In the wake of COVID and the current economic crisis you would think a country that has staked so much on tourism would not bite the hand that could [potentially] feed it. But conventional wisdom does not work when political parties will stoop to any level to spin the visit of a foreign journalist for political gain.
This was definitely the case with American-French journalist Vladimir Pozner, labelled as “Russian” by the Georgian media. The poor man ended up with an unexpected birthday surprise when he decided to celebrate in Tbilisi Georgia.
Vladimir Pozner had his hotel in Tbilisi egged by so-called civil society activists operating under the guise of standing up for Georgia’s honour and claim to territorial integrity. This justification was done in a context where not a word is ever mentioned in the local media about the Kosovo precedent, other than in a few academic sources.
As one such source says,
It shall be mentioned here that even the intention to apply the Kosovo case as a precedent to the breakaway regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia has been openly declared by Vladimir Putin as early as in 2006, when the possibility of granting independence to Kosovo had been discussed: “If someone considers that Kosovo should be granted full independence, then why the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should not have the same right to statehood?”
According to NED funded sites, the ruling Georgian Dream government came under fire for allowing the visit of Russian-American, as described in the Georgian media, journalist Vladimir Pozner, following what were claimed to be controversial remarks about the country’s territorial integrity.
Little mention was made that he was born in France and is US citizen, and was considered the preferred guest concerning all things Russian and Russian-US relations on TV and radio programmes for many years, much like Stephen F, Cohen, who died this last year. During the 1980s, Pozner was a favourite guest on Ted Koppel’s Nightline.
The Georgian opposition, especially the United National Movement of former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili (now exiled and on the run in several countries) have not been able to make political gains on the election battlefield, and are still screaming foul over their dismal performance in the last election. They and other fringe political parties are now resorting to other ways of getting attention, and Pozner was a prime target, especially considering his age.
Media Rewrites Literature
A vocal minority of Georgians came out tossing eggs in response to the visit; however, they did not commit this act of rage for free, at least the ones tossing the most eggs. They collectively demanded that Vladimir Pozner and his birthday party attendees immediately leave the country, as if freedom of opinion is not guaranteed in the Georgian Constitution.
Some foreign sponsored media sites have also joined in, so much so that it distracts from their credibility. Take this example:
The curfew-busting visit of veteran Russian TV personality Vladimir Pozner and his high-powered birthday party (apparently including propaganda top-brass from TASS and Sputnik) caused some rioting. Pozner & possee retreated rather quickly, leaving some Georgians fuming at who gave a crew patently less than respectful of Georgian sovereignty a clear pass to hit Tbilisi’s restaurants.
It is unfortunate that Georgians are forgetting the basis of their history, which describes how a guest is from God, and must be respected, even if he is your enemy. But that is now a politically moot issue, as BIGGER moves are in play.
Radio Free Europe/VOA describes Pozner’s ordeal as a “Russian journalist’s birthday bash a bust after he’s friven out of Georgia by eggs, power cuts”, but it fails to fact check that he is an American journalist. However, it later mentions that he arrived in Georgia on his American passport, rather undercutting everything which went before.
This is all smelling of a political false flag, which many in Georgia are well experienced in. Take the 2008 Khurcha Incident, which was used to distract attention from the Georgian government stealing an election. There the Georgian government itself organised a terrorist attack and blew up two buses, allegedly being used to transport voters for parliamentary elections, unless rockets can turn 360 degrees in midair.
RFE’s Georgian Service claims to be “a trusted source of politically and financially independent journalism in a country where much of the media is aligned with the government or the opposition.” However it and other media sources have a track record of supporting an agenda which is not always in the interest of Georgia, its territory integrity or the rule of law.
It becomes only too apparent, reading the coverage of it, that this birthday trip was more of an ambush than a knee jerk reactionary protest, as claimed by Western supported media outlets. The basis for the attack on Pozner’s party was a claim that back 2010, Pozner said that “Georgia has lost [Abkhazia] forever” and the area “will never be Georgia’s territory again.” He also blamed Tbilisi for the 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict.
Such claims are often repeated in the Georgian media, and especially among those who know the history of Georgia and its breakaway regions, and how negotiations to regain territory integrity have been handled. These included the ill-planned and ill-delivered 2008 war, prompted by hawking US Senator John McCain, now deceased, who thought his presidential run would be helped by a little shooting war in Georgia.
Ugly Head of anti-Semitism
But those closer to events suggest that attacking Pozner could be a symptom of the stoking of anti-Semitism in Georgia. In recent years there has been a tendency amongst those in the opposition camp to move towards extreme political views, having seen too many global trends. Not that they are Jew hating, but they cannot miss an opportunity to find ways to stir the larger political pot, no holds barred.
Georgia in general can claim with pride and accuracy that there is little to no anti-Semitism in the country, and how Jews and Georgians have lived in peaceful harmony for 26 centuries, as Jewish scholars themselves happily point out. Such un-Georgian attitudes are being fomented now to divide an already divided population even further.
It does not stop there. A variety of efforts are being made on other fronts to divide Georgians: identity politics, sexual orientations and religious views. The only thing uniting Georgians now is that everyone can easily become a target of such abuse.
But none of the reasons Georgians give for lambasting or attacking Pozner and his crew is credible or rational or logical, or even sensible. This adds to the argument that the motive for the attack was a combination of latent anti-Semitism and dangerous nationalistic hatred of Russia, which is used as a cover for everything.
Biting the hand that feeds
Members of the opposition, including those in the banking sector, are willing to destroy the potential for Russian tourism for the sake of short term political gain, and to gain control of properties in the tourism sector which are faced with problem loans.
The reason for putting on such a horse and pony show is that if someone of his level is not safe, ordinary Russians who want to visit Georgia had better not bother. A few years ago Putin banned flights to Georgia, but that didn’t stop Russians from coming for their summer vacations; they have money and love Georgia as a preferred destination. But that in itself is the problem, if you are in the Georgian opposition.
Some are willing to do anything to create problems for the elected government, even if it means taking the whole country down with it. They are still trying to force another round of elections, thinking that if people vote often enough they might regain power, and not only domestic players but outsiders as well.
In the Georgian culture these people claim to respect it would be considered shameful to go after an 87-year old like Vladimir Pozner. If those who claim they are really angry over his proffered stance on Georgian territorial integrity want to change the situation on the ground, they are hardly demonstrating that Georgia is a place their Abkhaz and Ossetian brethren would want to align themselves with.
Knowing Their Lines
All things considered, the political stunt was purposeful. However not only the Georgian opposition are making hay with it.
Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, has now announced that travelling to Georgia is unsafe for Russian citizens. In response, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said that “a group of citizens decided to protest, and this was seized on as an opportunity by that most destructive force, the [United] National Movement.”
“Such a way of protesting by the leaderships of the [United] National Movement and their [proxy] groups clearly goes beyond civilized norms and Georgian standards, and was completely inadmissible,” said the Prime Minister. He contends that that the UNM “has collected an absolutely degraded and radical group with whom a civilized dialogue is simply impossible”.
However its conduct has made the Georgian government seem civilized by comparison, which is what it might be presumed to want. Maybe those who gave Pozner’s party a free pass supplied just as many eggs as the opposition and their media backers.
Who cares back in the US?
Georgia is very much in the news in the US, where news reports about Pozner are ultimately aimed. But it is the other Georgia, the US state, which is the focus of discussion. The State of Georgia is changing its voting laws to make it extra difficult for African Americans to vote. They will not be allowed to vote with an absentee ballot. It will force people to wait in long lines within a 12-hour period and it will be illegal for anyone to bring water or food to anyone waiting in line to vote, even if they have to stand there for hours.
This action and its fallout have prevented the other Georgia even being mentioned in news reports in the US. Average working class people cannot conceive of there being another Georgia besides the land of cotton, peanuts and contested elections – which one reason why the UNM, media darlings then as now, got away with so much that any civilized person would be demanding action over.
The Game is still on, and we can expect more of the same, as the both the current and former leadership in Georgia wants to bleed the country into NATO but not to be involved in greater regional conflicts, including those in Iran and Ukraine, and will not be pressured into it by either the US, EU or NATO members.
It would be too simple to write this incident off as the puerile antics of a few Georgian nationalists, who can never grasp that what they claim Russia does to their independence is the same thing Georgians do to Abkhazians and other minorities, time and time again.
When histories are written, it is often found that events considered unimportant at the time had far greater significance than was then realised. The statements made by this action may prove louder than words are able to grasp at the moment.
Most of the free media in Tbilisi has handled the latest Georgia incident less than professionally, and that on its own accord speaks louder than the repercussions of tossed eggs.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.