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In response to last week’s far-right March of Georgians, three opposition parties joined forces on 23 July to rally against what they call ‘Russian fascism’. The ‘anti–Russian fascist’ protesters were met by counter demonstrators supporting the March of Georgians in Tbilisi.
Tensions reached a high as supporters of the March of Georgians tried to disrupt the ‘anti-fascist’ rally, throwing bottles and eggs. Due to the heavy police presence, people identifying themselves as nationalists were prevented from physically attacking demonstrators.
Minor political parties, the Republicans and the Free Democrats joined the main opposition European Georgia, which split from the United National Movement in January. They claim that the leaders of the March of Georgians have close ties with Russia.
Roughly 1,500 demonstrators started gathering at 19:00 at the end of Aghmashenebeli Avenue. The avenue was recently host to demonstration in solidarity with a woman who was threatened with gang rape after criticising the leaders of the far-right march.
[For more details, read on OC Media: Women’s march in Tbilisi after far-right rape threats]
European Georgia had planned the demonstration before the counter-demonstration was announced. In order to avoid possible clashes, Tbilisi City Hall suggested that organisers of the March of Georgians change the location or time of their counter-demonstration, but they declined.
Ilia II, head of Georgia’s Orthodox Church, called on both sides to cancel their demonstrations a few hours before they were due to take place.
Sandro Bregadze, a former deputy minister under the current government, who was at the forefront of the far-right movement, said he ‘always obeys the Patriarch’, implying that the demonstration would be cancelled.
Despite the majority of the supporters of the March of Georgians abstained from joining after this, tens of supporters showed up, and were later joined by leaders of the movement, including Bregadze.
[For a better understanding of who the leaders of the March of Georgians are, read OC Media’s analysis: Who was in and who was out in Tbilisi’s far-right March of Georgians]
‘If they [supporters of European Georgia and others] obey the Patriarch and cancel the rally, we will disperse’, Zaza Davitaia, former political prisoner and columnist of a widely-circulated xenophobic and homophobic newspaper Asaval-Dasavali said.
‘These people orchestrated the repressions during Saakashvili regime and organised arrests of opposition figures. They are trying to snidely suppress demands, voiced by a truly public movement’, Davitaia said. ‘It is time to finish the nasty liberast [a mixture of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘pederast’, a derogatory term for gay men] era once and for all’, he added.
‘Russian fascism cannot take hold in Georgia’
‘Our challenge is that there are still Putin’s fascists in Georgia’, Giga Bokeria, one of the leaders of EG and a former Secretary of the National Security Council under the UNM, said.
‘This rally is a clear manifestation that Russian fascism cannot take hold in Georgia’, Elene Khoshtaria, another leader of the EG said.
[See on Chai Khana: Georgia’s ultranationalists: going fascist on Facebook]
Hundreds of police officers blocked both sides of the road, trying to separate both sides and restrict the counter-demonstrators to the pavements.
At one point, a group of counter-demonstrators tried to break through the police cordon but were pushed back. They then started hurling eggs, rocks and plastic bottles filled with water,. Some also threw brooms, commonly used as a symbol of repressions under UNM after a Gldani prison scandal. Some bottles were thrown back at the counter-demonstrators.
A woman protesting against ‘Russian fascism’ was hit with a stone and slightly injured. Police are investigating the case under charges of assault, which is punishable by a fine, 180 hours of community service, or one-year imprisonment.
The demonstration reached Marjanishvili Square shortly and was finished by 22:00, after fireworks were set off.
Police accompanied Giga Bokeria, Gigi Ugulava, Tbilisi’s former Mayor under UNM, and other leaders of the European Georgia on Marjanishvili Street, after which the demonstration dispersed.