Hundreds of Georgian students have been chanting “I am Georgian, and therefore, I am European” as they marched central Tbilisi towards the Parliament building, Georgia’s premier protest venue, to join forces with the major pro-EU rally as the country awaits the EU Council’s decision on its candidate status later this week.
Students, carrying Georgian, European, NATO and Ukrainian flags, have first gathered at Tbilisi State University and later began their rally at the Tbilisi Concert Hall, before joining the “Going Home – to Europe” rally organized by the Shame Movement activist group at 20:00 outside the Parliament building.
“My wish is for young people, and not only youths, to have the opportunity to get our country in Europe and to have the opportunities that other European countries have. The government should not help us to stay in the darkness that Russia and the Communists have left us with. I protest for this today and I want to be called a European,” a young man, wrapped in a European flag, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Georgian Service.
The March for Europe rally under the slogan “Going Home, to Europe,” which already attracted tens of thousands at the time of its beginning, was planned against the backdrop of concern from civil society organizations, opposition politicians, and the wider public over what they saw as the Georgian Dream government’s failure to take advantage of the opportunity to secure European Union candidate status.
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On June 17, the European Commission recommended for the Council to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, while it unveiled a list of conditions for Georgia, the erstwhile democratic frontrunner among the three countries, before offering it candidate status.
Symbolically, the rally takes place on the three-year anniversary of the June 20-21, 2019 protest in which police used rubber bullets and tear gas to violently disperse the anti-Russian occupation protest amid the presence of Russian lawmakers in the Georgian Parliament. The June 20, 2019 events, during which some 240 people, including 80 police officers and over 30 journalists were injured, led to the founding of the Shame Movement.
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili menaced the planned rally a week in advance and vowed that there would be “no mercy” against any “illegal action” that may take place. The PM, along with his party colleagues, claimed the rally is linked to the “party of war” — the country’s largest opposition party, the United National Movement.