the environment for civil society has worsened because of the Georgian government.

Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) is a global scientific collaborative project aimed at conceptualising and measuring democracy and government performance in key countries using various indices.

Notably, Georgia’s civil society index declined from 0.92 in 2022 to 0.81 in 2023 as per the data from the project (verify this information by selecting the Core civil society index in the graph for Indicators and Caucasus – in the graph for regions).

Moreover, the same webpage indicates that: “The core civil society index CCSI is designed to provide a measure of a robust civil society, understood as one that enjoys the autonomy from the state and in which citizens can freely and actively pursue their political and civic goals, however conceived. CSOs include, but are by no means limited to, interest groups, labour unions, spiritual organisations if they are engaged in civic or political activities, social movements, professional associations, charities and other non-governmental organisations.”

The V-Dem codebook and the aforementioned webpage provide access to other indices utilised to assess the state of democracy in various countries, including the CSO participatory index, the degree of government control over entry and exit by CSOs into public life and CSO repression.

According to the V-Dem codebook, which is a component of its methodology, when measuring the CSO participatory environment, the government receives a score of 0 if most NGOs are sponsored by the government; whereas the maximum score of three points is marked if various CSOs operate within the country and it is considered normal for individuals to enter the sphere from time to time.

The following aspect of the core civil society index assesses the extent to which the government achieves control over entry and exit by civil society organisations (CSOs) into public life. Similarly, the worst-case scenario occurs when the government has a monopoly over the establishment and functioning of civil organisations which is evaluated at 0. Conversely, if the government does not interfere with the establishment and functioning of CSOs, unless they participate in plans to violently overthrow the government, the country receives a score of four.

Finally, the last indicator measures the degree to which the government attempts to repress civil society organisations. The government receives a score of 0 if its government actively and violently pursues the members of CSOs. Conversely, the country is awarded four points if CSOs are free to organise, associate, strike, express themselves and to criticise the government without fear of government sanctions or harassment.

The V-Dem indices clearly highlight that the civil society index does not measure ‘NGO ranking positions’ or focus on ‘researching the NGO sector and evaluating the extent to which CSOs fulfil their civic mission and responsibilities.’ Instead, it assesses the environment created by the government for civil society organisations to operate. Therefore, Georgia’s worsened civil society index implies that the environment for CSOs to function within the country has deteriorated due to the government’s actions.

It is crucial to note that the annual report by V-Dem, which analyses the degree of democracy in global and state-by-state perspectives, assessed Georgia critically. According to the report: “Georgia has been in regression since 2017 but remains an electoral democracy. The greatest flaws are in Georgia’s electoral processes. The 2018 presidential elections were marred by misuse of state funds and concerns over voter intimidation. The 2020 parliamentary elections involved mismanagement that led the opposition to accuse the electoral process of being fraudulent and to boycott the runoff. The government is also accused of infringing on civil society and the independent media.”