Security Situation in Georgia: „March of Dignity“ Cancelled
The Organisers of the first Tbilisi Pride have decided to cancel the “March of Dignity,” which was planned in end of June because of the ongoing demonstrations and the tense security situation. The march should have been the highlight and end of the first Tbilisi Pride Week. Peter-Andreas Bochmann, Project Firector of the FNF South Caucasus reports about the sentiment in the country and the current developments.
“A Georgian man does not wear an earring.” Subsequent to these words, a young man was beaten in the middle of the rush hour at the metro station Rustaveli in the centre of the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Soon after and only few metres away in Vera-Park, the same fate befell a tourist, who appeared to some men not “adequately” dressed.
These are two small messages in the Georgian media last week - the week in which the first "Pride" took place in Tbilisi. Regardless of whether or not the two victims were part of the queer community, these incidents are unfortunately characteristic of the current heated mood in the country and the dangers and obstacles faced by the LGBTQI community in Georgia.
Systemic Smear Campaign
In the run-up, there was a systematic mood against the events and the march. One of the main actors: The wealthy Georgian businessman Levan Vasadze with - according to various opposition politicians - very good contacts to Moscow. He had - dressed in traditional national dress with a cross in his hand - called in the week before the Pride events to form vigilantes-like patrols. This "public legion" should report every LGBTQI event to prevent it and "beat" people.
Reactions of the Georgian law enforcement authorities to this open call for violence were restrained. Said businessman and one of his co-workers were summoned for an interrogation and an investigation against them was initiated, but mainly for "the creation of an illegal militia".
Church makes a statement
While the Georgian Pride activists received widespread support from the EU and UN missions and numerous embassies, there was no clear reaction and positioning of the government. But there was a clear statement from the influential Orthodox Church. It called on the Georgian authorities to prevent all LGBTQI events of the Pride Week. The Patriarchate Declaration read: "It has been announced that the so-called Gay Pride will take place from 18 to 23 June for the first time in Tbilisi and the South Caucasus, which is totally unacceptable."
The lifestyle of the LGBTQI people is a sin and contradicts both the Christian faith and the moral values, the statement said. "Unfortunately, some LGBTQI groups and their supporters argue that they are extremely repressed and persecuted in Georgia (...). They want to demonstrate their activities as a fight against discrimination, but in reality, they are promoting their lifestyle and trying to legitimise it,” the Orthodox Church continued. It is likely that this statement contributed to the roll-call of the Georgian Ministry of Interior: for indoor events security guarantees should be provided, but organisers were encouraged to cancel the publicly-planned "March of Dignity" as it posed serious security risks.
To Promote Understanding
For safety reasons, a public rally on 17 May, the International Day against Homophobia, was abandoned after serious riots in 2013. In the following year, the Georgian Orthodox Church proclaimed 17 May as the "Day of the Purity of the Family." As part of the first Tbilisi Pride, the difficult situation of the LGBTQI community should now be pointed out in order to promote greater understanding and gender equality.
The preparations and the organization for the cultural and political events have been going on since autumn last year. Already in February 2019, the Pride organisers made their project public and transparent for June, also to push for a public discussion. Nevertheless, immediately before the Pride Week there was massive resistance from the church and threats from right groups – which had an effect. Death threats against the defence lawyer (Public Defender) of Georgia and against Pride organisers were the result and led to the evacuation. Other queer NGOs were also asked to vacate their offices after ultra-conservative groups announced protests.
The legal requirements in Georgia are well established: homosexual acts were legalized in 2000 and there has been an anti-discrimination law for the protection of sexual orientation for five years. This was also stated by Deputy Chairwoman of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, during her visit to Georgia last week: "Georgia has a much better legislation than many other countries in the world. But the reality is that there is little acceptance in society. On the contrary, there are strong forces, the Orthodox Church, conservative and right-wing groups, who per se hate all queer activists and see them as an attack on the values of Georgian society.”
She praised the prudence of the representatives of various civil society organisations who "carefully weigh the situation and do not provoke, but want to raise and develop their concerns and, in their view, have an interest in having a more open dialogue in society."
Without disruptions, a roundtable with representatives of human rights and LGBTQI activists and an international conference with guests from several countries took place during the Tbilisi Pride Week. Both events were supported by the Foundation in the South Caucasus.
On the other hand, a performance of an adaptation of the play "Metamorphosis" by Kafka, which dealt with the topic "outing" in families, became problematic. After the performers who had been rehearsing in the rehearsal rooms since March were kicked out shortly before the performance, the theatre, in which the performance was to take place, cancelled at the last minute. The official reason: Urgent renovation required. In a phone call, the theatre director said that he was threatened massively, his theatre would have been destroyed and it would happen bad thing to him if he allowed the performance. The production of the play was also supported by the Foundation for Freedom and a film documentation of the production is in the making.
Eventually, there was also a solution to the cancellation of the theatre - in the rooms of a non-Orthodox church in Georgia, far more than 100 participants took part in the premiere of the amateur theatre play. Since the place was kept secret until the last moment, there were no disruptions.
It is not yet clear when the "March of Dignity" will take place. It will also depend on how the current political events in Georgia are evolving. Three reforms that are currently being discussed between the government and the LGBTQI community in Georgia should be the benchmark for the government in the future: Better shelter for queer people, better legal rights for transgender people and, in future, a LGBTQI adviser to the prime minister. That would correspond to Georgia's repeated appeal to Europe, the EU and its values.