Op Ed: Birja - Maydan
A mass rally, held on 10 June, demanding the release of two detained rappers (members of the ‘Birja Mafia’ rap duo) caused mixed reactions among the public. Some people claimed that it was a sporadic demonstration by the youth (though not only the youth). Others referred to it as a rally in support of ‘criminals and drug addicts’.
Some people focused entirely on a complex, intricately twisted combination, aimed to boost the reputation of the country’s government, Bera Ivanishvili or Kakha Kaladze. (After the rally, the authorities started talking about liberalization of the drug policy and were praised for that by many).
Giorgi Keburia, 21, and Mikheil ‘Mishka’ Mgaloblishvili, 28, were arrested on 6 June for alleged procurement and possession of particularly large quantities of psychoactive narcotic substances. However, the arrestees claim that the drugs had been planted on them and the real reason behind their arrest was a music video in which they mocked the police. The video clip features a person wearing a police uniform, with a dog leash around his neck and a bone in his mouth.
In fact, it was the first mass rally over the past few years, that wasn’t organized by politicians and that yielded certain results.
To get an insight into this phenomenon, one should recall the developments two years ago, when thousands of young people voluntarily went to the streets to eliminate the aftermath of the Tbilisi flood. This picture reminded me of Kyiv’s Maydan – when volunteers brought food and firewood to the ‘Maydan’ participants, and so many people managed to organize themselves. At that time, I thought that such a thing was impossible in Georgia.
However, when a runaway tiger mauled a man to death and the Zoo director was summoned for interrogation in that regard, the government received a sign of people’s outrage and concern. It seemed that the authorities were trying to shuffle off all responsibility onto the Zoo director. Hundreds of people gathered outside the Government’s Chancellery within some 2-3 hours to protest against the aforesaid.
Those who gathered there were not just socially active people who attended each and every rally and knew each other by sight. Among the rally participants were young people aged 20-25, who had never been seen at any protest rally before.
Then the government realized the entire scope of this threat and it backtracked.
In fact, Tbilisi had seen more large-scale rallies than that held on 10 June, but the authorities had never been afraid of the protests organized either by the National Movement or other political opposition, because it believed, their supporters’ resources was limited.
However, a sudden, sporadic outburst of public protest, similar to the one that triggered Ukraine’s Maydan, is an absolutely different thing. And the recent developments proved that the authorities realize the importance of this process and treat it with particular caution.
I don’t want to idealize the youth protesting in the street. And I don’t have any reason for that either. Those youngsters couldn’t be seen rallying in the street after the murder of Giga Otkhozoria on the Enguri Bridge, neither did they hit the streets in protest against the actual extradition of the former Georgian serviceman, Gia Tsertsvadze, to Russia. They didn’t show much concern about the developments around the most influential opposition broadcaster, when authorities were obviously trying to seize the TV company. In other words, many issues that are crucial for the country’s sovereignty, its security and democracy, have been left beyond the attention of the Georgian youth.
A flood-affected city, the unfair persecution of the Zoo director or the alleged planting of drugs on the rappers for their music video, all of which has been regarded by the youth as a threat, while many far more important problems haven’t been perceived as such.
And the main reason for that is that the majority of well-educated youth in Georgia are apolitical. They don’t trust either the government, or any opposition power.
In theory, the educated, conscious, Western-oriented youth should be a natural ally to the pro-Western political forces, though it’s not the case in Georgia.
This nihilism certainly has its grounds. And those grounds should be subjected to a comprehensive study, but nobody has cared for that so far, including the political parties, that first of all should be interested in profoundly studying this issue. They seem to be accustomed to the fact that the youth don’t go to elections and prefer to issue their campaign pledges to pensioners and socially vulnerable people. Such an approach further distances them from the young electorate and they don’t focus on their needs and problems at all.
What are the young people’s primary concerns nowadays? It is education, jobs, careers and the means of social mobility. Of course, it’s entertainment, and also, the drug policy. Though, judging by the Girchi party example, focusing solely on the drug policy issues won’t be quite successful.
In fact, the recent developments have proved that the youth is the only group capable of struggling for and achieving changes in the country. And this group is actually shoved aside from politics and doesn’t play any role in the country’s development.
Simply sometimes they just run out of patience, as in the case with detained rappers.