Invasion Energized Georgian Blogsphere
by Paul Goble
series: Crisis in the Caucasus - 2008
The Russian / Georgian Conflict and Its Impact on Azerbaijan
Window on Eurasia: Original
Vienna, September 14, 2008 - Russia's invasion of Georgia, including
its cyber attacks on Georgian websites, had the effect of making
the Georgian blogosphere more important than ever before, not
only leading to an increase in the number of blogs and their
level of activity but also to a shift in where the blogs are
hosted, the languages used and the subjects covered.
As a result, Giga Paitchadze, one of Georgia's leading bloggers,
says, even Russians "admit they are losing" in this
sector of the information war," with Russian bloggers frequently
conceding that their Georgian counterparts have been "presenting
their arguments more effectively".
And while this claim may be exaggerated, the Georgian bloggers'
experiences during the conflict with Russia are likely, if the
experience of Georgia's neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan is any
guide, to have an impact on the Georgian life and politics long
after the guns have quieted down.
Paitchadze, whose blog is located at www.dgiuri.com,
said that some of his friends, mostly Georgians in their 20s
and 30s, had set up blogs on BlogSpot, having decided not to
use the Russian-controlled Live Journal. Moreover, they shifted
their focus from personal issues to political ones, putting out
more posts in English rather than Russian.
(After Russian cyber attacks hacked Georgian government sites
and subjected others to denial of service attack (DOS), even
the Georgian Foreign Ministry set up a blog on BlogSpot to get
its message out. That blog - georgiamfa.blogspot.com/
- is still active even though the ministry's regular site operates
on an Estonia-based hosting.)
Not surprisingly, "Georgian bloggers were always against
Russia and vice versa," Paitchadze reported, noting that
"those Georgians who might argue for the removal of Saakashvili
after the war ends were not active on blogs," although that
statement, made in the immediate aftermath of the war is no longer
The Georgian blogger added that the war itself had had unintended
effect of promoting the idea of blogging in Georgia, leading
more bloggers there to recognize the power of this channel to
disseminate information, to write on politics rather than personal
matters, and to write in English so that their materials will
be accessible to a larger audience.
In an interview before the war, Paitchadze had estimated that
there were approximately 10-15,000 bloggers in Georgia, although
many of them were inactive. Most focused on "everyday life
rather than high politics, and most had posts either in Georgian
The war-induced changes in the Georgian blogosphere are likely
to continue for some time, with Georgian bloggers focusing more
on politics and putting out more stories in English well into
the future, especially if bloggers there feel that the national
media is subject to too much official pressure and is not reporting
Support for that proposition is offered by bloggers in Armenia
and Azerbaijan. Geghan Vardanyan, the editor of Yerevan's AM/EN
E-Channel, said that the approximately 3,000 blogs in Armenia
were playing a major role because they are "the only alternative
to the mass media, especially as independent and pro-opposition
online media sites were blocked or censored."
During the Armenian elections, he said, his blog "had about
2,500-3,500 page views per day and the blog of A1 Plus (a pro-opposition
TV station taken off the air in 2002] had over 60,000. In terms
of video blogging, the A1plus and E-channel YouTube channels
also registered a huge number of viewers.
Helping to fuel this growth, in addition to official pressure
on the mainstream media, he said, were decisions by bloggers
to use English more often and to stream video, something that
made blogs more attractive to a larger number of Armenians who
had been turned off by the electronic media there.
All that has made blogs more important, but he said that he is
"concerned about the future of blogging because everyone
has started to realize that it has great potential" and
because "there is the danger that there will soon be attempts
to influence that potential and to control it" either by
governments or by international donor groups.
Emin Huseynzade, a blogger activist from Azerbaijan, described
an analogous situation in his homeland, where there are more
than 8,000 bloggers. Initially, most wrote in Russian but now
80 percent do so in Azerbaijani, a shift in language that has
gained them a larger audience.
One of the more interesting aspects of Azerbaijan's situation,
he said, is that one of its key blog hosters, Azeriblog.com,
was set up by a group of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran. It now
hosts more than half of the total number of Azerbaijani blogs.
And both it, and other hosters like blog.az and sirr.az are helping
to create networks of various kinds.
If Huseynzade is right that the number of blogs in Azerbaijan
will double or triple over the next two years, then blogs will
come into their own, playing a political role in that country
as they do in Georgia, Armenia and elsewhere and possibly becoming
a target of expanded attention by others who want to control
or exploit this new medium.
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