Georgia Lurches Towards Illiberalism

“The times when the minority decided the fate of the majority are gone,” said Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili today, saying he will only listen to the will of 95% of the population. “Stop threatening and scaring me and the majority of this country with the European Union and the United States. Garibashvili won’t resign, [Interior Minister] Gomelauri won’t resign. You have the government that you have and you’d have to bear with it,” quipped Tea Tsulukiani, Minister of Culture, elevated to the post of the Vice Prime Minister.

Facing the prospect of early parliamentary elections, systematically pruned from all, even nominally pro-western figures, the Georgian Dream has instinctively reached to religiously-tinted illiberalism as its ideological platform, which – it hopes – will give it the endorsement of the majority.

Aggressive mobs egged on by the Orthodox Patriarchate and condoned by Mr. Garibashvili have called violent vengeance against the queer community on 5-6 July and, as the Pride march was annulled by organizers, exerted their revenge on the civic activists, journalists, and cameramen, injuring at least 53 of them. In this bacchanalia, that the police failed – or refused – to stop, they also took down and burnt (twice!) the European flag flying at the Parliament. There can be no mistake: minorities, journalists, civic activists, and the EU are both considered and targeted by these groups as representing the same evil: Western-leaning liberal democracy.

Now, the top echelons of the government have thrown their weight behind this very argument. Of course, Mr. Garibashvili rolled out the usual conspiracy theory, but this was to pander for his own paranoia and to – potentially – build a criminal case.

Mr. Garibashvili walked from crisis to self-inflicted crisis, from petty bickering to dangerous brinkmanship during his – already second – stint the Prime Minister. Surely, he is not a man who compromises willingly, he is inflexible as he is petulant, loyal to his patron, Bidzina Ivanishvili to the fault and forever tilting against the windmills of the United National Movement. But his removal – albeit necessary – won’t ameliorate the state of affairs. If anything, Mrs. Tsulukiani, who is now nudged up in the symbolic line of succession as a vice PM, is burning with a fire of true zealot, committed to the alt-right cause.

This situation is critically dangerous for Georgia’s statehood, not only because it has already threw open the gates of violent hell, which already claimed its first victim – cameramen Aleksandre Lashkarava. We already wrote before that the oligarchic rule has crafted a parallel system of governance that sapped the democratic institutions of their true meaning, stacked the courts, and made it nearly impossible to reset the governance to normalcy through institutional checks and balances. PM Garibashvili and his cabinet are out of the closet now: the illiberal ideology became official and the targets – civic activists, journalists, minorities are told to shut up, or to face violence.

The LGBT+ groups are not chosen as targets by chance: they have been picked as the most vulnerable minority for quite a long time now: painting opponents as “gays” is considered a safe way to sap them of popular support. The Orthodox Church, which increasingly quotes the Old Testament, as if the new one was never written, has thrown oil onto the fire.

This tactic works: the potent opposition groups that try to tap into the conservative electorate – such as the United National Movement – distanced themselves from Tbilisi Pride, focusing on the freedom of assembly instead. Illiberal groups – from Hungary’s Orban (whose portrait, by the way, was hoisted by the violent mobs) to Russia’s Putin – have capitalized on anti-gay rhetoric and policies to counter the European “decadence.” But what’s happening in Georgia goes beyond geopolitics. The debate – even though it looks more like a violent struggle now – cuts to the constitutional core.

When the dust settles, we will know, if Georgians choose to live in the Republic. This newspaper wrote:

The Republic can never be again, lest we recover that lost solidarity with our fellow citizens, generate trust in our common future, and move forward with a sense of common purpose, expressed in and through our Statehood.

We stand by our words.

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