Representatives of the ‘Conservative Movement’ Burn EU Flag in Front of Parliament
At the rally organized by the ultra-right and ultra-conservative party “Conservative Movement”, the removal and burning of the EU flag near the parliament building was followed by sharp criticism of the government from the opposition.
After the rally, the law enforcement officers raised the EU flag again over the legislative body.
Several hundred supporters of the “Conservative Movement,” gathered at Saakadze Square on March 14 at 12:00 pm and marched towards the Parliament. They made demands and then took down, tore, and burned the European Union flag that was erected in front of the parliamentary building. Media footage reveals that the police present at the scene did not intervene. Since January 2022, burning the symbols of the European Union, NATO, and countries with diplomatic relations with Georgia qualifies as an administrative offense, which would set you back GEL 1,000-2,000 in fine or a jail term of up to 15 days in aggravating circumstances.
What were the demands of those gathered?
During their address to the legislature, the leaders of the conservative party delivered a series of anti-Western statements while also issuing several demands to the government:
- the release of those arrested for homophobic violence against journalists on July 5-6, 2021;
- the imposition of “exemplary punishment” upon the organizers of the “coup d’état” that took place during protests against the bills on “foreign agents” on March 7-9;
- the holding of a referendum on the law concerning “foreign agents” and “foreign slaves”.
Shota Martynenko, one of the leaders of the “Conservative Movement”, proclaimed, “It is not the people but rather the government itself that should execute the law. Otherwise, the law will be executed by the people.”
What events preceded the “conservative movement” action?
The action of the “conservative movement” was preceded by the rallies against the draft laws on “foreign agents”. As a result, the ruling majority was forced to withdraw its own draft laws.
During the initiation of the law on “foreign agents”, and especially after its withdrawal, the rhetoric of the ruling party came close to that of the “conservative movement” against liberal organizations. Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili and GD chair Irakli Kobakhidze made statements against “destructive”, “anarchist”, “extremist”, and “liberal-fascist” forces in the country. They also claimed that the forces associated with the opposition are “anti-church” and “anti-Georgian.”
The pretext for the action
On March 12, Davit Katsarava, co-founder of the anti-occupation movement known as “Strength in Unity”, made a serious allegation that members of the “Conservative Movement” had attacked his family’s car, in which his wife and children were travelling at the time. Mr Katsarava later took to Facebook to share graphic images of the vandalised car and called on the public to stand up to “Alt-info”. The following day, however, Mr Katsarava announced that the Ministry of Interior had launched an investigation into the incident. Notably, he declined to comment further on the alleged speech against “Alt-info”.
The reaction of the law enforcement system
Following the release of footage showing the burning of the European Union flag, the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that it had initiated an investigation under Article 174(18) of the Code of Administrative Offenses. This article stipulates a fine of 1,000 GEL for insulting the official symbol of the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or any other international organization.
Zurab Makharadze, one of the leaders of the “Conservative Party,” stated, “I took down that flag and you send me a fine to my home address.”
Statement of the Ombudsman
“The act of removing and burning the flag of the European Union, which had been raised in front of the highest legislative body of Georgia to express the country’s pro-Western course, and similar offensive actions, not only constitutes an obstacle for Georgia on its path to European integration but also negates the historical choice of the Georgian people regarding the country’s foreign policy, as supported by the constitutional record,” stated Levan Ioseliani, the new Public Defender of Georgia.
The Ombudsman reminded the constitutional bodies that they have the responsibility to use their powers to take all necessary measures to ensure Georgia’s full integration into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He also emphasized that while everyone has the right of assembly and expression, as guaranteed by law, any assembly must be peaceful and must not lead to violence or contradict the constitutional principles of the country.
“The act of burning the EU flag at today’s rally is an example of how radicalism breeds radicalism,” said Shalva Papuashvili, the Chairman of the Parliament, while commenting on the incident. He also emphasized that the flag would be returned to its place with due respect, and those who defaced it would be held accountable under administrative law. In response to criticism from opponents regarding the incident, the Chairman of the Parliament stated that “those who talk about Europe should have the flag waving in their hearts, and their behavior should reflect European values,” referring to an earlier incident in which the windows of the parliament building were smashed.
Mikheil Sarjveladze, the Chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Civil Integration, reiterated the message of the Chairman of the Parliament regarding the incident, stating that a breach of the law had occurred and those responsible would be held accountable through the legal process. He also emphasized that no one should support radicalization, and the use of language that promotes demonization or contempt is unacceptable. “In a country that is pro-European and moving towards Europe, it is essential to respect the flag and symbols of the European Union, as the government is doing today,” he added.
The “United National Movement” party issued an official statement in response to the incident, in which it condemned the removal and burning of the European Union flag by the “Georgian Dream” organized group. The statement described the act as a violation of the constitution and the law, and against the will of the absolute majority of the Georgian people. “This crime was organized by the ‘Russian Dream’ and is against the will of the Georgian people. Georgia belongs in Europe, and we will continue to work towards that goal,” the party stated.
“Desecrating the flag of the European Union is an offence. “Georgian Dream”, while you are busy intimidating and dividing the youth!!! Here, you are renewing these processes,” Ana Buchukuri, deputy of former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia’s party for Georgia, wrote on Facebook.
According to Salome Samadashvili, deputy of “Lelo” party, the burning of the EU flag is the result of statements “inciting violence” made by the leaders of “Georgian Dream” in recent days. “As many times as they take down the EU flag raised in front of the Parliament, as many times the Georgian people will stand up to protect their European future and this people will remember it well,” she said.
Teona Akubardia, a representative of the parliamentary political group “Reforms”, criticized the Speaker of the Parliament and accused him of not being brave enough to raise the EU flag demonstratively like his predecessor, which is a symbolic gesture and a political statement. “He chose his own seat over the European future, and this is unacceptable. We need leaders who are committed to the European integration of Georgia,” she wrote on Facebook.
“This is the wing of “Georgian Dream”, which was activated to threaten us, to intimidate society with civil strife and bloodshed… This disgraceful group of Putinists is part of Ivanishvili’s game,” said Giga Bokeria, chairman of “European Georgia”.
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