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Protest rally against the South Caucasus media forum in Tbilisi, September 5, 2018. Photo: 1tv.ge

Kremlin-funded Media Forum Triggers Protest in Tbilisi

The Kremlin-funded media forum for journalists from Russia and the three South Caucasus countries in Tbilisi triggered criticism from civic groups and anti-occupation activists.

The media forum, funded by the Russian Presidential Grants Foundation and organized by two Russian NGOs – North-South Center and Press Club Unity, together with the Tbilisi-based news agency Georgia and the World, was opened today and will last until September 7.

According to the organizers, the South Caucasus forum, titled “the Role of Media in Confidence-Building in the Region,” includes seminars and roundtable discussions on political and media developments in the region with Russian journalists featuring as lead experts.

Several dozen protesters, holding placards reading “Stop Russia” and chanting “Russia is an occupant,” gathered outside the forum venue from early morning today to protest against what they regard to be the Georgian government’s inadequate response to Russia’s information operations in Georgia.

They also staged a theatrical performance; held the traditional Georgian form of dining – Supra – accompanied with Georgian folk music, “to show how the Georgian government is welcoming the Russian occupants.”

“Our performance exemplifies the government’s non-irritation policy [towards the Russian Federation],” Ana Charkhalashvili, one of the organizers, wrote on her Facebook page.

Another protester Koba Kostava told Civil.ge that they simply wanted to send a message to the authorities. “Our Security Service should be aware that this is not a media forum, but rather a working session for coordinating the activities of Russian propagandistic media in various countries,” he said.

Eka Naskidashvili, a representative of the Georgia and the World news agency, dismissed the allegations, saying the forum is a platform for exchange of ideas rather than a propagandistic event. She also stressed this is the fourth time Tbilisi is hosting a similar forum.

Another representative of the news agency, Konstantine Chikviladze, said protests “will not serve” Georgia well and will widen distance between Georgia and Russia, which is “in America’s interests.” “Exiting deadlock that our countries have entered is only possible through diplomacy and dialogue,” he told Civil.ge.

Three participants of the forum – Viktor Litovkin, Gennady Bordyugov and Alexey Tokarevwere denied entry to Georgia yesterday reportedly due to their violation of the Georgian law on occupied territories, which prohibits unauthorized entry into Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions from areas other than the Georgian-controlled territory.

According to media reports, Alan Kasaev, who was also supposed to participate in the forum, was denied entry from Zemo (Upper) Larsi border crossing point as well. However, Interior Ministry did not confirm the information to Civil.ge.

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