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GEORGIA: Who are right-wing forces that attacked Georgia’s LGBTIQ+ ?

Who are right-wing forces that attacked Georgia’s LGBTIQ+ ?

By Gillian Kane And Mariam Kvaratskhelia


EU Observer (13.07.2021) – https://bit.ly/3edGWv2 – As citizens around the world mark the closing of gay pride month with celebratory marches and parades, in Tbilisi, Georgia, organisers and activists are fighting for their basic right to assemble.


In this former Soviet Republic in the Caucasus, LGBTIQ+ rights have long been a litmus test for democracy and tolerance.


On 5 July, Georgia failed that test when organisers of Tbilisi Pride were confronted with violence by counter-protestors and forced to cancel the march.


Georgian prime minister Irakli Garibashvili had accused the “radical opposition” of planning the Pride march in order to sow “unrest.”


Following his statement, mobs stormed and ransacked the office of the Pride organisers while Orthodox priests and others attacked journalists.


Police stood by and failed to prevent the violence.


These events illustrate how LGBTIQ+ advocates in hostile countries like Georgia – at great personal risk – must push boundaries to create the public space that will allow them to truly celebrate.


Pride marches, starting with Stonewall in 1969, have always been an evolution. Georgia’s LGBTIQ+ movement is diving headlong into that clash, yet also picking up some support in the process.


The day after the violence unfolded, over 7,000 people waving rainbow flags marched down the capital’s main street to the Georgian parliament. This show of solidarity with the LGBTIQ+ community was brave and unprecedented.


Just weeks before Tbilisi Pride the ultra-conservative Georgian activist, Levan Vasadze, who is affiliated with the group that organised the counter-protests, held a press conference at the Tbilisi Marriott Hotel.


Seated next to Vasadze as he announced his intention to enter Georgian politics was the American anti-LGBT activist Brian Brown. The moment encapsulated how even as US president Joe Biden tries to normalise US foreign policy, Trump allies continue to work to promote illiberalism abroad.



Bannon and Trump


Brown vowed at the press conference to engage support for Vasadze in the US, including from Steve Bannon, while also teasing the promise of support from “president Trump himself.”


Brown did all of this despite his 501(c)3 non-profit, the International Organization for the Family, which includes the World Congress of Families, being barred from campaigning for or against political candidates under US law. American authorities should take action.


Brown first rose to prominence in the late naughts with his campaign against same-sex marriage in California and his creation of the National Organization for Marriage.


After the battle against same-sex marriage in the US was lost, he turned his attention abroad becoming president of World Congress of Families in 2016.


Notably, Brown’s election to this position was announced while he was in Tbilisi at a WCF conference where anti-LGBT forces gathered to “establish a beachhead in the region.” In addition to his collaboration with Vasadze, Brown has nurtured relationships with illiberal leaders in Europe such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and former Italian minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini.


The WCF was formed in Russia in 1997 at a meeting between Allan Carlson, an American academic and former official in the Reagan administration, and Russian intellectuals.


WCF has been designated an anti-LGBTI hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Brown continues fostering relationships with Russia and after Donald Trump was elected president, he worked to unite Russian and American conservatives.


Levan Vasadze, who made his fortune in Russia, also shares connections to the Kremlin. Alexander Dugin, a Russian ultra-nationalist who is widely considered to be the Kremlin’s chief ideologist—his nickname is ‘Putin’s Brain’—is a close associate. The two met immediately after Vasadze launched his political movement last month.


Vasadze’s attacks against the Georgian LGBTI community are well-documented.


In 2019 he organised illegal gangs to break up the first Tbilisi Pride.


Brian Brown was in Tbilisi and joined Vasadze before a crowd gathering on the steps of a church to protest the pride march. Though Vasadze was investigated by the ministry of interior for creating vigilante patrols, there were no consequences.


This year, Vasadze reprised his threats to organizers and the government, and to great effect. Tbilisi Pride was cut short because of violent intimidation, likely incited by Vasadze and Garibashvili’s rhetoric.


To fight this wave of repression, Georgian officials must condemn the violence and prosecute those responsible. And US authorities must hold Americans accountable to the damage they do to democracy abroad in violation of US law and against human rights.



Photo: Tbilisi Pride

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GEORGIA’s future is European: Major agreement between Brussels & Tbilissi

Georgia’s future is European

On 19 April, Georgia’s political leaders signed a major political agreement following weeks of mediation by the European Union. The following op-ed is penned by those that initiated and supported this mediation – the President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. Together, they look ahead at what this agreement means for Georgia, for the EU and for EU-Georgia relations.


By Salome Zourabichvili and Charles Michel


Euronews (19.05.2021) – https://bit.ly/3ypq0dA – As it recovered its independence 30 years ago, Georgia renewed its historic aspiration to rejoin the European family. Since 2004, the European Union responded by opening a steady process which has brought Georgia closer to Europe from the European Neighborhood (2004) to the Eastern Partnership (2009). In the past decade, the movement accelerated with the signing of the Association Agreement of 2014, which also included a free trade area; and in 2017, visa liberalisation was concluded allowing Georgians to travel to the EU without visas for short-term stays. Connections between Georgia and the EU are far more profound than ever before, an achievement which no one could have contemplated when the country broke free from Soviet rule in 1991.


Yet in early 2021, Georgia faced a political deadlock. Latent polarisation pitted the ruling and opposition parties against each other. Despite facilitation efforts by the EU and US envoys, tensions morphed into a political crisis. With the region’s stability challenged by the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan reigniting in Autumn 2020, it became essential to consolidate Georgia’s democracy and stability. With the full backing of the President of Georgia, the President of the European Council offered EU mediation in the political dialogue relaunched during his 1 March visit to Georgia.


We, the President of Georgia and the President of the European Council, want to express our deep satisfaction in seeing this deal agreed and signed by the ruling and opposition parties. This agreement puts an end to a crisis that could have disrupted the democratic advancement achieved over the past decades and weakened Georgia’s progress along its European path. Through dialogue, leadership and compromise, Georgian political leaders put differences aside for the greater good of the country. This was done in a truly European spirit reviving Georgia’s image as a democratic anchor in the region. The political crisis is over, constructive political engagement needs to be sustained. We call on each and everyone to live up to their commitments.


This agreement is a win for Georgia, its people and the European Union.




A win for robust democratic institutions in Georgia


With European support, this Agreement will deepen the reforms of the country’s institutions. The electoral process will meet the highest standard and reforms of the judicial system should end any perceived politicisation of justice.


Power-sharing procedures will make the Georgian Parliament one of the most pluralistic. These changes will not only make Georgian democracy more vibrant, it will ensure that reforms are inclusive and viable.



A win for the people of Georgia


Away from partisan feuds, the focus will move to meeting the pressing issues which face the country: dealing with the pandemic as well as its economic and social consequences; maintaining stability; investing in the future. Georgians have seen they were not alone to overcome the crisis. To this day, the EU has been Georgia’s largest donor with over 200 concrete ongoing projects and a total budget of 500 million euros. The European Investment Bank has invested some 1.85 billion Euros in economic development, agriculture, education and infrastructure to name a few.


More tangible support from Europe will follow. The agreement – entitled “A way ahead for Georgia” – paves the way for closer cooperation with the EU; financial support to soften the blow of the post-COVID recovery; enhanced participation in the EU’s programmes; and a renewed focus on physical and digital infrastructure projects that can increase connectivity of Georgia and the Caucasus and Black Sea regions with Europe, with the potential to further increase growth.



A win for the European Union


The EU can count on a stable, fiercely pro-European partner in a region essential to Europe’s values, security and connectivity. At a time when the regional landscape is being reshaped, Georgia matters more than ever.


With mutual interests at stake, the EU and Georgia now need to further deepen the implementation of the Association Agreement and further strengthen their cooperation. In addition to bilateral agendas, we will continue to work for a renewed and deepened Eastern Partnership that expands areas for cooperation, increases EU support and extends the links between our peoples. In parallel, to mark the special relationship between the EU and its Associated partners in the Eastern Partnership, we propose to hold, in the coming months, a leaders’ meeting, with the Presidents of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova.


At a time of increased geopolitical pressures in the region, there is no better answer than the demonstration just given by Europe and Georgia. On the one hand, decisive European political support to a small but vibrant democracy and to avoid any form of destabilisation. On the other hand, Georgia’s determination to continue undeterred on its chosen path towards its Euro-Atlantic future.

Photo credits: Georgia Today

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Georgian police abused LGBT+ activists with strip searches, court rules

Ex-Soviet nation breached international obligations by failing to protect them from inhumane and degrading treatment, court rules.


By Umberto Bacchi


Thomson Reuters Foundation (08.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/3lE5nTM – Europe’s top rights court said on Thursday Georgian police had deliberately humiliated LGBT+ activists by strip searching them during a raid, a ruling campaigners hope will help change attitudes towards gay people among local authorities.


The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found the ex-Soviet republic had breached its international obligations by failing to protect the activists from inhumane and degrading treatment, and by not properly investigating the incident.


“The judgment exposes systemic discriminatory attitudes within the Georgian police, which must now change,” said Philip Leach, director of the British-based European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), which represented the claimants.


The Georgian government did not immediately reply to a request for comment.


Georgia has witnessed a cultural clash between liberal forces and religious conservatives over the past decade as it has modernised and introduced radical reforms, though it remains socially conservative for the most part.


It has passed anti-discrimination laws in an effort to move closer to the European Union, but LGBT+ rights groups say there is a lack of adequate protection by law enforcement officials in cases involving homophobic abuse.


Thursday’s ruling stems from a December 2009 raid on the Tbilisi offices of the Inclusive Foundation, Georgia’s first but now-defunct LGBT+ organisation, where a group of campaigners, mainly women, had gathered to prepare an art exhibition.


According to witness statements, plain-clothed police officers looking for drugs arrived without showing a warrant and became aggressive upon realising they had entered the premises of an LGBT+ group.


The officers insulted the women present, calling them “sick”, “perverts” and “dykes”, and threatened to reveal their sexual orientation to their families.


Cannabis was found inside the desk of the group’s director, who was arrested and charged with a drug offence. He later confessed to the crime and was released on the condition he pay a fine as part of a plea bargain.


Nearly all of the women were told to undress – but police did not search the clothes they were told to take off.


In 2010, two of them – Ekaterine Aghdgomelashvili and Tinatin Japaridze – filed a criminal complaint for police abuse with local authorities.


They later appealed to the ECHR, which found that while the local case was still ongoing, authorities had yet to undertake a single investigative act.


In a unanimous ruling, judges said police behaviour was “grossly inappropriate” and motivated by homophobic hatred, the court said in a statement.


Neither the police nor the government had given reason for the strip searches, leading judges to conclude “their sole purpose had been to embarrass and punish the applicants”, the court added.


“It’s a very emotional moment. This case changed quite a lot of my life, negatively mostly,” Japaridze told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an online call. “After 11 years I have a sense that justice… is in place.”


The court awarded her and Aghdgomelashvili $2,000 each in damages, and rights campaigners hailed the ruling.


Keti Bakhtadze, a lawyer at the Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), a Georgian LGBT+ group of which Aghdgomelashvili and Japaridze are members, called it “very important”.


She said she hoped it would push the government to push legislative changes and introduce awareness campaigns and training on LGBT+ issues for law enforcement officials.

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