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Violence at anti-homophobia rally

By Messenger Staff
Monday, May 20
One of the cardinal rules of democracy is freedom of expression. Most paragraphs of the Georgian state constitution, as well as national legislation are written in compliance with the best standards of the European countries.

For the second year in a row, a small group of people tried to mark the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17 in the capital Tbilisi and failed. This time the results were more violent. Instead of demonstrating the country’s commitment to anti-homophobia, it was proved how the country is not ready. Unfortunately for Georgia, the rally for freedom of expression turned into an event that targeted the very freedom the country aims to preserve.

The announced rally was met in Tbilisi by an angry crowd comprised of several thousand people who prevented the small rally from being held. They accomplished this by brutally attacking the LGBT community members not allowing them to express their position anywhere in the center of the city.

The violence began mid-day on May 17 and lasted for a couple of hours. It eventually resulted in 28 people being injured luckily without any fatalities. Most injuries were caused by stones thrown by the furious mob in the direction of LGBT members. Up to 17 people lay in hospital beds including a police officer and a journalist because of the mob violence.

The police, who were ill-prepared and not donning the proper riot gear for such an angry crowd, did its best to stop the confrontation. There were 2, 000 police officers mobilized, but they could not resist the pressure from the many thousands of people and could do little to stop the angry frenzy. Georgian officials, politicians, government members and ordinary citizens expressed their regret for this fact. We have yet to hear any substantive condemnation from church officials however.

The event provides a lot of ground for reflection and speculation. It also raises many questions. Was it possible to avoid the confrontation? Some people cited the timing of the event, as just a couple days prior to the rally three Georgian servicemen were killed in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, and on the 16th of May, a Day of Mourning was announced to commemorate Georgia’s fallen soldiers, while the very next day, Georgian citizens with non-traditional sexual orientations were understood by the Orthodox Church to be a disrespect towards their faith.

Some say that this fact provided the event with a dramatic edge. Another tragic event was the shameful involvement of clergy in the homophobic attack. As eye-witnesses confirm, some of the clergy members were particularly aggressive– both verbally and physically.

Now that the dramatic events are over, it is time for the entire Georgian population to think it over. Opinions differ. Some consider the LGBT movement as totally unacceptable for Georgia. Others think that they have legal rights and constitutional guarantees; while the rest think they can do whatever they want in privacy, so long as they do not spread their sexual “propaganda” among society.

All the sides engaged in Friday’s events admitted it taught a good lesson to the country… Some people think that this was a deliberately staged provocation initiated by the former ruling United National Movement (UNM). However, its members as well as LGBT representatives deny any kind of cooperation. In particular, it is well remembered that the same day last year LGBT members were also attacked by representatives of radical Christian organizations in Georgia, although on a lesser scale.

So many questions remain which cannot be answered on the spot. There is public demand to reveal and punish the most aggressive representatives of the crowd and thus to prove the country’s commitment towards its democratic development. However, the prosecution of clergy members is highly unlikely.