Tbilisi Pride: just whose rights are being ensured?
The decision to go ahead and hold Tbilisi Pride has been made in an atmosphere of hostility, threats and tension.
The state has warned LGBT activists that it would not be able to provide them with security, and radical groups have threatened the organisers and supporters of the event with violence.
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Human rights activists and a number of opposition members say the excitement around Tbilisi Pride once again demonstrates the high degree of influence of the patriarchate and populist groups on the government, and the fact that people in Georgia are not able to enjoy the rights guaranteed them by the constitution.
JAMnews offers an overview of the events that have unfolded in recent days around Tbilisi Pride.
Tension around Tbilisi Pride and the threats of “real men”
The group organising Tbilisi Pride announced back in February of this year that it would hold the event on June 18 – 23. It said that the goal of Tbilisi Pride would be to acquaint the public with the problems faced by sexual minorities in everyday life.
“We are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer. We experience violence in families, schools, on the streets, at work. People break into our homes, we are driven out of our families. We are killed”, organisers stated at the time, stressing that LGBT people “should not hide because of their unbearable lives.”
The week-long programme of Tbilisi Pride is composed of several events, most of which were to be private events, but a street procession at the end of the week was also planned.
Immediately after the announcement, the Georgian Patriarchate demanded that the authorities ban the holding of the march, to which the Ministry of Internal Affairs responded it could not ensure security during the march and safety for its participants.
The situation escalated even further on June 14, when Orthodox activists staged a counterdemonstration near the chancellery, where the organizers and supporters of the pride had already gathered.
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The right to self-expression, to peaceful events and demonstrations in Georgia is guaranteed by the constitution, therefore, the statement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was regarded by some politicians and civil society representatives as the result of church interference in the affairs of the state.
Levan Vasadze and the “assembly of men”
Georgian businessman Levan Vasadze, a Georgian businessman close to Kremlin ideologist Alexander Dugin, who has long been noted for homophobic and chauvinistic statements in Georgia, called for a “men only” rally on June 16.
At the “assembly of real men”, Vasadze called for the creation of special patrol formation that would disrupt pro-LGBT events and detain “suspicious persons.”
The Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned the statement, and explicitly said that such formations would be illegal.
At the same time, the Ministry of the Interior recommended to the organizers of the March of Dignity to cancel the event for their own safety and security.
Levan Vasadze described this as his own success and made a statement in which he abandoned the idea of patrolling city neighborhoods.
But already on June 18, he voiced new threats, distributing a video message in which he announced that if the pride was held anyway, he would use the plan developed at the “meeting of real men”.
After the meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the organizers of Tbilisi Pride announced that they would report on their next steps after additional consultations.
“We physically did not have time to respond to everything that we were told at the meeting at the Ministry of Internal Affairs,” said the organizer of Tbilisi Pride, Giorgi Tabagari.
Some time later, it was announced that the event would go forward.
A failure to ensure rights?
According to one of the organizers of the Tbilisi Pride, Nino Bolkvadze, it would appear there are coinciding interests between the authorities and Levan Vasadze.
“Behind closed doors, such processes are taking place that are inconceivable in a legal democratic state. A crime is being forgiven only because a person [Vasadze] does not create political problems for the ruling team and coexistence with him is quite comfortable.”
“The interests of [Vasadze and the authorities] apparently coincided. It is in the interests of the authorities for the Tbilisi Pride week not to take place. It is in the interests of Vasadze to score points for disrupting the event.”
The opposition, in turn, focuses on the fact that the government has not fulfilled its duties and requires a legal and thorough assessment of the activities of Levan Vasadze.
“Statements that he does not like certain groups of people are already an offense; the creation of patrols groups for the massacre of those whom he does not like; allegations of how he and his troops will confront the police – this is a direct violation of the criminal code, and it certainly needs to be responded to, and not only to initiate proceedings”, said one of the leaders of European Georgia, Sergi Kapanadze.
United National Movement member Roman Gotsiridze says that radical homophobic groups have become an integral part of the Georgian government.
“These people, who for many years have committed offenses, are allies of the government. In fact, they are always needed by the government, it used them against the opposition when it protested. These people have become an integral part of power, its dark side.”
The government, on its part, claims that it is acting out of the interests of the population and that the hype around the issue is artificial and “exaggerated.”
“The rights of all citizens, including the right to self-expression, are protected in Georgia. This is guaranteed by the Constitution and the country’s legislation. At the same time, we have security obligations to every citizen. I want to express special thanks to the police because they were able to ensure this important balance,” Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said in an interview with journalists.
“Although here, as an ordinary citizen, I want to share my impressions: I believe that this issue [Tbilisi Pride] is being artificially imposed on Georgian society and aims to promote an aggressive political atmosphere in Georgia. I do not think that this issue is problematic in Georgia today.”
Ombudsman: the LGBT community is deprived of the right to freedom
Georgian ombudswoman Nino Lomjaria claims that the LGBT community today does not have the right to freedom of assembly.
“This is a fact. At the meeting in the Ministry of Internal Affairs [meeting with the organizers of Tbilisi Pride], it was said that since the safety of the participants of the pride is questionable, therefore, the pride should not be held because it is associated with serious risks.”
Lomjaria says that LGBT activists have secured the promise of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to investigate the allegations and threats of Levan Vasadze thoroughly.