The Tbilisi-based NGO Media Development Foundation recently published a report monitoring hate speech, xenophobia, and anti-western attitudes in Georgia, covering the period 2014-2015. The report shows that anti-western rhetoric is closely interlinked with xenophobic and homophobic sentiments.
The Georgian public has been a strong supporter of the country’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration in the past two decades. The latest public opinion poll by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in April 2015 showed that 65% of society strongly supports Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, and 68% supports European integration. This support has never fallen under 60%. However, the recent NDI poll also showed that 31% of society supports joining the Russia-led Eurasian Union, which is a substantial increase. The figure of 31% is controversial since some of those who voiced support for Eurasian integration also supported the EU and NATO in the same polling. But the high figure is still alarming nonetheless and needs observation. The question is: To what extent can anti-western propaganda really shake up the attitudes of a pro-western Georgian society?
According to the Media Development Foundation (MDF) report, the main source of anti-western propaganda is the media, political parties, and religious figures. Amongst political parties, anti-western attitudes were most frequently expressed by Nino Burjanadze’s United Democrats, the People’s Council, the Alliance of Patriots, and Free Georgia. Their public support remains low –only 4% support the Alliance of Patriots, while Nino Burjanadze’s party and Free Georgia are not even mentioned in the 2015 public opinion poll as major parties, but still, their support has increased in recent and there is a probability will overcome the threshold for the 2016 parliamentary elections. Some representatives of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition also use xenophobic and anti-western language. What is alarming is that they remain in their parties after these kinds of statements and there is no reaction to it from the government.
According to a 2014 report by the MDF, “Public Funds for Media Promoting Hate Speech and Anti-Western Sentiments,” a number of ministries and their subordinate legal entities use financing from the state budget to contract joint projects with media organizations that express anti-western attitudes, and that are known for promoting hate speech and intolerance towards minority social groups. In 2013-2014, public funds were used for providing advertising services of the media organizations Obiektivi, Sakinformi, Geworld.ge. since it’s not a customer of TVMR Georgia, which is accredited to measure TV ratings. Government officials are advertising their political campaigns on media outlets with an observed anti-western propaganda and with no public ratings.
The main mechanism for promoting anti-western sentiments is to portray western integration as being opposed to Georgian traditions and values, particularly in terms of sexual and gender equality.
Some of the messages are:
- The West represents the ‘legalization’ of homosexuality, pedophilia, and other perverted lifestyles, which is against traditional Georgian values. This was the discourse promoted by some when Georgian parliament was considering a draft anti-discrimination law in the spring of 2014.
- The United States and the West encourage coups in others countries. The 2013-2014 Euromaidan events in Ukraine were portrayed as actions created by the West against Russia; Euro-Atlantic integration is associated with the territorial expansion of Turkey and the loss of historical Georgian territories; the EU Association Agreement signed in June 2014 was interpreted as a tool to subjugate Georgia and destroy its economy, or shows that Georgia is being led around by external actors and lacks independence, while ultimately the West will not protect Georgia.
- General Turkophobic and Isalomophobic attitudes. There were 200 cases of Islamophobia linked to mosques being built or restored in Georgia, in the years 2013-2014, according to the MDF report. Turkey is portrayed as a threat in terms of its economic, cultural, and religious expansion, and the counterweight is Orthodox Russia.
- The former ruling party, the United National Movement, was associated almost always in a negative context. On a similar note, non-governmental organizations were portrayed as hired spies of foreign countries, while international organizations operating in Georgia were described as branches of foreign special services.
To counter this rise in anti-western messages and propaganda, in September 2015 a group of Georgian NGOs and the media outlet Tabula launched the campaign Defend Liberty. The campaign is to consolidate efforts in holding public debates and educational sessions discussing the economic situation in the country, as well as trade and social opportunities associated with European and Euro Atlantic integration.