Last week, Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet revealed that millions of Swedish taxpayers´ money is going to American organisations to produce radio and TV programs in Georgia. In addition, millions are used to cover salaries and plane tickets between Washington and Tbilisi. This is not the first time that money, labeled as humanitarian aid, is used for causes more than questionable. And even if it reaches it´s original target, it always seems to come with a price.
In the Georgian example, the money is used for EU and NATO propaganda. Three American organisations in Georgia, the National Democratic Institute, the Eurasia Foundation, and daughter organisation of Eurasia Partnership foundation, have received about 12.4 million dollars, which was used to air talk-shows, TV and radio programs and train local journalists on the topic of integration with Europe, joining the EU and NATO membership.
According to the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) aims to help Georgia in three spheres: democracy, human rights and gender equality; environment; and market development. Of course, you might say that joining the EU helps at least market development, which it probably does, and Georgian foreign policy is very much focused on integrating to Europe. Seeing, however, how people in this country, especially in rural areas or regions bordering conflict zones, live, the millions could have been used in a way which actually could bring thousands of people living on or below the poverty line some help.
Another recent example of misusing humanitarian funds is Uganda, where money from USA for HIV-prevention was in reality used by anti-LGBT organisations to push through the anti-gay law, that makes homosexual orientation a crime punishable with lifelong imprisonment. The law was passed in February 2014 and the organisation, Children’s AIDS Fund, is still being funded by the American federal government.
Despite the close involvement of Human Rights Watch and other organisations, money is still being transferred between countries as humanitarian aid, but used for other means. Those mentioned are not the only cases. In addition, accepting monetary help always brings with it some kind of responsibilities or obligations towards its sender, with some kind of price. In mentioned cases, the price of aid is forcing beliefs and ideas upon the receiving country.
The results of different polls conducted in Georgia in 2013 and 2014 show that between 70 and 80 % of Georgians would approve joining the EU. At the same time, only 48 % perceive EU as favourable. This shows that people lack real knowledge about what the EU is and how becoming a member might affect their lives. As joining the union will be voted on by the same people, it is important to give them objective, unbiased information. It is not enough to produce TV- and radio shows that repeat “the European Union is good”. So, the way I see it, the millions are being used for propaganda, not to say brainwashing, and definitely not for the best cause.
The Uganda case is similar. American fundamentalist Christian groups helped funding propaganda against homosexuals. They linked homosexuality with child molestation, pornography and even corruption among opposition parties. As much as it is just spreading the hatred and extremist ideas, it is also used to distract people from real problems that face the country like the oppression of free speech by the autocratic rule or the far-spread corruption, which will keep millions of people living in poverty.
This is how taxpayers money is used. As Europeans, we are all giving to humanitarian causes. It is necessary and most of the time does go to the right place for the right cause. Unfortunately there are also people who take advantage of it and use the funds to satisfy their own thirst for power or to show developing societies “the only right way to live” which undermines the cultures and beliefs of the receiving countries.
But what is the solution? Should we stop giving humanitarian aid? Denying countries with poorer economies of all western help will most likely do more harm than good. With no intention to sound patronising, we are still financing hospitals, educating children, creating jobs and brighter futures. Instead, we should raise our voices to start calling things with their real names and stop supporting organisations with questionable reputation. Propaganda is not integration with Europe, brainwashing is not humanitarian aid and, sometimes, the country we see as poor and undeveloped, doesn’t really need our help at all.
Talvike Mändla is an Estonian graduate with a degree in Special Education. She is currently volunteering on a one-year placement in Zugdidi, Georgia. You can read more of here work on her blog.