Dispatch | July 4-5: Amok

Today is the one-year anniversary of the tragic day when the violent mobs were allowed to run amok in Tbilisi, targeting civic rights activists, journalists and queer community. Despite some mixed developments in the past days, the reservoir of mutual hate is still there, and still instrumentalized for political purposes. This is the dispatch.

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WHITE COURT, BLACK COURT Justice works its way through July 5 pogrom, but not always in the same way. The Tbilisi Court decided that the assault on Tbilisi Pride offices was not either intolerance-induced or organized. Three assailants walked away with minor fines, that equaled their posted bail. The ruling seems to fly in the face of facts: that day’s footage seems to clearly show that there were more than three assailants, that they were burning rainbow flags and screaming homophobic slurs. But the Court has spoken. Yet, there is a higher-level recourse: the news broke that the European Court of Human Rights took up the July 5, 2021 case, and will be in a position to pose its decisive verdict – not only regarding the immediate perpetrators, but also regarding the political facilitators. As they say in Georgia, justice travels by buffalo-cart, slowly, but surely… In the meantime, President Salome Zurabishvili staked out her position saying people are still waiting for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, while “pro-Russian, violent, homophobic and aggressive groupings got stronger.”

AND WIMPER Massive turnout at the pro-European rallies on June 20 and 24 ignited hope and optimism in Georgia’s civic and opposition circles. An outside observer would have been stunned how this groundswell of positivity gave ground to bitter pessimism on social networks on July 3, when the next scheduled rally took place. The turnout, though somewhat reduced, was far from insignificant. Yet, Georgia’s political experience, and perhaps also the dominant mentality expects (and demands) a snowball effect of rallies until the culmination and climax – dramatic concession by the ruling force. For a month, the rallies were spearheaded by civic activists that shunned the political parties. While they seemed to generate high attendance, the detractors were quiet, although chipping away at the inexperience of the newly hatched leaders. Some derided their non-violent choice, others – absence of the detailed and communicated plan of action. With the momentum seemingly reduced, these voices joined the blanket propaganda of the ruling party to declare the end of protest wave. “The government has met, they have lost,” declared triumphant GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze. The ruling party is obviously relieved: the somewhat milder tone is out of the window, and the new venom is directed against “rich NGOs“. Never mind that, those are the very civil society groups that the EC recommends to involve in “decision-making at all levels” – our money is on the ruling party inviting them to cooperate with one hand (say, on government’s plan), and while pushing hard to discredit them and push them into confrontation. Would civic activists be the first to escape the traditional politics of brinkmanship, while pressing for concessions!? The jury is out on that. One thing is for sure: these CSOs will require lots of sympathetic support form their European and US backers, who are, at times, too quick to jump on the bandwagon of governments’ declared goodwill. The trail of broken promises says the devil (or the oligarch…) is often in the details.

STRANGER THINGS At time, freak event pops out to present in stark contrast the level of political polarization and lingering paranoia. The Georgian essay composition themes for the school graduation sent the Georgian twittering masses into the frenzy. “Does it make sense to keep on fighting, when the battle is already lost?” was the question that attracted most ire. “Security services are everywhere!” wrote one, “the party bosses have pushed the message down to schools!” thundered another “they are spreading defeatism among students” agreed the third. True, the question riffed off the government’s recent message, that the opposition is trying to push Georgia into war with Russia, and the thinly veiled sentiment of some pro-ruling party analysts that Ukraine’s battle was lost before it began. It seems, there is still long way to travel from the authoritarian past to internalize that the question does not always imply an answer.

That’s it for today. The Dispatch will be back on Friday for its last issue before going into summer recess.