Georgia: Right-wing extremists and Orthodox Church attack activists and ransack LGBT associations

Organisers of the Pride March in Tbilisi, Georgia were forced to cancel their activities after a counter-protest orchestrated by far-right groups and some Orthodox clergy members resulted in violence on July 5. The counter-protesters ransacked the offices of several LGBT organisations in the Georgian capital and attacked journalists.

Far-right activists attack the offices of LGBT associations in Tbilisi on July 5, 2021.
Far-right activists attack the offices of LGBT associations in Tbilisi on July 5, 2021. © Twitter

"We cannot risk human lives and take to the streets, which are full of violent attackers.” – with these words, Tbilisi Pride announced the cancellation of the march on Facebook on July 5 at midday, just a few hours before the event was scheduled to begin at 6pm.  

The "violent attackers" they referred to included several dozen counter-protesters who took to the streets of Tbilisi early Monday afternoon. According to several media outlets, they attacked the police and at least 20 journalists were injured in the clashes. 

They also stormed the premises of Tbilisi Pride and other associations dedicated to defending LGBT people and rights. A video shows people climbing the front of the building where the offices of Tbilisi Pride are located, shocking the organisation’s leadership and many others online. Several individuals can be seen tearing down and ripping up the LGBT pride flags that were hanging in the window.

In another video filmed that afternoon by a member of Tbilisi Pride, we can see the results of the attack on the association’s headquarters, which were ransacked by counter-protesters.

On July 6, Georgia’s Prime Minister condemned the violence perpetrated against journalists, adding that 53 journalists were injured and 11 people were detained as police continue to investigate the attacks. 

However, authorities had also supported the cancellation of the march. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said on June 5 that "holding of the so-called Pride march is not reasonable as it creates the threat of civil confrontation" and that this type of gathering was "unacceptable for a large segment of Georgian society”.

‘There were a lot of priests in the line of protesters’

Tamaz Sozashvili is the co-founder of the organisation Tbilisi Pride. On July 5, he was at the office of another association, which was also targeted by far-right demonstrators. We were able to interview him that same evening.

These homophobic activists wanted to intimidate us, they tried to find out where we were and attacked us. They destroyed everything inside our offices, our documents, our equipment. The worst thing is that the police did nothing to stop them.

I was in the Shame Movement [Editor’s note: a Georgian organisation for defending liberties] offices, which they also attacked. The members of our organisation were then moved to the United Nations House [the UN headquarters in Tbilisi]. When the counter-protesters heard about this, they gathered in front of this building. It's really as if they were stalking us.

We are quite obviously in shock, especially at the inaction and lack of support from the government. I can't understand how they let something like this happen.

We have never been able to organise a successful Pride March in Georgia, but this year we were finally hopeful that we could. Several ambassadors, such as those from France and the Netherlands, were considering participating. But once again our hopes were dashed by these homophobic activists and some of the orthodox clergy.

I could see many priests in the line of protesters and I heard that high-ranking religious officials also participated.

Now, I am in the fifth hiding place of the day, we have been divided into three groups to avoid attacks from these men. I really don't feel safe and I hope that the international community will show their support after what has just happened.

Several Western embassies, including the United States, France and the EU, issued a joint statement on July 5 denouncing the violence. 

Although discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has been illegal in Georgia since 2014, the country remains very conservative and under the influence of the powerful Orthodox Church. 

In 2019, a famous businessman even set up armed "people's militias", such as the "Council of Real Men”, in order to "eradicate sin and heresy”. This initiative, whose main objective was to fight the LGBT community, had the tacit support of the Georgian Orthodox Church.