Pride week in Georgia has concluded with the successful holding of a festival, despite attempts by the violent far-right group Alt-Info to disrupt it.
Several thousand people attended Pride Fest on Saturday at Mtatsminda Park in Tbilisi.
Alt Info, an extremist group responsible for organising last year’s homophobic riots in Tbilisi, attempted to disrupt the event.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, hours before it was due to begin, Alt Info attempted to occupy the space of the festival. They were prevented from entering by police, who arrested 26 people including several leaders of the group.
Thousands of members and supporters of Alt Info gathered during the day on Saturday, marching through Tbilisi and tearing apart and burning rainbow flags and NATO and EU flags. The group again tried to move to disrupt the festival but were blocked by police.
Mariam Kvaratskhelia, the co-director of Tbilisi Pride, hailed the event as a success.
‘The police were on the call and they protected the event very well, preventing attempts at violence, which I welcome,’ Kvaratskhelia told OC Media. ‘We have seen that if there is a political will to protect Pride events, they can do it very well, and we hope that will continue in the future’, she added.
[Read on OC Media: Tbilisi Pride's leading women]
An ‘expression of love’
Despite the attempts to disrupt it, the festival proceeded without incident.
It included several events, including a dance competition, a drag ball, and music performances.
Irma Chkheidze, 22, told OC Media she was very happy to be able to participate.
‘I am in a great mood. I have feel like everyone here is creating a large island of freedom, which is very important’, she said. ‘Each person is representing their own individuality, which ultimately gives us a very colourful, diverse, and free society.’
Another guest, 25-year-old Gvantsa Saganelidze, said her mood matched the environment. ‘And the environment is colourful! there are people here who are expressing love, dancing, smiling and laughing, and therefore my mood is the same’, Gvantsa told OC Media.
Seven ambassadors attended the festival, including the ambassadors of France, Norway, Switzerland, and Israel.
An angry demonstration
As revellers celebrated on Mtastminda, thousands of members and supporters of the far-right extremist group Alt Info roamed the streets of Tbilisi below.
The group had for days been using their nationally broadcasted TV channel to call on people to gather at 12:00 outside parliament to protest the festival.
Protest leaders repeatedly expressed homophobic and explicitly anti-Western messages. Several times Rainbow flags as well as flags of NATO and the EU were torn apart and burnt.
The crowd moved several times during the day. Soon after gathering outside parliament one protester doused himself in petrol and set himself alight, before being pushed into the fountains. He was taken to hospital by ambulance.
Protesters burnt and tore apart rainbow flags in front of a metal cross which Alt Info installed during the homophobic riots they installed last year on 5 July.
The crowd then marched to the offices of the ruling Georgian Dream party, throwing the remains of the rainbow flags at the building. On the way, there they stopped outside the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church to pray and thank the patriarch.
The crowd then moved to the offices of the EU Delegation in Georgia, which was also heavily guarded by police, where they burned rainbow flags and those of the EU and NATO.
‘We will kick you out’, Konstantine Morgoshia, one of the protest leaders shouted. ‘You flee from here clinging to the planes’, he added, a reference to the evacuation of Kabul.
Protesters then attempted to move to Mount Mtastminda to disrupt the Pride festival but were confronted by police who turned them away. Protesters reacted with anger, with one shouting that ‘the police’s blood will be shed’.
Police in Tbilisi have prevented a far-right demonstration from moving to Mount Mtatsminda, where Pride Fest is currently taking place. At least 17 people have been detained during the day. pic.twitter.com/QQO4EWILzb
— OC Media (@OCMediaorg) July 2, 2022
Seventeen people who made it closer to the entrance of the festival were arrested.
After returning to parliament at around 20:00, Konstantine Morgoshia, one of Alt info’s leaders, addressed the remaining crowd and said that they would not hold any counter-protests on Sunday against a planned pro-EU rally.
‘We have nothing in common with the protest tomorrow’, he said.