The violence that unfolded in Tbilisi on 5 July is extremely alarming. We witnessed an attack on the Constitution of Georgia and Georgian statehood carried out by the Patriarchate of Georgian Orthodox Church along with extremist, homophobic, pro-Russian hate groups and supported and facilitated by the government of Georgia, specifically, Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Gharibashvili.
A counter-rally organized by the abovementioned groups to thwart a planned March by the Tbilisi Pride was actually directed not only against the LGBTQI+ community but against the Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia.
Although the Pride March was canceled, the frenzied groups raided the Tbilisi Pride office, smashed anti-government tents set up outside the parliament building, raided other private facilities and public spaces, beat and wounded passersby, chased after journalists, manhandled young people, deliberately attacked up to 50 journalists, and demonstratively removed the EU flag.
During preceding weeks, the government of Georgia, top officials had been making anti-Pride statements which further encouraged violent groups to plan the attack on the Georgian democracy.
The government did not protect the freedom of assembly and expression, the life, health, and private property of people, and gave extremist groups the green light to commit violence. In parallel to violent groups mobilizing in the city, Prime Minister Garibashvili, with his statement, openly encouraged anti-statehood and anti-constitutional actions of violent groups.
In their sermons, TV addresses, and statements, the Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church and the clergy openly called for counter-demonstration and violence.
The Church was supported by openly pro-Russian, homophobic, xenophobic, political, and violent groups, including the Alliance of Patriots, Levan Vasadze’s movement, Georgian March, Georgian Idea, Rioni Gorge Defenders, etc. It was an anti-constitutional, anti-democratic, and anti-Western action carried out jointly by the government, the Patriarchate, and those violent forces.
Against this backdrop, it is worth mentioning the statements made by other religious organizations that were, probably, formulated under the instructions from the State Agency for Religious Issues at the Office of the Prime Minister and the Patriarchate. Several non-dominant religious organizations - the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church, the Great Synagogue of Tbilisi, the Highest Administration of all Muslims in Georgia, and the Yazidi Spiritual Council expressed their support to the planned counter-rally which was expected to violently attack civil activists and Pride March participants. They released homophobic statements, thereby encouraging the expected violence. It is commendable that later, the Yazidi Spiritual Council released another statement in which expressed regret about the content of the first statement.
Furthermore, we would like to declare about an extremely dangerous nature of the initiative put forward against the backdrop of that mass violence by the patriarchal locum tenens, Shio Mujiri, that Georgia must ban “offense of religious and national feelings”.
For many years, the Patriarchate has been pushing for legislation to punish “blasphemy.” In the past few years, a number of legislative initiatives authored, among others, by the Georgian government have been submitted to the parliament. The Patriarchate pursues the aim of punishing people for the criticism voiced against it.
We believe that the above-mentioned initiative is driven by a desire to persecute any dissenting opinion, religious minorities, civil society, and political opposition. Moreover, in the given violent context, one can read behind the position of the Patriarchate a declared desire of legislative, religious, ethnic, and political domination, a desire to legislate the right of the majority to abuse.
It would seem natural today to refer to the Georgian government and demand that violent acts committed on 5 July be investigated, persons in charge be punished and the Constitution of Georgia be honored. However, we deem it necessary to declare that the government itself motivated and supported large-scale violence, anti-Western messages, and neglect of the Georgian constitution with its actions and statements. In this statement, we deem it necessary to voice our protest against the government and expose it in encouraging violence.
We express our unconditional support to the Tbilisi Pride team and LGBTQI+ individuals. For years they have been denied an opportunity to exercise their rights guaranteed under the constitution and subjected to persecution, physical and verbal offense.
We express solidarity with journalists affected by the violence and all those who became targets and victims of violence from organized groups.
The population of Georgia and the international community received an open message from the government of Georgia that the life and health of humans are not protected in Georgia.
In this violent environment, the safety of liberal democracy and any person cherishing freedom face extremely serious challenges!