History

Mechitov and Tsitelashvili Justify Soviet Army Violence in Georgia on April 9 and in Lithuania on January 13 Respectively

13 November, 2018

The interview with Al Jazeera released on November 10, where Yuri Mechitov, Georgian photographer and former deputy minister of culture, speaks about April 9 and the Soviet past has sparked criticism in the country. Mechitov was strongly criticized for his remarks, according to which nobody was killed in Tbilisi deliberately on April 9 and people simply died of asphyxia; he also noted that the organizers “staged a show to receive the result like this.”

Yuri Mechitov: “Protesters were from 13 to 25 mainly, only youngsters. 90 percent never understands, they only gathered because there was some kind of show and they were participants of this show. It was a criminal act for people who organized everything to have the result like this. It was a plan to seize power. Nobody wanted to kill somebody. They all died in a stampede. 20 ladies died due to the asphyxia. They were wounded but there were no killings. What do you have against the Soviet Union? I do not know. People were so happy. I remember with my own eyes. What’s wrong with Russia? We had been two hundred years under Russia and we were a prosperous nation.”

The crimes committed by authoritarian regimes were either denied or justified, and tragic events were trivialized not only in respect of April 9, 1989 developments, but also in respect of January 13, 1991 developments in Lithuania, when the Soviet troops opened fire at Lithuanian protesters. Like Mechitov, Tristan Tsitelashvili, who was accused of spying in favor of Russia during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, claimed in the interview with Georgian tabloid Asaval-Dasavali that on January 13, 1991, fire was opened against Lithuanian not by Soviet troops, but by Audrius Butkevičius, one of the leaders of Lithuanian reform movement "Sąjūdis”.

Disinformation: in 1991 Lithuanians were killed not by soviet troops but by Lithuanians themselves

Georgian tabloid Asaval-Dasavali released an interview with Tristan Tsitelashvili in its May 24-June 4 edition, where the latter states that on January 13, 1991, fire was opened against Lithuanians not by Soviet troops, but by Audrius Butkevičius, one of the leaders of Lithuanian reform movement "Sąjūdis”.

On March 11, 1990, Lithuania declared the restoration of its independence and quit the Soviet Union. A year later, on January 10, 1991, Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev issued an ultimatum to Lithuania on restoration of the Soviet constitution and abolition of anti-constitutional legislation that was rejected by the Lithuanian Parliament led by Vytautas Landsbergis. By January 8-9, several units of Soviet special troops, including a famous anti-terrorist Alpha Group and the paratroopers of the Pskov Air Assault Division, had been thrown to Lithuania. Restoration of the constitutional order was cited as the official reason behind sending military contingent to the country. On January 11, 1991, the Soviet troops seized the Press House building in Vilnius that prompted thousands of unarmed Lithuanians to gather outside the Parliament building and the TV Center in Vilnius and defend their independence. On January 13, at dawn, Soviet troops attacked the TV Center leaving 14 persons dead and about 1 000 injured.

Alexander Nevzorov, the host of the program 600 Seconds aired on the Leningrad TV channel, was the first person to disseminate the disinformation that Soviet troops were not to be blamed for killing the Lithuanians. He covered the January developments in Lithuania. On January 15, Channel One of the central television aired a 15-minute propagandistic film "Nashi” (Ours), where the author portrays Soviet troops as the heroes devoted to their homeland.

According to the film, Soviet troops did not intend to use power. It also emphasizes that the Lithuanian government deceives people when it blames Soviet troops for killing protesters. The journalist claims that those people died from heart attacks as well as in traffic accidents.

About April 9

Like Lithuania two years earlier, Georgia also saw Russian tanks on its soil. On April 9, 1989, the Soviet troops dispersed peaceful protesters on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi, killing 21 people.

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April 9, 1989, soldiers from the Dzerzhinsky Special Purpose Division at Tbilisi State University


Propaganda Methods

Denying crimes committed by authoritarian regimes is the main direction of historical negationism. While certain groups deny mass atrocities and try to erase their traces from history, there are people who do not deny such events but justify them for various reasons. Whataboutism and trivialization are also part of this method.

Whataboutism is a technique which, instead of responding to accusations or complex issues, either makes counter-accusations or move the focus to a different issue, thus trying to shift the attention from the object of criticism and/or justify this object by using inaccurate comparisons and manipulative moral discourse.

Trivialization implies devaluation/diminishing the significance of an occurrence.