VESTIKAVKAZA.RU: “GEORGIANS VOTED WITH STONES AND BASEBALL BATS” RUSSIAN MEDIA COVERAGE OF GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
Ekaterina Kharbedia, Tako Kvachantiradze, Tatia Shaishmelashvili
On October 8 in the evening the ruling party “Georgian Dream” (GD) claimed victory in elections. As theChairperson of the Central Election Commission of GeorgiaTamar Zhvania said, citing preliminary results, Georgian Dream got 48.65% and the main opposition United National Movement (UNM) party got 27.12%. Alliance of Patriots is the third party which overcame the barrier to enter the parliament with 5%.
United National Movement members accused the ruling party of falsifying the elections and Georgian Dream accused the UNM of provoking incidents. Despite this, the ruling party called the elections “free and democratic”.
Russian media as well as the Russian government paid a lot of attention to Georgian elections. Before the voting, Russian media widely spread a statement by Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in which Russian tourists were told to be careful and to avoid public gathering places because “provocations are possible.”
On October 8 big Russian news agency Vesti.ru came up with the news that “Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in its official statement promises ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili a prison cell of his choice.” In fact, they were the interpretation of the words of Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia Giorgi Mgebrishvili when he spoke with “Kviris Palitra” and said that they will meet with ex-President as “the law requires”. This news was widely spread by Russian news agencies.
Russia Today came up with an article with a controversial headline: “Only one thing that will help Saakashvili to win – coup” in which the outlet quoted Georgian expertswho criticized both major political parties, and Russia Today named UNM as a party “created by Americans”.
Another newspaper which is popular in Russia, “Komsomolskaya Pravda”, posted on October 8 an article about the pre-election situation with the title: “Georgians dream about Russian pensions.”
Russian media kept producing stories regularly during the election. Russian Federal First Channel did not cover it that much – information about elections was given at 12:00 and 21:00 andstories were about 50 seconds, as did another channel НТВ. News texts for those two Russian TV channels were almost repeating each other.
Gazeta.ru also published articles about pre-election situation and elections and mentioned that both Georgian Dream and UNM won’t consider reviving relationships with Russia without solving territorial conflicts. Big news agencies such as Ria Novosti, TASS, Sputnik and Regnum kept publishing stories quite often during elections. Interfax and Lenta.ru had only 3-4 posts about Georgian elections.
The incident in Marneuli, when people attacked a polling station with stones, was covered differently – some blamed supporters of either UNM or a famous Georgian opera singer who turned to politics, Paata Burchuladze. Some published that UNM and Georgian Dream accused each other of provoking the incident. VestiKavkaza.ru presented this news as “Georgians vote with stones and baseball bats.”
At the end of the day all news agencies reported Georgian Dream’s victory. Some of them, including Russia Today, used only polling company TNS exit polls, in which Georgian Dream had 53.8% and UNM 19.5%. Those agencies called Alliance of Patriots an openly pro-Russian party in other stories. RIA Novosti published an article about victory of “Georgian Dream” which particularly mentioned ruling party’s “intentions to improve relationships with Russia in political, economical and cultural spheres in contrast to UNM, which did not even raise these questions.”
Major Russian TV Channel Rossya24 had a story about Georgian elections, where they showed Prime MinisterGiorgi Kvirikashvili’s and former PrimeMinister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s appeal to their supporters. The ex-Prime Minister mentioned that now “Georgia has real people’s government, not that previous unclear one.” Rossya24 underlined that in the east of Georgia, “people voted by their fists and it’s difficult to call these elections calm”. Big pro-liberal Russian site “Echo of Moscow” gave neutral, short news about elections, as did Ukrainian media outlets such as censor.net.ua, europravda.com.ua, Zerkalo Nedeli (zn.ua), 24tv.ua, Unian.net. Russian opposition TV channel “Rain” produced two stories about elections – both of them had neutral tone.
In general, most of the Russian medias put an accent on Georgian political parties’ views on relationships with Russia and on the incidents that happened during elections.
The world’s media published extensive articles on the political situation in Georgia and some of them made analysis articles, including BBC. They called elections unpredictable and made their major focus the desperate Georgian population in need.
Euronews TV channel prepared a report which dealt with pre-election surveys, and showed that GD had a real chance to win, but National Movement also had strong supporters. Big media outlets such as New York Times, Washington Post and ABC News also published in-depth materials about elections. ABC mentioned that “it’s doubtful that Georgia will change an Atlantic course”. New York Times wrote about elections as GD exams, because, the paper wrote, in the last year they couldn’t stop economic problems in the country as well as a drop of currency. Washington Post came up with an article before the elections: “7 things you should know about the elections” and had an article right after the voting, in which both parties were mentioned as reformists and pro-Western.
It is worth noting that most Western and American media outlets underlined that Georgian elections were free and democratic, and as a BBC correspondent said: “In a region of predominantly authoritarian states, it is seen as a post-Soviet success story with a multi-party democracy.” At the same time, none of the Russian media mentioned “free elections” at all. The Russian media mostly focused on the incidents during election process.