cover of the publication

Georgian-Russian relations:

the role of discourses and narratives

In this collection of three articles, Otar Kobakhidze first analyzes the narratives about Russia during the United National Movement (2003-2012) and Georgian Dream (since 2012) governments. Both parties label and demonize each other as being pro-Russian. Without any proof, politicians accuse their opponents as being “Kremlin agents” or “Russian stooges”. The
author argues that by leveraging the Russia narratives, political actors in Georgia oversimplify complex realities and largely ignore other issues that are crucial to broader Georgian society, including many social issues. The Russia narrative serves as the main tool in the externalization of internal problems, which in turn undermines the democratic consolidation of Georgia, fuels polarization, and blurs the line between truth and reality. It helps to demonize opponents and fosters conspiracy within Georgian society. The Russia narrative is part of the virtual politics of Georgian elites, who aim to mobilize society through the enemy paradigm without solving any of the key problems the country faces.

Second, looking into the Russian discourse on Georgia, Andrey Makarychev identifies four perspectives that both support and contradict each other. First, there is the geopolitical narrative, which positions Georgia as “pro-Western” in the conflictual relations with the EU and NATO. Then there is the biopolitical narrative, which depicts Georgia as a proxy of the United States. This narrative proliferates through disease conspiracies associated with the US-funded Lugar Laboratory located on periphery of Tbilisi. Both can be seen in the context of a colonial approach by the Russian state, which describes Georgia as part of Russia’s imperial heritage that lost the right path. Running in a similar direction is the religious perspective, which from a normative point of view, locates Georgia as a member of the global Orthodox community, and subsequently sharing with Russia conservative values and a traditional national identity against Western liberalism (minority protection, multiculturalism, and sexual emancipation).

These three Russian state institution-driven narratives are countered by the popular dimension through the grass-roots presentation of Georgia in Russian social media, supported by the Russian tourist industry, and by nostalgic “Georgia-friendly” narratives within Russian society. They form the basis of the reality test for “normal people” who travel to Georgia and
had contact with the country. As a result, there is no uniform discourse in Russia regarding Georgia. While the Russian state geopolitically securitizes and normatively overloads the perspective on Georgia, Russian society counters these narratives through positive experiences through their direct contact with Georgians. They present Georgia as a friendly, open and livable place (also compare to Russia) and undermine all the stereotypes and narratives associated with Russian state propaganda.

Third, in analyzing Russian state media narratives on Georgia in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alexandra Yatsyk concludes that the country is not described as an adversary but rather as a “misled family member, who became a Western puppet.” Using a patronage approach, the former empire offers Georgia support in leaving Western control in exchange for political and economic protection. In analyzed surveys, the author demonstrates that Georgians are less vulnerable to direct Russian disinformation. However, indirectly, through shared Orthodox Christian values and socially-conservative views (especially on sexual minorities), certain groups within Georgian society are indeed vulnerable to Russian disinformation. In this context it is telling that the Georgian Orthodox Church is the main critic of vaccination in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here the circle closes to the anti- Russian narrative as part of the polarization of Georgian politics and society through the Georgian ruling elites. At the same time, a number of these elites share the same “conservative values”, which are promoted by the “Russian enemy”.

This publication can be useful for students, academics and researchers working on the interconnection between Georgia’s internal and foreign politics, as well as Georgia-Russia relations. It aims to conduct a sober analysis of Georgia-Russia relations and the non-ideological perceptions the two have of each other.

 

Dr. Stefan Meister
German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP)

Product details
Date of Publication
2021
Publisher
Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus
Number of Pages
49
Licence
All rights reserved
Language of publication
English
Table of contents

Introduction 4
Dr. Stefan Meister

Pro-Russian labels:  Georgia's political actors in searcg of kremlis agents 6
Otar Kobakhidze

Georgia in Russian discourses: focal points 18 
Andrey Makarychev

Russian-Georgian relations in the covid 19 era: benign negligence 32 
Alexandra Yatsyk