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Investigation launches against ultra-conservative millionaire over the illegal formation of ‘legions’ against Tbilisi Pride

By Nika Gamtsemlidze
Tuesday, June 18
Ministry of the Internal Affairs published a statement, saying that investigation was launched on the facts of creation, joining and management of an illegal formation in accordance with Paragraph 1 of Article 223 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which entails “creation or management of illegal formations, or joining and participation in such formations, and/or implementation of other activities in favour of illegal formations” and envisages imprisonment for up to two years. The statement came after the announcement made by a Georgian millionaire Levan Vasadze in Vera Park on June 16.

While activists were gathering in front of the Chancellery of the Government of Georgia on June 14 to protest the statement of the Georgian Patriarchate, asking the officials to prevent the Pride march, several conservative groups also gathered for the counter-protest at the same place.

Levan Vasadze, a Georgian businessman, who also participated in the counter-protest, published a video address, in which he called upon men to join him in the Vera Park to discuss an “action plan.”

As he said, some things need to be done, and they can only “be done by men.” In the video address, he said that no matter where the LGBT community will decide to gather, him and his “team” would track them down.

“In this coming weeks, we will not allow the LGBT activists to stage any public action, we won’t allow the police to cordon them off – wherever this might happen, in the movie theaters, in parks, in the streets, in the mountains or on the lakes, we will track you down everywhere, we will break through any cordon, we will overwhelm you,” noted Vasadze.

At the “Real Men Gathering” held on Sunday, Vasadze announced that he plans to create a legion, which will be “peaceful, without weapons,” but he also said that they would break through any police cordon that might try to get in their way.

He also called on his supporters to use violence and disobedience, if needed. As he says, if the police will decide to create a cordon (between them and the LGBT rights activists), he will break through it with his supporters. Vasadze also threatened LGBT persons. As he says, “if they don’t behave,” members of the legion will “tie their hands,” and “pull their ears.”

At the gathering, Vasadze stated that killing of a member of the LGBT community is being planned and some people are trying to blame members of his team for this. According to him, such provocative actions won’t stop them. “The only way you can stop us is a bullet, use the first one on me,” noted the businessman.

Vasadze threatened not only LGBT members and police, but also diplomatic representatives and foreign tourists. “We will tie the hands of that foolish ambassador, and will take him back to the embassy,” he said, without specifying which ambassador he had in mind.

Vasadze says that he “stands against any violence,” but he knows that “media will blame” them for inciting it. “Take a good look at the Mother of Georgia, she is holding two things in her hands: a bowl of wine, a symbol of hospitality and a sword.” He also noted that there wouldn’t be any swords.

Tina Khidasheli, ex-Minister of Defense of Georgia was one of the first ones who responded to Vasadze’s remarks, saying “If I were a Minister of Interior, I would have arrested Vasadze right there, on the tribune.”

According to her, this is not the first time that “these people attempt to create some informal unions.”

“This is no longer a theoretical and virtual threat; it is a threat that is backed by a millionaire who can fund these groups,” noted Khidasheli.

According to the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Natia Mezvrishvili, the ministry will have a harsh response towards anyone who will try to attack police. “No one can use immunity, especially when we are talking about something illegal,” noted Mezvrishvili.

Several MPs also made comments regarding Vasadze’s actions. Tamar Khulordava, ruling party MP and Chairperson of the Committee on European Integration, said that Vasadze’s statement to create legion “is a criminal action and an extremely dangerous call.”

“This is very sad that both sides are manipulating, and, therefore sacrificing our better future and development. We should think about what is the interest behind all of this, who tries to create tension. The state will not allow any violence,” noted Khulordava.

Dimitri Tskitishvili, another Georgian Dream MP, says that Levan Vasadze’s statements are calling for violence and the state should give an adequate response. “I cannot judge this address in a legal context, appropriate structures should talk about this, but it is a quite dangerous statement,” noted Tskitishvili.

As the Public Defender of Georgia, Nino Lomjaria says, many of the statements that Vasadze made are threatening, and promote violence. According to Lomjaria, it is particularly alarming that these types of illegal acts are aimed at limiting human rights. According to her, Vasadze’s appeal and action plan include signs of a criminal offense.

She also mentioned that the State Security Service of Georgia should also take an interest in the statements made by the businessman. “We saw people who have very close ties with representatives of Russian soft power in Georgia,” noted the Public Defender.

Prime Minister of Georgia, Mamuka Bakhtadze also talked about the matter at a briefing on June 17. According to him, there are other, more important problems in Georgia than human rights, because, as he says, these rights are already protected.

“This may only be in the interest of the forces willing to bring the feeling of disturbance in the society, first of all from Russia, the country that occupies our territories,” noted PM.

Georgian Orthodox church appears to be divided on the issue. Some of the clerics are encouraging churchgoers to join the violent group, while others like Father Isaia, high ranking cleric, says that he is against any violence.

According to the IPN, the registration for the legion was still active as of June 17 in the Vera Park, and anyone willing to be a part of it could sign up.

After Friday’s events, members of the LGBTQ+ community and activists continued negotiations with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to Lomjaria, who attended the meetings, sides talked about the security issues, taking into account the events of the recent days.

As she says, representatives of the Ministry said that “in this case, it is not only about the security of Pride members, but also the well-being of the general society. That’s why they said that Pride should not be held, because it is associated with serious security risks.”

Later yesterday, after the Public Defender announced the position of the Ministry, Vasadze proclaimed that they are “canceling patrolling.” But, according to him, he hopes that “this propaganda will not take place, and if it will, there is only one phone call needed” and they will immediately be “where necessary.”

For this moment, questioning of the people who became part of the legion is underway. Some people have already been questioned regarding Vasadze’s remarks, and a total of 30 people are expected to be questioned.

It remains to be seen where the investigation will lead, while the first-ever Pride week in Georgia is planned to take place on June 18-23 including the ‘Dignity March,’ which became the cause of the controversy.

Levan Vasadze accumulated his wealth mostly in the Russian Federation and has close ties with one of the leading ideologues of Russian anti-Westernism and illiberalism, Alexander Dugin.