Georgia's capital Tbilisi was to hold a March of Dignity on July 5, organized as part of this year's Pride Week, but the march was canceled amid violent attacks by anti-LGBTQ protestors. At least 50 journalists were battered and a violent mob stormed and ransacked the offices of the march's organizers — Tbilisi Pride and Shame Movement, a liberal activists group.
One video showed mobs climbing onto the Tbilisi Pride office's balcony, and then tearing down and burning the Pride flag hanging outside. At least one tourist was hospitalized as mobsters took him for a gay man. In their statement, the march's organizers, Tbilisi Pride, condemned the attacks and the local authorities’ inaction. “On behalf of Tbilisi Pride, we would like to announce that the March of Dignity for solidarity will not be made today. Not only the government didn't ensure the security of queer [sic] community and our supporters, but with their activities they interfered with our right to the freedom of assembly,” read the statement. Later that day, the Ministry of the Interior of Georgia vowed to investigate the attacks against Tbilisi Pride and Shame Movement offices.
Tbilisi Pride’s full statement on the cancellation of the ‘March of Dignity’. Translation by OC Media. #TbilisiPride2021
— OC Media (@OCMediaorg) July 5, 2021
Just one day before the march, the organizers wrote in a Facebook post, “We believe that together we are making history, taking crucial steps towards building a state where human rights are protected and people have equal opportunities.” But the evidence of violence the following day, showed a different story in Georgia, one marred by hate and intolerance.
Violent groups storming the office of Tbilisi Pride, breaking windows and equipment of the members. They announced they will set office to fire. We call on police to react in correspondence with law and arrest violent groups. #TbilisiPride21 pic.twitter.com/sGPcLIy7kN
— Tbilisi Pride (@TbilisiPride) July 5, 2021
The demonstrators attacked journalists accusing them of “promoting the ideas of the LGBT community.” One journalist was reportedly dragged around by a priest. According to reporting by OC Media, the main organizer of the anti-Pride protests was the Georgian Orthodox Church whose priests were visible during the protests and at least on one occasion appeared to engage in an attack on a journalist.
Chilling photos! Georgian journalist Rati Tsverava, harassed and beaten by homophobic mob, being dragged around by priests in #Tbilisi streets. Dozen more journalists violently attacked as police stands by. Gov wont deploy enough police #TbilisiPride #Georgia pic.twitter.com/jpiJzLwTRv
— Dato Parulava (@dato_parulava) July 5, 2021
According to Civil.ge, one priest while addressing the crowd on July 5 encouraged violence “for the sake of homeland”:
“You are obliged to use violence for the sake of homeland, the country, the sacred,” a priest addressed far-right homophobic crowds earlier today.
Orthodox Church Patriarchate said it distances itself from statements calling for violence. #TbilisiPride #LGBTQ pic.twitter.com/KqaQpbGIpL
— Civil.ge (@CivilGe) July 5, 2021
The Shame Movement, a Georgian activist group hosting the Tbilisi Pride organizers were forced to evacuate from their office due to the violence, according to Amnesty International.
The attacks were widely condemned by international organizations and European leaders.
?? #Georgia: We condemn threats and assaults at #TbilisiPride2021 venues on journalists & organizers. We call on Georgia to protect participants in peaceful assemblies, and to investigate violence & discrimination against #LGBTI people. Those responsible must be held accountable. pic.twitter.com/BWj4bw6OF5
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) July 5, 2021
ODIHR is concerned by today's violence in Tbilisi as well as the cancellation of the planned peaceful gathering. Each of these targeted attacks against activists, journalists, and their property must be swiftly and thoroughly investigated #FreedomOfAssembly #TbilisiPride2021
— OSCE/ODIHR (@osce_odihr) July 5, 2021
Belgium firmly condemns today's violent attacks against LGBTIQ civic activists, community members and journalists. #TbilisiPride2021
This is an attack against human rights and freedom of expression.
Georgian authorities must prosecute the perpetrators of those attacks. pic.twitter.com/iPuHtexLux
— ?? Belgium MFA ? (@BelgiumMFA) July 5, 2021
Numerous foreign embassies in Georgia issued a joint statement condemning the attacks. “We condemn today’s violent attacks on the civic activists, community members and journalists, as well as the failure of the government leaders and religious officials to condemn this violence. Participation in peaceful gatherings is a human right guaranteed by Georgia’s Constitution. Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” read the statement signed by some twenty embassies and delegations.
Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev, said, “Instead of planning for this turn of events and providing a robust response to violence, the government deployed inadequately small numbers of policemen who were only reacting to violent attacks, rather than providing an organized protection for LGBTI activists.” In an interview with CNN International, Giorgi Tabagari, the director of Tbilisi Pride said, the team had to change locations multiple times throughout the day due to threats highlighting once again, “complete failure of the state.”
According to Georgia's Prime Minister, the organizers of the march were to blame for the violence. Speaking at a government meeting, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said, it was “unreasonable” for the organizers to march in a public space which could trigger “civil confrontation” at a time when the majority of the population finds LGBTQ identities “unacceptable.”
The PM also accused former president and his United National Movement Mikheil Saakashvili of organizing the march in order to sow “unrest” in Georgian society according to reporting by Civil.ge. Earlier, the Interior Ministry warned the campaigners not to participate in the march, in a statement “due to the scale of counter-manifestations planned by the opposing groups.”
Tbilisi Pride Week began on July 2, with the closed screening of a documentary film about the 2019 Pride march that was canceled after the local police refused to provide protection. The film, “March for Dignity” was attended by diplomats and local civil society groups. Anti-pride protesters gathered outside the screening venue while police reportedly arrested some twenty people who attempted to disrupt the event. This year's March for Dignity was to be the culmination of the week-long series of events planned to celebrate Pride 2021.
In the end, it was anything but a celebration. As the organizers of the march, said in their statement, the violence observed on July 5, was a “war declared against civil society and democratic values and the European course of the country.”