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Georgia: Blogging the War

See Global Voices special coverage page on the South Ossetia crisis.

The conflict between Georgia and Russia over the breakway territory of South Ossetia was accompanied by cyber-attacks on several Georgian government and independent media sites. But rather than prevent journalists from utilizing the Internet to report on the war, it achieved the opposite. Many Georgians — media professionals and citizen journalists alike — set up blogs to report or comment on the conflict.

Global Voices Online's Caucasus Regional Editor Onnik Krikorian spoke to Giga Paitchadze, a veteran local blogger. Also known as Dv0rsky, Paitchadze's New Media Institute recently staged the Caucasus BarCamp in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Onnik Krikorian: When the conflict with Russia started, the number of Georgian blogs soon increased. Who are these new bloggers?

Giga Paitchadze: It's mainly young people aged 20-30 who have constant Internet access at the offices where they work. However, it all started with email lists although a couple of days before the war started — on 5th or 6th August — some people started to set up blogs about the conflict with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

I don't know why, but even a few of my own friends set up blogs on Blogspot. We're not using LiveJournal since the Russians bought it. There were a couple of interesting stories on these blogs, but then the war started and people began to write a lot more on a daily basis.

Dozens of new blogs about the war in different languages were set up although I can't say all were of high quality. As for myself, all I did was collect information and post it to my blog. I also wrote about South Ossetia in order to explain the situation to foreigners.

Of course, everyone looks at this conflict from only one side only and it's very difficult to be objective so the blog entries from Georgian bloggers were always against Russia and vice-versa. There weren't many people who tried to understand or analyze what was happening and why.

Those Georgians who might argue for the removal of Saakashvili after the war ends were not active on blogs, for example. There was maybe one post in Georgian asking how this war started and why we attacked South Ossetia.

It was by a 33-year-old doctor who was wondering why we reacted to the provocation by sending in the army or why the Roki tunnel wasn't closed — basically the types of questions you'll hear from many people on the streets.

He kind of wanted to be like a lawyer for Saakashvili and provide the answers himself, but when I responded by saying I disagreed with him and thought the war was a huge mistake, he disappeared.

I didn't write such things on my blog, though, but maybe I'm waiting for the dust [from the war] to settle.

OK: There were Russian cyber attacks on Georgian web sites.

GP: That's another part of the war. It was on the 8th or 9th, I don't remember exactly, when several Georgian web sites went down, especially Civil.ge which at about 1 or 2pm was inaccessible. The same was true for Media.ge, an Internews site.

These cyber-attacks were launched in two different ways. There was the hacking of sites such as the official site of the Georgian President where photographs of Saakashvili depicted as Hitler were placed, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Parliament. Every government site, actually.

The other method was with Denial of Service (DOS) attacks. Georgia's three Internet Service Providers (ISPs) came under attack and even online services on cellphones were affected because the mobile phone network was overloaded with phone calls.

OK: I'm told there was a lot of activity on YouTube at the beginning of the conflict.

GP: Most of the TV stations showed some of the videos from YouTube and other sites. To begin with there was a lot of video footage posted on YouTube from Russia Today, but it was only on the 10th or 11th when Georgians responded by uploading their own.

There had been the suggestion to set up a number where mobile phone users could send video and text messages to a centralized location so that it could be uploaded. However, the mobile phone network was already too overloaded to do so.

There were, however, something like 15,000 reservists aged mainly 20-25 who were bombed by the Russians while waiting to be deployed. The first videos came from them.

OK: Did this material offer anything otherwise not accessible through the mainstream media?

GP: Not really, although I did see video from Poti when Russia bombed the port. It was evidence to back up what the government reported.

OK: Is there's an information war being waged between Georgian and Russian bloggers?

GP: Yes, and the Russians admit they are losing it. Even the Russian bloggers say Georgians are presenting their arguments more effectively.

OK: Do you have many Russians commenting on Georgian blogs about the war?

GP: Yes, and some commented on my blog. However, most comments are offensive and insulting or we just accuse each other of the same thing. The Russians accuse us of killing women and children and we accuse them of doing the same.

You never know who is right or who is wrong in a war.

OK: Do you think that the war has promoted the idea of blogging in Georgia?

GP: Yes, I would say so. It also pushed me to start writing in English as well as about politics. I would never have done so otherwise, and I think that the new blogs will remain. Many Georgians now understand that information can be disseminated very quickly on the Internet — and especially via blogs.

Dv0rsky [GE/EN] has a blog here.

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