“The Pride March is forced on Georgians by the West”, “the event is violence in itself, therefore using force against the participants of Pride March is legitimate self-defense”, asserted various anti-Pride groups. GRASS/DebunkEU.org analysis shows that the largest number of anti-Pride articles quoted Guram Palavandishvili, a far-right politician who was actively involved in organizing the counter-demonstration, while the messages spread by pro-Russian, far-right Alt-Info media’s anchors (Shota Martinenko, Giorgi Kardava, and Zurab Makharadze) have reached the biggest number of users.
Aspiring to join Western security and political organizations, Georgia has long been a target of Russian information operations. In seeking to arouse anti-European and anti-Western ideas, the Kremlin has therefore been deploying a variety of approaches, among other things, instilling confusion and fear in the local population towards the Western societies.
The results of the anti-Western propaganda have best manifested in anti-Tbilisi Pride homophobic pogroms in the beginning of July 2021, which left some 53 journalists injured, with one of them found dead 5 days after being severely beaten (the case is still under investigation). These pogroms, supposedly encouraged by the Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili himself, were accompanied by information campaigns from anti-Pride actors. Within the campaign, various pro-Kremlin, Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) affiliated, and ultra-conservative sources have spread different narratives, justifying their position as to why conducting Pride march, an activity aimed at protecting human rights, was unacceptable.
Within the month of July, GRASS analyzed around 5,600 content pieces spread on the internet around the issue of the Tbilisi Pride. Together with clearly misleading claims and/or propaganda pieces, the report covers messages that included calls for violence, amending the law to protect the “religious feelings” through weakening the freedom of expression and other narratives aimed at undermining principles of liberal democracy.
The largest number of the articles quoted Guram Palavandishvili, a far-right politician that was actively involved in organizing the counter-Pride march demonstration. A sizable amount of content pieces identified focused on reporting messages spread by the GOC representatives, as well as ruling Georgian Dream (GD) leader Irakli Kobakhidze and the GD supporting political analysts. Part of the content pieces centered around messages spread by the right-wing activists and the pro-Russian groups, among them being pro-Russian politicians Levan Vasadze and Konstantine Morgoshia.
DebunkReach has shown that the content pieces identified throughout the monitoring process have reached hundreds of thousands of Georgian users, with the messages spread by pro-Russian far-right Alt-Info media’s anchors (Shota Martinenko, Giorgi Kardava and Zurab Makharadze) having reached the biggest number of users.
When it comes to the sources disseminating the analyzed articles, the biggest amount of content pieces belonged to media outlet Reportiori.ge (a popular news outlet, which, together with the anti-Western messages, occasionally publishes outright disinformation), followed by Kvira.ge, with Spnews.io, Report.ge and Alia.ge being in the top-5. Most of the articles quoted different “experts”, GOC representatives or politicians making statements on the Pride march issue. Such content pieces reflecting the ideas of politicians (Irakli Garibashvili, Irakli Kobakhidze, Rati Ionatamishvili, etc.) and the articles about the official statements of the GOC, were widely reported by the mainstream media sources as well. The data on the latter is not included in the statistics.
On Facebook, the biggest amount of content pieces identified as being problematic belonged to Facebook page Spacenews (a pro-government news outlet); followed by Rustavi 21, with Kakutsa Cholokashvili Society, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Friends on Facebook, Common Newspaper being in the top 5.
The claims about conducting the Pride march being imposed on Georgia by the West (i.e. foreign interference) were the most widespread, followed by narratives that the Pride march is an LGBT propaganda and that it has been planned by the opposition to receive political benefits. Previously published Disinfometer reports from GRASS demonstrate that these as well as most of the other narratives presented below are characteristic to pro-Kremlin disinformation sources, as they have traditionally been trying to alienate Georgians from the West by portraying the EU and the US as fountainheads of the moral degradation and exaggerating differences among the local and Western societies.
DebunkReach has shown that different narratives have reached several hundreds of thousands of Georgian users, with “foreign interference” topping the list. Indeed, claims that Georgia is a colony of the West is a recurring narrative frequently used by the anti-Western and pro-Russian actors.
The most important recent political development, that is the ruling GD and the opposition reaching consensus on an EU-mediated compromise document aimed to put an end to the protracted political crisis in Georgia, was met by backlash from the anti-Western actors. According to these sources, signing the EU-mediated document was a gross violation of sovereignty. While officially stepping into the Georgian politics, pro-Russian businessman Levan Vasadze has put a special emphasis on this very issue, that Tbilisi is being dictated by the Westerners when making important decisions.
This report was written by Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS) in partnership with DebunkEU.org