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Georgian ultraconservative groups vow to prevent queer romance film premiere

6 November 2019
A promotional poster for And Then We Danced.

Several far-right and ultraconservative groups in Georgia have begun to mobilise against the Georgian premiere of queer romance film And Then We Danced, which is due to hit screens this Friday.

The film is a love story between two male Georgian traditional dancers that had its world premiere on 16 May at the Cannes Film Festival. A joint Swedish–Georgian production, it has been selected as Sweden’s submission to the 92nd Academy Awards. 

The film’s first showings in Georgia are due to kick off on 8 November in Tbilisi’s five major cinemas and in Batumi’s Apollo, lasting until 10 November. Tickets for all showings have sold out.

Ultraconservative groups Georgian March, For a United and Moral Georgia, and far-right campaigner Levan Vasadze have called for opponents of the film to prevent the screenings from taking place, even threatening to break through police lines to do so.

The Interior Ministry has vowed to ‘maintain public order’.

‘We’ll move the police cordons aside’

In a video address on YouTube on 5 November, Vasadze called on opponents of the film to gather on Friday at Vera Park, near Tbilisi’s Amirani Cinema. 

‘We cannot let the premiere of this film happen in any of the six cinemas during these three days, just like we thwarted the so-called Pride last year’, Vasadze said during an appeal to his supporters on Thursday. 

Levan Vasadze. Photo: Tamuna Chkareuli/OC Media.

Vera Park was a gathering place for Vasadze and others who opposed the first Tbilisi Pride in July, which they managed, in part, to derail. Their threats forced Tbilisi Pride organisers to hold an impromptu demo near the Interior Ministry. The ministry refused to provide protection for an official march. 

[Read more on OC Media: Ultraconservative and anti-Putin protesters face off as queer activists hold impromptu pride]

In the same speech, Vasadze vowed to use force if necessary.

‘If we are confronted with the police cordons, we’ll move police officers aside and still enter the cinemas’, Vasadze said. ‘We will enter the cinemas with empty hands and halt the screenings. We will enter the projection room and shut down the show.’ 

He also appealed to Gia Bazghadze, the owner of the venues, to be ‘more worried’ about the possible damage that his cinemas could sustain ‘from uncontrollable crowds’ instead of the financial harm of cancelling the shows. 

Commenting on the threat coming from Vasadze on 6 November, Speaker of Parliament Archil Talakvadze repeated the Interior Ministry’s position, voiced earlier that day, that the authorities would ensure public order. 

Talakvadze added that anyone was free to protest so long as they did so peacefully. 

‘As for the film and arts, we have a free country […] and everyone can express themselves artistically however they find necessary’. 

Vasadze’s Russian ties

In his video address, Vasadze said he had cancelled a planned speech at the ‘8 November conference dedicated to the sanctity of motherhood in Serbia’, choosing to stay in Georgia instead.

The two-day forum, entitled, 'Sanctity of Motherhood:  “Family” in the Life of the Young Generation: Problems, Practices, and Perspectives’ starts in Belgrade on 7 November. Organisers expect Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Orthodox–Christian Patriarch of Serbia Irinej, and Deputy Chair of the Russian State Duma Olga Yepifanova to attend the event. 

The international gathering is an annual event organised by Russian state-supported Orthodox group the Saint Andrew the First-Called Foundation and the Centre of the National Glory of Russia. 

The Saint Andrew Foundation has operated since the early 1990s to strengthen religious and cultural ties abroad, especially with predominantly Orthodox-Christian countries like Belarus, Serbia, and Greece. They have also been active in charity work in South Ossetia. 

The Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation is Vladimir Yakunin, who until 2015 served as the president of state-owned Russian Railways. 

According to Marlène Laruelle, Senior Fellow at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Vladimir Yakunin is a well-connected businessperson with strong ties to the Russian security services and is a part of Russia’s soft power abroad.

The programme of Sanctity of Motherhood has also partnered with the World Congress of Families, an American ultra-conservative Christian group. 

Levan Vasadze was instrumental in hosting the 10th annual World Congress of Families (WFC) in Tbilisi in 2016, which was attended by the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II.

Vasadze handing over the WFC flag to Katalin Novák, Hungarian State Secretary for Family and Youth Affairs and Vice-Chair of the ruling Fidesz party. Photo: WFC.

The opposition

On 5 November, ultraconservative leader Guram Palavandishvili also vowed to ‘prevent the police from protecting’ the film screenings. 

Palavandishvli, who launched the anti-abortion and ‘anti–gender ideology’ movement For a United and Moral Georgia in July, has been mostly known for his homophobic group ‘the Society for the Protection of Children's Rights. 

Guram Palavandishvili leading a protest in June 2019 near the US Embassy in Tbilisi against their support for Tbilisi Pride. Photo via Aleksandre Palavandishvili/Facebook.

On 4 November, the first to speak out against the film’s Georgian premiere was Sandro Bregadze, the leader of the far-right Georgian March. 

Georgian March is known for their hardline positions against rights groups financed by foreign donors. They have singled out, in particular, the Open Society — Georgia Foundation and the organisation’s founder, Hungarian-born billionaire and philanthropist George Soros. 

Georgian March leader Sandro Bregadze. Photo: Luka Pertaia/OC Media.

They became especially visible after July 2017, when they held a several-thousand-strong anti-immigrant rally in Tbilisi.

Bregadze insisted at his 4 November press conference that it was the ‘duty of every Georgian — Orthodox Christians, Muslim brothers, and those of other faiths — not to let the screening of this filth and debauchery in Georgian cinemas happen’. 

On the following day, speaking live on TV channel Pirveli, Bregadze vowed to picket ‘gay propaganda’ this week ‘in peaceful forms’, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi.

The position of the Church

The Georgian Orthodox Church did not directly get involved plans to protest the screenings. However, several high-ranking bishops came out strongly against the premiere, and the Church released a statement opposing the film. 

In their statement published on 6 November, the Church called the screenings a ‘popularisation of sodomite relationships’ and a ‘major attack on the Church and national values'. 

The Church protested that a film ‘offending national honour’ was so widely recognised at the prestigious Cannes film festival. They also wrote that the release of the film was part of a plot aimed at the ‘legalisation of the sin [of homosexuality]’.

Same-sex relationships are legal in Georgia, however, they remain unrecognised.

Both the Church and Levan Vasadze connected the film’s release with the ongoing scandal rocking the Georgian Orthodox Church.

On 5 November, Vasadze condemned Petre Tsaava, then an Archbishop and member of the Church’s ruling Holy Synod, for accusing Patriarch Ilia II of ‘pederasty and sodomy’. 

‘Whoever feels offended with what they have dared to do to our Patriarch, I’m calling you to join us.  [The release of the film] is part of the same process of destroying our country and the Church’, he said. 

In their statement condemning the film, the Church mentioned that it was ‘not a coincidence’ that the film’s premiere was announced after the accusations against the Patriarch were made public.  

The day before the Church statement, allegations continued to emerge implicating other high-ranking priests in sexual misconduct. 

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