The Weekend Protest Summarized

Like something out of a movie, on Friday night armed police, geared up with machine guns, cordoned off the Tbilisi streets around Dinamo Stadium and on Rustaveli Avenue as two renowned nightclubs were raided in the search for drug dealers.

The raid was said to have been connected to five drug deaths which occurred within the last two weeks, causing an outcry among many opponents of the Tbilisi nightlife scene. Although the government has a zero-tolerance drug policy, places like Bassiani and Café Gallery are considered safe spots for minor drug consumption. The reputation of both nightclubs goes beyond Georgian borders, as both host international guests and artists on a regular basis.

"The Ministry has been conducting intensive investigative measures for the last three months in order to establish the facts of drug trading in the Bassiani and Cafe Gallery nightclubs," the Interior Ministry said in a statement published by justifying the actions.

During the raid, nightclub lovers protested in front of police and took video recordings to document their behavior. According to protestors, the police used disproportionate force.

Besides arresting eight alleged drug dealers, the police detained several protesters before the crowd moved from the clubs to the traditional Tbilisi “protest point” outside the old parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue.

Their protest continued again the next day, starting at 3 PM, with a variety of speakers taking to the makeshift stage to voice their concerns, demands and anger.

With the amount of people increasing, the police gave way so the protesters could occupy one side of the Avenue, turning it into a one-way street and sending most traffic via the embankment. The riot police were then called in to stand close to Kashueti Church in case the rally turned violent.

Beka Tsikarishvili, standing firm as a representative of the White Noise Movement, addressed the people. “Last night the government repeated what the previous government did. This is a blow to Georgian democracy,” he said, going on to demand answers from the government, and from Prime Minister Kvirikashvili and Minister of Internal Affairs Giorgi Gakharia, in particular.

Giving them until 10PM, DJs were called in and those gathered began to dance to electronic music.

Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze addressed protesters from City Hall.

“My sisters, brothers and my friends, I am offering you the chance to stand together against the drug trade and drug dealers, in coordination with the respective agencies," Kaladze said. "All of this seriously harms the club scene. Young people, our children, brothers, sisters and fellow citizens are dying. I am convinced that the youth rallying outside old parliament can stand side-by-side with us and together we will be able to put a stop to drug trafficking."

"We are not defending or supporting drug dealers," one protestor told GEORGIA TODAY. "We are protesting the show the government staged as an act of demonstration of power, an act against Kaladze and his night economy project, an act of moving the attention from the core of the problem to a minor one. If they had acted sooner to prevent the drug dealing, they could have saved lives."

The protests continued on Sunday. In the afternoon, Giorgi Chelidze, the leader of the Georgian National Unity, joined by numerous ultra-nationalists in a counter-rally, announced plans to attack the protesters outside the parliament building, saying the majority of them were “drug-addicts, LGBT supporters and Soros-founded NGOs,” and demanding the “introduction of a death penalty for drug dealers.”

In response, police were called in from around the city and from as far away as Gori. Dressed in riot gear, the formed barricades around the White Noise Movement and its gathered supporters- rows of police officers, in places 12 deep, blocking all access to the parliament building and its surroundings. Buses blocked Rustaveli Avenue to either side of parliament, holding back the ultra-nationalists as they fought to push into the area.

“Everyone has the right to express their position, but it should not be followed by any confrontation or hatred due to different viewpoints,” Prime Minister Kvirikashvili said in a televised address, again calling on the demonstrators to jointly fight drug problems in the country.

Head of the NGO White Noise Movement, Beka Tsikarishvili, said the response “was not good enough” and soon after, Vice-Premier and Interior Minister of Georgia, Giorgi Gakharia appeared on Rustaveli Avenue to talk to him alongside Human Rights Defender , Vakhushti Menabde.

Promises were made to meet on Monday to begin to find a compromise for revamping drug laws in Georgia.

Gakharia and Mayor Kaladze then addressed the ultra-nationalist group in person, asking them to leave and not to incite violence, but were shouted away. Several of the group were arrested for using force against police officers.

Beka Tsikarishvili then called off the main protest and police helped to remove the protesters from the site on escorted buses to protect them from the aggressive ultra-nationalist crowd.

"First of all, we should agree on a format. We must also select a team to negotiate on our behalf. We need specific people to have the legitimacy to speak for the community. This is important to get the trust of society," Tsikarishvili explained when asked about the goal of the next day’s negotiations. "We’ve already made a serious compromise to avoid an escalation, but we cannot compromise on anything else. I think it was the right decision to stop the protest. I couldn’t allow a confrontation," he said.

President Margvelashvili complained that the situation had escalated so much and so quickly, and slammed the fact it had moved to the point of civil confrontation.

“This weekend, we saw the complete collapse of political and administrative actions and a series of mistakes starting with a raid and followed by subsequent developments. How could they manage to arrive at such a zenith of civil confrontation in a few hours? This question requires a direct answer,” Margvelashvili stated.

On Monday morning, representatives of the NGO White Noise Movement met with officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Unless a compromise is found, Tsikarishvili says they will hold another protest on Saturday.

By The GT Team

14 May 2018 20:18