Tbilisi marks first anniversary of bloody crackdown on protests: how and why June 20 went down in history
On June 20, 2020, Tbilisi marks the first anniversary of the bloody crackdown against a massive anti-government protest.
The main demand was the reform of the electoral system, which the opposition has not been able to fully achieve to this day.
The police then used tear gas and water cannons and rubber bullets on thousands of young people on Rustaveli Avenue in front of the parliament building.
Two people lost their eyes, more than 200 were injured.
Activists and the opposition will gather at the parliament building at 7 p.m. later today to mark this date. It is expected that hundreds of Tbilisi residents will join them.
The demonstration has been authorized by Tbilisi City Hall. Rustaveli Avenue will be closed starting from 14.00.
The organizers said that all recommendations of the World Health Organization in connection with the coronavirus pandemic will be observed.
At the place of the rally, special signs have been set up to help people maintain two meters of distance.
Masks, face shields and disinfectants will be available directly on site.
Organizers urge citizens to protest, standing with their heads bowed.
The protest, which in Tbilisi has been called “The Night of Gavrilov”: what, why and how it happened
On the morning of June 20, 2019, a spontaneous protest began in Georgia, without any preliminary organization.
The parliament opened the International Orthodox Parliamentary Forum that day. Soon it became known that one of the organizers of the forum, Russian Duma MP Sergei Gavrilov, decided to conduct the meeting from the chair of the Georgian speaker.
Soon, about hundreds were protesting on Rustaveli Avenue. Participants in the spontaneous protest asked the Georgian government with the question:
“Who allowed the MP of a country that does not recognize the territorial integrity of Georgia to sit in the chair of the Georgian speaker?”
By evening, this was no longer a rally, but a huge protest that swept the entire center of Tbilisi. According to various sources, up to 20,000 people gathered. There were attempts to break into parliament, which guards repelled. Unrest and confrontation with the police lasted all night.
In the morning of June 21, special forces went on the offensive and dispersed the protest using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.
More than 200 people were injured.
Two people,18-year-old Mako Gomuri and 26-year-old Giorgi Sulashvili, were hit by a rubber bullet in the eye, in which they lost eyesight.
Gomuri and Sulashvili were recognized as victims of police actions only five months later, after lengthy litigations.
The authorities have qualified the June 20 protest as an attempted coup.
The dispersal of the rally, they said, was connected with the fact that some opposition activists called on protesters to break into the parliament building.
The protest leaders, however, say that the main goal was to ensure free parliamentary elections in the fall of 2020, a very important event for Georgia’s political future. For this, the opposition believes, it is necessary to abandon today’s mixed electoral system.
Parliamentary elections in Georgia will be held in October 2020. Since Georgia is a parliamentary republic, these elections are crucial – whoever wins will be in power for the next four years.
The opposition demands a purely proportional electoral system, because the current mode includes a majoritarian vote, which gives the government a significant advantage from the very beginning.
On June 24, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s informal leader, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party and oligarch, fulfilled one of the protesters ’main demands.
He personally promised that the majoritarian system will be abolished and parliamentary elections will be held on a proportional system.
Five months after this promise, in November 2019, the government took an unprecedented step, and refused to fulfill its promise.
During the parliamentary vote on the transition to a proportional election system, it was precisely majoritarian MPs loyal to the shadow leader of the country, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who voted against the reform.
Another demand of the protesters was not fulfilled: the dismissal of the Minister of the Interior, Giorgi Gakharia.
Instead, Gakharia was appointed prime minister.
This caused a new wave of protests that continued throughout the summer and fall of 2019. The symbol was a red bandage that covered one eye, with the inscription “20%”.
It was simultaneously an expression of solidarity with those who lost their eyes during the dispersal of the protest on the night of June 21 – and a reminder that Russia occupies 20 percent of the territory of Georgia.
Civil activists have accused Ivanishvili of lying and falsifying the election. On November 14, 2019, several thousand people again took to the streets.
Most of the opposition united around the demand for elections on a proportional basis. Moreover, several MP left the parliamentary majority in protest, including Tamara Chugoshvili, first deputy speaker.
Protests near the parliament resumed, tents were erected.
On November 18, special forces conducted another special operation and remove all protesters from the area in front of parliament.
Rallies in Tbilisi and other cities of Georgia, however, did not stop. And only the coronavirus pandemic forced the protesters to stop.
With the support of the diplomatic corps and international organizations, dialogue between the government and the opposition in Georgia has continued.
And as a result, on March 8, 2020, a historic compromise agreement on the election model in the 2020 parliamentary elections was signed at the US Embassy.
It was decided that the elections would be held according to a 120/30 model: that is,120 MPs will be elected according to a proportional, party list, and 30 by the majoritarian system.
The opposition agreed to this compromise because the March 8 agreement provided for the release of four political leaders and activists arrested for various reasons (Gigi Ugulava, Irakli Okruashvili, Georgy Rurua, Besik Tamliani).
Many in Georgia and abroad consider them to be “political prisoners.”
The authorities deny the existence of political prisoners in the country and, accordingly, denies there is a clause pertaining to them in the agreement. Nevertheless, three of them were released.
Giorgi Rurua, an active participant in the summer rallies in 2019 and one of the founders of the opposition Mtavari Arkhi television channel, remains in prison.