On December 14, the ruling “Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia” (GDDG) party held a large rally/concert on Tbilisi’s central Freedom Square. GD leaders said the concert was organized by the youth wing of the party to mark the Georgian Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Opposition argues, GDDG has tried to counter-act the popular protests by a show of force,busing its activists and civil servants from Georgia’s provinces.
The rally/concert, lasted for around an hour, finished around 17:00 Tbilisi time. Leaders of Georgian Dream party, among them party chairman Bidzina Ivanishvili, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia and party’s Secretary General, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, as well as GD’s youth wing leaders addressed the crowds.
Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Remarks
The GDDG chairman opened by saying “Georgia not [only] has to formally return to Europe, but it has to regain its bright place in the constellation of Europe.”
“Democracy, the rule of law, equality and tolerance are the values that Europe is based on and that are so deeply entrenched into Georgian soul. This very nature, these values make Georgia an organic part of Europe. Being a child of multi-ethnic and multi-religious Georgia, to be Georgian, thus means to sing Mravalzhamieri, to create polyphony [in music], to dance Khorumi, to write “Knight in the Panther’s Skin”; being Georgian means to lead the Georgian supra [feast], to internalize [classical humanist writer] Vazha-Pshavela, being Georgian means for Georgia to live in each and every cell of your body”.
“It was with this approach that we achieved sealing Association and Free Trade Agreements with Europe. It was thanks to these approaches that Georgian citizens were granted visa-free travel to the European Union. It was our loyalty to European choice that brought us unprecedented, bipartisan support of the U.S., our strategic partner and the leader of the free world. I am confident that it on this symbolic place [of Freedom Square] we will celebrate our entry into the European Union; where we will say that historic justice is restored, we achieved our goal [to enter the EU].”
Ivanishvili noted that “in many aspects we already live in a European democracy, that Georgian Dream achieved without violence.“
In his speech, Ivanishvili also criticized the former ruling party, noting that Georgian Dream was inherited with “grave legacy” from the United National Movement (UNM). In this context, the ruling party chairperson spoke of poverty, Russian occupation, authoritarianism and “seizure of the state institutions by the small group that worked for oppressing the freedom of thought and our free citizens.”
“It is cynical that those [ex-President Saakashvili’s United National Movement] that formalized [Russian] occupation are playing a patriotic role now, and are blaming us for [Russian] occupation. Those that trampled the fundamental human rights under their feet, tortured their compatriots and murdered them in the streets, seized business [and] media and abolished the freedom of speech, as well as banned the street (you do remember, it was banned to get to the street) are the people blaming us that [Georgia] is lacking democracy today. And they are doing it through televisions promptly whipped up with stolen money,” Ivanishvili noted.
Georgian Dream chairman appealed to the party supporters that “we will overcome all difficulties, we will unite our country, we will revive [Georgian] economy, and most importantly, we will [achieve this] in a way that a human being will retain its [place as] supreme value.” Concluding his remarks, Ivanishvili also spoke of the importance of education and underscored that “the country needs European experience, science and education” and that should be its [Georgia’s] weapon.
“This is why I allowed myself to make largest investment in education. Even many economically well-off countries would not dare spending 25% of its budget on education,” Ivanishvili said, adding that “an unprecedented education reform that we inaugurated this year is the crown for our country’s seven years of peaceful and democratic development, it serves as our ambitious statement for inevitable successes that are yet to come.”
Prime Minister Gakharia’s Remarks
Georgian PM Giorgi Gakharia told concert-attendants that since April 9 of 1991 [the day Georgia declared restoration of its independence from the USSR] each and every one of us “overcame difficult days step-by-step” in order to “be closer to Europe.” In noted that history serves as the proof that Europe has always been present in Georgia. “Europe is Georgia’s past, Europe is Georgia’s present and Europe will be Georgia’s tomorrow,” Georgian PM added.
“We have never had as close relations with Europe as we got today. We enjoy close economic ties with Europe. Today, all Georgians can enjoy visa-free travel to Europe. All of these [achievements] happened in recent years, we ought to be proud of what is yet to come, as well as with what we have achieved.”
PM Gakharia also spoke of Georgian doctor Gaprindashvili, who remains in Tskhinvali’s pre-trial custody for around a month now. In his words, “it is unfair that the person, a doctor, that crossed the line of occupation with a goodwill, good intent, is in such a state today.” “we will survive this, we will continue to move forward towards our final victory, within Europe,” he added.
Tbilisi Mayor Kakha kaladze’s Remarks
Tbilisi Mayor Kaladze spoke of the importance of Georgia’s European integration. He noted that each and every Georgian should first internalize Europe, after which “becoming a member of the European Union will be just a formal [step].”
“Europeanness means to have a good faith towards yourself and co-citizens. This means to be dedicated to one’s job, to love and care for your homeland, that Georgian political spectrum so much lacks today”, Kaladze noted, adding that Georgia will “establish its dignified place in Europe and in the World.”
Further details about the rally
The participants of the GD-organized event started gathering on Tbilisi’s main Freedom Square around Saturday noon. The citizens were brought to the rally-concert by buses and micro-buses from various regions of Georgia. Georgian Dream party provided the means of their transportation to the Georgian capital. The event was attended by the public service employees, including the teachers of public schools and kindergartens.
According to recent media reports, Georgian Dream kept blackmailing them with losing their jobs if they failed to attend the rally. A day before the GD rally, a group of local civil society organizations accused the ruling party of compelling public servants and citizens to participate in the rally. In a joint statement released on December 13, Georgian CSOs noted that “in some municipalities, in addition to party coordinators, mayoral representatives in villages and members of Sakrebulos are actively involved in mobilization process.”
Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria also made a statement about coercion of public servants and citizens to participate in the rally, noting that “such actions contain the signs of a criminal offence.” Nino Lomjaria called on law enforcement agencies “to take appropriate steps and identify alleged responsible persons, the actions of which may include signs of a crime.”
Ruling Georgian Dream party began mobilizing its supporters to counter-protest against opposition parties and civic activists that hit the streets since November 14 protesting Georgian Dream’s failure to adopt constitutional amendment envisaging transition to fully proportional electoral system from 2020 instead of 2024.
It should also be noted that throughout last weeks ruling party supporters disrupted civic activists’ and opposition’s protests and performances and even attacked the offices of the opposition parties.