An American Babushka in Moscow:  False News About Russia: A Longstanding Tradition

war in abkhazia 19921993

When I first came to Russia, the key political event of the moment was the “war” over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two independent provinces in Georgia.  The response of the American media to the situation was, quite unsurprisingly, to accuse Russia of instigating the “war” by invading Georgia.  The people of Russia were furious over what was a blatant lie, and so, when they set their eyes upon me, they would confront me with the question, asked aggressively –“Why do you Americans think that Russia invaded Georgia?”   My answer to them was that it was not the America people who thought that, it was only the propaganda formulated by the American government and propagated by the media that asserted that Russia had, in an act of imperialistic aggression, invaded Georgia.  As I explained to them, because the American people don’t think about things that happen far away unless they affect them directly in some way, when they woke up to the realization that Russia had not “invaded Georgia” – the Sovereign State of Georgia, in the American Southland-they probably quickly lost interest in the situation.  I showed my students widely shared Facebook videos of comedians jokingly wondering if they should flee Atlanta before the Russians arrived.

As I tried to make clear to them, if an average American were asked to locate the country of Georgia on a map, they wouldn’t even know what area of the globe to look at.Many probably weren’t sure where The Russian Federation was.  And just forget about Abkhazia and South Ossetia; if you said those names to them too quickly they might think you were cursing at them.  This was a bit of a shock to my Russian inquistors.  But they did understand correctly, that as it had done habitually since the end of World War II and even before, American Anti-Russian propaganda was busy spreading “false news”.  It was the absolute untruth of what was being said that infuriated Russians young and old.

This “war” on the one hand, had been a long time coming; its origins could be said to reach at least as far back as 1989 when the Georgians took to the streets to demand their own independence from the U.S.S.R.   April 9th, 1989 was in its fearless ferocity, the height of the people’s protests in Tbilisi, Georgia, demanding their freedom from the Soviet Union.  In response, The Russian Soviet Interior Ministry sent in soldiers to quell the resistance.  As a result, 20 people were killed, and hundreds injured or poisoned by gas.  It was, without question, an omen of things to come.  Soon many more of the countries that had been fused to the Soviet Union, arose, met resistance by the Russian forces, and, by not backing down or giving way, finally won their independence.

Yet it was the very idea of an “independent” Georgia that frightened the people of Abkhazia and Ossetia and so made them reach out to Russia for protection.  The people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are an ethno-cultural minority amongst the Georgian Majority, and so felt that as the political “other” of the country, no good could come to them from Georgian independence. As it turned out, they were quite right to feel afraid.  Russia responded by putting a protective arm around the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Looked at from this perspective, Russia’s protection of the civil rights of the non-Georgian people of those two independent provinces was a noble gesture.

As the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had anticipated,between 1991 and 1992, themselves tumultuous years during which the Soviet Union collapsed, and the economic stability of the country was destroyed, a program of ethnic cleansing was undertaken by both sides, with Georgian houses being burned and looted by Ossetins and Georgians in turn, looting and burning down entire Ossetian villages. One thousand lives were lost in the process.  The Russians had no choice but to station peacekeeping troops there.  Years later, in 2008, Saakashvili, encouraged by an America anxious to weaken Russia and damage its image in the eyes of the world, targeted the provinces yet again.  He apparently was led to believe that the Russians would not come to the aid of South Ossetia.  He discovered how wrong he was when the Kremlin reacted swiftly.

In 2009 the truth came out in a European Union-sponsored report that it was Georgia that had invaded South Ossetia.  It was not at all the case, as Saakashvili had asserted, and probably was told to assert, that Tbilisi had merely pushed back against a Russian invasion.  This week the US Mission to the OSCE and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs used their Twitter accounts to promote the “Russia invaded” Georgia myth.  Also, some individual journalists indulged in disinformation, notably Simon Ostrovsky of Coda Story which has ties to Tbilisi.  However, what was truly amazing was when on the 7th of this month, Saakashvili himself published an article in the Wall Street Journal titled: “When Russia Invaded Georgia: It happened in 2008 and foretold a decade of Putin’s adventurism.”

Several years later I would return to America to visit my family.  I invited two of my Russian friends to join me.  I would take them on an American journey, from the delights of New York City, through Liberty Bell Philadelphia, along the Atlantic coast down to Disneyland in Orlando, Florida.   It rained and rained and rained until we hit somewhere in North Carolina.  We stopped in a small rural town to get gas.  One of my companions, a young and attractive Russian woman, caught the eye of the young man who was pumping gas and he began to chat with her.  “Where ya’ll from?” he asked her, and she answered in perfect barely accented English, “I am from Moscow, Russia.”  He stared at her.  “Where?”  and she answered him again, this time her Russian pride shaping her answer, she said in a proper Russian accent: “Moskva, Rossia.”   He stared again.  “That’s up near Albany isn’t it.”  She just looked at him.

Mary Metzger is a 72 year old retired teacher who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. She studied Women’s Studies under Barbara Eherenreich and Deidre English at S.U.N.Y. Old Westerbury. She did her graduate work at New York University under Bertell Ollman where she studied Marx, Hegel and the Dialectic. She went on to teach at Kean University, Rutgers University, N.Y.U., and most recenly, at The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology where she taught the Philosophy of Science. Her particular area of interest is the dialectic of nature, and she is currently working on a history of the dialectic. She is the mother of three, the gradmother of five, and the great grandmother of 2.


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