top of page

How the Georgian government maintains the façade of being in service of their people

Georgia’s political landscape has been an intense battleground between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces for decades. While there is hardly a single organisation in Georgia, political or otherwise, which openly declares that it is pro-Russian, mere scepticism and hesitation expressed towards Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations constitute a step away from the West and, therefore, a step towards Russia.

Supposedly to Europe. Supposedly with dignity.

The ruling Georgian Dream-led government completely rejects the accusation of covertly working to support Russian efforts to undermine Georgian democracy. However, their decision-making with regards to the country’s foreign policy appears self-contradictory (or as I’d like to describe it – they are having their cake, and eating it too): expressing solidarity with Ukraine and condemning Russia's military aggression, yet refusing to join Western countries in imposing sanctions on Russia; claiming to be pursuing a ‘peace’ plan to restore Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity while repeatedly accusing Western allies of attempting to embroil Georgia into conflict, calling on conspiratory entities like ‘the global war party’, a label that has origins in Russia; rejoicing in the celebrations being granted EU candidate status in December 2023 and a couple months later pushing the Russia-inspired ‘foreign agents’ legislation that puts Georgia’s European future at risk. The list of contradictions is endless, so let us address the one I personally find the most confusing: “Forward, with dignity, to Europe!”.

These words, first spoken by the Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, have been turned into a calculated slogan used by government officials in an attempt to maintain the pitiful front of still being on the constitutionally enshrined Western path. While outwardly collaborating with Western allies, the Georgian government is trying to adopt strategic ambiguity evoking deep confusion and frustration from our European partners. Through a multitude of statements made to instil doubt about the country’s commitments, engagements, and cultural alignment with the West, government representatives are alluding to threats to national identity, religion, and family values.

Reframing the pro-European stance.

Aligning with the Georgian Orthodox Church, the government continues to vilify pro-Western activists, framing them as radicals ‘without a homeland’ in an effort to appeal to the socially conservative voter demographic. Members of the parliamentary majority went as far as to post banners reading “No to Russian Law! Yes – to Europe! Yes – to Transparency!” as a riposte or reframe to the viral slogan #NoToRussianLaw vocalised by the ongoing street protest movement opposing the infamous ‘foreign agents’ bill.

Such deliberate manipulation can be explained as an act of retroactive distortion (Picazo, 2023) whereby the words of a speaker are altered by a subsequent speaker, making the original words less clear and more difficult to interpret as intended (e.g., the “All Lives Matter” response to “Black Lives Matter”).

In this case, the meaning of the words “No to Russian Law” spoken by Georgian activists and protestors is obscured by a later utterance of the same words by government representatives because interpreting the second speech act necessitates a reinterpretation of the first. In essence, deliberate use of the slogan provides a new meaning to the term “Russian Law” that allows the government to distance the legislation from the pro-Russian sentiments, thereby causing the second speech act to retroactively distort the initial message.

Picazo (2023) explains that retroactive distortions can be, and have been, used as propaganda to harm and corrupt public deliberation. On its own, “Forward to Europe” is understood in a way that coincides with Georgian Euro-Atlantic integration and the country’s subsequent entrance into the European Union (EU) – an interpretation of the phrase that coincides with the ongoing protest movement. Later, the government comes in and ‘elaborates’ on the meaning of the slogan, by providing additional information to alter its interpretation (the addition, in this case, being “with dignity”). Suddenly, the audience is left to ponder over its meaning, namely, in the way suggested by the second speech act. How can Georgia achieve EU member status with dignity? Have any of the current member states been stripped of their dignity upon entering the EU? Are any other qualities of being for this small, vulnerable country under threat by the big, bad Europe? Or perhaps, the governing party is using a sly ploy to manipulate the conversation surrounding the European aspirations of the Georgian people and equate pro-Western ideology with anti-nationalism.

All in all, it appears to be working…

The world witnessed thousands of Georgians joined by top officials from the ruling Georgian Dream party, senior Orthodox clerics and (extreme) right-wing religious groups rallying in central Tbilisi, where protests against the ‘Russian Law’ had been taking place for weeks. First established by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2014, Family Purity Day, as of this year, became an officially recognised national holiday to be celebrated on May 17, deliberately countering the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) observed annually on this exact date. A common conception among this layer of Georgian society seems to be that foreign-backed NGOs are trying to impose ‘un-Georgian’ values on the country, particularly referencing organisations supporting LGBTQ+ rights. Such narratives are once again stemmed from the consistent undermining of Western ideologies and severe modification of its content, generalised under the umbrella of ‘LGBT propaganda’.

Langton (2018) has studied the retroactive undoing of speech acts which occurs when a presupposition crucial to the success of the speech act is challenged or completely negated. Unlike distortions that motivate new interpretations, retroactive undoing attacks the very existence of a speech act and claims to undo or block it in a strong sense. In the case of May 17, the manoeuvre is three-fold:

(1)     deliberate ambiguity maintained in the title of the national holiday allows avoidance of accusations of homophobia and hate speech – ‘family’ and ‘purity’ are subjective terms that could have a variety of meanings which gives leeway to deny any association with LGBTQ+ issues;

(2)     the tight alliance between the government and the Church unites the Orthodox parish with the Georgian Dream electorate and connotes that political opposition is indicative of anti-Christian or anti-Church sentiments;

(3)     the decision to coincide Family Purity Day with IDAHOBIT sets a heteronormative precedent as the homophobic undertone is ever-presently emphasising traditional gender roles as ‘pure’ and any alternative ways of family formation as immoral or sinful.

On the basis of Georgian patriotic spirit and Christian beliefs, hateful rhetoric continues to permeate the country where citizen safety, freedom of expression, right to equality and privacy, and God knows what else, are compromised.

Fight fire with fire.

Is it fair to expect a calm, rationalised response from someone being burned with a blowtorch? The Georgian Dream party leaders are using all kinds of mind games and play on words to maintain the reins on the public sphere, attempting to distort, invalidate and rewrite the narrative of common sense in this psychological warfare. As Habermas elaborated in The Theory of Communicative Action (1984), the public sphere mediates between civil society and governmental power, emphasising the indispensability of public discourse in sustaining democracy.

Be louder.

Be bolder.

Be braver.

And win this fight, “with dignity”. More on the ‘how’ later on…

Academic Literature

Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action. In T. McCarthy (Ed. & Trans.), Reason and the rationalization of society (Vol. 1). Beacon Press.

Langton, R. (2018). Blocking as Counter-Speech. In D. Fogal, D. Harris, & M. Moss (Eds.), New Work on Speech Acts (pp. 144-164). Oxford University Press.

Picazo, C. (2023). Distorted Debates. Topoi, 42, 561–571.

About the Author: Salome Mamasakhlisi is a research assistant at Media Voice. As a University of Westminster BSc Psychology graduate, with a Master’s degree in Media Studies from Tbilisi State University, Salome is currently enrolled at the University of Helsinki, studying on a multidisciplinary program titled ‘Contemporary Societies’ with a specialisation in Social Psychology. a Masters in Media Psychology and Communications at Tbilisi State University.

“I see the dire need for the public’s involvement in the process of correct comprehension and promotion of Western values. This persuasive process is amplified by young, passionate voices that continue to shed light on the harsh realities of a corrupt system that tries to silence them” – says Salome.


survey presentation_17 July
bottom of page