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woensdag 11 juli 2018

Fighting Russian Propaganda in the Georgian Republic

In the first half of 2018 D66 International sponsored the project ‘Let’s Demolish Myths’ by the Georgian Free Democratic Institute. The goal of this project was to disseminate educational videos about liberal values and the European Union on social media in Georgia. The online campaign provoked much response, highlighting exactly why the campaign was useful, and why it should serve as kick-off to many more similar projects. With this campaign finished, project leader Tamar Giorgobiani reflects on its outcomes:

“Everything started with a harmless project called “Let’s Demolish Myths”. The main idea of the project was fight against anti-liberal propaganda in Georgia and in MENA-region. Within the project we recorded informative video clips (five video clips and four short summarizing graphic clips), in which experts, representatives of foreign missions and ‘famous’ people talked about the importance of liberal values and about anti-western propaganda.

We specially targeted the topics on which there much ‘fake news’ going around, and attempts to ‘brainwash’ people in Georgia. Our first video was about same sex marriage and featured the ambassador of Estonia in Georgia Kai Kaarelson, who explained what the European Union does and does not oblige its member states to do. And from the moment of publishing that video, the show began. Although to us it seemed to be a harmless interview, we didn’t realize the level of people’s reluctance to listen to argumentative discussions was so high in Georgia. And that anti-western propaganda is so strong in our country. From the very first video we became target of attacks, with people commenting our videos on Facebook, saying that we were lying, that we were brainwashed the youth, and that we were anti-Christian. Only a few comments were made in favour of us. Most interestingly to us, none of the comments contained any fact-based arguments.

With all the other videos we put online, it was really no different. This really opened our eyes to the fact that that the problem we tried to address was much deeper then we thought at first. We thought our our society was very open-minded and Western-oriented, but we were wrong. What Russian propaganda has done in several years is shocking. And I can’t imagine what will happen in ten years to come, in countries where democracy is already fragile. Russia purposefully targets countries where religious believes are strong, and where people are more traditional. Their propaganda states that Europeans are anti-Christian, that they are all atheists, and that they don’t have any values besides their promotion of LGBT-rights. If they manage to shake European countries like Poland and Hungary, than what will become of countries who feels itself to be European, but is not a member state of the European Union.

Again and again I want to point out that this project helped as to realize and understood the depth of the problem. Even while we were executing this project, we didn’t fully realize the problem was so shocking. At a glance it is not so obvious that Russian propaganda has such deep roots. And few years ago most of the citizens were like-minded regarding the choice and path of our country’s development and nobody dared to talk openly about benefits of Russia, because it was so unpopular. Now we see the numbers of pro-Russian people are rising, with people openly starting to talk about benefits of being aligned with Russia. In the past elections, for the first time since became Georgia an independent country, an openly pro-Russian political party managed to get over the electoral threshold and get into the parliament.

We’re in the 21st century now, and ‘war’ looks very different than it used to. We’re dealing with a ‘hybrid’ war, in which information plays a large role. If we are committed to our country’s progress and development, we have to get involved. And with small but numerous hits one day after another – with projects such as these – we will win. If Georgians manage to unite against its common enemy, then it does not have a chance.”