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Echoes of Europe: Stories from the Georgian and Ukrainian diaspora in Vienna


With Georgia and Ukraine receiving candidate status for EU membership, old debates about EU enlargement and the fabric of European society have come up again. But for the large diaspora communities living in Austria, the European perspective is not some potential future scenario but a current reality.

We speak with the Georgian and Ukrainian diaspora in Vienna to see how their stories and perspectives can cast a new light on the question of what Europe is.

What are the main drivers of Georgians migration to Europe?

Dr. Prof. Iago Kachkachishvili is the head of the Department of Sociology and Social Work at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University in Georgia.

In his research of the Georgian diaspora, he’s found that the two main drivers of migration from Georgia are socio-economic factors and the lack of social capital – especially amongst young people.

“Many Georgians go to Europe because of poor economic conditions such as low salaries and unemployment,” he says.

“For young Georgians, a big factor is the lack of social capital. They don’t see grounds for a successful professional career and professional recognition in Georgia.”

According to 2020 numbers from OECD, close to 1 million Georgian emigrants live abroad. With a relatively small population of 3.7 million people, approximately 1 in 5 Georgians are emigrants.

The majority live in Russia, Greece and the United States. Other popular destinations are EU countries such as Germany.

In Austria, there are approximately 3725 Georgians. However, the real number might be a lot higher as some Georgians are living in Austria without a proper legal status.

Why did Ukrainians migrate to Europe before the war?


Misha moved abroad because he was young, curious and wanted to study in another country. In that sense, his story is not unique. The history of Ukraine is characterised by large waves of emigration. In a global perspective, Ukraine is among the top 10 countries with the highest emigration levels.

In the period between 1991 to 2020, experts estimate that the population shrank from 52 million to 42 million - a 20% drop. The large numbers of emigrants were mostly a response to the economic hardship and political frustration brought on by the USSR from which Ukraine gained independence in 1991.

Since 2001 alone, more than six million Ukrainians have left the country without returning home.

In Austria, before the start of the full-scale war in February 2022, there were approximately 12.000 Ukrainians living in Austria.

Expectations of Georgians & Ukrainians before coming to Europe

"I was a bit too sure of myself," says Nodar looking back at his expectations of life in Austria. He is a Georgian application developer. He moved to Vienna 13 years ago to do a Masters degree in Computer Sciences.

At his university in Georgia, Nodar was already quite successful for his age, working as an assistant lecturer in his 2nd year of studying.

In Europe, he expected the only obstacle to be the language and that he would be able to apply his educational experience and knowledge from Georgia straight away.


When Misha moved to Vienna from Ukraine in 2018, he was only 18-years old and imagined life here to be like one of those movies about young people who study, party and fall in love. While reality did not deliver immediately on all of his dreams, he was pleased to live in a country with strong public social services.


The strict and rigid reality for many Georgian workers in the EU

Stories from the Georgian diaspora, as well as the research of Dr. Kachkachishvili shows, that the reality of life for many Georgians who moved to the EU is very different to what they expected.

For Nodar, building a career in Vienna turned out to be a lot harder than he imagined. In Europe he realised, that his university level education in IT from Georgia only amounted to a middle school education in Vienna.

The problem was not that I was a foreigner. I just didn't have enough education.

Dr. Kachkachishvili believes that some Georgians moved to the EU because they assumed it to be a "taken for granted"-route to become rich.

In Georgia, he says, some are used to a work culture where you work hard, but there is still time for a coffee, a cigarette and a social chat in between work.

In Europe, they are faced with a very rigid and strict reality where they are expected to work non-stop for 8 to 9 hours a day.

I think many Georgians are not prepared for this. They think it will be an easy journey. But it’s not easy of course. For many, it will be a very hard experience.

Many young Georgians who moved to the EU for work are disappointed to experience the inequalities of the European labor market. They expected to be paid the same amount as their European counterparts, but without the same qualifications they end up earning much less.

This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that legal pathways for living and working in the EU are very strict.

Many Georgians have come to the EU through the visa liberalisation scheme. Since 2017, Georgians with a biometric passport no longer need a visa to travel to the Schengen zone for a short-stay.

Some have used this as an opportunity to travel to the EU with the intention of staying and working. But when the visa expires, and they stay in Europe without a work permit, life is precarious. They have to hide from the authorities and earn money through the black market.

Many employers take advantage of this and hire Georgians to work under conditions and for salaries that are in violation with labor and human rights, says Dr. Kachkachishvili.

Some go from one job to another, hoping to improve their conditions. Others end up with drugs and crime. Back in Georgia, news of the diaspora being criminalized, imprisoned, and sometimes deported, has led to the diaspora having a negative reputation at home.

What kind of prejudice face the diaspora communities in Europe?

The stories from the diaspora show us that there are some common misconceptions about what life in the EU is like as a foreigner. For Georgians living in Vienna, the most widespread misconception is that their educational background will enable them to work and earn a European salary immediately.

So how does the local population view these diaspora communities? And are their views guided by prejudice?

According to a Georgian wine-shop-owner in Vienna, many locals are acting indifferent towards Georgians simply because they hardly know anything about Georgia itself.

For Misha, however, prejudice was a very real part of his experience as a foreigner in Vienna during the first years. He recalls a moment when an old lady on the street called him " a pig." As Misha explains, a lot of the prejudice he experienced was also grounded in a lack of understanding of his country amongst Austrians - especially of the difference between Ukraine and Russia.


To Nodar, the attitude of the Austrian people reflects your own attitude towards them. The only cultural peculiarity he had to get used to, he says with a smile, is the Austrian "coldness."


What Austrian habits have you adopted?

When living abroad, it's only natural to take over some mannerisms. For Misha, the countries strict culture of abiding by the rules, is something that has made an impression on him.


In Austria there is no such saying as "The law exists to be broken" Nodar says and laughs. As such, he echoes the experience of Austria as a very law abiding country. This, he believes, has made him a more disciplined and punctual person.


The infamous Austrian punctuality has also surprised a traditional Georgian wine seller in Vienna. Although he did not wish to appear with name and face in the article, he was happy to share how strange he finds it that Austrians always eat at a fixed, strict hour rather than when they are hungry.


Sharing Nodar's observation that Austrian's value their private space, Maka has come to appreciate that her personal life belongs to her alone. Maka is the head of the Georgian Culture Association in Vienna - an association that hosts Georgian cultural events as well as language and music lessons.