Four consecutive rallies in Tbilisi – who wants what?
By Levan Abramishvili
Tuesday, July 9
Yesterday, Tbilisi, which is well-acquainted with rallies, saw an unusual number of protests taking place all over the city, all with different agendas and demands.
One of the protests, anti-occupation rally, has been going on for 19 consecutive days, sparked by a Russian MP’s visit at the Georgian Parliament, the protests continued after the night of June 20-21 dispersal. Some of the initial demands of the protests were met, including the resignation of the Chairman of the Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze and announcement that the 2020 parliamentary elections would be heldwith proportional system and‘zero’ threshold. However, the anti-occupation protesters still demand the resignation ofGiorgi Gakharia, the Minister of Internal Affairs, for the dispersal of the protests, dubbed as the ‘Gavrilov night’, after the Russian lawmaker.
The anti-occupation protests were held in front of the Parliament for 18 days, with several tents placed there for people who are on a hunger strike. The 19th day of the protests was scheduled to begin at 7 PM on July 8 at the usual place.
A group of homophobic, ultra-nationalistic, far-right activists gathered in front of the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs early in the morning, to prevent Tbilisi Pride organizers from holding the ‘Dignity March’. Led by well-known radicals like Levan Vasadze and GuramPalavandishvili. After the announcement that Tbilisi Pride yet again postponed the march, the radicals moved their protest in front of the Parliament.
Vasadze and Palavandishvili were joined by other infamous far-right groups, such as Georgian Marchand the Union of Orthodox Parents. Also, on Rustaveli avenue were gathered number of Orthodox clerics, who held a mass prayer with the homophobic protesters.
During the rally, homophobic groups called the anti-occupation protesters ‘drug addicts’, ‘sodomites’ and ‘dirt and garbage’. They remained in front of the Parliament for the whole day, despite the scheduled anti-occupation protest at 7PM.
People protesting Russian occupation gathered near the Freedom Square, where they were planning to march towards the Parliament to continue their protests for the 19th day. Representative of MIA told the protesters that they wouldn’t be able to guarantee their safety if they chose to continue their rally in front of the Parliament building.
Despite the warning, the anti-occupation protesters marched towards the Parliament building, where several buses and police cordon were placed between the two protests.
Organizers of Tbilisi Pride flew a pride flag attached to a drone over the homophobic protests in front of the Parliament. Vasadze and his supporters called this a “clear sign of provocation”.
Meanwhile, the ‘Dignity March’ was held in front of the building of MIA. Hearing about this, homophobic groups led by Vasadze quickly rushed to the location, but by the time they arrived, the March was already over. Some of the clerics and homophobic activists remained in front of the Parliament.
Vasadze and his supporters returned near the Parliament, preventing the anti-occupation rally to take place there. However, when asked if he shared the sentiment of the protesters, he said that he agrees that Russia is an occupier, but doesn’t want Gakharia to resign.
Two of the anti-occupation protesters managed to get on the other side of the police cordon, which resulted in police dragging them out of the scene with force, “to keep order”.
Palavandishvili, one of the leaders of the homophobic rally, said that the protests will continue until the newly-elected Chairperson of the Parliament, ArchilTalakvadze meets them. According to him, they demand the annulment of the anti-discrimination law adopted in 2014.
Vasadze also demanded adoption of the so-called “anti-gay propaganda law”. The law was adopted in Russia in 2013, officially called The Russian federal law "for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values", the law has been criticized by numerous international organizations, including the European Court of Human Rights, which called the law discriminatory, encouraging homophobia. Vasadze mentioning the law is a clear sign for anyone who had any doubts about his connections with Russia that he is indeed associated with Putin and his network.
Two people of the anti-occupation protests were on a hunger strike, remaining in tents in front of the Parliament while the homophobic rally took place there. Anti-occupation protesters demanded from the police to protect the safety of those on hunger strike. According to them, members of the homophobic rally were going up to them, asking if they were really on a hunger strike or not.
Public Defender Nino Lomjaria was present at the consecutive rallies, urging both sides to remain peaceful.
“For the last few days, the events are rapidly developing and the temperature is high. Today, the main task for everyone is to ensure that that there is no violent confrontation between the Georgian citizens, but the risks are very high. I hope that the organizers of the rally will be highly responsible for the situation. It is unfortunate that young people are not allowed to protest where they have been protesting the same issue for the past several weeks. I hope that the situation will calm down soon. The most important thing is to avoid physical confrontation,” said Lomjaria.
Protest in front of Rustavi 2 building also renewed on July 8. Initially, people gathered there to protest the fact that one of the journalists, Giorgi Gabunia insulted Vladimir Putin on live television, cursing him and his deceased parents.
The protesters demanded for Gabunia to leave his job and the management of the channel to change. The protesters were particularly aggressive towards the Rustavi 2 journalists present at the protest. At around midnight, they announced that they would move in front of the Parliament to stand “where whole Georgia stands”, without specifying exactly which protest they were going to join.
As the Public Defender said, the temperature is very high in the country. With the pro-Russian powers getting stronger by the day and the Orthodox Church failing to prevent its clerics from joining hateful protests, it is challenging to uphold the rights of the Georgian citizens.