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Hammarberg says May 17 a defeat for everyone

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, May 21
"Everyone should have the right to freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to demonstrate, but it goes against the spirit of those rights to use their freedom to stop others from doing the same," said EU Special Representative to Georgia, Thomas Hammarberg, referring to the failed rally organized by Identoba during the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17.

After one more “intense week” in the country, Hammarberg said he was saddened by the developments that “a peaceful demonstration against intolerance could not be held, but was dispersed by other demonstrators who used their right to demonstrate in order to stop the demonstration and expression of opinion by someone else.”

Meeting with the media at the Radisson Hotel on May 20th, the EU special representative said the situation was worsened by the violence used against the original demonstration. “This was not a victory for anyone in the country, it was a defeat,” Hammarberg said, stressing that he will face some difficulties in explaining to the rest of the world how this could have happened in a democratic country. “But I will point out the positive factors as well, because there are some,” he added.

According to Hammarberg the statement of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili was “courageous, principled and very timely.” This showed leadership when it was needed. He welcomed the fact that the parties in the parliament had also discouraged the violence. Hoping that the steps which now will be taken to restore justice will not be politically controversial, Hammarberg also hoped that there will also not be controversy within the rest of the society including the church.

Referring to the statement of Metropolitan Jakob that they will not object to people being brought to justice who used violence, including the priests, Hammarberg expressed his confidence that there will be some discussions about what really happened within the church and it can be avoided in the future. He said during his next visit to Georgia he will also meet with the Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II.

“So this is my reaction to this unfortunate incident and I will do my best to try to explain to the outside world what really happened so that the image that was broadcast all over the Europe and the world about the massive violent demonstration in Tbilisi on May 17 might be better understood and there will be an understanding in what that really means,” EU representative said.

On May 20, Identoba wrote on their webpage “the violation of laws by the counter-protesters of the IDAHO demonstration have not yet been investigated and no counter-protesters as of yet have been arrested. The inactivity of the government encourages further violence and criminal acts.” Stressing that the security of the LGBT individuals is still at high risk in the streets of Tbilisi and other public places. Identoba shared several examples of verbal and physical violence reported by Monday 12 pm from ordinary residents.

Over 3,000 people signed the petition addressing the President, Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Chairman to punish the violators. Claiming that the May 17 confrontation was inspired by the Georgian clergy and their supporters, those who signed the petition said it was not the fight only against the LGBT community, but Georgian statehood as well, because “the extremist group neglected the Georgian constitution and legislation – as the basis of democratic statehood.”

Stressing that the minority is equal to the law, they demanded that every violator is punished to avoid the threat of “religious fundamentalism and theocracy.”

However, another petition was released via the internet demanding the restriction of LGBT activities. According to the statement written by “people who wish for Georgia’s welfare” they demand amending the state constitution in accordance to the will of the Georgian people and not foreigners.

Parliamentary Chairman Davit Usupashvili said on May 20th that the citizens should feel safe and free despite their political views, ethnicity or religious beliefs. “If anyone has violated the law, they will be held responsible for that,” Usupashvili said, stressing that it is impossible to solve problems through violence.

The investigation into the violence of May 17 is underway and the results will become known to the public soon.