Vienna, September 14 – 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” (globalvoicesonline.org/-/world/central-asia-caucasus/).
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 true.
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 or Russian (globalvoicesonline.org/2008/06/13/georgia-armenian-georgian-blogosphere-assessed/).
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 accurately.
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 (globalvoicesonline.org/2008/06/10/azerbaijan-blogs-barcamps-social-networks/).
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.