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18 August 2008
Has Russia really lost the propaganda war with Georgia?
Having been defeated comprehensively in the war that she started, and with an army that ran like frightened rats from Gori before any Russians even came close, the general consensus seems to be that Georgia has won the propaganda war against Russia. The BBC argues that the Russians "have not yet learned how to play the media game," and that is certainly one factor that is at work. The Guardian for its part reports that the Georgians not only paid a top ranked public relations firm €500,000, but they did it with the clear instructions "to brand Georgia as a western wannabe, a Nato and European Union aspirant, emphasising everything from its fabulous food and drink to its liberties and democratic politics".

As the same Guardian report shows, the Russian agency merely "facilitates international media access to Russian policy-makers and advises the Russians on their media strategies". In other words the Georgians are paying top whack to get their message out, whereas the Russians just wanted a company the would organise publicity when and if the Russians wanted it.

In other words what seems to have happened is that the Georgians gave their agency broad terms of reference, plenty of money and then left them to get on with it. The Russians got an agency that would do things for them when Moscow wanted things to be done. The big difference here is that the Georgian agency swung autonomously into action as soon as Georgia mounted her attack. The Russian outfit waited for instructions from Moscow.

The Russians have had some success and their friends have been busily engaged in patiently rebutting the Georgian lies, but the problem is that they do it as if they are writing for an academic seminar. Those who are spreading myths for Georgia have a better understanding of how the modern media works.

Take Neil Ascherson's load of old wank as a case in point. In the first of twenty-two paragraphs the analogy is drawn with Czechoslovakia in 1968 and not until the ninth paragraph is it admitted that Georgia actually started the war in the first place. That admission only comes as a throwaway, and then we are off again, this time by being invited to feel sorry for the Georgian refugees.

Quite where Czechoslovakia ever fitted into the narrative seems unclear, until we realise that what the reader is being encouraged to do is to forget that Georgia is the aggressor in all of this, and to think of Russia as the great lumbering bear, that is coming to eat us all up.

So what we have here is a simple narrative, probably put out by the Georgian PR outfits originally, which is now being repeated throughout Britain and in all the media. The point is that it is not being repeated by paid hacks, it is being put out by characters, like Ascherson, who are either true believers, have a vested economic interest in maintaining western hegemony, or a combination of the two.

The working class blogs provide very little competition for this gang, but let's do our best. We need a simple narrative all of our own: the Georgians started it and cannot complain because the Russians finished it.

Let's face it: our narrative has the advantage of being the truth.

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