Culture is the main determinant of trust

This researchconducted on reasons trust in particular public institutions in Azerbaijan, found that although the trust in thepoliticalinstitutions is generally high, it differs from institution to institution. Although trust in president has always been high, crucial political institutions such as courts, police, municipalitiesand civil society institutions are among relatively less trusted ones. The findings reveal that national culture, i.e. historical background of social relations, as well as socio-demographic factors such as gender, level of education, type of settlement (urban versus rural) and age are the main determinants of trust (or mistrust) in the country.

Why trust matters?

Despite the fact that trust towards president is and has always been high, relatively low trustin other institutions of executive government shows that people might have doubts in effectiveness of those institutions.

Trust level in Azerbaijan

Moreover, low trust in police and court system may suggest that people believe that there is injustice in the society (McKee 2013). So why the trust factor is so important and why we should careabout its level? Political trust is the people’sevaluation of the performance of government in accordance with their expectations(Coleman 1990; Hetherington 2005; Miller 1974; Stokes 1962). It is generally accepted that political trust leads to democratic reforms, economic development, better institutional performance, and political stability. It is worth mentioning that political and economic performances directly affect the trust and economic development, democratic reforms boost trust in the society (Fukuyama 1995; Howard 2003; McKee 2013; Putnam 1993). Considering all above-mentioned factors, it can be concluded that trust is one of the key factors associated with social prosperity. Therefore, low trust instate institutionsmight weakendemocratic reforms and demotivate individuals from participating in elections. For instance, despite the fact that 38% of the respondents report trusting their local government, a significant portion – 23 % of them remains neutral or undecided (having neither positive nor negative opinion), which shows that this institution were not able to build enough trust and needs reforms.Population’s attitude towards local government also reflects itself in very low turnout during municipal elections; the turnout of the municipal elections in 2009 was 32% and in 2011 was 24 %. Such a low participation in elections also explains low levels of trust in political parties and civil society institutions. Distrust hinders the consolidation and development of civil society.

Reasons of the lack of trust in certain institutions

As in other former communist states, in Azerbaijan political distrust is historically rooted, and, negatively related with interpersonal trust (Sztompka 2000; Dekker and Uslaner 2001; O’Neill2002; Uslaner 2002; Rothstein and Stolle 2003; Newton 2007). Those who trust their fellow citizens also trust political institutions and vice versa. The presence of strong kinship in Azerbaijani society can explain this tendency. Taking into consideration the fact that Azerbaijan is a presidential republic, the high level of trust to the executive branch of power is crucial. Today the share of people who trust thepresident of Azerbaijan (fully trustand trust) comprises 84%. If weinclude those people who are neutralit could be said that almost 93% ofAzerbaijan’s population is eithertrusting or neutral to its president.This highly correlates with the resultsof the recent presidential electionwhen president Aliyev got 87% ofthe votes with 76 % voter turnout. Italso proves many observations andtheories that trust of institutions leadsto higher voter turnout, especially inAzerbaijan.However, in Azerbaijani a significantminority – 25 % of people is neutral to theexecutive government (CB 2012). It is worthmentioning that in reality the Azerbaijani people distinguish betweenthe power of the president and executivegovernmentin general. When the people in Azerbaijan are asked about trust in the executive government they mostly consider the local executive powers of districts and regions. Thus, despite the high percentage of trust (45%) toward executive government, some share of the population is demonstrating neutral attitude. That could be explained by the fact that, since the collapse of communism, declining levels of trust, and increasing levels of mismanagement have characterized many countries in the transition region including Azerbaijan. These negative trends have impeded many countries’ transition to well-functioning markets, undermined people’s life satisfaction and challenged their views of the positive benefits of the transition to market economies and democracy (EBRD, 2006).Such an environment createdpolitical apathy and led to low membership in political par­ties, associations and other civil society organizations. At the same time, low trust in other institutions leads to creation of alternative systems. For example, in Azerbaijan, distrust in public education led to the creation of the private tutoring system, which puts an additional burden on parents while mistrust in the health care system forces people to turn to the private clinicsor pay additional fees to obtain better treatment. At the same time we see that in Azerbaijan support for democracy and a market economy is high, with the middle-aged being the most supportive. However, alienation from the political and economic system is also evident, with four out of ten believing that the type of political/economic system does not matter (EBRD, 2010). High interpersonal trust driven from kinshipalso effectspolitical trust since the average person along with trusting in his/her relative who is working for a given state institution, would also trust in this institution.

It is worth mentioning that despite the fact that courts are the main control mechanism of justice in the society and the trust level in courts is low in  Azerbaijan, it can be concluded that citizens do not associate unfair treatment and other problems related to the court system with other state institutions. Although independence and trust in the judicial system is also considered as one ofthe important elements of emergingdemocracies, the share of peoplewho trust courts is around 26% to31%.

Around 32%of respondents in Azerbaijan distrust courts. Such a high share of distrustamong respondents in Azerbaijancould be explained by the fact thatthe Azerbaijani public is slowly gettingused to the court system and dueprocess procedures. Unfortunately,trust of the judicial system cannot bebuilt overnight. In this context trust in law-enforcementagencies such as the police ishighly dependent on trust in the judicialsystem. In the example of Georgiawe can see that thanks to reformsof the police system, the trust level ofGeorgian citizens to law-enforcementagencies is very high: 67 % of Georgianrespondents trust the policewhile 20% are neutral. In Azerbaijan,however, the level of trust toward policeis much lower and reaches only38%.


Trust in political institution in Azerbaijan does not vary greatly over time and across institutions. In other words, the trust in political institutions in the country is more generalized (i.e. collective) rather than specific to institutions.In other words, the trust or mistrust is culturally embedded. Thus the question arises, whether it is possible to change the culture within very short period of time through trust-building measures. The research found that the trust level in the major political institutions in the country is comparatively low andthere is not much public disappointment with government’s policies that could lead to massive social or political processes. However, it is understandable that some political institutions in Azerbaijan are weak and vulnerable andsome trust-building measures have to be implemented in order to change existing situation.Beneath mentioned problems should be addressed by the government:

  1. Low trust to the courts and judicial system
  2. Decreasing trust toward the law-enforcement agencies
  3. Historical low trust toward education and health care systems
  4. Absence of trust toward local governments.


In December of 2014 Azerbaijan had another municipal election. Voter turnout this time reached almost 39% (State Elections Committee, 2014). However, even this number is low for a state with developing economic. The government should implement certain policies to increase the trust level to this institution that would positively affect voter turnout. In this brief we would like to recommend several policy actions in order to increase the trust toward local governments. We believe that following actions will be necessary to implement in order to increase the trust level:

  1. To make the work of municipalities transparent and open;
  2. To educate the general public about the important role of municipalities in a daily life;
  3. To involve general public in decision-making process ofmunicipalities.

For doing so we will propose several actions (which are not touching any institutional reforms):

  • Municipalities should be required to reveal their sources of income, taxation and financial data. Websites of municipalities should have comprehensive information on incomes and expenses.
  • The debates or sessions where the crucial decisions of municipalities are taken should open for general public. Any person, journalist, NGO representative should be allowed to attend the sessions of municipalities. Moreover, the records of the meetings should be either posted online or broadcasted online.

Municipalities should strengthen the work with civil society and mass media. Education of general public of the importance of municipalities should be priority for local governments.

By: Anar Valiyev, Khalida Jafarova, Hajar Huseynova, Azer Babayev

About Farid