RFE/RL special correspondent Goga Aptsiuari often reports on Georgian-Ossetian conflict. He is the participant of Georgian-Ossetian dialogue too. They do not confront with one another, he says, on the contrary, they are of much help. Granting an interview to Media.Ge Goga Aptsiauri spoke about the need of civil dialogue and peace journalism.
- Term “peace journalism” started getting especially popular in Georgian media in the aftermath of the war 2008. What kind of journalism do we imply within this term?
- From my viewpoint peace journalism has got no particular characteristics. Essential is to strictly adhere to journalism standards, use various sources, maintain balance, refuse to use hate speech. Besides, peace journalism, from my point of you focuses more on humanitarian issues. Common problems for both of the conflict participant parties are being covered, as well as the lives of ordinary people residing on both sides of the border. It seeks for common points of contact. Peace journalism is in place when you devote attention and cover dialogue, regardless of format.
- Georgian media does not seem to be that much covering Georgian-Abkhazian or Georgian-Ossetian conflicts, to civil dialogue though no keen interest was apparent neither prior to the war, nor now…
- Georgian media devotes attention to conflicts when the situation tenses up. For instance, some time ago in the village of Ditsi Russian frontier guards set up some wires, the reporting on this fact was of course negative. The board was reported to be moved, locals encounter humanitarian problems and so on and so forth. But when civil journalists, experts or civil activists hold meetings to discuss conflict resolution Georgian media hardly ever reports on it. Radio Liberty though shows interest to this issue. Georgian daily Rezonansi too devotes attention to the aforementioned topic but in general Georgian media is not sensitive to peace journalism and civil dialogue.
- What could be the reason?
- Sensational, negative features have been of high value at our end. With this type of content media seems to be trying to attract more viewers, the whole audience. The meeting held, handshakes, projects shared, co-operation or joint events planned revives less interest. Feels like editors lack awareness of peacemaking developments. While various formats of dialogue have already been developed: under the Caucasian House initiative political experts and civil sector activists get together; Women leaders come together to discuss peacemaking policy; summer camps are organized for the youth. Occasional meetings of Abkhazian, Ossetian and Georgian journalists are of interest too, as a rule a big portion of time is devoted to professional standards. I can’t though solely blame media for inactivity, the NGOs implementing the projects might be guilty too. More work needs to be done to better promote their activities. How can a journalist dream about an event being held by someone somewhere either in Yerevan or Istanbul? Normally theses kind of meetings are held in the third countries and the problem is that editorial offices cannot afford paying traveling expenses to the journalists to attend the events.
-We, journalists might be overcome by patriotism? Maybe we find it hard to write about peace with just five years having passed since last war?
- I would like to take you back to pre-war 2008 times when the State politics looked militaristic, when the most high rated channels under government control were overwhelmed with propaganda how tough our army was, and what rusty tanks Russians had, and so on and so forth. I don’t think this kind of work could be more patriotic, it’s more like militaristic rhetoric. The same happened in Tskhinvali. And we got the result. Isn’t it patriotism when some kind of organization is involved in the civil dialogue, peacemaking process, which helps conflict resolution through dialogue? From my viewpoint reporting on theses topics is a way more patriotic than bare propaganda for war. I can’t say journalists today act upon special assignments when avoiding reporting on peacemaking processes. They seem to be lacking interest in it. Media more centers on Russian frontier guards’ and Ossetian armed formations’ misdeeds. I don’t think this approach could be a useful one. State policy changes into dialogue, accordingly media is to pace along this process. I as a citizen journalist cannot see another alternative for peaceful resolution of conflicts.
- Along with job-related issues what other topics are focused on during meetings-dialogues?
- We speak about everything but politics. We avoid to politicize any issue. At the very first meeting, for instance, we agreed we won’t and can’t discuss the status of South Ossetia since journalists are not to decide it. We review some general human matters of concern. Georgians, for instance, are offered no possibility to cross the administrative border to visit the graves of their relatives and ancestors. They are deprived of the possibility to get to the chapels they would earlier go to. No chances to visit their Ossetian relatives. Ossetians too suffer from similar problems. They too are eager to visit their relatives. When these issues matured at one of the civil forums we developed some recommendations, and signed by Georgian and Ossetian civil activists was sent to the discussion co-chairs in Geneva. We requested parties to think of the provision of natural gas to the territories populated by Ossetians and the provision of water to the Georgian villages, Also granting a right to the villagers in the border line villages to enter forests to collect wood. Even though our requests were dismissed, especially by Ossietian policy makers, it is important that we drew support from the Ossetians participating in the forum. Its evident that the society is willing to address the issue of general concern. Gradually the will to tackle political issues will most likely come about.
- When determining the format for either event do organizers provide for real needs?
- From one of the meetings I got back very much displeased. We had an idea of launching Georgian-Abkhazian website and we developed a joint draft but we missed the possibility to get together, accordingly this project failed to get to the due end. And the donor organization could no longer render assistance since the project term drew to a close. We were either short of time or funds and a well begun activity ultimately failed. Since 2008 experts, civil journalists and activists have been getting together twice per year. Within this format one of the results we happened to produce is that Zonkari dam is no longer a danger to either Ossetian and Georgian villages. Due to some protective shields stuck in the water reservoir with some the surrounding area was under the flooding threat. OSCE got concerned into the issue, and provided funds for the project. Georgian and Ossetian engineers were invited, Georgian specialists were granted entry to the territory controlled by de fact republic, specialists repaired shields and emptied the reservoir. The biggest Ossetian village Dmenisi and the neighboring Georgian village were saved from flooding. Policy makers’ attention to the issue was drawn to the issue thanks to the Georgian-Ossetian dialogue participants.
Paata Zakareishvil, incumbent State Minister for Reintegration was then the participant of the peacemaking dialogue. As an expert he was busy with prisoners’ issues. Thanks to the dialogue Georgian parents, with the support of Red Cross, were granted a right to arrive in Tskhinvali to visit their prisoners. Many might not know that the civil activist Lira Kozaeva would frequent Georgian prisoners in Tskhinvali and offer help if needed. Peacemaking process produces results, that’s for sure. But when donors witness result they should think of further developing it.
- There are social networks, Internet, communication is possible this way too. Do you communicate with Sokhumi or Tskhinvali-based journalists?
- Sometimes we even write each other letters longing for an upcoming meeting. The worst thing it that Ossietian journalists cannot arrive in Tbilisi and we can’t go to Tskhinvali. And meeting on the neutral territory requires funds. While we get on with one another so well, we all consent that the use of hate speech is inadmissible since it stirs up mistrust and hatred. In terms of adherence to journalism ethics we, Georgians have more experience in it, and especially with Temur Tskhovrebov, having resumed publishing an independent newspaper in Tskhinvali. At times we exchange news, verify some issues with one another. Accordingly reporting is more accurate and balanced. Some time ago, for instance, I helped Ossetians to obtain data about Marek Dudaev’s release. They were seeking for Public Defender’s statement on Dudaev. Tskhinvai-based civil activists had scarce info about this issue.
Journalists’ efforts, together with dialogue, ultimately helps deepen contacts and restore trust between confronting parties.