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Could Georgians Become A Minority In their Own Country?

As of January 1, 2010, the population of Georgia numbered 4,436,400, Caucasus Press reported on June 30. That is less than 1 percent more than at the time of the 2002 census (4,400,000) and approximately 1 million less than at the time of the January 1989 Soviet census, when the figure was 5,449,000, according to "Pravda" on April 29, 1989.

That catastrophic decline is the combined result of massive emigration in search of employment and a sharp fall in the birthrate: from 92,000 live births in 1990 to 40,800 in 1999. That latter trend has now reportedly been reversed: Georgian demographers have registered a slight but steady increase in the birthrate in recent years, with 46,060 births in 2006, 48,027 in 2007, 57,263 in 2008, 61,839 in 2009, and 62,726 in 2010. But according to the daily "Rezonansi" on August 9, 2005, one child in 20 dies before the age of 5. Abortions reportedly outnumber live births by 2-to-1.

Moreover, the population increase is highest in those regions populated primarily by Azerbaijanis and Armenians, leading some specialists to warn that Georgians could become a minority in their own country by 2050. In June 2007, the Justice Ministry's Civil Register calculated that the second most common surname in Georgia was Mamedov.

At the time of the 2002 Georgian census, Georgians accounted for 83.8 percent of the population; Azeris, 6.5 percent; Armenians, 5.7 percent; and Russians, 1.5 percent. Since then, however, Georgia has experienced a steady influx of Chinese. Official statistics estimate their number in the hundreds, but the "Georgian Times" in August 2007 cited a figure of 50,000, and former President Eduard Shevardnadze told the newspaper "Mteli kvira" that there were 40,000 Chinese in Tbilisi alone.

At least two Georgian opposition parties have advocated cash incentives to encourage families to have another child. In July 2007, the New Rightists proposed that the state should assume all expenses related to the birth of a child; pay 500 laris ($290) for each newborn child and extend maternity leave from four to 12 months; and pay a monthly allowance of 300 laris for the first-born, rising by 100 laris for each subsequent child.

On March 8, Labor party General-Secretary Soso Shatberashvili said that in order to avert a "demographic catastrophe," the state should make a one-time payment of 1,000 laris to the parents of each new-born child.

Even if such incentives are introduced, however, it is doubtful whether they could fully offset the process of population aging: already some 20 percent of the population is aged over 60, "Rezonansi" reported on October 2, 2009. Taking that trend into account, the UN Population Division envisaged in 2008 that by 2020, Georgia's population would dip below 4 million, and sink as low as 3,267,000 by 2050.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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