Zurab Makharadze, who has long served as the face of the ultra-right-wing and pro-Russia Georgian group Alt Info, has been dropped as the chair of the group’s political wing, public documents reveal.
On 11 April, the Georgian Public Registry approved the appointment of Giorgi Kardava to replace Makharadze as chair of the Conservative Movement, Alt Info’s political offshoot. The documents show that the party had applied to do so on 28 March.
Makharadze has been the face of Alt Info, a violent extremist group that now operates a nationally licensed TV channel, from the group’s early days, and as it began to gain attention as an online alt-right platform in 2019.
The reasons for Makharadze’s replacement remain unknown, and follow his unexplained disappearance from public view.
A spokesperson for Alt Info was not immediately available for comment.
On 13 March, Makharadze published a video online stating that he would be absent from Tbilisi and from Alt Info’s namesake TV channel, where he was a regular speaker, for a month or more as he would be working ‘in another format’.
Konstantine Morgoshia, one of the founders of Alt Info, denied rumours that Makharadze had departed for Russia amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but refused to clarify further.
‘He has a certain mission to solve that we assigned to him and he will deal with that. At this point we are doing our work and he has his task’, Morgoshia told Georgian news outlet Publika on 13 March.
A month later, a Facebook account that appeared to belong to Makharadze published a post detailing the recent and future visits by members of the Conservative Movement to Russia.
The post also took credit for Georgia’s ‘unofficial neutrality’ on the issue of economic sanctions imposed on Russia on behalf of Alt Info.
Later that day, the party leadership vehemently denied that it belonged to Makharade.
Alt Info unveiled their political party, the Conservative Movement, last November and registered it with Zurab Makharadze as the chair on 7 December. Critics had called for the authorities to deny them registration due to their leading role in organising mass violence in July last year.
‘They call us violent people and yes, I am a violent person’, Makharadze publicly stated in late July, days before his supporters attacked dozens of journalists and queer rights activists in Tbilisi in July 20221.
‘I can and plan to defend my values, including with force […] I am ready to act with force against this’, he said.
Despite questioning Makharadze and searching his home, the authorities have not charged either Makharadze or anyone else from Alt Info for organising and leading the violence in June, though a handful of people have been convicted for taking part in the attacks.
[Read more on OC Media: Journalists recall day of terror in Tbilisi]
Alt Info, who are most well known for their violent homophobia, have faced wider national backlash following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The group has been outspoken in advocating for rapprochement with Russia, including again in February in the prelude to the Russian attack.
Attempts to block Alt Info from opening regional offices have taken place throughout February and March. In some cases, supporters of the group have responded with violence, including at a protest in Kobuleti and Zugdidi.