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Pride and Prejudice: Looking Back at 2023 Tbilisi Pride Week

On Saturday, July 8, as many as 2,000 ultra-conservative protesters gathered near Lisi Wonderland, the venue of Tbilisi Pride Fest. As protesters pushed against policemen, an officer approached Ana Subeliani, the co-director of Tbilisi Pride, while she prepared the festival grounds.

“They asked us how many people are using the territory,” Subeliani said. Between organizers, volunteers, and artists, Subeliani estimated around 60 people. A few minutes later, the police began shouting to evacuate.

Before Subeliani could protest, the officers began ushering her and the Tbilisi Pride team into waiting mini-buses.

“They wanted it to end in that manner, how it ended, as everybody is safe,” Subeliani said.

Throughout months of negotiations, the MIA promised organizers and their international partners that the police would protect Tbilisi Pride Week, so long as events took place in restricted areas. Having fulfilled their end of the agreement, organizers and their partners worry that July 8 events and evacuation represents a step backward for Georgia’s democracy.

Organizers trusted the MIA to protect this year’s events from interference by ultra-conservative groups. “We expect that, because of their political calculations, they want to do it and they will do it,” Mariam Kvaratskhelia, co-director of Tbilisi Pride, said in the weeks leading up to Pride Fest.

Before Pride Fest, Tbilisi Pride’s international partners expressed similar trust in the MIA, particularly after the success of last year’s Pride Week. “The Ministry of Internal Affairs  has been excellent in its support,” Nick Beresford, the Resident Representative for the United Nations Development Programme in Georgia , said. “It has provided a very professional, a very effective police presence at the Pride events last year.”

In the months leading up to Tbilisi Pride, Beresford met Ministry officials to discuss the police presence at events. “We asked them to please ensure that we had good protection from the police,” Beresford said. “This is about the rule of law, as well as about fundamental human rights.”

Mark Clayton, the British Ambassador to Georgia, also emphasized the importance of queer Georgians’ human rights in his meetings with government officials this year. The Embassy’s support, he explained, includes “raising, alongside our diplomatic community, their concerns with the Georgian authorities and encouraging them to provide protection for the LGBT community this week in particular to enjoy their rights in full.”

But in the days following organizers’ evacuation from the festival grounds, this international support factor further deepened Subeliani’s sense of betrayal by the MIA. “They were giving this guarantee and this promise in front of EU representatives, in front of UN, and also US Embassy and so many different embassies,” she said.

Subeliani believes the MIA did not make a serious attempt to stop the protesters. “They made us leave the territory and they let the radicals go in and destroy everything,” she added. “They clearly said that they don’t care about the agreement that they have with their partners, including EU.”

Erik Illes, Head of Development Cooperation at the Swedish Embassy, believes that the MIA could have stopped the protesters from looting and destroying the facilities, or could have prevented Saturday’s events altogether.

“The authorities had over two months to prepare for the safety of the events,” Illes said. “It is clear that this was a failure on behalf of state institutions in protecting the right of assembly and freedom of expression.”

Tbilisi Pride argues that the police response to this year’s Pride Fest follows an established pattern of failure. In 2021, authorities failed to restrain a ultra-conservatives’ attack on journalists, resulting in 53 injuries.

In 2019, the organizers of the first Tbilisi Pride March canceled the event just hours before it would begin, after ultra-conservative groups threatened violence online.

These failures raise concern among organizers for the future of Georgia’s democracy.

“This was an organized attack by the Georgian government and the Putinist violent group  on democracy, human rights and innocent people who wanted to enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution,” Tbilisi Pride’s statement on 8 July read.

The protection of human rights of vulnerable groups is one of the 12 EU conditions for obtaining by Georgia of the EU candidacy status. The decision by EU will be known in fall this year. So far, the track record of the implementation has been questionable, with only three priorities considered to be fully implemented according to the latest assessment by the European Commission.

However, in advocating for these rights, organizers focus on Georgia’s own democratic progress, rather than their future with the European Union. “We never say that LGBT rights should be protected if we want to be part of the EU,” Kvaratskhelia said, wary of “geopoliticizing” the LGBT issues. “We want LGBT rights to be protected because our citizens should be protected and should live in a dignified environment and an equal environment.”

Subeliani believes that, had Pride Fest taken place, opponents would have seen just how many supporters queer Georgians have. “Just saying that you’re going to the Pride festival, which is so targeted by the radicals, and you know that it’s mostly not supported by the government, it’s still so political,” Subeliani said.

“In this kind of situation, when like 2000, 3000 people are going there, it’s a huge political act,” she added. “Very soon, we’re going to create a totally different atmosphere — and maybe even queer revolution — in this country.”

Jade Lozada is a student at Harvard University. She is currently interning at


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