Georgia: continued EU support needed to fight ‘information disorder’

Anti-Western messages increase in Gerogia. [Shutterstock/fizkes]

Anti-Western messages in Georgia have doubled in number, with a particular increase in anti-American and anti-NATO messages related to the US support on security issues and the post-Soviet country’s integration into the transatlantic defence alliance, a recent report has found.

Compared to 2016, the indicator of anti-Western messages has increased from 1,258 to 2,769 in 2019, according to the Tbilisi-based Media Development Foundation (MDF), an NGO promoting human rights and media literacy, development, accountability, and self-regulation.

The fifth annual report, which analysed content both on traditional media and on Facebook, found that the “increase in anti-NATO messages can be attributed to an aggressive campaign on Georgia’s neutrality, conducted by a pro-Russian political party, Alliance of Patriots.”

“Statements in support of Russia increased, conveying messages about the need to settle conflicts through revising the foreign policy course and dealing one-on-one with the Kremlin.”

However, anti-EU messages remained unchanged in numbers and in content from previous years, even showing a slight decrease since visa-free travel for Georgia was introduced in 2017.

While the tangible benefits from EU integration as manifested by the easier entry into the bloc may be one explanation, an alternative is that the further stages of deepening of ties with the EU are simply not discussed, the report suggests.

The calls of three Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries that have signed association and deep and comprehensive free trade agreements with the EU  – Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – for a creation of a special format adequate to their ambition to one day join the bloc have so far fallen on deaf ears in Brussels.

Georgian ambassador: Eastern Partnership communication ‘weak’ on political signalling

The European Commission’s recently presented objectives for the Eastern Partnership (EaP) post-2020 were strong on content but “very clearly weak on political signalling,” the head of Georgia’s mission to the EU told EURACTIV in an interview.

The June video link between EU leaders and EaP partner countries — which also include Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus, — produced few tangible outcomes beyond the announcement that the next physical summit will take in Brussel in March 2021.

According to the report, Euroscepticism remained the lead topic of anti-EU messages, followed by messages that visa liberalisation and the association agreement are useless, and that the migration crisis is the result of Europe’s policies and that Europe is a hostage of its own tolerance.

“In terms of EU support for civil society actors, the EU should continue to support initiatives aimed at identifying, monitoring, and addressing hostile information operations by resilience building of Georgians,” Media Development Forum executive director Tamar Kintsurashvili told EURACTIV.

The bloc should also “support quality content production in media which is critically needed in this information disorder,” she added in emailed comments.

As in previous years, the report said that the producing almost half of the examined messages, media remained the main source of anti-Western rhetoric, followed by political parties and politicians who produced 27.3% of the content.

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EU foreign ministers are discussing China on Friday (29 May), as the country started to back Russian narratives of Washington-led biological weapon development in Georgia and other post-Soviet countries.

One widely circulating allegation in the internet during the pandemic claimed that …

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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