Russian Propaganda and Laws Disregarded by the Government of Georgia
This article was originally published on GRASS Fact Check.
FactCheck (www.factcheck.ge) is an innovative media project in Georgia, piloted and currently actively implemented by Georgia’s Reforms Associates and modelled on popular and successful international analogues (www.politfact.com, www.factcheck.org). FactCheck works toward measuring the factual accuracy of the public statements of politicians and other public figures. In addition, FactCheck aims to verify fake news being disseminated in social networks/media outlets and provide the public with true and correct information.
As soon as you open the glass doors, you see huge digital movie posters whose images change from one to another to another. Each screen advertises a different movie being shown at the cinema. Among the posters is another big screen which gives the times for the different showings. Most of the movies are in Russian. Part of the listings is given entirely in the Russian language.
Georgia’s state languages are Georgian and Abkhazian. If there is a question of adding an additional language to movies being shown in Georgia, it should be Abkhazian or English as a language of international communication. Despite the fact that the cinema is not a state structure, it can still be considered to be a public place and so displaying the times for the different movie showings in Russian, especially given the fact that no other languages are used, is, to put it mildly, baffling. However, the situation is even worse than it appears – it is actually against the law.
Films like Paycheck and Ouija were produced in America but are shown in cinemas in Russian along with other movies. This practise is actually forbidden according to Georgian legislation. According to the law, all movies shown in cinemas must be either dubbed in Georgian or shown in the original language with Georgian subtitles. Dubbing movies in any other language, including Russian, is forbidden by the law even if Georgian subtitles are present (Law of Georgia on State Support of National Cinematography, Article 51).
The responsibility for monitoring that all the requirements of this law are upheld during cinema showings and administering violation protocols falls under representatives of the Ministry of Culture and Monuments Protection of Georgia. The court makes a decision about administering a fine within seven days after the protocol is presented.
The aforementioned digital movie posters and showing times can be seen at Cinema Tbilisi; however, the situation is mostly the same at all cinemas which is not at all surprising as they are all managed by the same company. We tried to contact the company’s Public Relations Department to ask why it is violating the law and whether or not there have been prosecutions; however, the company refused to answer our questions as did the Ministry of Culture and Monuments Protection of Georgia which is responsible for monitoring these kinds of violations of the law.
Furthermore, we spoke with some lawyers who told us that a specific directive of the Ministry of Culture and Monuments Protection of Georgia must designate the structure or individuals who will be legally responsible for monitoring legal violations; however, no such directive can be found in government documents.
“Showing movies in cinemas ̶ not in their original production language with Georgian subtitles or entirely dubbed in Georgian ̶ is a violation of the Law of Georgia on State Support of National Cinematography. If we look at the showings, it is often the case that movies are not shown in their original production language or dubbed in Georgian. It is the responsibility of the individuals authorised by the Ministry of Culture and Monuments Protection of Georgia to make sure that the movies in cinemas are shown in accordance with Georgian legislation whilst also responding to violations of the law by filing appropriate protocols. The fact that since 2011 (when the legislation was enacted) movies have been shown in Georgian cinemas in violation of the legislation and with no repercussions raises suspicion. We can even claim that the individuals authorised by the Ministry of Culture and Monuments Protection of Georgia and responsible for monitoring these violations are not doing their jobs properly,” said lawyer, Mariam Gogosashvili, in her interview with our newspaper.
According to her explanation, if the cinemas violating the law are not being fined or subject to any other appropriate sanctions it means that not only they, but the Ministry responsible for monitoring, is also breaking the law which makes the situation all the more serious.
We interviewed some movie watchers at a Tbilisi cinema. Young people expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that movies are shown in Russian; however, they also say that those which are dubbed in Georgian, as few as they may be, are translated so badly that they think it best if they were not dubbed at all.
When the aforementioned law was enacted, its main purpose was to counter Russian propaganda with effective state instruments. Russia’s utilisation of so-called soft power is no less dangerous today than military action. Recently, the West has been clearly indicating that Russia actively uses these kinds of powers in post-Soviet countries aspiring toward Euro-integration. This is considered so dangerous that the European Union has even allocated funds to counter the threat. Given all of this, having lists for movie showings in Russian together with showing American movies dubbed in Russian and so on is a clear facilitation of the spread of Russian influence and also shows that the government is facilitating this at the expense of following the law.
Law on Occupied Territories
This is another specific case when Russian interests are facilitated quietly but purposefully; however, saying that translation costs a lot of money or some people do not want to watch subtitled movies is not an appropriate argument in this case. It is a fact that the Law on Occupied Territories was being implemented when there was sufficient political will. Today, it is being violated publicly and not only does the Government of Georgia disregard these violations but it is a violator itself.
We have similar examples in terms of upholding the Law on Occupied Territories when the government does not facilitate in exercising the law or it turns a blind eye toward the violations. For example, these violations can be admitting or not admitting certain individuals to Georgia as well as allowing the functioning of certain companies in the country.
The most important of these norms are the regulations on transportation and economic activities in these regions. In both cases, the consent of the Government of Georgia is mandatory and, hence, entering these territories is only considered legal from Zugdidi, in the case of Abkhazia, and Gori, in the case of the Tskhinvali region. Violating these norms is punishable by certain sanctions ranging from the refusal of admittance to Georgia to fines. In the case of illegal economic activities, sanctions include banning companies from entering Georgia and imposing fines. These regulations, of course, do not concern international missions with humanitarian purposes; however, they do require that the Government of Georgia be informed about any such missions prior to conducting them or, at least, afterwards.
The responsible structure for enforcing the regulations regarding transportation inside the occupied territories is the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia as it is the structure in charge of the country’s borders. It is the responsibility of this Ministry to identify individuals having illegally visited Abkhazia or the Tskhinvali region, checking respective stamps in their passports and exercising sanctions upon their entry into Georgia.
According to the information provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, about 88 cases of violations were observed in 2009, 83 in 2010, 55 in 2011, 26 in 2012, 45 in 2013, 36 in 2014, 17 in 2015 and 14 from January to August 2016.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs does not specify the identities of the violators but does say that they were deported or, in some cases, fined. It is also unknown how many of these people were arrested or if they conducted illegal economic activities in the occupied territories which is to say ̶ acting against Georgia’s interests.
The Russian side also admits that Russian citizens may face certain problems upon entering Georgia due to the violations of legal norms recognised by the international community and international legal practice. On 10 November 2016, RosTourism published a statement saying that Russian travel agencies must inform Russian tourists that the Law on Occupied Territories is in power in Georgia and that “three Russian citizens were arrested and several others fined in 2015” based upon this law.
There is a much larger problem in terms of companies illegally operating in the occupied territories. Russian companies entering the Georgian market have been becoming more and more frequent during the office of the Georgian Dream. The government has, upon numerous occasions, been criticised by the opposition because of this. However, the situation is much more serious when it comes to these companies operating in the occupied territories against Georgia’s interests.
For example, a major outcry was observed in August 2016 when Yandex Taxi started operating in Georgia.
Yandex Taxi started providing its services in Tbilisi from 23 August 2016, it has six partner companies and was planning to expand even further throughout Georgia as the company’s management told the media many times.
The problem was that Yandex Maps owned by the same company as Yandex Taxi does not show Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region as parts of Georgia which is a violation of Georgian and international legal norms. This should have been the grounds for a refusal for the company to enter the Georgian market. The structures responsible for this are the Ministry of Justice of Georgia, which registers companies, and Tbilisi City Hall, which issues permits for operation.
Neither of the aforementioned structures wished to talk about this issue. In their interview with the media, Yandex representatives made the following statement: “Yandex Taxi service, not Yandex itself which owns a lot of companies, has started operating in Georgia. Our taxi service has done everything possible to uphold Georgian law. For example, in all the services provided to Georgian customers, all of the laws are upheld. Both Abkhazia as well as South Ossetia are considered as a part of Georgia on our maps. This holds true for the Yandex Taxi website as well. As for Yandex Maps, you know that our main headquarters are situated in Russia and Russia recognises the independence of these regions.”
In his interview with FactCheck, Gia Khuroshvili, a lawyer with a PhD degree in law who now works in a law firm in the United States of America, stated: “The argument that the headquarters are violating the law and given that the company is only a subdivision means that this does not concern them is inappropriate. It is a fact that this company is operating in Georgia in violation of Georgian legislation.”
The online money transfer company, Zolotaia Korona, also operates in this way. It is a partner of Georgian commercial banks whilst at the same time operating in the occupied territories without the consent of the Government of Georgia and, hence, in violation of Georgian legislation. What is more, the discussion about this issue has been going on for years with lawyers saying that this is a violation of Georgian law; however, the government has not reacted to this in any way.
Another factor connected to the strengthening of Russian influence in Georgia is the spread of Soviet nostalgia which consequently strengthens political influences as well. Russian propaganda in Georgia needs a foothold as a large part of society supports the Western political course.
The opening of Russian media sources and funding from Russia for Russian language studies and so on can be viewed in this regard. However, in the countries where Russia is trying to spread its influence, such activities become dangerous. Given the fact that the majority of Georgians are not favourably disposed toward Russia, Russia tries to influence specific target groups which, over time, is expected to spread over larger masses of people.
After the August 2008 war, the previous government focused upon these issues specifically for these reasons and adopted the Freedom Charter which determines the methods for countering the spread of Soviet nostalgia, the interests of foreign countries and battling actions directed against the state. One of the methods for prevention is identifying the agents of the former Soviet Union so that they have no influence upon governance or decision-making.
“A Commission shall be established within the State Security Service of Georgia for the purposes of preventing the crimes referred to in Chapter XXXVIII of the Criminal Code of Georgia and for ensuring state security and the development of democracy and for registering and accepting acknowledgements and providing a database of former secret agents of the intelligence services of the former USSR and other state officials referred to in this Law as well as for the purpose of prohibiting totalitarian Communist and national socialist (Nazi) regimes and their propaganda and for other purposes referred to in this Law. The factions represented in the Parliament of Georgia shall be granted the right to propose one candidate to the Commission. The composition of the Commission (except for members proposed by the factions represented in the Parliament of Georgia) and its Code of Conduct shall be set out in regulations developed and approved by the head of the State Security Service of Georgia,” says Article 7 of the Freedom Charter.
As FactCheck learned, the Commission is functioning in terms of the State Security Service and is highly active.
According to the information provided to us by the Service, several facts of using Communist symbols have been identified with an especially notable example seen in the packaging of one of the brands of ice cream produced in Russia.
Specialists, who focus upon using propaganda measures whilst exercising so-called soft power, believe that the products designed for children are to be treated with extreme care as they influence them psychologically as specific concepts are viewed in a positive light which can then later influence their thinking. Featuring Soviet symbols on ice cream packages could have had the purpose of positively depicting these images for those who were not familiar with the former Soviet Union. Other factors can subsequently be added to these which ultimately create a fertile ground for Russian propaganda.
“The Commission established by Georgian legislation revealed the following facts vis-à-vis the use of Soviet totalitarian symbols:
- On 4 August 2016 a non-commercial entity, the Public Movement Socialist Georgia, was planning some public events in Telavi in terms of which the use of certain Communist totalitarian symbols was planned. The Movement’s chairman was warned in writing by the Commission that the usage of Communist totalitarian symbols during their events was inadmissible. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia was also informed of the situation and was asked to take appropriate measures. Hence, the usage of Communist totalitarian symbols was prevented.\\
- In August 2016, facts were disclosed on the importing and sales of different sorts of Russian-made ice creams with Communist totalitarian symbols on their packaging by Arctic Ltd in Georgia. The Commission warned the Director of Arctic Ltd in writing to eradicate the usage of Communist symbols. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia along with the Revenue Service of the Ministry of Finance of Georgia were also informed of the fact and were asked to take appropriate measures provided for by Georgian legislation,” was the response of the State Security Service.
Another dimension of the aforementioned Commission’s work is maintaining a list of secret service agents of the former Soviet Union.
The Security Service told us that these agents are identified in a list although information about them is not made public. As for anyone admitting to having cooperated with the Soviet Union Special Forces, the State Security Service says that such an occurrence has not yet happened.
Recently, the issue of erecting monuments to Joseph Stalin in different places, especially in Gori, has been at the forefront of public debate. Pro-Russian political parties have tried to use this during the pre-election period as well.
In his interview with us, a representative of the public movement, Iveria, Giorgi Imedashvili, says that several months ago his organisation contacted Gori City Hall and Gori City Council with a proposal to replace the Joseph Stalin monument standing in front of one of the state structures in Gori with a statue of Iakob Gogebashvili indicating that Stalin represents dictatorship and repression as opposed to Gogebashvili, who is the symbol of education and enlightenment. However, according to Mr Imedashvili, his organisation received the astonishing answer that the city has no place for Gogebashvili’s statue.
Given the danger coming from using Soviet symbols and facilitating agents working to spread Russian influence, the government must be particularly active as this is the direct responsibility of the state as well as a legal duty. The government, however, does almost nothing to counter these trends. The law, by contrast, directly requires a non-usage of Soviet symbols. Saying that Stalin is not part of Soviet symbolism is, quite simply, laughable.
To sum up, we have several types of problems ranging from the illegal usage of the Russian language to facilitating the work of agents trying to spread Russian influence, ultimately creating a formidable set of problems. In its own right, the strengthening of Russian influence, given Georgia’s security environment, is a huge problem. This is further inflamed by the fact that the Government of Georgia does not adequately react to these problems except for some cases which we highlighted when discussing the work of the State Security Service.