As protests calling for proportional elections in 2020 continue throughout Georgia, the supporters of the ruling Georgian Dream party (GDDG) started to regularly mobilize in protest hot-spots to counter the opposition, often using both, verbal and physical abuse in recent days.
On December 2, a group of civil rights and opposition activists of the group “Gabede” (“Dare” – in Georgian) rallied in Mtskheta outside the offices of Georgian Dream’s Dimitri Khundadze, majoritarian MP, who was among the group of deputies that voted against the proportional polls.
The protesters were confronted by the ruling party activists, some of whom were identified as civil servants, who did not allow them to hold a protest rally and assaulted them physically. Two civil rights activists were beaten and hospitalized with injuries. Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri said that seven people were detained during the Mtskheta incident, including three supporters of the ruling party, but all of them were soon released.
This contrasts sharply with detentions during the Tbilisi protest rallies in recent weeks, where youths were routinely detained and sentenced to terms from one to seven days of administrative detention for “disobedience to the police” and “hooliganism”.
Another clash of GDDG activists with protesters took place outside the central office of the ruling party on December 2, where civic activists gathered to protest the violence in Mtskheta earlier during the same day. The protesters said once again that they were victims of unprovoked assault by Georgian Dream supporters, as the police stood by.
Civic activists from “In the Service of the Country” group launched the rally outside the ruling party’s office at 19:00. Georgian Dream supporters showed up shortly afterwards soon and started to insult the protesters both verbally and physically.
Gathered GDDG were aggressive against the protesters, saying they were holdovers of ex-President Saakashvili’s supporters and his United National Movement (UNM). Their posters claimed they were indignant at UNM party “coming back to power”.
The police was present in numbers, but the protesters said they let the violent GDDG activists pass, despite their clearly aggressive stance. These were not detained after the physical violence, either, although several were removed by the police briefly from the site of confrontation.
Several protesters sustained injuries during the skirmishes outside Georgian Dream’s headquarters.
According to the Interior Ministry, investigation has been launched under article 126 (violence) of the criminal code of Georgia; nobody has been detained so far.
GDDG supporters were bused into the capital early on December 2 ostensibly to celebrate Georgia’s accepting the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe. They have gathered in central Tbilisi’s Orbeliani Square, close to the President’s residence and in a walking distance from the Georgian Dream’s headquarters to attend a concert organized by GDDG youth wing. Georgian media reported that some of the youths gathered at the concert were sighted attacking the protesters at the GDDG HQ.
The incidents also follow a new GDDG campaign, that started outside the Kutaisi office of the UNM past Friday and Saturday, where they threw eggs and broomsticks – which became a symbol of prison abuse in 2012 – at the UNM office. Posters read that GDDG intends to start a “de-Mishisation” movement across the country – after the diminutive name “Misha” of Mikheil Saakashvili.
Senior GDDG figures, inculding Irakli Kobakhidze and Giorgi Volski said the protests were UNM-orchestrated, even though civic movements obviously dominated at the outset and quite unprecedented diversity of the parties that demands proportional elections. Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani also announced an intention to “end cohabitation” with UNM – even though the party lost power in 2012, and Saakashvili left the president’s office in 2013.
The opposition claims the ruling party resorted to counter rallies failing to curtail the protests through the repeat police action, and as the use of force against apparently non-violent protesters starts to affect its standing with international partners. The opposition says encouraging civic confrontation in the country is dangerous and says the ruling party is responsible.
MP Elene Khoshtaria of European Georgia noted that Ivanishvili is trying to disrupt protests and trigger confrontation. “We will not get involved in either confrontation or violence. Bidzina Ivanishvili will not be able to disrupt protests,” she said.
“Ivanishvili imitates civil confrontation… now it is clear for everyone that he wants unrest and destabilization, but we should not allow him to achieve it,” Mikheil Saakashvili, ex-President and leader of the UNM said.
The ruling party officials say it is the opposition which provokes confrontation, while the state acts to “prevent” potential violence. Georgian Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze said that “the state should take preventive measures and prevent actions from the both sides, which may cause violence.”
Kakha Kaladze, the ruling party’s Secretary General and Tbilisi Mayor, also accused the opposition of being behind the unrest. He, however, noted that he sees no threat of civil confrontation.
Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said that “the state will not allow any civic confrontation.” “Unfortunately, irresponsible people are trying to drag the youth into this political and emotionally tense process. Do not forget that these young people may oppose each other today, but tomorrow these people should build the country; so, besides law, moral responsibility will be imposed on all those people, who dare, who call or incite this confrontation,” he said.
Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria spoke for calm pointing to the importance of reaching a political consensus. “If the current situation state of affairs persists, it will have a [damaging] effect on the country and the people, because actually all government agencies are engaged in preventing such incidents and nobody has time to think about long-term reforms,” she said.