EU flags went up in flames in front of the Georgian parliament on Tuesday.
In an apparent outburst of anti-European sentiment, a crowd – mostly older men – tore down an EU flag that was hanging in front of the building in Tbilisi and turned it to ashes
“We openly state that there is a very large part of Georgian society that is against the idea of European integration,” he said Shota MartinenkoSecretary General of the group behind the protest.
“Everyone needs to listen to the voice of this segment.”
But that’s just not true.
According to a. 81% Survey 2022 until National Democratic Institute.
“It was a very staged performance” Tamta Gelashvilia Georgian far-right researcher at the University of Oslo, told Euronews.
“The demonstration was intended to show international society that there are differences of opinion among people about the country’s foreign policy direction.”
“That’s the impression she wants to give, but there really isn’t that diversity of opinion.”
The unruly demo – reportedly “unhindered by the low police presence— was organized by Alt Info, a far-right, pro-Russian, anti-Western group.
“You are a peculiar organism,” Gelashvili said. “They were created in a very artificial way. They didn’t have a large social base. You don’t have a large network. They are not really affiliated with other far-right groups.”
Alt Info started around 2018 as Online News Websitetranslated articles from far-right media outlets like Breitbart and focused on “cultural hotspots” such as migration and gender.
“It was very small then,” Gelashvili told Euronews. “There was no information on the website, so we never knew who was behind this group. We didn’t know anything about her.”
Things have changed in 2021.
Alt Info formed a political party called ‘conservative movement‘, with offices springing up in every corner of the country within a year – something Gelashvili called a ‘dream’ for most parties.
Where the party got the massive financial resources needed for this breakneck expansion is unclear.
Gelashvili pointed to a “suspicious system” whereby money was personally donated by members, although some journalists, when asked about the origin of this money, said it was given to them by the party itself.
“There’s clearly some kind of financial ambiguity going on,” she said. “They have a lot of money, but they don’t really want to disclose where that money comes from.”
“Georgia has no future with the West”
Some in Georgia have speculated that Alt Info is funded by Moscow, although Gelashvili has been more cautious, saying there is “very little evidence” – despite “many suspicions”.
“It certainly plays into Russia’s hands to create this instability and try to reverse our country’s very clear pro-Western stance,” she said, adding that Alt Info was trying to “break a taboo,” a pro- take a Russian stance.
“But I’m always very cautious about saying there are direct financial links. A long-standing problem in Georgian politics is that whenever we don’t like someone, we simply call them pro-Russian.”
Russia maintains significant interests in the tiny Caucasian county that was once part of the USSR. It invaded in 2008 and occupied the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in northern Georgia.
Alt Info members have repeatedly claimed that the West is dragging Georgia into the Ukraine war – a line echoed by Russian state media.
“From a geopolitical point of view, the policy of the European Union and America is to provoke a war between Georgia and Russia and open a second front in order to weaken Russia’s influence in the region and strengthen its own influence,” Alt Info Secretary General said Shota Martinenko wrote in a statement to Euronews.
“Those who want integration with the West are simply victims of the propaganda prepared by the West for their destruction,” he continued. “We’re trying to wake her up.”
Although there is no basis for these claims, Alt Info has picked up on Georgia’s faltering EU ambitions.
In June, Brussels removed the country from the waiting list to join the bloc and granted candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova.
“We do not believe that Georgia’s accession to the European Union is even possible,” said Martinenko. “It is an unfulfilled task and, for geographical and geopolitical reasons, a fairy tale that the West is using to give Georgians hope… and demands that their interests be pursued in return for those hopes.”
Georgia’s EU bid has been dogged by concerns about its political system, which has been plagued by allegations of fraud, intimidation, vote-buying, nepotism and police harassment, as well as allegations that Oligraphs exerts undue influence in politics and the media.
Other questions concern Alt Info’s ties to the ruling Georgian Dream Party, a nominally pro-democracy, pro-European party that came to power in 2012.
In recent years, according to analyst Gelashvili, she has increasingly parroted Kremlin-like messages and has shown “authoritarian tendencies to suppress dissent”.
“There’s a lot of symbiosis between the state and Alt Info, if not direct connections,” she claimed. “Their narratives overlap, suggesting Georgian Dream is using the group strategically to deepen political polarization with their rivals.”
Georgian police have also been accused of complicity with Alt Info.
In 2021, more than 50 journalists and activists were violently attacked by far-right mobs ahead of a planned Pride March in support of the LBGT community.
“In the case of European integration, it is clear that traditional Georgian culture and values are under threat,” said Alt-Info boss Martinenko. “The norms that the European Union strictly demands of our country are totally unacceptable to most of Georgian society: massive LGBT propaganda and attempts to make homosexuality, transgenderism and similar pathological perversions the norm, aggressive feminism and support for liberals immigration policy.”
Human rights – some relating to the rights and status of minorities – are protected by EU treaties, although Brussels does not impose policies on national governments.
“Only a few dozen people pretend to be a movement”
For now, despite the media hype surrounding their protests, Alt Info remains on the political fringes. Last year, their support took a hit after members visited Russia and met with officials amid the Ukraine war.
Their fiery anti-EU march on Tuesday was small, numbering a few hundred. Meanwhile, recent protests against a now-stalled “foreign agents” law – which critics have branded as anti-democratic – have drawn tens of thousands.
Whether they have a political future is unclear.
“The danger comes in a longer term sense,” says Gelashvili. “I don’t see them becoming a powerful political player in elections. But their anti-equality narrative is dangerous…it could affect public opinion and Georgia’s democratization process.”
“The problem is that they have a lot of money and money can buy a lot of things.” I would be very wary of expressing any kind of very strong opinion,” she continued.
“Nobody really knows what they could do.”