Dozens of journalists attacked and injured; a peaceful civil march cancelled under government pressure; offices of a civil society organisation ransacked; outburst of intolerance and homophobia; and a government that at best sat and watched as things unfolded – at worst itself abetted the outrage. This was Tbilisi on 5 July 2021, a day that will be remembered as a day of shame for Georgia.
It all started when a group of gay rights activists announced that they were going to hold a Pride Week in Tbilisi. Right wing political groups, many of them with links to Moscow, as well as the Orthodox Church, and several self-declared vigilante groups decided that the Rainbow flag had no place on Georgian streets. On Monday they showed they were true to their word. Before the participants of the peaceful march had time to even gather, the vigilantes unleashed a savage attack on the journalists that were covering the event. Many were injured, some seriously. They also attacked and ransacked the offices of the local LGBT organisation. The Interior Ministry than announced that the march will not take place.
In a statement announcing the march had been called off, the organisers of Tbilisi Pride accused the government and the Orthodox church of emboldening a "huge wave of hate" against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and failing to protect it.
Earlier, the Georgian government appeared to condone the intolerance against the LGBT community. The prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, said it was inappropriate to hold a Pride march, arguing that it would create confrontation, and that it was "unacceptable for a large segment of the Georgian society." He also claimed that the "radical opposition" led by the United National Movement was behind the march and sought to create "unrest".
There has been widespread condemnation of events in Tbilisi by representatives of the international community, including several European governments. Western diplomats in Tbilisi had been calling for days for the government to protect the right of the LGBT community to hold a Pride March, but it seems these calls went unheeded.
Georgia’s Constitution and laws guarantee the right to equality and dignity, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We support the freedom of all Georgians, including the LGBTQI+ community, to exercise these rights peacefully. pic.twitter.com/byGbXh1uCR— U.S. Embassy Tbilisi (@usingeo) July 5, 2021
Discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal in Georgia, but taking a cue from Russian anti LGBT rhetoric, nationalist and religious groups, many inspired by Moscow, have developed a narrative that LGBT activism was a Western phenomena that has no place in Georgian society. It seems that the Georgian Dream, Georgia’s ruling party, has now also jumped on this bandwagon.
Monday’s incidents have proved that claims by the Georgian government that Georgia is a very tolerant society are very hollow indeed.