Pride Week Starts with Violence – Rioni Activists Disappoint – Many Colors of National Unity – Call for Applications for Vacant CEC Head Position – Vaccines Arrive, but Are They the Ones?
In a country full of divisions, “national unity” is sometimes the most aspired thing. However, diverse as these groups are, the understanding of the “unity” varies too, and so the attempts at bringing them together are doomed for disappointments. Here is Nini with updates from Georgia.
Sad days for Georgian social activism: the launch of Tbilisi Pride was met with violence from hate groups: on the first day of the queer event, a mob gatecrashed a closed movie screening which was attended, among others, by representatives of diplomatic missions. Guests were pelted by eggs and plastic bottles, with U.S. Embassy staffer was reportedly hit by an egg. Police made 23 arrests, but more incidents are expected throughout the week, with major mobilization anticipated during the July 5 march.
Sad and angering as the violence was, the organizers expected it. But on July 2, a more unexpected disappointment hit part of the Georgian public: leaders of the Rioni Valley movement, uniting local activists who oppose the construction of Namakhvani HPP, made a statement decrying the Pride as an event striking a blow to “national unity,” adding that the LGBTQ+ issue has become a tool of “political blackmail,” including towards their cause. „In our view, the idea of Tbilisi Pride week, aside from clearly being a propaganda for non-traditional lifestyle, goes against the public opinion, expresses narrow interests of merely a certain group, and is directed against the civic unity,” the controversial statement reads.
The statement upset many for a reason: the cause has united diverse groups ranging from ultra-conservatives to progressives, and queer groups actively backed the Namakhvani HPP protests. The locals who were sperheading the event, coming mostly from Imereti and Lechkhumi regions, mainly identifying themselves with the Christian Orthodox community, have been pushed to the wall numerous times by the media to present their views on LGBTQ+ issues, but somehow managed to limit their statements to their cause and keep people from different backgrounds and views together.
This sowed the hopes of social activism that overcame social division and revolved around a single cause. Now it’s over: some activists with liberal or progressive views have distanced themselves from the Namakhvani HPP movement, arguing that while the HPP cause is important, so are the rights of any individual, fearing that the statement would help further incite the violence. Others, confused, do not want all progress to be lost and are still considering their options. The Rioni Valley cause, often regarded as unique in its nature, has largely benefited from and was amplified by expertise, advocacy, and activism of progressive elites, which is now likely to come to an end. From the pragmatic perspective, it is always a matter of speculations how much they’ve lost through the statement and how many hearts they won. One is clear: things won’t be the same again.
MANY COLORS OF UNITY
Still, the Pride statement of Rioni Valley activists did not differ much from the approach taken by some of the leading Georgian politicians (see their positions in our previous issue). However, President Salome Zurabishvili – probably the most misunderstood of all at the top – was the clearest this time in defending the freedom of expression for the minority. The President went further to stress that Pride activists benefitting from such rights is important for the country’s unity, and tolerance is part of the Georgian identity. Well, everyone has apparently their own understanding of what “unity” stands for.
CALL FOR APPLICATIONS
Georgian President, as per Georgian legislation, has called an open competition to select a new Chair and two members of the Central Election Commission (CEC), after the resignation of former CEC Head Tamar Zhvania days ago. The presidential order also established a selection committee, consisting of NGO representatives and academics. The 11-member group now must select the best candidates for the open positions and present them to President Zurabishvili. We hold our breath.
HERE THEY ARE
After a long delay, Georgian authorities announced the country has received a million doses of China-made vaccines, Sinovac and Sinopharm. The government came under fire as many believed they failed to deliver on their “mass-vaccination” promises: for some weeks now, only those awaiting their second shots could register on the booking portal. Another widely-articulated promise on delivering million Pfizer/BioNTech shots remains unfulfilled.
Chinese vaccines first enjoyed far bigger popularity among Georgians than mRNA shots, but preferences appear to change due to efficacy questions towards Chinese jabs against Delta variant, as well as pickiness by some European countries to allow entry based on the vaccination status with only Western-approved shots. For these reasons, when asked about their vaccination status, you can often hear in Georgia answers like “waiting for Pfizer” – just like Waiting for Godot.
!!! The Dispatch goes on a summer break and will be back with hot updates in August. Have a nice July!