‘A huge wave of hate’ Tbilisi Pride calls off ‘March for Dignity’ following violent attacks in Georgia’s capital

Anti-Pride demonstrators outside the Tbilisi Pride office on July 5, 2021Irakli Gedenidze / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

LGBTQ+ activists from Tbilisi Pride were forced to cancel a march planned for the evening of Monday, July 5, following violent attacks by counter demonstrators in the Georgian capital. In addition to physically assaulting journalists who had gathered ahead of the “March for Dignity,” the anti-Pride demonstrators broke into the Tbilisi Pride office and set fire to a rainbow flag. In its statement canceling the march, Tbilisi Pride condemned both the violence and the inaction of the authorities, accusing the government and the Georgian Patriarchate of backing a “huge wave of hate.” Eighteen Western Embassies also issued a joint statement condemning the attacks in Tbilisi, as well as the failure of government and religious leaders to speak out against this violence.

The Georgian civil society group Tbilisi Pride has called off a LGBTQ+ solidarity rally that was set to take place in Georgia’s capital on the evening of Monday, July 5. 

Organized under the slogan “Come out for Solidarity,” the March for Dignity was one of the three main events of the 2021 Pride Week, announced by Tbilisi Pride last month. However, several hours before rally’s start time, hundreds nationalists and other anti-LGBTQ+ campaigners gathered at the planned site of the rally — Tbilisi’s central street, Shota Rustaveli Avenue — in response to calls from the Georgian Patriarchate. 

The demonstrators attacked local journalists who had come to Rustaveli Avenue to cover the planned Pride march. Pelting bottles and stones at media workers, the demonstrators accused the journalists of “promoting the ideas of the LGBT community.” At least one journalist — Ivan Tvaliashvili, a camera operator for the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s First Channel (1TV) — was injured and taken to the hospital. 

Police officers helped evacuate the remaining reporters from the area. But according to RFE/RL’s Georgian Service the police didn’t make any arrests, despite the fact that at least 15 journalists were attacked. 

The mob also stormed and ransacked the Tbilisi Pride office. Several demonstrators scaled the building’s facade and climbed onto the office’s balcony in order to tear down a Pride flag, which they subsequently ripped to pieces and burned. 

Georgian Public Broadcaster
Anti-Pride demonstrators burning a rainbow flag in Tbilisi on July 5, 2021Anti-Pride demonstrators burning a rainbow flag in Tbilisi on July 5, 2021Irakli Gedenidze / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

Tbilisi Pride then released a statement canceling the March for Dignity and condemning what was taking place on the streets of Tbilisi as a “war declared against civil society, democratic values, and the country’s European course.”

“Taking into account today’s events, we do not expect the Interior Ministry to adequately perform its duty, as we see that they are not responding to the violence taking place in front of them, and the huge wave of hate that we are watching right now is inspired and supported by the government and Patriarchate

[…] We can’t go out into streets full of violent people backed by the government, the Patriarchate, and pro-Russian forces and endanger people’s lives!”

Earlier, Georgian police officials urged the LGBTQ+ activists to abandon their plans to hold the March for Dignity due to safety risks for participants. The Interior Ministry has since announced the initiation of a criminal case over the attacks on journalists. In turn, the Georgian Patriarchate condemned the attacks on media workers and called on opponents of the Pride march to protest peacefully and without the use of violence.

Despite the statement issued by Tbilisi Pride, anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrators were still on Rustaveli Avenue (the planned location of the canceled march) at the time of this writing. 

In addition, OC Media reported that a tourist was taken to the hospital after being stabbed on Tbilisi’s Kosta Khetagurov Street, allegedly because he was wearing an earring. According to an eyewitness, the attacker believed the victim was gay. 

Eighteen Western Embassies in Georgia have issued a joint statement condemning the violent attacks on activists, journalists, and bystanders in Tbilisi, “as well as the failure of the government leaders and religious officials to condemn this violence.” 

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Story by Alexander Filimonov

Translated and updated by Eilish Hart

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