TBILISI, Republic of Georgia – More than 2,000 anti-LGBTQ+ protesters violently disrupted the LGBTQ+ Pride festival in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Saturday, clashing with police and destroying rainbow flags, signs, festival banners and placards, as President Salome said Zurabishvili described it as “a disgrace for a country that has for centuries considered tolerance as its identity.”
Russian freelance journalist Sergei Dimitrov called The Blade from Tbilisi late Saturday afternoon and said the vast majority of anti-LGBTQ+ nationalists he spoke to claimed to be a member of the Alt-Info group.
The right-wing, anti-Western group rose to prominence last year by leading anti-queer pogroms in Georgia in 2022 and was registered by the National Public Registry Agency on December 7, 2021 as a political party with a pro-Russian sentiment. partly due to Putin’s war against Ukraine, as noted by Dimitrov.
According to a Tbilisi Pride spokesman, the group and the Pride participants had to leave the venue. The group posted a warning on social media: “Please do not come to the festival site!” We had to be evacuated. The Interior Ministry could not guarantee the security of the festival. “The group found that the police failed to protect the event, forcing the evacuation, which was carried out by buses and taxis.
Speaking to reporters, Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze noted that despite police efforts, the protesters “managed to find ways to get into the venue, but we were able to evacuate the Pride participants and organizers,” he said .
“No one was injured in the incident and police are now taking action to stabilize the situation.”
Tbilisi Pride later blamed the Interior Ministry, citing public statements by nationalist extremists suggesting that the attack had been previously coordinated and agreed between the Interior Ministry and Alt-info.
Dimitrov told Blade that another alt-info leader, Shota Martynenko, told reporters in attendance ahead of the event, “Our plan is simple: under no circumstances will they be allowed to hold the festival.” Now the roads will be closed and besieged the area. Whatever resistance we encounter on the ground, we will respond accordingly.”
Georgian news service JAM News, covering the Caucasus: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and other parts of the Caucasus region, had reported that in June 2022, the Georgian Interior Ministry arrested 26 members of Alt-Info, including their leaders Zurab Makharadze and Irakli Martynenko as well Guram and Alexander Palavandishvili. This detention came as a precautionary measure to prevent violence by the group during the LGBTQ+ Pride festival week organized by Tbilisi Pride, which ended on July 2 last year.
Mariam Kvaratskhelia, the director of Tbilisi Pride, told reporters that in the week leading up to Saturday’s Pride events, Alt-Info and other groups made public statements and social media posts to address violence against LGBTQ+ activists and their organization incite, and that the police and the ministry The interior minister declined to investigate.
“I definitely think this (disruption) was a pre-planned, coordinated action between the government and the radical groups. “We believe this operation was planned to sabotage Georgia’s EU candidacy,” she said.
“People were not given the opportunity to hold their own event in an enclosed space that had been planned in advance and agreed with law enforcement officials and which law enforcement had promised to protect,” President Salome Zurabishvili said in a press conference after the event cancelled. “I would like to urge the Home Office to actually prevent all acts of violence – that’s their duty and it’s called law enforcement,” she added.
President Zourabichvili later expressed outrage at the Pride’s cancellation on Twitter, and the President also criticized the Interior Ministry for what she described as a failure to protect the event and its attendees.
Today, both the freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed in our constitution were violated!
Law enforcement officials failed to protect the Pride Fest event, did not prevent disruptive actions and, by expelling organizers, resulted in the event being effectively canceled
— Salome Zourabichvili (@Zourabichvili_S) July 8, 2023
The ruling party failed to condemn its own supporters, who openly promote hate speech and incitement to violence
— Salome Zourabichvili (@Zourabichvili_S) July 8, 2023
The ministry blamed the alleged excessive turnout at the anti-LGBT anti-Pride festival rally, which in turn made it difficult for police to effectively control the crowd, leading to the evacuation of festival organizers and participants.
Dimitrov told the Blade that his impression as he witnessed the events was that the police were deliberately holding back from deploying additional officers to fight the far-right. Instead, he noted that the police seemed focused on evacuating the Pride attendees.
Tbilisi Pride released a statement on Saturday’s events:
“Today we clearly saw that the attack on LGBTQ+ activists and on the Tbilisi Pride Festival site was a joint, well-planned operation against human rights and democracy by the Interior Ministry and Alt Info.
Our tax-funded police force “guarding” the festival site assured us that far-right groups could not get close, while media and social media saw footage of cops and violent groups rushing the area unabated.
Alt-Info members got us into trouble and instead of bothering them, the police forced us to leave our premises with prepared transportation.
It is clear from the Home Office statements that they viewed this shameful “evacuation” as a victory, and in fact it was a pre-planned move and proof of their inaction.
The Ministry of Interior and Deputy Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze gave us guarantees of protection during the preparation period, for weeks and even on the festival day, and in return the police allowed Alt-Info members to enter the private, closed area of the festival, attacking civilians and causing irreparable emotional trauma.
The police did not block the road to the festival site to disrupt a violent group; The police did not use appropriate force against the attackers.
The government has not arrested the organizers of the July 5 violence;
The authorities did not arrest the organizers of the July 5 violence even after the July 8 violence was announced;
The government encouraged and supported the violence.
It was an attack on democracy, human rights and innocent people, organized by the Georgian authorities in conjunction with the violent Putin group, which wanted to use constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights.
We hope that all those who do not allow violence and who want democratic and European development of Georgia will condemn the development developed today
Will make a difference and reaffirm solidarity.”
The leadership of the far-right group viewed the eviction and cancellation as a victory. Zurab Makharadze told reporters he counted the incident as a “victory” and said, “The most important thing for our people now is not to be arrested.”
In 2021, then-US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters during a regular press briefing that the situation in the Republic of Georgia was being closely monitored after violent protests erupted against an LGBTQ pride march in which a television cameraman had died.
Protests and violence marked attempts by the LGBTQ+ community to rally for Pride month. The first Tbilisi Pride march was supposed to take place in June 2019, but organizers postponed it due to protests against a Russian MP speaking in the Georgian parliament. A few weeks later, a small Pride demonstration took place.
In early July 2021, a violent mob forced the cancellation of a Pride march that was actually taking place. “They have declared war on civil society, democratic values and the country’s European course,” Tbilisi Pride said in a statement released after the march was officially canceled.
The socially conservative South Caucasus country has enacted anti-discrimination and hate crime laws, but LGBTQ+ rights groups say there is a lack of adequate protection from law enforcement and homophobia remains rife.