MDF study: main levers of anti-Western propaganda in Georgia are fear, hopelessness
The Media Development Fund (MDF) and United Nations Association of Georgia (UNAG) has released a report on anti-Western propaganda in Georgia.
The report, which reflects the results of monitoring for 2019, says that compared to 2016, the level of anti-Western propaganda in Georgia has doubled.
Over the course of the study, the scheme of this propaganda was deciphered: fear and hopelessness are first instilled in people, and then a way out is offered.
The study says that throughout 2019, anti-Western propaganda trumpeted the likely resumption of the war with Russia, making it clear that in this case neither the United States nor Europe would help Georgia, so the way out is to improve relations with Russia, and for this it is necessary for Tbilisi to declare neutrality and start a direct dialogue with Russia.
During monitoring and analysis, the following trends were identified:
● Compared to 2016, the number of anti-American and anti-NATO messages has noticeably increased.
Anti-Western Messages: Source – MDF
With regard to the United States, two areas are relevant:
1. There was an opinion that the project of the deep-water port in Anaklia was economically unjustified and its purpose was purely military-militaristic for the United States.
2. The inexpediency of the deployment of American military bases in Georgia – President Salome Zurabishvili called this scenario a provocation of Russia, which became fertile ground for pro-Russian actors.
● At the same time, the number of pro-Russian statements has increased, including hints at a change in Georgia’s foreign policy, which would supposedly contribute to the settlement of conflicts through direct dialogue with the Kremlin.
Messages against the European Union / Europe remained at last year’s level and there are noticeably fewer of them compared to 2017, when the visa-free regime was activated.
The decrease in the number of anti-European messages is possibly due to the fact that active discussions of the subsequent stages of European integration have not yet begun.
The main sources of anti-Western messages are the media, parties and politics. The number of politicians’ comments almost doubled in comparison with 2018. This is probably due to the campaign of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia against the US and NATO.
The main sources of anti-Western messages are named: Kremlin-related online publications Gruzia i mir, Sakinform, TV company Objektivi, founded by the pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots of Georgia party, and newspapers that position themselves as ethno-nationalistic, but often repeat the narratives of the Kremlin media – “Asaval-dasavali” and “Alia”.
The undoubted leader in these efforts is the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia. They are followed by the United Democratic Movement, Neutral Socialist Georgia and the Georgian Idea.
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Structure of the narrative
The structure of anti-Western narratives is two-fold: to sow fear and hopelessness and then explain where the way out is.
Don’t irritate Russia
Along with the declaration of joining NATO and the EU, the 2012 Georgian Dream campaign clearly stated that Georgia should not cause conflicts between the West and Russia. The same thesis was voiced in 2019 by the Eurasian Institute and the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia.
Integration into NATO, American military bases in Georgia, and the deep-water port in Anaklia – these topics were called contrary to Russian interests. In early 2020, the government terminated an agreement with the consortium to build the deep-water port in Anaklia.
Fear of war resuming
Propaganda efforts make use of a narrative that claims the 2008 war was stirred up by America, and that the United States and Western partners were not interested in normalizing relations between Georgia and Russia, and that Georgia’s NATO membership and the deployment of American military bases in Georgia would turn the country into a testing ground and turn the country into a second Syria.
Fear of bio-sabotage
This phobia in Georgian society was implanted mainly in connection with the Lugar laboratory, which has long haunted the Russian authorities and which is referred to as a source of ‘bio-sabotage’.
Fear of losing identification
This phobia is based on the concept of the “Russian world”, which implies an expansive and missionary foreign policy of Russia. There was an opinion that Western values are incompatible with Orthodoxy, that the West contributes to the moral degradation of Georgia, and this is disproportionately harder than physical occupation.
Hopelessness – “The West will not protect”
As in previous years, the opinion was spread that the West and NATO would not risk relations with Russia because of Georgia, that the United States was an unreliable partner, which manifested itself in the issue of protecting the Kurds in Syria.
Democracy, sovereignty is fiction
Alleged double standards of the West were also used, claiming Georgia in reality is not a sovereign country, the USA and other countries interfere in its internal affairs in the same way the Soviet Union interfered.
The anti-occupation demonstration on June 20 was presented by both the Russian authorities and internal actors as organized by the United States, more precisely, by former adviser to the US Secretary of Defense Michael Carpenter.
The narrative about US interference in Georgia’s affairs was picked up by the pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, which staged a protest near the US embassy in Tbilisi. The same party organized campaigns against the NDI and IRI institutions, research and reports of which contained negative assessments of the activities of the leader of the ruling party, Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Two Wests: liberalism is losing
Actors defending the interests of both the authorities and Russia defended the idea of two faces of the West in every possible way. On the one hand, the pro-government media viewed the criticism of the Georgian authorities at the McCain Institute conference as intrigues of the Georgian opposition and opponents of Donald Trump.
On the other hand, various actors differentiated the conservative and liberal West, predicting the defeat of liberalism.
Where is the exit?
In parallel with the instillation of fear and hopelessness, ideas were voiced to revise Georgia’s foreign policy and declare neutrality. The campaign was mainly conducted by the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia.
● Direct dialogue with Russia
For several years the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia has been advocating a direct dialogue with Russia for the sake of resolving problems with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which means abandoning the Geneva format of negotiations. This may lead to the fact that Russia will turn from an occupying country into a mediator in the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian negotiations.
● Dependence on the Russian economy leads to stability
The idea was spread that the “anti-occupation action” on June 20 could disrupt the stability of economic relations with Russia, which had been achieved in recent years. At the same time, the opinion that Georgia was historically and economically dependent on Russia was strengthened.
● A United Russia
The idea of messionism in Orthodox Russia was mainly addressed by individual clergymen and the publication Gruzia i mir.
● Falsified and manipulative content
When checking the facts, the online portal “Myth detector” in 2019 revealed 199 falsifications and manipulative uses of information. More than others were distinguished “Gruzia i mir” (31), “Sputnik Georgia” (17) and “Sakinform” (16), from social media “Stalin” (10) and “Alt-info” (9); from parties – “Alliance of Patriots of Georgia” (24).
Falsification of statistics and manipulation of figures most often occurred in issues related to the economy and migration; manipulative interviews most often dealt with the topic of Georgia’s integration into NATO; most of the “conspiracy theories” were circulated in topics related to health and biosafety, and falsification of history was mostly related to the Soviet period.
Compared to 2016, anti-Western propaganda has doubled in Georgia.