The political ambitions of Georgian ultranationalists are growing
The Georgian ultranationalist group Georgian March was established about two years ago and has made itself widely known due to its loud demonstrations and a series of incidents.
Now, the ‘march’ is getting ready for a ‘decisive battle’ – members of the organisation have announced that they are starting a mass hunger strike, demanding the release six of their comrades who were arrested for attacking Rustavi-2 TV journalists on 19 March.
Members of the group were displeased with a joke made by a TV anchor about Jesus Christ. The group compares their hunger strike to that of Irish activists in 1981 which ended in 10 of the strikers’ deaths. The group wants everyone to know that they will hold out until the end.
“Through our self-sacrifice we will show the authorities, the opposition and the entire world that we are undefeatable. We have faith, a firm moral ground and the support of the society, which means that our victory is inevitable,” said Sandro Bregadze, the leader of Georgian March.
Bregadze is a former government official who previously worked as the deputy minister for diaspora issues under the current government. Even back then many human rights activists accused him of xenophobia and homophobia.
Having left the service of the state, Bregadze first unsuccessfully tried to run for the municipal council of Tbilisi, after which he took up the mantle of Georgian March. He now intends to put forward his candidacy for the presidential elections in Georgia which will take place in autumn this year.
Bregadze says that Georgian March has been brought together via common goals: the creation of a national government and the defence of national culture and traditions. He asserts that Georgian March is a centre-right leaning organisation, analogous to that of Marine le Pen’s National Front in France or the ‘Alternative for Germany’.
“Our motto is not ‘Georgia for Georgians’, but ‘Georgian Georgia’. People of all nationalities that live in Georgia must enjoy the same rights and be equally protected. But Georgia must be Georgian – this means that our traditional values and morals must be the main priority, and the war against them must end,” Bregadze said.
What does ‘the defence of traditional values’ mean?
Members of Georgian March say that the defence of values means defending ‘historically established traditions’, which are threatened by ‘the propaganda of homosexualism and a perverted lifestyle’.
The organisation’s members claim that the amendment made to the constitution of Georgia last year, which defines marriage as between a woman and a man, was a result of their fight.
However, they say that this is not enough and that effective steps must be taken against the ‘decomposition of the nation’, which entails expelling foreign NGOs and strengthening the migration legislation.
“There is a very ferocious war being waged on Georgian culture, and the front is manned by foreign NGOs, most of which are [supported by] George Soros [Open Society Foundations]. We are not proposing anything new. Look at Hungary and Viktor Orban, who is doing the same thing that we are demanding,” Sandro Bregadze explains.
He calls Georgia’s NGO sector an ‘openly acting foreign agent’.
As for measures against migration, the organisation insists that substantial limitations be placed on immigrants from Asia and Africa. Bregadze’s plan calls for visas to be given to citizens of these countries for a maximum of one month, and that the procedure for receiving residency status in the country and citizenship be made more difficult.
Georgian March members believe that these measures will lower the risk of a terrorist attack and that the ‘propaganda of perversion’ and drug trafficking – allegedly brought in by foreign migrants – would also subside.
“Foreigners have descended upon Georgia like locusts. The time has come for the government to take measures,” Bregadze says. As a part of the presidential platform, he promises to introduce a strict migration policy which would be like that offered by France’s right-wing politician Marine le Pen.
Why have ultranationalists appeared in Georgia?
There are several explanations as to why groups such as Georgian March and other ultranationalist groups have appeared in Georgia. A specialist on international relations gave us some insight.
Mississippi University graduate Giorgi Khatiashvili says that this is a world-wide trend that is attracting many people in Georgia who are dissatisfied with the current economic conditions in the country.
However, Khatiashvili notes that Russia’s influence cannot be excluded, and that it is very supportive of such ultranationalist groups in other countries with the aim of growing its own influence.
“It is in Russia’s interest to see a growth in anti-liberal, anti-western and ethno-nationalist forces. This is what the latest report from the State Security Service of Georgia says,” notes Khatiashvili.
Another reason for the growth in popularity of such ultranationalist movements is, in Khatiashvili’s opinion, the rise of social media and the subsequent ease in the access to and spread of information, which can easily influence adolescents.
Khatiashvili also commented on relations between Georgian March and the Georgian authorities.
“One of the founders of this organisation used to work as a deputy minister. For that reason it is fair to assume that some authorities share some of the principles of Georgian March, but some don’t even share their [Georgian dream’s] sympathy for them [foreigners] at all.”
For example, the head of the parliamentary committee for legal issues, Eka Beselia, has stated that she ‘does not doubt the patriotism’ of one of the leaders of Georgian March – Gia Korkotashvili – who was at the time being investigated for making coercive threats.
The statement made by the chairman of the parliament Irakli Kobakhdize, which came in the wake of the incident involving the attack on the Rustavi-2 journalists, was practically the only critical statement made by the authorities at the time.
“Violence is not justifiable by anything – one must react accordingly to it. Violence must be stopped,” Kobakhidze said.
Members of the ruling Georgian Dream party usually tend to avoid making critical assessments on the demonstrations of the Georgian March.
Georgi Khatiashvili says that one can note sympathy and positive attitudes towards the nationalists from politicians of the ruling party, ‘which harms both the ruling party and the country on the level of discourse’.
Khatiashvili says that if the ruling party weakens, reactionary forces such as Georgian March may turn into a serious problem, and for that reason the authorities must ‘be careful in conducting a logical policy’.
Russia and financing
Georgian March representatives support a ‘careful policy’ regarding Russia and a slight distancing from the west – that is, rejecting the country’s entrance into NATO and any other military alliances and declaring the country neutral.
“Russia occupies 20 percent of our territory. This however doesn’t mean that the Russian people are our enemies. Georgia has no enemies in the form of a nation. In parallel with the policy of deoccupation, we must conduct negotiations with Russia and convince it that the restoration of territorial integrity will not be a threat to anybody. But to restore relations we need to make sure that our country is not controlled by the agents of the West, and that the priority of the state is to serve Georgia,” Bregadze says.
Gia Korkotashvili, another leader of the Georgian March organisation, believes that Georgia must develop ‘national diplomacy’ with Russia and believes it is illogical for the organisation to be called pro-Russian.
Where does Georgian March receive its financing from?
This question has been an additional argument for those that insist that Russia has its hand in the activities of the ultranationalist organisation. Representatives of the March say this is ‘idiocy’ and insist that the March survives on the funds of its members and the small donations of sympathetic businessmen, says the leader of the organisation’s youth wing, Anzor Porchkhidze.
“We have just a small three-room apartment that we use as an office and a few computers. We have nothing more. My source of income is sports. I was a European champion in mixed martial arts, and I now train children. Other members of the organisation live similarly. For example, one of my friends sells his handicrafts, others are just unemployed,” says Anzor.
Leaders and activists of the March believe that the organisation has big political potential and believe it could become one of the three biggest political parties in the country. However, Georgian March hasn’t been mentioned in any of the public surveys that have been carried out over the past year – neither as a political party nor an organisation.