Civil society widely employs the term “Russian propaganda” in its vocabulary. Part of Georgia’s public believes it is a real threat whilst for some it is a non-existent reality forcibly imposed by certain groups.
However, it is a fact that Russian propaganda is not a fear for Georgia’s civil sector only. The United States’ budget appropriations act (Consolidated Appropriations Act) also acknowledges its existence. The newly elected President of France, Emmanuel Macron, stated before Vladimir Putin that propaganda is very active. Additionally, strategic documents of the European Union do include parts about threats coming from Russian propaganda. The Russian narrative is quite deep-rooted. The Russian Federation scores some successes in its mixed application of hard and soft power and its conducting of hybrid warfare.
Propaganda is a method of information supply which aims to use any kind of communication to deliberately influence people’s minds, emotions and behaviours. Propagandists might use various methods to persuade an audience although all of these methods have one thing in common and target the values or beliefs of an audience. Propaganda is one of the principal instruments of politics and its objective is to create and corroborate that kind of public opinion which could be useful for a propagandist to prop up his policy.
There are different forms of propaganda which require diverse peculiarities of behaviour. Propaganda techniques are shown best whilst analysing their examples. Of the many techniques, FactCheck picked some of them to analyse in light of the Georgian March. The manifested goal of the march was to “cleanse the country of illegal immigrants.”
- Stereotypisation or so-called “placing labels” ̶ by using this technique, a propagandist seeks to associate the names and or facts of negative content, emotion or connotation to those groups or people which are targeted to be discredited.
Example: Much earlier to the announcement of the Georgian March, the internet was flooded with the terms “unwashed Arab,” “stinky Turk,” “toilet less Indian,” etc. There were plenty of “intellectual” articles which discussed the absence of lavatories in India without providing a single source of information. Facebook statuses claiming that living or working places for Arabs are dirty started to circulate widely.
- False Dilemma – This technique is also called a black and white dilemma. It involves a situation when the addresses are given only two alternatives whilst one of them is portrayed in a positive light either directly or indirectly. It results in the impression that there are only two solutions for escaping from the “difficult situation.” Of these two solutions, one is “bad” whilst the other is “good.”
Example: Sandro Bregadze (one of the organisers of the Georgian March) said: “The Georgian March is a decisive battle between the Patriots and the traitors. If the Georgian March wins, our fatherland will choose the way of national development whilst if it loses, then promiscuity, homosexuality and a fight against the Church and faith will become widespread.”
The aforementioned statement is a classic example of the false dilemma and incorporates several extremities:
Fight at the Georgian March – Patriotism;
Not fighting at the Georgian March – Treason;
Victory of the Georgian March – the way towards national development;
Defeat of the Georgian March – Promiscuity, cheating, homosexuality, hostilities towards the Church and faith.
In the aforementioned dilemmas, the first options are positive and supported by an author whilst the alternative is necessarily negative and apocalyptic.
- Demonisation – this propaganda technique aims to portray the opposing side as inhumane whilst providing accusations and false generalisations.
Example: “Turks are trading with Syrian children’s organs.” “If an Arab, Iranian or some other alien elements, no matter his ethnicity, comes to Georgia, he will buy the country for USD 2-3 billion and you will become his slave.” “An Indian hypnotised a cashier and forced her to give him money.”
These statements and the information presented are unverified. There is no proof that they are true but they are spreading like wildfire. They nourish the “image of the enemy,” demonise the victims of propaganda and predict a “dangerous” future.
- Fake News – fake news is part of the propaganda and a useful tool for spreading it. According to the established understanding, it is disinformation/lie spread by means of mass information which serves to implement the policy of a certain group. There is several kinds of fake news: deliberately misleading, joke perceived as a real fact, stories where it is difficult to know what is the truth, stories floating around for a long time, etc.
Examples: “The President of Turkey declared that Batumi should be within Turkey’s borders” – this fake news item was circulated by the media outlet Georgia and the World which resulted in irritation and aggression among Georgia’s citizens. “Georgia transferred a six-hectare land plot to Turkey” – the aim of this fake news item was also to cause irritation of Georgian citizens towards Turkey. These news items are categorised under the label of deliberately misleading fake news.
“An Indian hypnotised a cashier and forced her to give him money” – this fake news, published by Mediacity.ge is in fact a joke of the article’s author which was chosen to be the title of the article.
“Vandalism in Mtskheta – there are inscriptions in Arabic and Latin on the walls of Jvari Monastery” – is the kind of fake news item which is circulated from time to time, sometimes with the interval of several years. Old, unconfirmed stories are spread as news to support those processes which are in the propagandist’s interests. A video published by the Facebook page Resistance for the Future, entitled as Jungles in Tbilisi Metro – There is No Justification for this Behaviour, belongs to the same category. This manipulative video has been posted online since September 2015 and includes no factual proof that it was really recorded in Tbilisi and is often used to rouse aggression against citizens of foreign countries. The very same video with the same motives was posted again on 13 July just before the Georgian March.
It is also disputable and hard to identify the content of those Facebook statuses which claim that foreigners, mostly Arabs, Turks and Indians, are beating, swearing at and raping our citizens.
As a conclusion, we have to say that the principal instrument for spreading the Russian narrative is propaganda. Propaganda employs different techniques and aims to discredit people of different ethnicities and foster very dangerous Ethnonationalism. At the same time, Russia’s creeping annexation still continues. The usage of hard power, on the one hand, and the onslaught of propaganda, on the other hand, make us believe that the Russian Federation is conducting hybrid warfare against Georgia. The propaganda machine is indeed working properly: moving the occupation line to almost the central highway is protested only by small groups of citizens whilst a bigger chunk of the public rallied against the “image of the enemy” created by propaganda. Russia has always been successful in overshadowing the topic of occupation not only on the international stage but in occupied Georgia as well, including in the minds of many Georgians.