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MDF Report: Georgia's Anti-Western Propaganda Primarily Stem from Pro-Kremlin Parties

Wesam Abo Marq Wesam Abo Marq
14th March 2024
MDF Report: Georgia's Anti-Western Propaganda Primarily Stem from Pro-Kremlin Parties
Politicians were the primary source of anti-Western messages (MDF)

The Media Development Foundation (MDF), a local media watchdog, published a report on anti-Western propaganda. The report delves into trends, typology, and sources of anti-Western messages, analyzing traditional media (television, print, and online outlets) as well as political, religious, organizational, and individual sources. As per the MDF's findings, politicians emerged as the primary source of anti-Western messages in Georgia in 2022. The report indicates that among political parties, the pro-Kremlin parties conveyed the largest share of anti-Western messages.

MDF Report on Anti-Western Propaganda in 2022

The Media Development Foundation (MDF) compiled this report with financial backing from the USAID Unity Through Diversity Program, implemented by the U.N. Association in Georgia (UNAG). The propaganda manipulations in Georgia followed five main themes: "the second front," "the second Maidan," "sovereign democracy," democratic institutions, and Western funding, according to the report.

Covering January 1 to December 31, 2022, the report, founded on the analysis of up to 10,000 comments, reveals that the majority of propaganda messages targeted the collective West and the U.S., with subsequent focus on the E.U. and NATO. Other subjects of criticism included Ukraine, democratic institutions like NGOs, the ombudsman, and the media, along with liberal ideas in general. Notably, the report highlights that Russia was the sole subject portrayed positively within this discourse.

The Media Development Foundation conducted monitoring specifically on Georgian-language media, encompassing mainstream outlets as well as subjects with connections to the Kremlin and specific party affiliations. For monitoring purposes, 11 traditional media outlets were selected, including 5 television, 4 print, and 2 online platforms. The 2022 report concentrated on talk shows within the television media.

Anti-Western Messages 

In the process of data analysis, five primary topics of anti-Western messages were identified. These include: 1. Foreign Policy and Security (42.2%); 2. Democracy, Sovereignty and Democratic Institutions (21.7%); 3. Russian Intervention in Ukraine (20.5%); 4. Identity and Liberalism (11.9%); and 5. Foreign Aid and Economy (3.6%).

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A screenshot from the report

Concerning foreign policy and security matters, the E.U. emerged as the primary target. The report attributes this focus to the E.U. integration process, notably the question of granting Georgia candidacy.

The report emphasizes that a particularly sensitive propaganda message was the claim that the West aimed to "drag Georgia into the war" and "open a second front" in the Ukraine conflict within the country. This narrative, the report notes, was linked to the instrumentalization of war fears, intensifying against the backdrop of Russia's conflict in Ukraine and serving as a key tool for political manipulation in the context of Georgia's E.U. candidacy.

Following Georgia's denial of status in June 2022, the report highlights that the refusal intensified the propaganda narrative. It suggested that the rejection was due to Georgian authorities resisting opening a second front in the country. Furthermore, NATO, the U.S., the collective West, and to a lesser extent, Ukraine were blamed. There were implications and at times direct claims, that these entities were demanding Georgia's involvement in the war as a condition for the E.U. candidacy.

Simultaneously, Russia's war in Ukraine was depicted as an opportunity to mend relations with Russia. The propaganda conveyed messages of Russia being "the only solution" for the return of Georgia's occupied territories. Descriptions of Russia's war in Ukraine also emphasized Russia's "invincibility and military superiority."

The report highlights a continued trend from previous years, depicting Russia as a deterrent to Turkey and other neighbors of Georgia with allegedly aggressive intentions. Turkey, in turn, was portrayed as a threat to Georgia's territorial integrity, with purported ambitions to "restore the Ottoman Empire." The messages targeting Turkey were accompanied by a longstanding narrative aiming to redirect focus from the threat posed by Russia to the historical threat of Turkey, stating, "if Russia is an occupier, Turkey is an occupier too."

Moreover, anti-Maidan fears were exacerbated by a propaganda narrative suggesting that the U.S. (in most cases), "the West," or the E.U. were plotting to alter the Georgian government through a "revolutionary scenario," akin to Ukraine's Euromaidan, the 2013 "Revolution of Dignity." Propagandists framed the events in Ukraine as an extremist coup.

Messages emphasizing the need to defend "sovereign democracy," a term originating in Hungary and adopted by Russia, argue that external powers have no right to interfere in their interpretation of "democracy." These messages were primarily directed at the U.S., followed by the broader Western nations and the E.U. In response to Western criticism of their democratic practices, the report notes that both the ruling party and pro-Kremlin forces equated such criticism with Western interference in Georgia's sovereign affairs.

Certain domestic institutions serving as checks on the government were also deemed threats, often depicted as collaborating with the West and acting on its behalf, labeled as "foreign agents," a term with historical roots in the Soviet political lexicon meaning "a spy." These institutions included local NGOs, the public defender Nino Lomjaria, and the media. The report observes that this narrative aimed to advance the idea that the foreign funding of these entities is opaque, and the term "rich NGOs" was coined and actively used in propaganda messaging. This line of argumentation subsequently supported the drafting of a Russian-style law "on transparency of foreign funding," which passed in March 2023 in the first reading but was later withdrawn following massive public protests.

Report Identifies Sources of Anti-Western Messages in Georgia

As per the report, politicians emerged as the primary source of anti-Western messages in Georgia in 2022, accounting for 45.5%, followed by the media (30.1%), pro-government experts (16.1%), non-governmental organizations (7.7%), and the clergy of Georgia's Orthodox Church (0.6%).

Among political parties, the report highlights that the pro-Kremlin parties "Alt-Info/Conservative Movement" (2302) and the "Alliance of Patriots" (1117) voiced the largest share of anti-Western messages. They were followed by the ruling party's spin-off "People's Power" and the ruling "Georgian Dream" itself.

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A screenshot from the MDF’s report

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