The main event of Tbilisi Pride, which was scheduled for July 9, has been cancelled yet again after a large crowd of anti-LGBT protesters descending upon the venue and threatened violence.
The march took place in a field far from the city centre, after the Tbilisi Pride organisers request to hold it on Rustaveli Avenue, the main road in the capital, was rejected by the city authorities.
Police at the scene previously promised to protect the controversial event, but after the anti-LGBT crowds arrived they claimed they couldn’t guarantee the safety of the gay rights activists.
Tbilisi Pride organisers have accused the police of co-operating with the anti-gay protests as well as with Russia-based organisations. Photos from the scene of the clash show officers mingling with the protesters as they arrived and began vandalising the site.
The threats of violence are serious and previous attempts to hold the parade have ended in altercations and hospitalisations. During the 2021 event held in the city centre a journalist lost his life when a far-right group attacked both attendees and media outlets covering the Pride march. There was no attempt to hold a Pride march in 2022 due to the pandemic.
Anti-LGBT sentiments are prevalent in conservative Georgia, and it is widely anticipated that the government will make another attempt to introduce a law similar to Russia’s “LGBT propaganda” law ahead of next year’s elections.
This year, the Georgian Patriarchate has also leant his authority to adoption of laws to limit gay rights, echoing Russia’s legislation. The Georgian parliament also recently made an effort to pass a law on “foreign agents“, granting increased control over the media, mirroring a similar law in Russia. The bill passed its first reading but was withdrawn after several days of violent protests outside the parliament building.
In a joint statement regarding LGBT week in Georgia, the Patriarchate and representatives of various religions operating in the country said: “We do not resolve issues with each other through violence, nor do we ever call anyone to violence, and we have a sincere desire that no one, through violence, cunning and deception, force upon us what is unacceptable to us,” the Patriarchate and the representative of various religions operating in Georgia said in a joint statement in connection with the LGBT week in Georgia.
According to the church authorities, “the goal of the so-called LGBT movement is to promote a perverted lifestyle, including propaganda among the teenage generation, registering same-sex couples as families, adopting children and generally changing the cultural code.”
The Patriarchate and representatives of various religions operating in Georgia believe that this issue causes extreme polarisation, therefore they consider it appropriate to regulate it by legislation.
“We were compelled to cancel the Pride Fest and evacuate the Fest territory. The Ministry of Interior of Georgia once again neglected to protect us from violent far-right groups and allowed the mobs to prevent us from exercising our freedom of expression & assembly even in private settings,” the Tbilisi Pride leadership said on its official twitter channel.
“We believe that the negligence of the MIA to protect Pride Fest was a result of prior and pre-arranged co-ordination and orchestration between the gov’t and Russia-affiliated far-right group Alt-Info… Even though the MIA officially gave us safety & protection guarantees prior to the Fest, non-performance of their positive obligation today signals that democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Georgia are under threat,” they added.
Despite its reluctance to introduce EU-style “values-based” legislation, Georgia still aspires to join the European Union.
Following the cancellation of the Pride Fest and evacuation of the festival grounds, Tbilisi Pride leadership expressed disappointment in the Ministry of Interior of Georgia for failing to protect them from violent far-right groups. They suspect pre-arranged coordination between the government and the Russia-affiliated far-right group Alt-Info. The leadership also claimed that the Ministry had given them assurances of safety and protection prior to the festival, but their failure to fulfil their obligations indicates a threat to democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Georgia.
Long history of violence
Attempts to hold Pride marches in Georgia have a history of violent clashes between pro-LGBT activists and the conservative majority, who actively oppose these events. The 2021 attack on Tbilisi Pride saw far-right protesters engage in a violent counter-demonstration, resulting in attacks on journalists and the cancellation of the Pride parade after multiple location changes.
In 2021, a protest in support of Tbilisi Pride provoked further violent counter-protests by groups claiming to defend Christianity and Georgian values. Up to 30 conservative and Christian organisations gathered at Hotel Gino Wellness in Mtskheta and announced an agreement to mobilise against the Pride march and block Rustaveli Avenue.
Several embassies, including those of the European Union, United Kingdom and United States, called upon the Georgian government to allow activists to carry out the planned Pride Week activities.
Georgia’s poor history in promoting gay rights stands in contrast to the rest of Emerging Europe, where Pride marches have grown and are more widely accepted in recent years. North Macedonia saw its first Pride in 2019 and the last Pride in Kyiv was the biggest and most successful ever, after years of similar scene of violence. But while the rainbow flag now flies across almost all of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), attitudes to LGBT continue to vary vastly from country to country and a deep values fault line continues to separate Emerging Europe from the more tolerant European Union.