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Lessons Learned From Failed March of Dignity

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Thursday, July 8
The events of July 5-6 in the center of Tbilisi presented a new reality. The Dignity March on Rustaveli Avenue, which was supposed to be the central event of the LGBTQI+ rights week, did not take place. The participants of the well-organized counter protest organized a series of violence in the center of the city - by attacking journalists and taking a sharp anti-Western stance.

Protecting the rights of the LGBT community is considered a weak point in Georgian democracy, and special attention is paid to it by local NGOs, pro-Western political forces, and our Western friends. Holding pride weeks and various public rallies is considered to be an important part of protecting the rights of the LGBTQI+ community. It is no secret that a certain part of the Georgian society (let’s not get into numbers) is against the pride week and public rallies.

This has been going on for years. Free media pays great attention to gay rights and actively supports various events on behalf of the community, but the opponent’s organizing skills aren’t weak either.

The Georgian Patriarchate considers the public speeches of the LGBTQI+ community unacceptable and plans large-scale counter rallies against it. Opponents see the LGBTQI+ community's public speeches as propaganda for such a life, which they say is unacceptable to the Orthodox Church and Georgian national traditions.

The "March of Honor" planned by the LGBT community's human rights organization "Tbilisi Pride" did not take place on July 5, but the organizers postponed it due to the current situation. The contraction was distinguished from such rallies held in previous years by the existence of well-trained and organized radical groups.

The alleged reason for their protest was the potential public rally of the LGBT community, but the radical groups turned their aggression against journalists, smashed equipment and beat more than 50 of them, ransacked the offices of two NGOs, protest tents in front of the parliament building, and dropped the EU flag.

On July 6, when Democratic forces staged a protest in front of parliament, they were surrounded by radical groups. The police did not allow them to disperse the rally this time, but in the end, the radicals considered themselves the winners. The police made sure the pride activists left the place, and in front of the parliament, radicals took the EU flag down.

Georgian media called the groups of people who rallied on Rustaveli Avenue on July 5 and 6 "radical pro-Russian (or pro-Putin) forces." Judging by the results, Russia has done a good job in this direction as well.

Russia can not remove the image of an aggressor in Georgia. The anti-Turkish propaganda, which was supposed to remind Georgians of a historical enemy, did not work.

It was much more effective to discredit the West in presenting it as an enemy of Orthodoxy and national values.

The LGBT community occupies one of the central places in propaganda in this direction. “The EU is to protect the LGBT community. The EU and the West mean the loss of Orthodoxy and national values. Western ambassadors are rudely interfering in the internal affairs of our country,” is the essence of this propaganda.

The EU flag has been raised in front of the parliament building for 17 years and until now, no one had dared to remove it, not even such violent groups.

Statements were made by the free media and the opposition, according to which the government of the Georgian Dream did not act properly to suppress the violent radical groups on July 5 and 6. On July 5, police forces were disproportionately small, on July 6, the number of police officers was much higher, and they were able to protect protesters from violent groups. But the government acts in a completely different way against the actions that it does not like.

Special equipment units, water cannons, gas and rubber bullets were used to disperse peaceful protests outside Gavrilov's night or at the CEC. On July 5 and 6, the government did not resort to such a method, otherwise it would have easily dealt with the ‘violent groups’. Such a ‘limited response’ from the government to radical groups has the opposition thinking that these groups will be nudged and ‘activated’ at the government's convenience. Local self-government elections are approaching, which has the significance of a referendum.

It is possible that violent groups include people who are usually used against the opposition.The Georgian Dream condemned the violence, but to some extent distanced itself from the LGBTQI+ community. This is also a pre-election calculation, because active LGBTQI+ support means losing the support of conservative circles in the society. It seems that the time left before the elections will contain many more surprises.