Category Archives: English

Hollywood star to play prez as PR war continues

fffNews enthusiasts across the globe saw the coming to power in 2003 of a young, energetic politician, Mikheil Saakashvili that would later be dubbed the “Rose Revolution,” as no blood was spilled as he took office. But there was another significant difference between this and many past revolutions – the role of the media was vividly pronounced. News was a major player in bringing the new government to power, as events were followed at every juncture and beamed into homes. The most popular television station at the time was today’s a pro-government channel Rustavi-2.

First Georgians watched how opposition groups united to protest the fraudulent elections, how they gathered people in the streets of Tbilisi for days on end and demanded former President Eduard Shevardnadze’s resignation. And later on when Shevardnadze refused to go, Saakashvili and his team traveled around Georgia to bring people to the protests. Rustavi-2 literally followed them step by step, keeping people informed. The real crescendo of this unfolding drama was when the audience sitting comfortably in front of their TV sets saw the opposition’s triumphal entrance into Tbilisi with tens of thousands of people demanding Shevardnadze’s resignation.

Saakashvili won, and so did Rustavi-2. Later after the war the channel proclaimed itself a “channel of winners.” It aligned itself with the idea of the revolution and the establishment of a new system of governance. The question that must then be asked is if TV networks such as Rustavi-2 play such an active and critical role in political life can they be objective observers? Or active participants?

Many would agree that news media hold incredible power in modern society and whereas the police have the authority to control citizens physically, the media often use this power to control them psychologically.

Several months after the Rose Revolution, many said the new government used PR skillfully, and some even expressed their surprise remarking that “they do not know how to rule the country, but no one knows better than them how to rule the airwaves.”

A decision was recently made to shoot a film about the 2008 August war when the five-day conflict between Russia and Georgia broke out. Talks began in September 2008 when Georgian media spread rumors that Nicholas Cage planned to play Saakashvili in the film. Some believed the news then, others were skeptical, but all were taken by surprise several days ago when Hollywood star Andy Garcia arrived in Tbilisi.

It was not Cage, but rather Garcia who took the role of Saakashvili. Despite Garcia’s refusal to speak to the Georgian press, pictures of the star had already been leaked to journalists. It must be said that from looking at the photographs, the makeup artists did a fantastic job turning the “Godfather III” star into the incumbent president.

Meanwhile, Russia has been trying its own hand in the PR war. Earlier world-acclaimed Bosnian director Emir Kusturica agreed to shoot a film about the war, and allegedly even said he was ready to postpone all his projects for the sake of the idea. So it was a surprise when two weeks ago he visited South Ossetia and stunned everyone including the Kremlin by saying he could not do the film because he was too busy.

The actual war between Russia and Georgia lasted five bloody days. However, in a fashion, another important war broke out afterwards – a media war. Both sides are using all their skills to propagandize the memory of the war to the international community, although Heidi Taliavini’s thorough report that placed the blame on both sides.

A well-known U.S. film comes to mind, “Wag the Dog,” starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. Hoffman plays a well-known Hollywood director who is asked to help an unpopular president stay in power for a second term. How do they do it? They invent a war in Albania. It is a satirical swipe at the PR machine and its cozying-up to power and could not be more relevant to the situation today.

Georgia fought a real war and soon a film about this real war is to be released. The question is only whether the Georgian government requested the help of Hollywood, or whether, for whatever reason, Hollywood came knocking on Georgia’s door.

This question cannot be fully answered, although the film does not even have a definite name on the Internet Movie Database. Instead it is called, “Untitled Renny Harlin/Georgia-Russia War Project.” Things will surely change later and it has been reported that Val Kilmer is also due to arrive to Georgia at some point, although it is unclear what role he will play. The stakes are high and Georgia is betting a lot to win the media war against Russia, and it looks like this movie is a mighty attempt to accomplish the goal.

But let’s return to “Wag the Dog,” which opens with the following line: “Why does a dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail was smarter, the tail would wag the dog.” So, rhetorically speaking, who and just how smart is this dog? It looks like we will have to wait until the film’s official release in May 2010 to answer this question.


Georgia Today, 23.10.09

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Mtatsminda Park hosts new media gathering

With the birth of new technologies emerged a necessity for new media tools. These editorial and marketing instruments are used widely worldwide in modern media. This month Mtatsminda Park hosted the “New Media Forum 2009” for roughly 200 journalists, students, marketing experts and other professionals, offering a wide range of lectures on new media.

“We succeeded in gathering bloggers, journalists and people interested in electronic media in an interactive space over two days,” Open Society Georgia Foundation Executive Director and event organizer Keti Khutsishvili told Georgia Today.

“The blend of Georgian bloggers and international experts popular on social media platforms inspired the media community to engage in interactions, discussions, presentations and networking.”

Several novelties for Georgia were also seen during the forum, including the innovative portal http://www.blogroll.ge, which helps bloggers find each other and assists them in organizing their efforts.

Besides new blogs and Web sites, experienced blogs were also reviewed. Radio Free Liberty journalist Niko Nergadze talked about a blog, which he has been running for over a year. After the lecture, he told Georgia Today that the participants were very active at the forum. “The important thing is not what, but how this forum will be held,” he said. “So far what I see is really good. A lot of people are taking part in the forum, which is defining the quality of the event.” Nergadze added that forums like theIMG_6586se are important for Georgia as new media exists, but is limited. “Still we are very far from claiming that the Internet and new media have a serious influence on events. But we are heading toward something,” he said.

Ruso Panozashvili, a journalist and another forum participant, agrees with Nergadze about the event’s importance. “The importance of new media is high in Georgia where television and so-called traditional media outlets are strongly controlled,” she said. “This is not good for quality. This is why it is important to develop media with alternative tools, which in this case is new media.”

“The Power of Personal Blogs,” “Gutenberg vs. Twitter,” “Global Voices,” and “The Social Impact of New Media” were among the many lecture topics during the event. WordPress and Blogspot, Facebook and My Space were also discussed as media spaces. Most lectures did not consist only of a report by a lecturer, but were rather interactive events where everyone took part.

The global gathering of journalists and other media professionals ended with the participants moving to their blogging or other media spaces where they continue to interact with each other and wait for the next forum in 2010. “We plan to conduct a similar forum next year,” Khutsishvili said. “Stay tuned for future developments.”

Human Rights Center celebrates Int’l Peace Day with stickers on city walls

New Image10A group of about 20 activists from the Human Rights Center in Georgia strolled down the central streets of Tbilisi on a mission to spread peace. Holding “Peace of Zone” stickers written in English and Georgian, they gathered near the Rustaveli metro station to celebrate International Peace Day. Each activist held hundreds of stickers, which they handed to passersby.

“We are handing out stickers today to people with the sign ‘Peace Zone’ and call upon everyone to spread peace,” Human Rights Center activist Shorea Latatia said. “I think that today peace is the most important thing for the public.”

After about 10 minutes at the metro station, the activists split into two groups — one heading to Tbilisi State University and the other to Freedom Square. The university group plastered city walls with stickers and stopped to explain their meaning to passersby. One man performing road maintenance work was eager to receive a sticker, although he had no idea what it meant.

“Today is a day of peace. Take a sticker,” one activist said.

“Hmm. That’s great,” he replied with a smile.

The demonstration is interesting and encouraging as peace is an important issue that interests many people, activist Esma Berikishvili said.

When the activists arrived at the university, they stopped and waited for the launch of a theatrical performance by actor Nikoloz Lutidze.

The actor wrapped himself in paper and lied down on the road, crawling and struggling to stand up. He rose up slowly and began to tear off the paper, symbolizing the peoples’ fight against media pressure. A car soon appeared, stopped, picked him up and drove off.

“This idea shows that the average person in modern society – especially Georgia – is under ideological pressure,” activist Anna Natslishvili said. “His conscience is influenced by mass media, which delivers military propaganda.”

The performance triggered mixed reactions. Some smiled, while others booed the performance and left the area.

Tamara Kobakhidze, a local television journalist covering the story, said she liked the performance, and was saddened by the public’s attitude.

“I was shocked when I filmed the performance and saw their reaction,” she said. “People were not even watching.”

International Peace Day is celebrated worldwide Sept. 21. The UN initiative began in 1981. The UN headquarters rings the Peace Bell annually to begin the day.

Georgia Today, 25.09.09

Tbilisi bookstore review

U.S. television actor and comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said, “A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.” It is hard not to agree. Georgia Today headed downtown Tbilisi to see what the city’s bookstores have to offer. Prospero’s Books Named after the well-known film, “Prospero’s Books,” the shop at 34 Rustaveli Ave. offers books exclusively in English. For more comfortable browsing, the bookstore is divided into sections, such as travel, regional interest and non-fiction. The shop is small and reminiscent of an old-fashioned corner store with about a dozen shelves and a small cafe where visitors can chat or have a snack. Book prices vary from 25 to 70 lari. Parnassus Located on 22 Chavchavadze Ave., Parnassus is the centerpiece of the capital’s bookstore scene, with three shops in Tbilisi. The first store opened in 2002 and offers 25,000 books mainly in Georgian, Russian and English, but also German and Italian. Prices vary, although customers have been known to find books at prices relatively cheaper here than at other local shops. Tsignis Saxli (House of Books) Tsignis Saxli is a large store housing a cafe full of coffee-drinking customers. Besides the shop, a library complete with full-time staff is located on the second floor where visitors can read on the spot. The books at the shop are mostly Georgian and Russian titles. Tsignis Saxli is located on 31 Pekini St. and sometimes called “Literaturuli.”

Georgia Today, 18.09.09

Traveler’s log: Camp weekend trip to Birtvisi

Irakli inspects tall rock face. Concluding it is relatively safe, he slides his foot into a crevice on the cliff wall and reaches for a DSC01422protruding rock. One false move could mean a plunge of several hundred meters. Prior to his next moves, Irakli notes his path with the help of a walkie-talkie. His friends observe from a distance. Most of the expedition team members are inexperienced and for some it is their first time camping in Georgia’s southeastern hills.

The expedition unfolded when a friend of mine extended an invitation for two days of camping in a place called Algeti. With a strong interest in camping but lack of experience, I agreed instantly. Come Saturday afternoon nine of us filled two cars for the 60 kilometer drive southeast of Tbilisi to Algeti. After unloading the car we embarked on an uphill 40-minute hike before finally reaching the campsite in Birtvisi.

I can tell you from experience, forty-minutes of uphill hiking is easier said than done. Many of us had never been camping. Stopping to catch our breath was a frequent occasion However, the effort of getting to the Birtvisi location was worth the struggle. The site is a picturesque flat surface surrounded by cliffs and caves of about 300 square meters.

Together with a dozen other campers who had already pitched tents, we prepared for our first night in Birtvisi. Darkness was approaching quickly so we had to promptly pitch our tents, gather wood and prepare a fire and food for dinner. The next few hours were spent relaxing around the fire grilling meat and toasting drinks late into the night. We retired to our tents when someone remembered we had a long day of uphill hiking to a tower in the nearby mountains.

Begrudgingly we woke early the next morning, pushing aside our thoughts of staying at the campsite instead of continuing with our scheduled hike. With our sights set on adventure we began following the narrow paths winding around cliffs. It took a lot of effort to follow the path, but the most difficult task began about halfway to the tower when it hit a near 90-degree angle and a fear of heights quickly kicked in.

Once the fear took hold of me I started to joke: “Why do we create problems for ourselves by leaving a civilized city for a place like this?”

A friend responded philosophically, musing, “Humans are the only mammals who go into the mountains for pleasure.”

“What about goats?” another friend asked.

“Goats do it to breed,” he replied.

I tried to laugh, but after scaling two-thirds of the cliff all I could think about was how getting down would be far more difficult than going up. Pleasure was the last thing on my mind.

Finally reaching the peak, we took a well deserved rest and admired the view.

“So this is it?! We needed to go up so long just to see this tiny tower?” my friend Nodar asked.

The reactions to the view were mixed, but we agreed that descending would be much scarier than ascending. We paused frequently as we crawled down the mountain’s edge.

After a long struggle we finally returned to camp, ate dinner and slowly started to gather our things. The evening was quickly approaching and we needed to get to Algeti by dawn.

As we approached Algeti, we were pleased with our camping adventure. Our muscles ached, but our curiosity was satisfied and our desire for the next expedition shined across our faces.

Published for Georgia Today, September 4, 2009 issue

IDP from Gori recounts last August war

038Givi Kavlashvili, 71, lost everything he had in the war last August, including his son who was killed while working in the forest. Kavlashvili lived a somewhat happy life in the Kemerti village outside of Gori with a large house and one hectare of land.

“I would agree to live outside under the sky if only my son was alive,” Kavlashvili said.

Now he lives in the former military settlement Koda, approximately 20 kilometers from Tbilisi. He and his family are one of 554 families who now call Koda home.

When the war broke out, Kemerti was shelled heavily. Kavlashvili’s home was hit by a bomb on Aug. 7.

“We managed to stay one night and were able to wait out the situation, but the next day was unbearable and we headed to Tbilisi,” he said. “We lived in a kindergarten in the Mukhiani suburb for four months and then we were offered housing in Koda.”

When comparing life before and after the war, Kavlashvili said it is incomparable.

He lost his house, garden and everything he worked for his entire life. He not only suffered material loss, but also emotional stress. He survived two heart attacks and a heart operation in the last 12 months.

Even today, after a year, Kavlashvili gets emotional when describing the Aug. 7 events.

“When the shelling started, the situation in our neighborhood was bad,” he said. “It is hard to describe what was happening to my family and our neighbors. When the house was ruined we were all in panic and decided to go to Tbilisi. We could not stand it anymore – physically or emotionally.”

Kavlashvili has lived in a two-room apartment in Koda for the past 8 months in a building that once served as a military settlement and was repaired for IDPs.

Despite everything, he tries to stay calm, but cannot help remembering the past.

“We are offered help and regularly given flour, pasta, oil and other food,” Kavlashvili said. “But it is not even a tenth of what I used to have in Kemerti – the garden, the house… Now I am just a retired man.”

Life in Koda can be described as calm and stunted, as most IDP’s do not work, although many seek jobs in Tbilisi. People spend their days outside chatting.

Despite his loss, Kavlashvili is already used to his new life. He tries to stay active and does not let himself get down. But he would give everything to spend at least one more night in his old home the way he used to live, he said.

The article was published for Georgia Today August 7, 2009 issue.

Underground artists thrive in city center

Geo_today 006Giorgi Benidze tried living the usual life with a steady job, but found only one constant theme of happiness – music.

Benidze, 32, also known as “Gosha” to his audience, played acoustic guitar in the central undergrounds of Tbilisi since 1996 at age 19. Having no money he headed to the underground walkway near the opera house, playing songs by well-known Russian rock stars like Viktor Tsoi and Boris Grebenshikov, and U.S. artists such as Pink Floyd.

He never studied music, but graduated with an IT degree from Georgian Polytechnic University. Afterward, he was always on the run, moving from job to job, working at Internet cafes and advertising companies, fixing windows and never working in one place more than a month.

“I even collected empty bottles for money and sold them to factories,” Benidze said. “It was the most punk job I have ever done.” It was clear at that point that music was the direction he wanted to take.

Benidze worked with different bands and formed his own punk rock project called “Tetri Alublis Muraba” (White Cherry Jam). The band existed for three years until 2002.

Later on, he formed another band called “Circus Closet,” and this time they managed to record an English-language album titled, “Luquid Sun,” with a circulation of just 100 CDs, only actually selling 7 copies.

Despite their lack of success, the band is actively working on a second album. When describing the band’s music, Benidze said although they call it “Indie pop”, it is different from all the things they listen to and free from any kind of influence.

When remembering the last time he played in the underground he said it lasted for several months. Everyday he went out with his guitar for a couple of hours at a time. It was never a case of income for him, but rather fun, he said.

“Pavle, Tsie, Avto (fellow underground musicians) are considered to be street musicians, they have been standing in the streets and performing for months,” Benidze said. “It was about income for them. Some were even making a living and helping their families. For me it was always a hobby.”

Benidze added that his generation has mostly left the streets and moved on to performing at other venues. He feels skeptical about going back to that kind of work. For now, he said the band is focusing on recording “Circus Closet” in September. Afterwards, the band plans to hold concerts at least once a month.

The article was published for Georgia Today July 24, 2009 issue.