Far-right violence forces the cancellation of the LGTBI Pride march in Georgia

The headquarters of the organization putting together the celebrations has been assaulted and about fifty journalists have suffered aggressions

4 min
Anti-LGTBI demonstrators protesting against the celebration of the March of Dignity in Tbilisi on Monday

SabadellThe capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, was set to host this Monday for the first time an LGTBI Pride march. But, finally, the organizers of the event have canceled it as a result of violent protests by far-right groups (who have assaulted the headquarters of the entity and have assaulted journalists) and after finding that the government, security forces and the influential Georgian Orthodox Church had turned their backs on them.

The March of Dignity, which was conceived as the culmination of five days of events to demand the rights of the LGTBI collective, was supposed to go through the center of Tbilisi from 6 pm, but in the morning many groups of demonstrators, including priests, have occupied the area. Most of them gathered around the Parliament, next to the Church of St. George, where the Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church had called a counter-demonstration at 5pm to "show the world" that "any attempt to degenerate" the Georgian population is "unacceptable" for the religious institution.

Some of these counter-demonstrators assaulted journalists who were trying to cover the March of Dignity. At least 48 workers from various media outlets have been attacked, according to a tally by the portal MediaChecker and at least four had to be hospitalized, according to Efe. Some have had their cameras or other equipment broken. A video posted on social media shows a man on a motorcycle intentionally ramming a group of reporters.

At noon, a large number of anti-LGTBI protesters gathered in front of the headquarters of Tbilisi Pride, the entity that had called the march, and some of them have climbed over the wall to the balcony, where they have torn the rainbow flags to the applause and cheers of those watching from the street.

They then entered the offices and smashed them, as evidenced by a video posted on Twitter by Tbilisi Pride co-founder Tamaz Sozashvili. According to several media platforms, the police were present in the area while this was happening, but did nothing to prevent it.

Before these events took place, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili had called on the organisers to call off the Dignity March, an event he described as "unreasonable" and which, in his opinion, could lead to clashes, because the majority of Georgians did not find it acceptable. For its part, the Interior Ministry has warned that holding the march involved "risks to the safety of the people involved". "We make a new public appeal to the participants of Tbilisi Pride to refrain from holding the March of Dignity in a public space, due to the scale of counter-demonstrations planned by opposition groups", the ministry added in a statement. Later, in a second note, the Interior condemned the violent acts and announced that investigations had been opened.

The patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church also took a stand, calling for a halt to violent attitudes, although it pointed to homosexuality as "a sin that is unequivocally unacceptable for Christian teachings" and that "spreads immorality".

Denouncing government "inaction"

In this context, Tbilisi Pride announced at 3pm the cancellation of the March of Dignity. "We cannot go out on a street filled with a violence that has the support of the government, the patriarchy and the pro-Russian forces", said the organizers of the event. In a statement, they denounced "the declared war on civil society, democratic values and the European course of the country" and "the shameful, cruel and anti-Western statements of the Prime Minister", who "has shifted the blame and responsibility for the attacks to the activists". The organization stresses that the attacks on its headquarters and journalists have taken place "in the presence of the police" and therefore claims that "the huge wave of hatred" that could be seen on Monday in Tbilisi "is inspired by and supported by the government and the police".

Anti-LGTBI protesters dancing in front of the Georgian Parliament after the announcement of the cancellation of the Dignity March

The LGTBI community has received the support of the Georgian president, Salome Zurabishvili, who has denounced the acts of violence on Monday and stressed that members of this group have the same rights as any other citizen, a fact that he considers "very important for the country and for its unity".

For their part, the embassies of 18 countries (including 14 member states of the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States) have issued a joint statement "condemning" the violent attacks against "civic activists and journalists", as well as "the lack of condemnation of this violence by government and religious leaders". "We call on Georgian leaders and law enforcement to act swiftly to protect those exercising their constitutional rights and freedom of expression and assembly, to protect journalists exercising freedom of the press, and to publicly condemn the violence", the statement concluded.

According to the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), Georgia ranks 32nd among 49 European countries in terms of protecting the rights of the LGTBI community. A constitutional amendment was passed in 2018 to include homosexuality in the definition of marriage, and that same year a Pew Research Center poll indicated that 94% of Georgians aged 18-34 were against legalizing same-sex marriages. The following year Tbilisi Pride tried to hold a Pride march, but it was cancelled for security reasons.