Hundreds have gathered at Europe Square in the centre of the Georgian capital Tbilisi to show support for the country’s EU membership bid.
The demonstration was the first in many years organised by former opposition politician and incumbent President Salome Zurabishvili, and the first one in her current capacity.
Thursday’s rally, which was free from speeches as promised, was attended by the EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell, German Ambassador Hubert Knirsch, and the French Ambassador Diego Colas.
The rally came ahead of an expected decision by the EU on whether or not to grant Georgia, along with Moldova and Ukraine, membership candidacy. All three applied for membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The European Commission is expected to voice their recommendation on Friday, while EU member states will gather in Brussels on 23–24 June to decide on the issue.
After a scathing resolution passed by the European Parliament earlier in June, worries have intensified in Georgia that the government may have jeopardised the country’s chances of being granted candidate status.
Zurabishvili upsets most of the political spectrum
President Zurabishvili has faced criticism both from government critics — for her failure to identify Georgian Dream party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili as Georgia’s main obstacle to the EU membership — and from Georgian Dream, which has accused her of repeating talking points of the ‘radical opposition’.
Ivanishvili, a Georgian billionaire and former Prime Minister, has been widely seen by experts as having preserved an informal influence on government decisions.
Opposition figures also reprimanded President Zurabishvili for resorting to a street event instead of using her constitutional powers to pardon the director of opposition TV channel Mtavari Arkhi, Nika Gvaramia, and third Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Georgian Dream members refused to join her demonstration calling it ‘unclear’ and ‘ill-prepared’.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgian President calls for public rally after slamming government over EU prospects]
Most opposition figures also refused to join Zurabishvli’s demonstration claiming it was ‘divisive’ and ‘confusing’, as she announced the event on 14 June after liberal group Shame had already planned a pro-EU gathering for 20 June.
Shame refused to cancel their own event upon the President’s urging, but reciprocated an invitation to their own demonstration. The 20 June event has been endorsed by a large part of the opposition spectrum, including the United National Movement (UNM), Strategy Aghmashenebeli, Girchi — More Freedom, Droa, and the Labour Party.
Lelo and Citizens were the exceptions from the opposition groups in endorsing both events. The For People party, led by Ana Dolidze, also joined the event on Europe Square.
A third pro-EU demonstration is planned for Saturday, 18 June, by the opposition parliamentary group Girchi — New Political Centre.
The only sizable opposition group to have rejected all pro-EU events so far was For Georgia, a party founded and led by ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia. Gakharia was widely condemned as then-Interior Ministry for being responsible for excessive police force used against anti-government protests on 19–20 June 2019, exactly three years prior to Monday’s planned demonstration.