The Development of Tbilisi Pride Week: Activists vs Radical Opposition
Pride celebrations in Tbilisi were supposed to take place on July 1-5. However, after violent attacks from the side of far-right groups against the pro-LGBT “For Freedom” demonstration, the LGBT Pride March was cancelled in favour of a silent rally outside the Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue on July 5. Further, it developed into violent far-right protests, a tense standoff that broke the police lines several times and provoked many injuries.
The first day of Pride Week held on July 1, ended with clashes with the police, where 20 people were detained and accused of petty hooliganism and disobedience to the law enforcement agents. Hundreds of members of right-wing groups, as well as the Union of Orthodox Parents, tried to disrupt the closed screening of the March of Honor documentary about the problems faced by sexual minorities in Georgia. The visiting guests, including diplomats accredited in Georgia, were insulted and pelted with eggs.
After violent groups opposed the event of five days of LGBT+ Pride, activists called people on July 5 to “come out for solidarity” and protest in silence.
The Georgian far-right groups and those affiliated with the newly founded ultraconservative movement ERI (Unity, Essence, Hope- based on homophobic and xenophobic stance) held a counter-rally on July 5, called March for Dignity. The anti-pride rally organized by them concluded with 20 seriously injured reporters, and at least 53 journalists were verbally and physically assaulted at the hands of violent far-right protesters.
Several journalists’ heads were bruised, some received concussion and eye injuries, others had their teeth knocked out, and numerous bruises on their bodies. Most of them needed hospitalization. As well the equipment of several media outlets was destroyed. As a result, numerous organizations have responded to violence against the media in recent days in Georgia. However, many journalists and media management decided to temporarily suspend its work.
“I decided, despite the huge public interest, to withdraw all the groups and stop covering this abomination, primarily because of the threat to the health and life of my journalists”, Nika Gvaramia, the director of Mtavari said.
“It was not the police who were supposed to stand here, but the special forces. How many journalists got beaten? I watched these people chase journalists to kill them, and there were only a couple of cops. Unfortunately, this day will go down in history as the day when we were persecuted and when the government and the Ministry of Internal Affairs proved incompetent in protecting journalists”, writes Marika Nikuradze, photographer and co-founder of OC Media
The list of injured journalists is extensive, it includes almost all TV channels: Mtavari Arkhi, Formula, TV Pirveli, Rustavi 2, Channel One, Imedi, as well as online news agencies, including Netgazeti, Tabula, On. Ge. , Journalists “Guria News”. This list may not be complete, as journalists are still being attacked by the far-right mobs. Local journalists have claimed they were targeted and deliberately beaten by violent radical groups.
Public Defender of Georgia, Nino Lomjaria, said in a special briefing that the journalists have shown civic heroism and that “journalists are human rights defenders whose heroic work prevented the worst from happening. They also documented the violence”.
The Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who visited one of the injured journalists, said the violence was a “violation of the core fabric of Georgia”.
The radical groups primarily led by Levan Vasadze took down and burnt the European flag outside the Parliament of Georgia. It happened minutes after police allowed them to take over the parliament square after the anti-violence, pro-LGBT+ rally left the scene. Police did not prevent the move, despite being heavily present in the area.
The Interior Ministry said on July 7 the counterprotest “exceeded the limits of the law on freedom and peaceful assembly” and took on a violent form. Of the 100 detainees, law enforcement released 68 on parole, while 32 remain in temporary detention, according to the latest report. Further, the Georgian Interior Ministry launched an investigation into the incident on two counts: obstruction of the work of journalists and violence. With no detentions yet.
Before the break out of the persecution of the media, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili claimed it inappropriate to hold a march on Rustaveli Avenue, arguing that the rally contains the danger of civil unrest. “As you know, holding this rally is unacceptable for the majority of the population”, – said the Head of the Government.
The Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) on June 29 called on members of the European Parliament working group on LGBTQ issues and embassy heads in Georgia “to refrain from supporting and encouraging Tbilisi Pride.” In the same statement, the GOC urged the Georgian government to prevent “the destabilization of the country and of public life.” GOC was accusing the organizers of the nearing Tbilisi Pride of “propagating a non-traditional way of life under the guise of protecting human rights,” the Orthodox Church said the event “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms, and aims to legalize grave sin.”
“Violent far-right crowds supported by (the) Church & emboldened by (an) incredibly irresponsible statement of PM (Garibashvili) gathered in Tbilisi centre to prevent Pride March, attacking journalists & breaking into Pride office,” wrote Giorgi Gogia, who works for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
According to Transparency International Georgia, the state’s response to violence against the media does not stand up to scrutiny, and its inaction further encourages aggressive groups. Several Western embassies in Georgia issued a joint statement condemning the attack and calling on authorities to ensure freedom of expression and assembly. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” the statement said.
One of the beaten journalists – cameraman of the TV Pirveli channel – Aleksandre Lashkarava died on July 11, 2021.
Despite some recent improvements in the legal system, Georgia is considered to be one of the most intolerant countries in the post-Soviet space towards queer people. In a 2019 survey by CRRC Georgia, 87% said they would disapprove of a person like them doing business with a homosexual.