Tbilisi Pride: “I’m Worried People Might Die”

With the first ever Pride taking place in Tbilisi this week, reactions from both the government, right-wing groups and Church have revealed a dark underbelly and readiness for violence in Georgia.

On 15 June, businessman Levan Vesadze, who is known for his extreme hate speech and pro-Russian views, recorded a video address calling on “real” men to create a “people’s legion” to patrol Tbilisi’s streets.

“We will not allow the LGBT activists to hold any public action, wherever this happens, in movie theaters, in parks, in the streets, in the mountains or at the lakes,” he said in his video address on June 15. “We will come to you everywhere, we will break through any cordon and we will overwhelm you.”

The threat of violence is very real. “I’m worried people might die,” one member of the LGBTQI community told GEORGIA TODAY.

On Wednesday, Tbilisi Pride organizers evacuated their office following death threats received online. Two Pride organizers posted screenshots of messages they received on Facebook.

‘You are still holding pride right? I know where your office is and where your home is. I’ll cut your head off and become a hero!’ posted Giorgi Tabagari, one of the organizers.

Tamaz Sozashvili also received a message saying, ‘Tamaz you will die, they’ll find you dead in the night.’

The threat of violence has become a bargaining tool for far-right groups. Vasadze cancelled the “patrols” in Tbilisi after the Interior Ministry promised to prevent Pride from taking place.

Indeed, the Interior Ministry continues to push activists to cancel Pride because they cannot guarantee the safety of its participants.

Nonetheless, the Pride team has insisted that the event will be held. In a statement released on June 18, the team accused the government of being ‘inadequate and ineffective against hate groups’.

‘The government has once against shown that there is no political will and long-term vision that indicates a desire to eradicate hatred and push systematic reforms in the country,’ read the statement.

Georgia has a poor track record of protecting the rights of its LGBTQI community. Previous LGBTQI protests have ended violently: in 2013, thousands of counter-demonstrators clashed with a small peaceful LGBTQI demonstration on May 17. The Church has since declared May 17 a “Family Purity Day.”

An influential force in Georgia, the Orthodox Church is playing a large role in attempting to prevent Pride, as in the past. Vasadze’s comments came after the Church released a statement saying that Pride was “unacceptable” in Georgia and calling on the authorities to prevent it from happening.

Many priests also attended Vasadze’s gathering, undeterred by his hateful speech and violent threats.

Despite these intimidations, activists are determined to go ahead with the planned events and march on Sunday. The first Pride event, a performance of Franz Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ already took place on Wednesday.

Speaking to journalists on 19 June, organizer Nino Bolkvadze said: “We want to warn everybody who is going to participate in the public march, that there are some risks and they have to decide whether they are ready to take part in the events.”

In an interview with GEORGIA TODAY in February, organizer Tabagari said, “we’re going to stay strong and united.” In the face of violence, they have done just that.

By Amy Jones

Image source - Tbilisi Pride

20 June 2019 18:20