Dozens of people gathered outside the Vere Palace Hotel in Tbilisi on Wednesday to protest the Russian government funded International South Caucasian Media Forum. Several of the forum’s organisers had been prevented from entering the country for ‘violating Georgia’s Law on the Occupied Territories’.
The organisers said the forum was designed to teach young media professionals how to combat propaganda. Georgian youth movement ‘Russia Is an Occupier’ and others demonstrated outside the hotel ‘against Russian propaganda’, which they said was the true purpose of the forum.
The four-day forum, titled ‘the Media’s role in strengthening trust in the region’ was organised by the Russian Centre of Political Sciences North–South, the Russian Press Club — Commonwealth, and Georgian media outlet Sakartvelo da Msoplio (Georgia & the World), notoriously sympathetic to the Russian government. The forum was financially supported by the Russian Presidential Foundation for Grants.
This year’s forum was not the first such event in Georgia, however it has been the most widely cover by Georgian media and activists.
A crowd gathered outside the entrance of the hotel on Wednesday staging a performance with Georgian cuisine and music, in an ironic protest highlighting Russia’s ‘love for Georgian khachapuri and khinkali’.
Holding signs saying ‘No to Russian propaganda’ and ‘Stop Russia’, protesters blew whistles and called on the ‘Kremlin’s main megaphones’ to come out and speak to them.
According to a report by Mythdetector, a local project aimed at debunking anti-Western propaganda, ‘the forum participants are Russian propagandist state TV journalists and academics’. The forum’s guest of honour, Dmitry Kosyrev ‘is a political commentator for RIA Novosti and Russia Today and is a frequent guest on such propaganda TV channels as ORT and Tsargrad TV’, the report said.
Kosyrev refused to answer a Georgian journalist’s question during the demonstration over whether he thinks Russia had occupied Georgian territories. Upon his arrival, he told journalists ‘Russia doesn’t need Abkhazia and South Ossetia, because it already has plenty of territories of its own’. According to Kosyrev, Georgians needed to get to know ‘who has occupied who’.
He later told Rustavi 2 he did not know ‘where Russian tanks are or what they are doing. Probably you will not believe me but a lot of people in Russia know nothing about this. We have our own problems and disputes over territories. You know what’s happening in Ukraine’, he said, adding that they were discussing professionalism in journalism at the forum.
On 27 August pro-Russian Georgian news agency Saqinform reported on the upcoming event and published a list of forum participants, some of whom were refused entry to the country after critical local media coverage.
Four of the participants, including two military reporters from the Tass Russian state-owned news agency, editor in chief of Russian newspaper North Ossetia, and the president of the International Council of Russia’s Researchers‘ Association were refused entrance for violating Georgia’s Law on Occupied Territories by crossing into Abkhazia or South Ossetia from Russia, which is illegal under Georgian law.
In August, Georgia marked 10 years since the 2008 Russian–Georgian war. The month saw a number of ‘Russia controversies’, with Georgia’s wrestling team, restaurant chain Machakhela, nightclub Bassiani, and Radio Free Europe’s Georgian service all coming under fire.
[Read more about Georgia’s ‘Russia controversies’ on OC Media: Backlash against Georgian wrestlers follows month of ‘Russia controversies’]