Georgian president’s CoE speech gives rise to controversy back home
The crackdown on protests in Georgia and relations with Russia were the subject of a speech by Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili on January 28 at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; her words have caused a sharp and critical reaction in Georgia.
The bloody crackdown on thousands of protests in Tbilisi on June 21, 2019
Responding to questions from European MEPs, the Georgian president offered her interpretation of the events of June 21, 2019, when police dispersed a rally of thousands of protests using rubber bullets and batons. Two people then lost their eyes, about 240 people were injured, dozens of others were arrested.
The immediate reason for the protests was that during the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy, which was held in the Parliament of Georgia, Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov sat in the chair of the Georgian speaker.
Zurabishvili said that the Georgian authorities took responsibility for the events – speaker Irakli Kobakhidze resigned. But the protesters continued their attempts to capture parliament and therefore they had to be dispersed.
However, the Georgian public was outraged by what was perceived as a distortion of the facts: the speaker actually resigned after the dispersal of the protest.
Threats to the opposition from the shadow leader, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili
A Polish MeP asked Zurabishvili if she believes that the leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, actually threatened the opposition leaders with prison.
On November 28, 2019, Ivanishvili said on live television that the opposition and civic activists were wasting their time hoping for a change of power, in fact they had no chance and were only creating problems for themselves and could be imprisoned.
The President of Georgia, however, replied that “the second phase of the government’s response [to the rallies] was quite restrained”:
“In many countries of the world, the reaction of authorities to similar events would have been harsher. I believe our young democracy defended itself well.”
Russian MPs to visit Tbilisi
Salome Zurabishvili said that the Georgian authorities are ready to receive Russian deputies at the upcoming Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe session, which will be held in Tbilisi on May 14-15, 2020, despite protests of the opposition.
She noted that even Russian representatives who violated the Georgian law on the occupied territories – that is, those who visited Abkhazia and South Ossetia without notice and permission from official Tbilisi – will be able to come.
The President stated that Georgia is obliged to do this, since it has become the presidency of the Council of Europe.
According to some reports, the Russian delegation may be headed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Other comments on media, LGBT
The Georgian president said that the media in Georgia is free from the slightest dictatorship, and a large share of the airspace is occupied by opposition television channels.
However she considers it a problem that TV channels have low self-regulation and use hate speech on the air, which leads to increased tension.
She also admitted that the LGBT community is experiencing problems in Georgia, especially when they try to declare their rights in public – for example, by organizing a pride parade.
But the authorities, she says, are doing everything possible to avoid dangerous confrontations between different social groups, and law enforcement agencies are more and more successfully coping with this task.