Georgia is one sad post-Soviet place, according to the World Happiness Report, which for the second year running rated the Caucasus nation as the most downbeat country in the former Soviet Union. Out of this bunch, the Central Asian autocracy of Uzbekistan, ranked 49th out of 157 countries, is apparently having the most fun.
Judging by the report, Georgia has gone a long way from being the fun-in-the-sun spot of the USSR. American writer John Steinbeck once recalled that the Russians and Ukrainians he had met during his late 1940s travels to the Soviet Union all yearned for “magical” Georgia. “People who had never been there, and who possibly could never go there, spoke of Georgia with a kind of longing and admiration,” Steinbeck observed in his 1948 Russian Journal. “They spoke of Georgians as superman, as great drinkers, great dancers, great musicians, great workers and lovers. And they spoke of the country in the Caucasus and around the Black Sea as a kind of second heaven.”
Soviet media propaganda helped cultivate Georgia’s role as the place for happiness and abundance. In movies, female collective farmers in straw-hats picked tea leaves and warbled cheerful songs in piercing sopranos. News presenters on national TV were prone to smile when sharing news from what they persistently referred to as cолнечная Грузия, “sunny Georgia. “
Were Georgians faking it, then? Or have the economic struggles, civil turmoil and loss of territories of the post-Soviet era just ruined their mood?
Some local observers have complained about too much anger in social interactions, media and politics. One Georgian blogger wrote in 2014 that anger became the order of the day in the 1990s, when the country was reduced to an apocalyptic scene of war and poverty. “We feel aggressive behavior everywhere: in the streets, public transportation, private transportation (look at the traffic patterns), bars and clubs,” wrote Giorgi Tskhadaia in a blog for RFE/RL’s Georgian service. “All this aggressiveness crosses over to… social networks and we get a society where screaming, beating and cursing prevail over truth and common sense.”
It is hard to draw conclusions about what makes Georgia so unhappy from the World Happiness Report. The global study, “written by a group of independent experts acting in their personal capacities,” is meant to herald the UN’s World Happiness Day on March 20. It collates a variety of questions and polls to measure happiness. It asks questions about satisfaction with life, the prevailing mood, clarity about the purpose in life, and also looks at variables like economic wellbeing, stability and freedom.
As exemplified by Ukraine, the study sees a connection between “economic, political and social stresses” and levels of happiness. But apparently, not so strong as to preclude corruption-and-protest-riddled Moldova (54th place) from ranking close to Japan and Italy.
Breaking another old stereotype, the report ranks Russia among the relatively happier post-Soviet group (56th place), far above sunny Georgia (126) and its no less sunny Caucasus neighbors, Azerbaijan (81) and Armenia (121).
The World Happiness Report does not contain any clear explanation for the secret to Uzbekistan’s post-Soviet bliss.