If you aren’t yet aware of the events that unfolded in Tbilisi, Georgia in the past days, here’s a small recap: people came out to protest on the streets on June 20 after it became known that Sergey Gavrilov, a Russian duma deputy, led the inter-parliamentary Orhtodox assembly at the Georgian parliament from the chairman’s seat.
During the day, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the oligarch behind the ruling “Georgian Dream” party and its several leaders voiced their indignation over the fact, but the government was still refraining from any concrete actions.
Separate protest demonstrations were taking place in the city simultaneously throughout the day and several thousand people gathered in front of the Parliament building in the evening. At this demonstration, opposition parties demanded the resignation of the Minister of Internal Affairs and the head of the State Security Service of Georgia. After being called on to do so by Nika Melia, one of the prominent members of the “United National Movement” party, the participants of the protest decided to storm the Parliament, which was opposed by special forces and the police. People took shields and helmets from several policemen. Shortly after that, despite the PM’s promises, law enforcement started using tear gas, water jets and rubber bullets without warning.
Naturally, the events of June 20 were very difficult to digest for the society, creating many questions and diverging opinions. For obvious reasons, many of those questions are addressed at the Georgian government: how did Gavrilov end up in the chairman’s seat? What was it - part of a plan or a simple coincidence? Which option is worse? Why couldn’t the government give an adequate answer to the society’s protest during the day? Why weren’t the protesters warned about the use of force? Why did the prime minister claim that the government wasn’t planning to use rubber bullets or tear gas, when that’s exactly what it did several minutes later? Why did the government change its mind about a possible arrangement with the opposition? Why did the police display brutality and why were they shooting at protesters from such a small distance with bullets that can paralyze a person? Why were so many journalists hurt?
The government only replied to the questions partially: after the political council of “Georgian Dream”, only Irakli Kobakhidze, the chairman of parliament, and Zakaria Kutsinashvili, Gavrilov’s host, resigned. But government representatives still don’t admit that the actions of the police crossed the lines of law and constitution. Kakhi Kaladze, mayor of Tbilisi, qualified those actions as a “high standard”. Therefore, regardless of countless demands, the resignation of Giorgi Gakharia, Minister of Internal Affairs, doesn’t seem to be in the government’s plans yet. Just as the early elections or switching to a proportional election system by 2020.
However, there are questions that our society asks itself. For example, very few people would answer positively yesterday if you had asked them whether the civil protests were directed by one of the political groups. The name of the protest - “Shame!” - expressed the attitude of the majority quite well.
But, during the evening, it were mainly opposition representatives who went to the tribune and talked into the mic, causing the discontent of some of the protesters who claimed that politicians use their protest for their personal interests. After the call to storm the parliament and the attempt to breach the police cordon, they had a formal reason to break off the protest.
On June 21, 3 different protest demonstrations were planned and questions of who and how should take part in them is still up for heated debate, in closed Facebook groups among other places.
Unfortunately, talking about the inability to stand together has become a tradition in Georgia.
By the way, they also say that the non-homogenous attitude towards the opposition could have become yet another motivation for the government to break up the protests.
One way or another, recent events are a good opportunity for the society to reflect about its political preferences.
In a survey carried out by the NDI in 2019, 36% replied with “none” when asked which political party was closest to their worldview. In that survey, “Georgian Dream” and the “United National Movement” got 27% and 12% of votes respectively.
What’s more, there’s no consensus among protesters about the demands they have. The one thing everybody agrees on is the resignation of the Minister of Internal Affairs and the necessary punishment of the guilty party. But it is still unknown what else the protesters are asking - early elections, or elections with a proportional system?
At the same time, regardless of a divergence of opinions and arguments, for many people the decisive factor in this situation was Russia. According to them, this time they have to make the choice not between bad and worse as usual, but between Russia and the country’s independence. The example of a spontaneously organized multi-thousand protest showed just how sensitive an issue Russian occupation is for the population of Georgia.
The participants of the June 21 protests also note that chaos and destabilization in the country profits to none other than Russia in the first place, which is why it’s important for the protests to maintain a peaceful character and for law enforcement officials not to get another reason to use force.
It’s also worth noting that Russian media is actively covering the events taking place in Tbilisi, while Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dimitry Peskov already called them a “Russophobic provocation created by extremist elements”.
The only thing left for us to do is hope that above mentioned questions will get exhaustive answers and society will reach a consensus where it’s necessary. At least in the near future. But we probably do already know one thing - we won’t be seeing any Russian deputies in the Georgian parliament any time soon, not even in a far-away future.
Photo: Voice of America