Russian Propaganda in Georgia bears fruit
Last year the Georgia’s Media Development Foundation published a research about Russian propaganda in the country, based on the year-long observations over the content in the local media, statements of the NGOs and public figures. Quite predictable, media turn out to be the main source of the anti-western rhetoric in Georgia, followed by politicians and religious servants.
The methods used by the Russian channels, compared to the propaganda during the Soviet times, have become more refined. Media specialists play with most sensitive human issues such as religion, tradition and family values. The surveys show that the number of Georgians who are concerned with respect for local traditions in case the country enters the EU have increased twofold over the last two years, up to 28%.
Moscow doesn’t rely much on the classical soft power instruments, such as language or culture. Anti-western messages spread by the Kremlin-controlled media say, for instance, that the USA fights against Georgian church and traditions. Examples of the narratives by the Russian media in Georgia include: ”Georgia has to stay with the Russian Federation because of its geography, common 200-year history and the Orthodox Christianity”, ”Georgian and Russian people are friendly to each other and only Georgian governments betray this friendship”, or ”the West is not a reliable partner and Georgia is in an illusion about its Western perspective”.
Russian TV channels on the Georgian media landscape
In Georgia, we can define four media audiences according to the preferred language, which are Georgian, Russian, Azerbaijani and Armenian. Abkhaz and Ossetian audiences in the two breakaway regions need special attention. Russian is the main language for most of ethnic minorities in Georgia, (around 20 percent of the population), as well as the communication tool between different ethnic groups and audiences.
The National Democratic Institute research shows that among foreign TV channels a large part of the Georgian population prefers Russian not Western ones. Young Georgian generation often does not Russian, but Georgians in their 40s and older speak Russian well and watch the Russian language media (TV/Newspapers). In most of Georgian cinemas, even non-Russian movies are demonstrated in Russian.
The Kremlin uses its propaganda tools not only via TV channels, but also with the help of certain newspapers, social networks and NGOs. For instance, the Georgian branch of the Eurasian Society campaigns against the NATO and the EU and promotes so-called Eurasianism. Part of the Orthodox clergy of Georgia also promotes anti-Western propaganda. The Russian Orthodox Church enjoys quite significant influence over the Georgian clergy.
As it comes to the matter of national security, it makes sense to set up a special counter propaganda center which will provide adequate information to all interested citizens and serve as a positive mediator in interethnic relations.
How the EU fights Russian propaganda
The European Union aims at fighting Russian propaganda by supporting independent media in the Eastern Neighbourhood countries and increasing awareness of “disinformation activities by external actors”, according to a strategic EU’s Communications action plan. The document also states that communication towards the east should “first and foremost focus on the development of positive and effective messages regarding EU policies towards the region”. The document, drafted by the EU’s diplomatic corps, also calls for efforts to persuade people in the benefits of EU-style reforms.
Last year a special communications unit called the East StratCom Team was set up, focused on proactive communication of the EU policies and activities in the six EaP countries and beyond, including Russia itself. Explaining the reasons to create the East StratCom Team, the European Council stressed „the need to challenge Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns.”
The action plan also calls for the 28-nation EU to promote more actively freedom of the media in the “eastern neighbourhood” region, mainly with the participation of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe. Proposals include targeted training and “capacity building” for journalists and media representants in the region. Brussels will also “consider how best it can support training for journalists experiencing conflict situations, to better enable them to report on issues of relevance to local populations.” The action plan doesn’t mention the creation of new media outlets in Russian language, but it notes that a “number of Member States are already increasing their support for broadcasting in the Russian language to cater to national minorities. In the meantime the EU will continue its support at local level for independent media, including Russian language media, to ensure that citizens have access to alternative sources of information in their local language.”