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The Pankisi Stigma Wins EU Prize For Journalism

Pankisi Gorge
Pankisi Gorge

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Georgian Service journalists Lela Kunchula and Shio Khidasheli won a EU Prize for Journalism in Georgia for their film The Pankisi Stigma in the category “Best Feature Story in Broadcast or Online Media.”

The 20-minute film portrays a community living in the Pankisi Gorge, a rural region about 60 kilometers northeast of Tbilisi, bordering Russia. Residents there, many of whom are a part of Georgia’s Muslim minority, are frustrated with the enduring stigma of terrorism that dates back to the wars in the 1990s between Russia and Chechnya. Because of the stigma, the rugged region has struggled to attract investment or tourism that could bring much-needed economic development.

The Pankisi residents largely believe Russia encourages the stigma as a means of discrediting Georgia. Tensions between the two countries have simmered for centuries, culminating most recently in the Russo-Georgian War in 2008 and Russia’s seizure of territories comprising roughly 20% of Georgian lands. Reports that recruits from the Pankisi Gorge fought with the extremist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have reinforced the region’s lawless image.

Says Natela Zambakhidze, the Georgian Service’s Director, “Russia always tries to portray Pankisi as a home, refuge, or transit for Islamist militants. The film shows ordinary people, who are tired of being called terrorists.”

The European Prize for Journalism was established in 2012 and encourages “professionalism and ethical conduct in Georgian journalism.” In 2018, the prize received a record 151 submissions in English, Georgian, and Russian. All submissions are reviewed by a three-judge panel of experts.

A shorter cut of the piece is also available.

-- Eric Baker