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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

South Ossetia's Battle of Hearts and TV Screens

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The shooting war for control of South Ossetia may have ended more than a decade ago, but the propaganda war has intensified in recent months. Georgia has been stepping up its efforts to win back the tiny region in the shadow of the Caucasus Mountains that wants to break away and join Russia. An alternative government has been established in a Georgian-controlled village just a few kilometers from the separatists' own parliament in the region's capital, Tskhinvali, and some Georgian companies say they are going to start working in the area to show off the benefits of returning to central government control.

Then there's the media offensive. Alania TV, a Tbilisi-based televison channel that is vague about its exact location and ownership, broadcasts what one of its producers calls "positive propaganda" about Georgia into the conflict zone, while portraying the separatist leadership as a gangster cabal. The producer admits that the channel gets some support from the Georgian government as well as from unidentified businessmen, although many believe that officials in Tbilisi are running the show completely.

One of Alania's star news anchors, Vladimir Sanakoyev, is a genial character who enjoys a joke and a glass of wine -- until the subject turns to the South Ossetian separatist leadership. "Criminals," he snarled. Sanakoyev lived in Russia for more than 20 years before returning to his birthplace, Tskhinvali. But he says that after he declared that South Ossetia was part of a Georgian homeland, he was taken from his house at gunpoint and thrown out of the separatist-controlled territory. "I'm still hoping that this is only temporary and that I will be able to return," he said. It's unlikely to happen soon. Sanakoyev has emerged as one of the key figures in Georgia's campaign for control of the region. He was one of the organizers of the alternative election last November and has been appointed information minister in the alternative government.

Sanakoyev said Alania TV is trying to break through what he calls the separatists' "information blockade."

"We're giving people hope things can be solved in a peaceful way, without Kalashnikovs," he insisted.

Not surprisingly, South Ossetian authorities see things a little differently. They say Alania is a negative PR operation run by the Georgian government to discredit the separatist leadership and sow discord in their territory. Meanwhile, viewers of local South Ossetian television are likely to be informed that the real criminal aggressors are the perfidious Georgians. The long struggle for South Ossetia is sometimes described as a frozen conflict, but the television signals coming out of the region suggest that it's starting to heat up.

Matthew Collin is a journalist in Tbilisi.