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Georgian Gen-Z: Who Are They?

Portraits of the protesting Georgian youth

Only 21 years old and already involved in their country’s politics, Ilia Qardava and Degi Sukhishvili were among those who demonstrated against the government and its “Russian Law” in March. But they are not just ordinary protesters, they even “see themselves in politics”.

Degi & Ilia: “We seek help from the European Union”

The date was fixed and the meeting place was not chosen at random: “We will wait for you in front of the parliament”, a place that has been the epicenter of most demonstrations in recent Georgian history. After a few minutes walk, we stopped at the Stamba Hotel to start the interview.

Ilia, a student of political science, starts the discussion easily. But it’s his friend Degi, a student of international relations, who is the first to explain the history of these protests: “It was the 7th, in the morning, and a few people gathered, maybe 2000 people. People went out because the government said they were no longer going to consider the law. But they had lied and started to consider the law [in the Parliament], so people came out…” he said. “After a few hours, they [the police] started spraying water and tear gas.    

At this point the situation became tense. “We were scared, and I felt like I was losing my country,” Degi added. “I think everyone who was standing was afraid of losing their country”.     

Degi finishes his sentence: “It was Russian law […], it was the same mood as in Russia”.

“And Russia is a red line for us,” Ilia concluded. However, enthusiasm and hope also emerged from those nights. Degi recalls demonstrators staying until the morning, singing and dancing to European songs. “It was an optimistic atmosphere at this time, he added.      

Seeking to further their activism after the March protests, the two friends created their own NGO,‘European Change’. They say however that they did not have any resources, they see themselves in politics but no one wants to invest in young people.

Butif their actions are limited due to a lack of resources, Degi and Ilia’s determination is impressive, and their convictions are unstoppable. “The young generation is a really serious problem for old political leaders. Leaders have comfort, and young people represent a threat to their comfort,” Ilia said. “The propaganda machine is working really hard.”    

Degi and Ilia’s dedication to activism stems in part from their knowledge of Georgia’s history with Russia. “In every family, we have a history with Russia, our parents, our grandparents faced Russia, and everyone knows it in Georgia” Degi said. “My grandfather for example, in the Soviet Union he was listening to Elvis Presley. He liked jazz a lot, he liked rock a lot. And they arrested him, just because he was listening to Elvis Presley. And for me, it is even more heartbreaking, because my father has fought in the war in 2008.”

“We know what Russia is, we know what the enemy is, and most of young people know who the enemy is, Ilia added.    

At the end of our discussion, Degi shares some final thoughts to summarize the feelings of Georgian youth: You need to understand that we are under pressure, maybe now. I don’t want to scare you but, we’re under surveillance, and I know that they would have some information about me. They have been listening to diplomats, to the embassies, so we cannot be sure that they are not listening to us now, or sitting there next to us.” This struggle for democracy is far from being over, and the two friends are not ready to give up.

Nina: “In Georgia, and that’s the problem, everyone talks about wanting something new, but no one does anything

When asked to introduce herself, Nina, a liberal arts student, answered naturally: “I’m Nina Areshidze, I’m 19 years old, and I’ve been protesting for a long time, because my mom has been protesting since she was young, and my family always protests every time something happens in Georgia.”

When some youngsters remember their first movies, others their first songs, Nina remembers her first protests. “I’ve been protesting all my life,” she said. “When I was little, I remember that protests were just having a paper in my hands and going with my mother”.      

Like many Georgians, Nina’s family faced Soviet repression. “My grandma is actually German, she lived here, and they took her to Siberia, only because she was German.”

Nina does not hesitate when asked where her desire to protest comes from: “It comes from my family,” she says. Indeed,  Nina went to the March demonstrations with her 15-year-old cousin.

But even for a regular demonstrator, the protests were the first time that the students felt the force of the police. “They used tear gas, water cannons, unpleasant sounds”, Nina says,to destabilize, disperse, and arrest demonstrators.

This was a protest against Russia,” she added. They [the authorities] don’t like it when you are protesting against them”.       

Although the protests succeeded in forcing the Georgian Dream party to withdraw the bill, Nina is not yet satisfied. “When the Russian law wasn’t passed, I was really happy, but I understood that it wasn’t our victory,” she said. Nina feels that the withdrawal was merely a pacifying measure by the government, rather than a real victory for the protesters.    

“It just gives them time to do something much worse,” Nina added. Just a few weeks after the events, the Georgian government resumed flights with Russia.

The government’s strategy seems to be working, as fewer and fewer people are taking part in the demonstrations. “In Georgia, and that’s the problem, everyone talks about wanting something new, but no one does anything,” says Nina. Could the March protests be just a blip in the country’s political life?

When it comes to the reasons for her involvement, Nina’s convictions are clear. “Of course I want Europe…” she says. “I know that if I’m not in Europe, I’m in Russia. It is my choice to be in Europe, it is Europe instead of Russia”. With Europe still a dream for many young Georgians, the fear and rejection of Russia motivate them to fight.

Although Nina criticizes the results of the movement, she remains committed to her beliefs and determined to protest. Her plans for the future are clear: to stay and fight for Georgia, whatever it takes. “I think one of the missions is to stay there and do my best to save my country from Russia,” she said. “Even if I plan to leave, I would go to Europe for 3 or 4 years and come back to use this education here”.

With a lemonade in one hand and a cigarette in the other, she closes the discussion on Georgian youth with a thought that is as optimistic as it is realistic: “It’s time to shine. But they are not shining, they are just at home having parties”.

Giorgi: “It was the first protest I co-organized!”

As a protester and civil activist for several years, there was no doubt that Giorgi Pachuashvili would take part in the March demonstrations. As a 22-year-old student of international relations at Tbilisi State University, Giorgi began to forge a relationship with Europe when he set up his own NGO to promote Georgia’s European integration.    

Through his NGO, Giorgi has had the opportunity to share his ideas about Georgia’s integration into Europe in Brussels and in Germany, where he will be studying for the next few years.

“I think my first protest was when I was 16 years old. It was when Saralidze was killed in school,” Giorgi says. Since then, he has protested during Gavrilov’s night, the 2020 parliamentary elections, the July 2022 protests and demonstrations against the war in Ukraine, all of which led to last March’s demonstrations. “The first protest I helped organize!” he says proudly. Because this time was very special, compared to the others, Giorgi believes that students and Gen-Z Georgians emerged as the leaders of these demonstrations: “Maybe not for the first time in Georgian history, but at least for the first time in our time,” he says. In other words, a real turning point for Georgian protesters.

Through social media posts and traditional media, Giorgi and some of his friends began to gather people in front of the university. “We started speaking with a megaphone and then led the way to the main protest in front of the parliament: we were many,” he says. “The people showed that they were the leaders, everyone was the leader!”

But the most important moment came after that first day. “We wanted to do a bigger march, which happened when we joined the Women’s March on the 8th,” Giorgi adds. “And finally, the epiphany of this movement happened when we organized a student march on the 9th, a big student protest with all the different universities, with all our own flags and symbols.”    

Giorgi believes the European Union is Georgia’s best chance of escaping Russia’s grip. “For me, it means a place where you can live honorably, without being attacked, work for a job that pays well, a place where you have your own friends, your own family, you are happy with them, you can express yourself, you can vote in elections, you can make it in a society that is successful,” he says. If Giorgi is just one of many young Georgians whose eyes are fixed on the future, it is because they know their past and their history. “I think it is very natural, and it is part of being born in independent Georgia, that we understand what independence means,” he says. “We know that our parents and grandparents were born in the Soviet Union, our ancestors and their parents were killed, oppressed, and sent to Siberia, we remember our past.”

But Giorgi knows that the country will not change overnight. Like him, many students go abroad to study, but the main problem is that many of them may never come back. “I wish that young Georgians would not go there in droves and flee their country, but come here and build a new society,” he says. Even if it must remain a free choice for everyone. For the student activist, his departure is just a stepping stone to a future struggle for democracy in Georgia, from which he will be even better equipped to fight. “I see myself as contributing to the development of my country,” he concludes.

Anaella: “I am ready to do anything for my country”

While the March demonstrations saw the rise of many associations, groups and NGOs, many unaffiliated demonstrators took to the streets. Ana Baramashvili, or simply “Anaella”, is one of them.

In her second year of international relations studies at Ilia Chavchavadze University, the 20-year-old has an unusual background as an activist. While many of the protesters come from politically involved families, Anaella does not share that background. “People think that everything comes from the family, but my parents are very conservative people. Really strong conservatives,” she says. “In terms of ideology, they are people who love their religion. They need Europe, but they have a kind of values that are not connected and not compatible with Europe”.

Anaella’s political involvement comes mainly from youth organizations and NGOs. “When I was 14 to 15 years old, I just tried to find some organizations because I didn’t feel good in school,” she says “Teachers brainwash, especially in public schools, about history for example.”

Anaella was not yet 18 when she took part in her first demonstrations, for inclusive education or against the Russian occupation.

During the March demonstrations, she mobilized by herself, as most do during demonstrations, something which we tend to forget. “We have social media, we have Netflix, we have information, we have NGOs, we have foreign friends, and we know what’s going on around the world,” she says.And when you see that your friend has resources, or can just be the person he or she wants to be, and you don’t have the same rights, you just want to change it -she notes. ” The fight closest to Anaella’s heart is the issue of LGBT rights, which is the exact opposite of the Georgian government’s priorities, especially after the case of Lazare Grigoriadis last month. “They [the government] don’t like people who don’t look ‘normal’, as they say. But we need democracy and that means being free and having these rights,” says Anaella.

When asked if she feels European, Anaella answers with a broad smile. “Yes of course,” she says.I think Europe sets for me an example, because they are all together. They just give up on any kind of aggression and aggressive things, to be together.           

The European Union remains a goal for many young Georgians, especially in the face of threats from Russia. But according to Anaella, Georgia is still not sufficiently recognized by European institutions, and many people there don’t understand what is actually happening in the country.

“The European Union must understand that the [Georgian] people are not like their government, we are just people who don’t have the resources to fight against this government,” says Anaella.   

Nevertheless, she has no intention of throwing in the towel: “Seriously, I’m ready to do anything for my country. Because in our history nobody has done to us what Russia has done to us,” she said. “If you’re not an oligarch’s child, you don’t have a balanced economic situation. That’s why I have to go abroad for 5 or 6 years just to improve my skills and then come back to my country to use them for the benefit of Georgian society.”    

Well aware of this reality, Georgia’s Generation Z is ready to step up to the challenge and stand up for freedom and democracy.


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