The far-right group Alt Info have prevented a Georgian literary and government critic from delivering a lecture in the eastern Georgian town of Kvareli.
On Sunday, around 20–30 members of Alt Info obstructed the car of professor Levan Berdzenishvili from reaching the offices of the EuroClub Kvareli Centre, where he was due to deliver a lecture on Georgian poet Ilia Chavchavadze.
Berdzenishvili’s car was eventually turned away as, according to him and the organisers of the event, police did not intervene to clear the way.
Berdzenishvili, a prominent philologist and former Soviet dissident, claimed that he only saw three police officers at the scene and that they did not ensure his safe passage to the EuroClub Kvareli Centre. He accused the government of orchestrating the incident.
‘Police officers calmly watched this,’ Berdzenishvili claimed later that day.
Nika Gurini, EuroClub Kvareli’s executive director, told OC Media that the local government had yet to reach out to the centre regarding the incident.
❗️ 1/2 Today EuroClub had plans to host Levan Berdzenishvili, to give a public lecture about the Founder of modern GEO, Ilia Chavchavadze. 40 minutes before the meeting, the unknown, primarily not-local group of people blocked the roads to our center and did not allow … pic.twitter.com/FKqILwTXee
— EuroClub Kvareli (@EuroClubKvareli) January 15, 2023
Levan Berdzenishvili, who is a professor at the Tbilisi-based Ilia State University, said that the Alt Info protestors in Kvareli attacked him for criticising Erekle II, an 18th-century monarch, and also for supporting queer rights.
[Read more on OC Media: Politicians attacked in Tbilisi over queer support and criticism of Erekle II]
Berdzenishvishili's brother, Davit Berdzenishvili, and Khatuna Samnidze, both opposition politicians, were attacked in Tbilisi last summer. Irakli Kobakhidze, chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, subsequently accused the Berdzenishvili brothers of ‘extraordinary hate for Georgian people’ while never condemning the assault.
Georgian Dream and Alt Info unite in defence of Erekle II
Shota Martinenko, secretary general of Alt Info’s political party, the Conservative Movement, commended his group for preventing Berdzenishvili’s lecture and accused the philologist of being an ‘agent of the West’.
‘This is the way it’s going to be for agents who sold out to the West who offend the history, heroes, and traditions of Georgians. From now on, we will be the ones who determine what kind of rights they can enjoy. This is our country, and we decide the rules here.’
Alt Info registered the Conservative Movement as an official party several months after leading attacks on activists and journalists on 5 July 2021, as the queer community prepared for a march on the same day. None of Alt Info’s leaders have faced any charges over their role in the riots, despite local and international pressure.
[Read more on OC Media: Attacks on journalists in Tbilisi as city braces for Pride]
On 16 January, the Democracy Research Institute (DRI), a Tbilisi-based think-tank, accused law enforcement agencies of failing to secure Berdzenishvili’s lecture and attributed the latest incident in Kvareli to the ‘impunity’ enjoyed by the organisers of the July 2021 violence.
‘In recent years, journalists, civil activists, and opposition MPs have frequently fallen victim to verbal and/or physical assaults by violent individuals encouraged by the ruling party’, DRI’s statement read.
Levan Berdzenishvili became the target of ultra-conservative groups and the ruling Georgian Dream party after criticising Erekle II, the 18th-century ruler of the Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, for signing the treaty of Georgievsk with Russia in 1783.
In May 2021, Berdzenishvili argued that the 18th-century ruler had to be branded as a ‘traitor’ for surrendering Eastern Georgia’s sovereignty to Russia, drawing parallels with the current Georgian government that stand accused by critics of appeasing Russia, to the detriment of support for Ukraine.
Both Georgian Dream and Alt Info jumped to the defence of the Erekle II following Berdzenishvili’s criticism.