Key election watchdogs have raised alarms that derogatory political posters which appeared in capital Tbilisi on July 24, targeting the United National Movement party, media, and civic and LGBT+ rights activists, are “a call to violence” and endanger those depicted.
The posters showed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, UNM’s leader-in-exile, Giga Makarashvili of Shame Movement, Giorgi Tabagari, Director of Tbilisi Pride, representatives of TV channels critical to the government, Nika Gvaramia of Mtavari Arkhi, and Nodar Meladze and Vato Tsereteli of TV Pirveli, and Davit Kezerashvili, a wanted UNM-era Defense Minister and Formula TV shareholder, under a rainbow’s arch.
The images showed up at various locations promptly after UNM chair Nika Melia announced on July 23 his run for the Mayor of Tbilisi in the October 2 local elections. Captions on the posters said “No to Natsis [derogatory term to describe the UNM], No to evil,” a slogan previously used on derogatory billboards in 2018, in the heat of the Presidential campaigns.
The watchdogs, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) and Transparency International (TI) Georgia, said that in light of the July 5 homophobic pogroms and the increasing “verbal attacks” by the Georgian Dream government officials against critical media, the posters could endanger the lives of the civic activists and journalists.
“Disseminating posters such as these risks conducting the upcoming election campaign in a calm environment,” the watchdogs stressed.
The Tbilisi City Hall told Georgian media that its municipal inspection service found two persons who put up the placards and fined them GEL 1000 (USD 320) each for “distorting the appearance of the city.” Vice Mayor of Tbilisi, Andria Basilaia later vowed that “as soon as more people are identified they will definitely be fined.”
Giorgi Iakobashvili, founder of anti-UNM Davasrulot [Let’s end them] movement, and the editor of online media outlet For.ge, assumed responsibility for the development. “These were posters of truth, not of hate,” he stressed on July 24, and vowed his movement “will do everything to end the Natsis.”
“They fined my people. They took down my posters. They almost declared me an enemy of the people,” said Iakobashvili in a subsequent Facebook post, decrying the City Hall’s response to the developments. He then put up a digital version of the poster and asked his supporters to share it.
Giorgi Tabagari of Tbilisi Pride said he received dozens of tag requests on the image from people who shared it online on Facebook. “Most of these profiles are linked to ruling Georgian Dream,” he argued, accusing the governing party of “instrumentalizing” homophobia prior to the elections.
“This is not part of our campaign,” said GD’s Archil Talakvadze, Vice-Speaker of the Parliament. “Our campaign kicked off with a program, and a positive candidate.”