On 8 July, several thousand far-right protesters stormed the venue of a queer pride festival set to be held on the outskirts of Tbilisi, forcing the event’s organisers to be evacuated and the event to be cancelled.
People began to gather for the protest near the Vazha Pshavela metro station around noon, four hours before the festival was set to open. It was organised by the violent far-right group, Alt Info.
Protesters blocked Vazha Pshavela Avenue, watched over by large numbers of police.
In the days prior and at the event, participants and organisers stated that they would use violence to stop the festival, and against those attending it.
The crowd held a minute’s silence for Mikheil Mamukashvili, who set fire to himself during last year’s Pride events, stating that he did not want to live in a ‘sinful country’ where queer people were protected. He died of his injuries a few weeks later.
A protester wearing an anti-EU flag. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC MediaAt around 13:00, the assembled protesters began to walk towards the venue, an hour’s uphill walk in 30°C heat.
On their way to the venue, loudspeakers played the theme of the Uruk-hai from the Lord of the Rings films; a reference to some in Georgia referring to members of far-right groups as ‘orcs’, a race of evil monsters from the fantasy series.
They were not confronted by police as they marched up the hill.
At one point, the group divided so as to block two roads leading to the venue.
Many carried religious symbols.
On the day prior to the event, the Georgian Orthodox Church had made a statement announcing that while they did not condone violence, Georgian society could not accept queer movements, and was ‘not ready, and will never be’ for them.
This followed calls from the Church and the ruling party to introduce laws regulating ‘LGBT propaganda’.
After reaching the venue, the protesters briefly confronted police officers who were blocking the entrance.
Shortly before 15:00, the Tbilisi Pride organising team announced that they were being evacuated and that the event was being cancelled as police had said they could not secure the area.
After the organising team were evacuated, protesters entered the festival grounds; first via side entrances, with the police later letting the crowd in through the main entrance too.
While the police had brought pepper spray, rubber bullets, and water cannons, they did not use them against those gathering to stop the pride event. No riot police were present at the venue, in contrast to recent heavily-policed anti-government protests.
Police looked on as the protesters tore down flags, pulled down a decorative statue, destroyed furniture, and set fire to signs. While some of the damaged property was brought there by Tbilisi Pride, much belonged to the venue and Tbilisi Open Air festival.
Police also allowed protesters to loot the festival food and drink counters, with several also seen taking pink yoga mats from the venue.
OC Media reporters heard police making disparaging comments about the festival organisers, and appearing to be friendly with protesters.
In the late afternoon, some of the group moved to the parliament building in the centre of Tbilisi, where Makharadze, a co-founder of Alt Info and one of the protest’s organisers, again proclaimed victory. He also mentioned a law against ‘LGBT propaganda’ that the group had submitted to parliament in May.
After taking a group photograph, the organisers announced that the protest was over, and the crowd dispersed.
On 9 July, the organisers of Tbilisi Pride held a guerrilla performance in front of parliament. They threw property burnt and destroyed at the festival venue in front of the parliament, demanding punishment of those responsible. Following the performance, they removed the items from parliament.