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Georgian philologist and government critic reports masked group gathered outside house

16 May 2023
Levan Berdzenishvili. Screengrab from Formula TV

Georgian literary and government critic Levan Berdzenishvili said about 20 masked people gathered outside his house on Monday, and left after his family called the police.

Berdzenishvili stated that on 15 May, 15–20 people wearing masks, uniforms, and hats with crosses came to his home and stood there for half an hour. According to Berdzenishvili, he was not at home at the time. 

Speaking to local media after the incident, the professor said that he was informed of the group’s presence by his family members, who called the police, and that the unidentified people ‘did not say anything’.

Berdzenishvili was previously verbally attacked by both far-right groups and the ruling Georgian Dream party after a lecture in which he criticised Erekle II, an 18th-century ruler of the Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, for signing a treaty with Russia in 1783.

In January, far-right group Alt Info prevented Berdzenishvili from delivering a lecture in the eastern Georgian town of Kvareli, physically obstructing his access to the lecture venue. 

Speaking to opposition-aligned TV channel Formula yesterday, Berdzenishvili stated that he believed the ruling party was behind the incident, and that it was possible that the goal of the masked group was to physically attack him. 

Attacks on Berdzenishvili

A few hours before the incident took place, a statement was published by Nikoloz Chkhetiani, the chair of the board of the Cartu Foundation, a charitable foundation founded by billionaire founder of Georgian Dream and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, accusing Berdzenishvili of slandering Ivanishvili, whom the text described as a ‘philanthropist’. 

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Chkhetiani added that Berdzenishvili could not be trusted, and did not have ‘any moral right to teach history to the public’. 

On Tuesday, Georgian Dream chair Irakli Kobakhidze also criticised Berdzenishvili while speaking to journalists, calling him ‘pitiful’ and a ‘foreign agent’. 

‘Levan Berdzenishvili is actually a pitiful man, and there are two reasons for this: one is his psychological and mental problems, and the other is that he is a person who constantly fulfils tasks received from [abroad]’, said Kobakhidze.

‘You remember what he said about [historic Georgian figures] Ilia Chavchavadze, about Akaki Tsereteli, about [King] Davit Aghmashenebeli, [King] Erekle II, and you also heard what he said about Bidzina Ivanishvili — a whole cascade of slanders, shameful slanders’, said Kobakhidze. ‘But this is not surprising. It is not surprising that he is trying to cross out history, and he is doing the same to the present.’

Berdzenishvili told opposition TV channel Formula that the group had gathered to ‘take revenge’ on him because the ruling party disliked him. 

‘Perhaps physical retribution was their task. Of course, these are planned operations of the state’, said Berdzenishvili.

He added that the incident might be related to a lecture he gave in 2013, which, according to the professor, recently became the focus of a campaign against him. 

In the lecture, Berdzenishvili discussed the ‘cannibalistic dream’ of the poem ‘Aluda Ketelauri’ by 19th century Georgian writer and poet, Vazha-Pshavela. 

‘If someone has read “Aluda Ketelauri” [they know that], he saw a dream that he was fed man’s flesh, that’s what it was about,’ Berdzenishvili said, adding that the campaign was founded on a misunderstanding of his lecture. 

Georgia’s Interior Ministry told OC Media that the police arrived at Berdzenishvili’s house on Monday and ‘no confrontation or violation of the law was observed’.

‘There was an interview with the initiator of the message, who explained that they noticed several masked people near his residence and called the police as a precaution’, said an Interior Ministry spokesperson. 

A history of attacks

Criticism of Berdzenishvili has increased over the past year.

On 2 May 2022 Berdzenishvili, criticised Georgian King Erekle II for signing a treaty with Russia in the 18th century, which established eastern Georgia as a protectorate of Russia. His statements prompted a harsh backlash.

‘Until King Erekle is declared a traitor, [Georgian PM] Irakli Gharibashvili will come out and [say] “Do you want a war?!” Erekle said the same’, Berdzenishvili said. 

‘Who gave him the right to hand over the whole of Georgia [to Russia] and control only Kakheti?’ he said, apparently referring to Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili’s defence of his government’s policy on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with many in Georgia calling on the government to do more.

Later that month, a petition demanding that Berdzenishvili be prohibited from teaching students gained just under 1,800 signatures. 

In January 2023, members of the far-right Alt Info group physically blocked Berdzenishvili from giving a lecture on Georgian poet and public figure Ilia Chavchavadze in Kvareli, east Georgia. 

Members of the ruling Georgian Dream party have also frequently made critical statements about Berdzenishvili.