The Georgian Dream government came under fire over allowing the visit of Russian-American journalist Vladimir Pozner, known in Georgia for his controversial remarks about the country’s territorial integrity, to Tbilisi. Scores of Georgians are now for hours protesting the visit and demanding Pozner to leave the country.
According to media reports, Pozner arrived in the Georgian capital with a charter flight in the evening of March 31 together with around 30 Russian journalists and celebrities, to celebrate his birthday on April 1.
The visit’s coincidence to 30-year anniversary of Georgia’s referendum on the independence restoration from the Soviet Union, and its defiance of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and night-time curfew, further added to the controversy.
Scores of civic and pro-opposition activists, as well as opposition leaders, have first gathered to protest outside a small hotel in downtown Tbilisi, which hosted a curfew-defying feast of Pozner’s group.
The protesters that skirmished with the mobilized police, said “the Kremlin propagandist” and “Putin’s ideologist” who suggested “Abkhazia will never again become part of Georgia” shall not have been allowed to the country. The protesters reportedly cut the power supply to the feast-hosting building twice.
Also at the protest outside the hotel-restaurant, Elene Khoshtaria of the Droa political movement, who signaled the visit, called the 112 Emergency Response Center over the breach of COVID rules. The Labor Inspection fined the hotel-restaurant with GEL 10,000 for defying the COVID restriction, which prohibits on-site restaurant services after 21:00.
Media also cited Vazha Siradze, Patrol Police Head, noting that the police will fine Pozner and his company with GEL 2,000 over breaching the 21:00 – 05:00 COVID curfew.
As the crowd kept protesting, the police escorted Pozner and his co-visitors from the restaurant to the Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, where the group is reportedly staying over. The protesting activists soon followed the route, egging the entrance of the Rooms Hotel as a sign of protest.
Media cited the Ministry of Interior as saying that Pozner – a U.S. citizen – had not breached Georgia’s Law on the Occupied Territories and that he had visited Georgia multiple times before. The Ministry also asserted part of Pozner’s delegation had COVID-passports while others presented negative PCR test results upon arrival.
But some activists indicated, that Article 11 of the Law of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons, foresees grounds for refusing foreign nationals to enter the country, including a foreigner posing a threat to public order, or for foreign policy considerations.
Zaal Udumashvili of the United National Movement, the largest opposition party, said “Vladimir Pozner is an emissary of the current Russian ruler Vladimir Putin.” “He shall leave the country. He has no right to be in this country, toasting at the Georgian supra [feast].”
Noting that Pozner’s arrival is an insult to the Georgian state, Elene Khoshtaria of the Droa political movement said the authorities had a mechanism at their disposal to refuse Pozner’s entry into the country for his statements against Georgia’s territorial integrity.
Giorgi Kandelaki of the European Georgia party said, „our aim is to make every minute spent in Georgia for the face of propaganda of the occupier state [Russia] uncomfortable as much as possible.“ He asserted that the Georgian Dream government did not learn the lesson from the controversial visit of Sergey Gavrilov, Russian Orthodox Communist MP, whose arrival led to anti-Russian occupation unrest in the Georgian capital in June 2019.
Zurab Japaridze, right-libertarian Girchi-More Freedom party leader, said Pozner and his companions are moving around the city escorted by the Georgian police, dining in the restaurant during curfew, while “Georgian citizens are fined for not wearing face masks.”
Leader of the New Political Center-Girchi party Vakhtang Megrelishvili questioned whether the Russian journalist “deserves a protest of this kind.” He asked: “Do we not have bigger problems than Pozner’s evening supper, nothing more to protest?!”
Lelo for Georgia party’s Grigol Gegelia said “today this government told us to get used to everything. “The person, who deems acceptable fascist policy pursued by Russia against Georgia, is drinking Georgian wine here today, while entire Georgia is locked in homes because of politically-driven curfew.”